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Meeting Madrid – One Alumni's Advice for Studying Abroad

The first time I thought about studying abroad was when I was a junior in high school. I was sitting in the auditorium listening to a former student tell my class of her time abroad in Spain. I remember thinking to myself, "Wow, I have to do this!" She had thrown together a PowerPoint full of amazing pictures that ranged from her new home to her new friends, her program and many travels. When I left the auditorium, I left with a new goal: studying abroad in Spain!
  When I started my first year at DePaul University, I knew that I wanted to continue learning the Spanish language. I signed up for my first college Spanish class and completed my fifth class right before my trip to Madrid. Of course, there were many bumps and bruises along the way before I decided that CEA Global Education was the best fit for me. I had learned of CEA after many hours of researching programs. I even had the chance to meet with an employee from CEA at school. He talked to me about all of the programs in the many cities of Spain, and the trips that we would take as a group. After this informational meeting, I was sold. I went to CEA's Web site and signed up for an account. An advisor contacted me right away. One of the happiest days of my life was receiving an e-mail with the subject line, "Congratulations on your CEA Acceptance! Here are your next steps!"
My next step: Preparation.

CEA guided me through the next steps of acquiring my student visa, filling out my housing application and choosing classes. The hard part was over, right? Little did I know that my summer before the biggest adventure of my life was about to become little more hectic. My summer was consumed with classes and work while I planned little by little. My last two weeks were spent buying, organizing, packing, re-packing, reading, learning and e-mailing. So, on August 29th, 2009, I got on an 11-hour plane ride to Madrid. No big deal.

On the plane, I had a lot of time to think:

1. I am crazy to go on this trip without knowing a single person!
2. I won't be able to read the signs at the airport.
3. I'll get lost in the airport and so will my bags.
4. I didn't pack enough clothes.
5. I wonder where I'll be living.

However, all of that thinking led to an upside to every one of my doubts:

1.Everyone is in the same boat as me.
2. My Spanish classes actually have prepared me to read!
3. I won't get lost in the airport and I will find my bags at baggage claim.
4. I packed more than enough. Whatever I don't have, I can buy!
5. Well, I still wondered where I was going to live and hoped it would be fabulous!

Even with all of the uncertainties I was about to face, I was doing the very thing that I had been waiting on for so long: studying abroad!

The first few weeks in Spain literally felt like days.

Seriously, I'm not kidding at all!
   Madrid was far different than what I imagined and even expected. I moved into my apartment with my Señora, adjusted to my class schedule and started speaking Spanish more and more! I had some serious bonding time with my Metro map (if Madrid is your choice like it was mine, you'll want to carry that little guy with you everywhere because Madrid's Metro is huge!) and also my new friends. One of the greatest things about Spain is the culture. We could sit and talk for hours about travel plans, the upcoming weekends or school work at the local Cervecerias. I experienced my first bullfight and my first futbol game. I relaxed in the parks, strolled the city streets and traveled all over Spain and Europe.

Hands down, the greatest piece of advice I was told was to experience Spain first. Spain's culture and people captivated me back in high school, so I’m glad that I took advantage of traveling in Spain before venturing out to other countries. A few friends and I decided on cities we all wanted to visit and that way we could easily agree on where to travel to next. Another reason I went to Spain was for the food. Spain’s food is extremely different from that of the United States’. The food in your city will also be different, so have an open mind and don’t try to be too picky. It won’t hurt you to try new foods because if you don’t like it, that’s okay!

   Another great piece of advice came from my CEA Madrid Director. During our orientation, she told us that we would probably all become homesick at one point during our stay, but to try and not call our family back home at that time. When you are feeling homesick more than 10,000 miles away, there is nothing your parents can do but worry. This advice really stayed with me because feeling like this is only temporary. There are also thousands of tips in travel books on packing and sightseeing. Definitely hit up your local library or book store and buy a book or two. I can honestly say that I met lifelong friends and had many once in a lifetime experiences from my study abroad experience. It wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t choose CEA.

Some may say, "One year older, one year wiser." By the time I resumed classes back at DePaul, I realized that I had grown up quite a bit. I was ready to focus on this daunting task ahead, aka my future! It's weird to say, but Spain prepared me for the next step in my life. Whatever it may be, I have no reservations and I'm ready.

Colleen Kokaisl is now a junior majoring in Marketing at DePaul University in Illinois. She studied abroad her fall semester in Madrid, Spain.
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