It seems like we tend to grow up thinking a trip abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, where you have to see as many things as possible all at once because you’ll never have the time or funds to do it again. And frankly, that narrative is completely wrong.
In the eight years since I first traveled outside of the U.S., I’ve lived in seven different countries, nine cities, and twelve homes. Although I am getting a bit tired of living out of one suitcase, I doubt it’ll ever live in the U.S. again. I know for a fact studying abroad has changed my life for the better and allowed me to live a life I could have never imagined.
Why I Studied Abroad
Like many high schoolers, while I was applying for universities I felt like I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to study or what path I wanted to set myself on. Thinking back, it is actually insane that we expect 17-year-olds to make those kinds of life decisions, but I digress.
After a brief stint in STEM, in the midst of an existential crisis, while paging through the guidebook of the different majors offered at my university, I completely changed my degree – and the course of my life completely.
I ended up choosing to study International Studies with an emphasis on European Studies because I already had a decent understanding of Spanish and wanted to learn more about my family’s culture and history. My major required me to study abroad for at least a portion of my degree and in the end, I found a way to study abroad three separate times!
I heard of CEA from a friend of mine who studied in Aix-en-Provence and after browsing the programs available, I took the plunge. I first studied with CEA in Granada, Spain, for an intensive Spanish language course in the summer of 2016. With the rigorous study schedule, I was able to get myself on track to reach fluency by the time I graduated (a requirement for my major). Although I only spent a month living in Granada, I felt I was really able to get to know the city thanks to CEA’s emphasis on cultural immersion. I can’t wait to go back again and take advantage of the array of delicious free tapas and ramble through the historic Albaicín neighborhood.
|At the Plaza de España in Seville, Spain. We visited Seville as an excursion during my Summer 2016 program in Granada.|
I also studied in Seville, Spain, for the Spring 2017 semester and participated in the MOJO (Mobile Journalist) program during my time there. While living in Seville, I was able to explore the places my family had visited and lived, revisiting their memories and making some of my own. I really appreciated CEA’s course offerings and cultural excursions, which helped me learn more deeply about life in Spain. I always recommend to people to make sure you explore every rincón, or corner, of Seville. Around every winding, narrow street, there is a new surprise and you never know what you’ll learn or where you’ll end up.
Following my time in Spain, I studied abroad in the Czech Republic with another program provider. I would have gone with CEA again, but I needed more specialized course offerings for my senior coursework. After writing an article about CEA’s different internship program options during my time in Seville, I was inspired to participate in an internship myself at an international research institute in Prague. Interning while studying abroad is a great way to gain international skills and connections while also learning about the culture of the country you’re living in, it’s an opportunity you shouldn’t miss out on. And who knows, maybe you’ll even meet your future partner as I did!
Life After University: Teaching English Abroad
I already knew I would want to continue to live overseas after completing my degree and I figured teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) abroad would be one of the best options -- especially for someone who didn’t exactly know what they wanted to do with their life! I acquired an online TEFL certification before graduating and spent my last semester volunteering in a local kindergarten class tutoring ESL students to gain some experience.
My ESL teaching journey first took me to South Korea, which was truly an unforgettable experience. Korean culture is becoming more and more mainstream, but it is an entirely different thing to live and work there. It was an amazing opportunity to learn more deeply about a culture I hadn’t already studied. I also discovered how gratifying it can be to teach and watch your students grow!
|On Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving Day, wearing traditional hanbok and playing on a neolttwigi, a Korean see-saw.|
Though I thoroughly enjoyed my job and my kids, I worked far too much in Korea and decided it was time to leave after an amazing year and a half. Under normal circumstances, I would have taken six months to travel around Asia and visit family in the U.S. before finding a new job in another country. Unfortunately, my departure happened to coincide with the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Korea at the beginning of the pandemic, which complicated my plans a bit.
I ended up living in the U.K. for six months and briefly in Denmark, which wasn’t the plan, but luckily studying abroad taught me to be extremely adaptable and prepared for anything!
After a long wait, I was finally able to come over to Vietnam while the borders were briefly open and continue my ESL career.
|Learning about different foodstuffs and the culinary culture of Vietnam on a farm in the countryside outside of Ho Chi Minh City.|
Teaching English abroad is extremely rewarding and I would recommend it to anyone! I personally really enjoy it because I know what it is like to learn a language myself. I can speak Spanish (semi-fluently), Japanese (intermediate), and I’ve dabbled a bit in Korean and Czech. I understand how difficult it can be to learn a new language and it feels amazing when you see your students become more confident with their skills and reach those “ah-ha” moments.
Eventually, I’ll figure out exactly what I would like to do long-term, but for now, I’m glad to be on this international journey. I definitely wouldn’t have had the confidence to try living abroad for so long without my initial experience studying abroad at CEA.
Don’t Miss Out
Since first studying abroad with CEA more than five years ago, I have tried to encourage students to make studying abroad part of their story as well. As a way to share my experiences and knowledge with people around the world, I began writing for the website Go Overseas. They host reviews for all sorts of international programs, including CEA’s, as well as articles related to studying, working, living, and teaching abroad!
Studying abroad really is the best way to gain a global perspective, learn more about yourself, and if you let it, create opportunities that will change your life!
Caitlin McCollum-Martinez is a CEA alum who studied abroad in Granada, Spain in the summer of 2016 and Seville, Spain during the Spring 2017 semester. She is a graduate of Humboldt State University and is currently living in Vietnam teaching English and encouraging others to live abroad through her writing published on Go Overseas. Get in touch at RamblingCat.com or on Instagram @rambling.cat
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