Ella Rivera headshot
Ella Rivera
October 31, 2023


Everyone has expectations before coming to study abroad, I had a whole bucket full. Maybe you wrote them down or have them in a mental list in your head. So go to that list, visualize it. You got it. Okay now throw it all away. Having no expectations not only will save you from the inevitable let down if you don’t accomplish them but it can help you live a little more freely, having more acceptance for the reality of whatever your situation will be. I’ll give you some of my expectations and some of my realities.

I expected it to be difficult to make friends, I knew that I would have to push myself and my reality has been better because of that expectation. Now I am grateful for the one really great friend that I’ve made here that I know will actually stay in my life once I go back home. I’m happy with my outer-circle friends as well that keep me company but I know we will lose touch after the program. Knowing that truth doesn’t make me sad because I had low expectations for that, since 4 months is such a short span of time to make life long friends. I did have an expectation of meeting spaniards and making friends with some but that has unfortunately not been in the cards for me. Taking all of your classes at your IES Abroad center keeps you in a little American bubble if you aren’t taking classes at UGR. That being said I very strongly suggest attending classes at UGR even if you have to take ones in English, but definitely push yourself to take classes in Spanish that are in your major or that you have a strong contextual background in. This will help you escape the American bubble. IES Abroad also does a lot of cultural immersion activities which are helpful in meeting Spaniards so attend those to meet people and hopefully you can click with people and start seeing some familiar faces, if not at least you're practicing your Spanish!

Speaking of Spanish… this is a tough one to write and hear. I’m quite full of disappointment as I write this and I pray that this isn’t your case but I know that I’m not alone in this feeling so at least I can offer you unity in that. The expectation of becoming fluent in 4 months is dang near impossible. But be kind to yourself, when you break down why the expectation is impossible it will make more sense. I completely came into this thinking by 4 months I would have what I need to push me towards fluency. For context I am a native listener meaning my understanding/comprehension is really good but my speaking has lots of gaps because of lack of vocabulary and my grammar is based off what sounds right and not actually knowing what goes where. I can hold my own in a conversation and my accent is good but because of my gaps I have to find a lot of round about ways to say what I want. I thought surely being in a Spanish speaking country is all I need. Wrong. You need to speak it at all times which is why I strongly recommend breaking out of the IES Abroad safety net and try try try your absolute best to make at least one Spanish friend that you can practice with and can help you. Taking classes in Spanish is not enough. Will you leave better than you came out, of course. Will you leave as far advanced as you thought, probably not. All fault of my own (I know this) I speak so much English here, way more than I ever could’ve anticipated. I am taking all the Spanish classes I can at the IES Abroad center but it’s not enough. All my friends or people I socialize with are from IES Abroad so we only speak English to each other. Sometimes we try speaking Spanish but we all eventually fall back into English.

You have to remember that being here is a mentally and emotionally draining thing, you are doing something big and different than what you’re used to. Because of this whenever your brain can chill (like speaking English with fellow Americans) it’s going to because you're experiencing so many new different things at once. So for that reason set yourself up for things that even though will be trying you’ve already set things in place to hopefully give you the push you need. Such as taking UGR classes and making the extra effort to seek a Spanish friend. Or just find a Spanish girlfriend/boyfriend and that will help you endlessly :)

If you’re halfway through the semester like me and you’re just realizing “Well, I have none of that,” it’s okay. Be kind to yourself. Break down your expectations and remove yourself from your own criticism. There is always going to be room for growth in a language, there are always going to be new words or a better understanding of grammar. You have grown and maybe its not at the rate you expected but focus on all the other things you have accomplished. Like the fact that you did this big move and are in a new city in completely new elements and are succeeding. This experience will have offered you personal growth that you never would’ve experienced back home and that in itself is worth the journey, perhaps not in some grand life changing way, but growth in terms that you put yourself in a new element and have gone through new experiences and feelings.

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Ella Rivera headshot

Ella Rivera

I love to learn about history and other cultures which is why I chose to study in Europe. Traveling is one of my favorite hobbies.I am an avid coffee drinker my go to drink is a coldbrew lemonade which is a specialty from the coffeeshop I work at.

2023 Fall
Home University:
Penn State University
Global Studies
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