Why I decided to study abroad in Madrid

Simon Wallace headshot
Simon Wallace
September 3, 2023

Quite simply, I couldn’t think of a reason not to study abroad. There are many students that have the ability to study abroad that don’t, and I don't believe it’s a matter of students intentionally choosing not to study abroad, but rather failing to capitalize on their opportunity to do so. For me, it was just a matter of realizing that I am fortunate enough to have good health and financial support to do this, and a life-changing experience was only a few forms and applications away.

But why was it such a no-brainer exactly? There are the obvious draws: cultural immersion, sightseeing, learning a new language, delicious food, breathtaking architecture, meeting new people, and exposure to new methods of learning and teaching. But that's more of a list of pros, and I think that itch to go abroad that so many people get can be traced to something more subtle. Was it a need to change things up? To break from the routine of my life as an American student? To say goodbye to the familiarity of my college town and home state? Maybe. Not quite. That was more of a lure that didn't move the needle for me - because framing relocation as an escape never actually works. I knew that if I had the mindset of leaving something behind rather than arriving somewhere new, then it wasn't something worth pursuing.

So then, was it the adventure that comes with living in a foreign country and diving into a whole new culture? Again, definitely a draw, but the fun of novelty inherently expires, and indulging in that novelty eventually leaves you where you started: searching. Not to bash searching entirely, it certainly has its time and place. Searching, yearning, playing, wandering… In fact, that is the ultimate reason I'm going to Spain. To wander. All the previous reasons I listed are compelling on a whim, but it's a significant decision to study abroad. It shouldn't be made on a series of whims.

A couple of months ago, as if my YouTube feed knew of my upcoming trip abroad, a short video popped up titled "The Wisdom of Wandering." The channel that posted the video is known for producing academic philosophy and psychology videos, but funnily enough, this video featured the famous actor, Bryan Cranston. Cranston spoke of when he was in his early twenties and quite unsure of what he wanted. He decided to go on an impromptu, unplanned motorcycle trip with his brother. There was no plan, no direction. No routine to adhere to. He just simply lived. For two years, he moved in this state of constant exploration, constant novelty, constant wandering. He gave himself the time and the space to just breathe and to just be, and in that space, he was able to delve into his own nature. What was it he wanted, what made him satisfied, at peace? It turned out to be acting – far from the career of a policeman that he had previously thought he was destined for. This was a revelation that he claims only his intentional wandering could have brought about.

As an undergrad entering my ninth and final semester, I'm entering a pivotal point in my life. Soon I'll be committing to a career and choosing a place to settle down for some time. It's going to be a lot of changes and a lot of big decisions, and for that reason, I'm so grateful for this upcoming time abroad. The food, the music, the art, the overall novelty of it all – those things will all be great and should be enjoyed. But these next few years of my life are ones I want to walk into with full confidence. Placing myself in a foreign environment and being exposed to new ideas and perspectives about life will prove invaluable well after my time abroad. There are so many ways to live a good life – or, to keep things simple, a good day. I believe that it's crucial to expose yourself to as many of those ways as possible when you're still young. And so the wisdom of wandering is the overarching reason I'm studying abroad, and the historic yet vibrant city of Madrid seems like a great place to wander.

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Simon Wallace

I'm from Williamsport, Pennsylvania and I am a senior at Penn State University studying computer science. I enjoy being physically active, whether that's organized sports, going to the gym, or just spending time outdoors.

2023 Fall
Home University:
Penn State University
Computer Science
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