This week, we join ACCENT Community College Scholarship recipient Olivia Eggers Friedman, who, after a rough start getting settled in Madrid, developed the confidence and independence to explore Europe and travel on her own.
Hello! My name is Olivia, I am 21 years old, originally from the San Francisco Bay Area and have been a student at SBCC for the past two years. I still remember the day I was walking into the SBCC library and saw the flyer for the Madrid study abroad program. I had been having a bit of a rough time in my personal life, and wanted nothing more than to get as far away as I could from everything that was familiar. It has always been a life goal of mine to become fluent in Spanish, so studying in a Spanish-speaking country seemed ideal. The day I saw the flyer in the library was the same day that one of the pre-departure orientation meetings was scheduled for. Everything seemed to line up perfectly, and I attended the meeting that very evening! I was so ecstatic, I called my family and explained that I intended to do everything I could to go to Spain in the fall. They were supportive, but unsure if they would be able to help me financially. I became aware that ACCENT offers scholarships, and decided to apply. A few weeks later I received an email that I was granted a scholarship! I couldn’t believe it, I was going to Spain! I spent the summer working as much as possible to save up for my trip.
I decided to fly on my own from the Bay Area. When I arrived in Madrid, a girl on my flight was kind enough to give me a ride to the area of the city I needed to go. She dropped me off nearby, but since I had just arrived in Europe, I didn’t have a working SIM card, so navigating on Google maps was not an option— a scary situation for a millennial. ACCENT had provided me with detailed instructions on how to find their building, but I still managed to get lost. My Spanish is sub-par and I was not yet confident enough to ask a local for directions, so I spent 45 minutes walking around a foreign city with no way to contact or talk to anyone I knew. It was during these first few minutes in Madrid that I understood that studying abroad wasn’t going to be easy.
It has now been 5 weeks, and so far I have made many mistakes, each time wondering how I will possibly make it through. I got on the wrong high speed train on my way to catch a flight, and ended up in suburbia. I got off on the wrong bus stop while trying to find my way to the discoteca, and found myself in the middle of the night on the island of Ibiza. I have learned that fanny packs are actually very cool, and a necessity to avoid pick-pockets. I am currently writing this blog in a cafe in the middle of a Mediterranean storm in Barcelona. However, it is during experiences like these that I have learned to trust myself in a way I have never done before. During my short time abroad, I have learned that no matter how impossible a situation may seem, if I remain calm and trust myself there is always a solution. Although I am only about halfway through my time here, I feel immensely different than I did when I boarded the plane in California.
I have traveled to a new city every weekend so far, and it has been difficult to learn how to balance my classes with travel, but I am starting to get the hang of it and I am learning new strategies on how to manage my time, skills I will keep with me when I return to the States. The academic work abroad is challenging, perhaps more than I expected, but very interesting and stimulating. Every week there are at least two classes which take place out of the classroom, such as tours of the Prado Museum for art history, or a tour of Hemingway’s favorite spots in Madrid for my literature class. I feel lucky to be able to get real life exposure to the material we are studying in my courses.
I am aware that my parents and teachers would probably like me to say that majority of my learning is through the time I spend in an academic setting, but honestly that just is not true. It is the time I spend outside of the classroom, just experiencing life that I believe has been the most beneficial to me. There are lessons the world has to offer that no classroom could ever hope to teach. These experiences have fundamentally changed me, and gave me a level of self-confidence and independence I was not even aware was possible for me. I feel immensely grateful for the opportunity to live in a foreign country and be able to experience the (rather large) societal differences between Europe and the United States. I have met and shared stories with people my age from all over the world, and have been exposed to more cultural diversity than I ever have before. This past month has been a whirlwind of adventure, and has humbled me and gave me a sense of perspective I could never have imagined. I encourage everyone to do anything they can to travel. It is the best decision I have ever made!
~Olivia Eggers Friedman, Santa Barbara City College
ACCENT is proud to support the Community College Scholarship as part of our commitment pledge to IIE Generation Study Abroad, a nationwide effort to help more U.S. students gain international experience through study abroad programs.
Did this post inspire you take on the adventure of studying abroad yourself? Open enrollment programs with ACCENT allow students of all educational and financial backgrounds to study abroad. Find a program that works best for you at: http://accentintl.com/find-a-program/. To learn more about the ACCENT Community College Scholarship, visit: https://accentintl.com/participant-information/accentscholarship/.