COVID-19 has diminished our experience at Gonzaga a considerable amount. While Zoom classes and not being able to go to basketball games has shifted the entire culture at GU, another essential experience has also been robbed by COVID-19 this year: study abroad.
GU chooses to advertise its study abroad program for a reason, it rocks. The absence of the ability to do so for a year may seem inconsequential to underclassmen or people not in college at the moment, but Zags are currently missing out on an experience that fundamentally changes how you view the world.
Going abroad last spring, I had no idea what to expect. As a through-and-through California kid, making the transition to primarily living in Washington was already hard enough. But moving from the United States to Madrid, Spain, was something I had never experienced before. A new language, a new diet, a new education system and a new way of life are things that you have to immediately adapt to. While at some moments you experience intense homesickness or culture shock, those negative feelings are absolutely worth the experience as a whole.
Of course, there are the obvious perks: being able to travel with your friends to a new country every weekend, trying mouth-watering foods and perhaps having one of the more relaxed academic experiences in your college experience. But its intangible benefits are what make studying abroad a must. The perspective on the concept of culture that you gain from studying abroad is invaluable.
Within the first 24 hours of being in Spain, I noticed countless cultural differences that shocked me. Eating dinner at 8:30 p.m. was normal, going to sleep at 2 or even 3 a.m. was normal and starting your day at any time earlier than 10 a.m. was considered madness.
Beside the clearly contrasting views on the concept of time, European society is a communal, cohesive unit. It’s an indescribable feeling, but Europe is a place that seems more interested in helping each other, rather than helping themselves. Because European cities are far more compact than U.S. cities, they act more as a center of civilization, as people walk, talk, eat and experience life in closer proximity.
Also, depending on the program, you will be introduced to hundreds of students from different schools. Study abroad is the perfect place to make life-long friends who may not even go to GU. Beside about 100 fellow Zags, my entire school in Madrid consisted of either permanent students from various European countries, or other American colleges. This allowed me to meet new people and to build and connect with them, as we were all going through the same cultural-adjustments.
Taking these experiences back to the United States was life-changing, as I was able to compare my own culture to European culture, widening my perspective about the world and erasing my frankly Americanized view on humanity as a whole. Sure, I traveled to new cities, saw breathtaking sites, ate great food, but that wasn’t what I enjoyed most or even looked back on as summarizing my study abroad experience.
When I think about studying abroad, I think about how far it forced me out of my comfort zone, compelled me to see the world through the lens of a different culture and broadened my view on what is possible.