by Cara Gillespie

Junior Cara Gillespie spent her spring semester studying in Spain and traveling through Europe. Looking back on her experience she wouldn’t change a thing.

I am sitting in a pub in Annascual, Ireland, a village town made up of about 2,000 people. I have been traveling for more than two weeks and living in Europe for nearly five months. Sitting here, I cannot help but reflect on my time abroad with nothing but fond memories and lessons learned.

Last year in January, I was sitting in the library scrolling through everyone’s Instagram posts of their J-term trips, wishing I could go on one. I looked into the programs everyone was on and the past J-term programs. After looking at the prices, I quickly realized that a J-term study away experience was not financially feasible for me.

However, one of my deepest desires had always been to study abroad. I lived in Romania working with a church following my first year at Pacific Lutheran University and saw how life-changing immersion experiences are. My experience there only fueled my desire to return to Europe and to study away. I was not content with giving up on my dream to study away just because I could not afford a J-term trip.13173047_10154046660759333_2968922310224474009_o

I scheduled a meeting in the Wang Center to discuss other options, through that meeting I found Institute of the International Education of Students abroad. My program actually ended up being cheaper, although close to, my tuition costs at PLU and the best part was my scholarships and financial aid still applied to my study abroad experience.

Knowing the expense of studying abroad for a semester was less than staying at PLU makes studying away sound like the easy choice, but for me it was not that simple.

At PLU I am known for my busy schedule. I work three to four jobs throughout the year, I typically take a full 17-credit course load, and as if that is not enough on my plate, I have managed to work for PLU’s student media and continue playing volleyball to boot.

That made the decision to study abroad difficult. It was like deciding to drop everything I loved doing and just leave, with no real knowledge of what was in store for me. I had studied abroad once already though, so I knew I had it in me to do again.

Once I made the decision to go, the rest was easy. I filled out the necessary paperwork and was off on my next adventure.

Some people think of study abroad as a glorified vacation, but I would argue it is a necessary step in everyone’s education. Do not get me wrong, studying abroad was one of the most fun and rewarding experiences of my life, but studying abroad is like taking the challenges one has at home and putting them in a new context with even more challenges.

I had class and volunteering Monday to Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an hour commute to and from class. Then on the weekends, I usually had a full itinerary full of cultural experiences throughout Spain and other parts of Europe. I had a heavy homework load, just as I would have at PLU.

My program was tough, definitely comparable to PLU. I was trying to cultivate relationships with my homestay family as well as with all my new friends. A large part of what makes study abroad so special is really trying to adapt to the language, the culture and their customs.

In Spain that meant dinner at 9 p.m., siesta in the afternoons (although as a student you do not actually get a siesta), and going out for a drink with friends means sangria and patatas bravas at 1 a.m.

Five-months, 11 countries, countless planes and trains later I wouldn’t change a single thing and more than anything, I’m proud I got myself there.

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