#StudyAbroadBecause it will expand your world

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Hi, I'm Emily!  I'm currently a junior in college studying Spanish and Education.  In preparing to study abroad in Mexico last spring, I noticed there isn't a ton of information out there from people who have studied abroad in Latin America, so when I got back, I started my blog, Emily Abroad, to share my experience. I post practical tips and tricks, travel diaries highlighting our excursions to different parts of Mexico, and personal reflections on my experience. If you'd like to read more, please check out my blog www.emilyabroad18.wordpress.com! You can also find me on Instagram @_emilyabroad_

Emily Smith - Querétaro, where I was living. #StudyAbroadBecause it will expand your world

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?
I grew up traveling a lot around the US with my family, and I had traveled a bit internationally as well. I had always kind of assumed that I would study abroad someday, and when I decided to major in Spanish, I knew that would be part of my college experience. I knew I wanted to go to Latin America and wanted a semester program, so I ended up choosing to study abroad in Querétaro, Mexico through a program my college offers.  

Emily Smith - Querétaro, where I was living. #StudyAbroadBecause it will expand your world

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?
Overall, I had a good experience. It wasn't always easy, but I learned a lot, and I'm glad I did it! My favorite memory of the semester is probably canoeing up a beautiful turquoise river in the Huasteca Potosina to a beautiful waterfall, jumping off a cliff that was at least 25 feet tall, and then floating back down the river through some small rapids. It was amazing! Some of my favorite moments from daily life were just walking around the beautiful historic center of Querétaro (a UNESCO World Heritage site) with friends. I especially enjoyed visiting a certain plaza where people would dance for several hours at night a few times a week.

As a person who likes to have a routine and to know what to expect, there was a lot to adjust to when I got to Mexico. I was homesick at times, and it took a bit to settle into friendships, find a daily routine, and adjust to a new culture. It was also hard at times to be an obvious stranger—I'm a blue-eyed blonde, so I knew it was always very obvious that I was a foreigner, and that was frustrating at times. Things definitely got better and easier as the semester went, though!  

Emily Smith in Guanajuato. #StudyAbroadBecause it will expand your world

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad? 
I think studying abroad helped me to be more confident. I can be shy sometimes, but I had to be assertive as I learned to navigate a new city, and I gained confidence in my Spanish. I've only been back for about five months, so I'm still processing my experience a lot and learning how it has changed me. My time in Mexico definitely helped me better understand the experience of being a minority and an immigrant, if only in a small way, which was a really valuable lesson.

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today?
Again, I haven't been back for too long, so it's a bit hard to say. However, while in Mexico, I volunteered leading English conversation groups at a local Catholic high school and also helped at a preschool for indigenous children. These experiences helped me decide I wanted to teach, which is something I'd thought about before but hadn't been sure I wanted to do.

Emily Smith at Teotihuacan. #StudyAbroadBecause it will expand your world

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?
I would recommend going for a semester and not just a 6-8 week summer program if possible. Being in Mexico for four months gave me long enough to really settle into daily life and get to know the city I was living in. Daily life can be mundane and is definitely less fun and exciting than constantly traveling and doing new fun things, but it's also rewarding to find your favorite coffee shops, explore the city, and things like that. I think if I'd only been there for 6-8 weeks, as soon as I'd really figured out my way around, it would have been almost time to leave.

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?
I mentioned this a bit before, but I was the cultural/ethnic/racial minority for the first time in my life while in Mexico. Both my accent and my physical appearance made it obvious that I was a foreigner. That was really frustrating for me at times and was hard, but it was also a really valuable lesson because I never have to think about my physical appearance or how I talk or anything like that in the US, but I know that many people are very aware of that. I actually wrote a blog post about this recently, which you can find here.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
It's OK if you get homesick and if you don't absolutely love it all the time. I sometimes felt pressure to make it seem like I was always having the time of my life and like it was absolutely amazing because the super amazing parts are what everyone talks about and posts on Instagram.  In reality, sometimes it was hard. I definitely learned from the hard parts, and there were definitely times where I did really love it. But four months is a long time, and you experience a lot of new things when you're abroad, so it's OK if not all of them are good or fun or if you aren't on a constant emotional high for four straight months. I'm glad I did it, even if it was hard sometimes!

Emily Smith in San Miguel de Allende. #StudyAbroadBecause it will expand your world

#StudyAbroadBecause it will expand your world

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Emily Smith - San Miguel de Allende. #StudyAbroadBecause it will expand your world

All photos courtesy and copyright Emily Smith