#StudyAbroadBecause It's YOUR Independence

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Feb 20, 2015 / 0 comments

Haley Otman has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies and Spanish from Grand Valley State University, and spent a semester studying at the Universidad de Granada in Granada, Spain through API (Academic Programs International). She now works in public relations and travels as much as possible, including a recent trip to Costa Rica.


Haley Otman - #studyabroadbecause It's YOUR Independence


What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?

I thought more seriously about studying abroad the further I progressed in my Spanish courses. Every professor would advocate for studying abroad, and all discouraged short trips in favor of a yearlong experience, or at least a semester. I decided a semester would be best for me, since I wanted to improve my Spanish and experience something new, but I was putting myself through school and needed to be mindful of cost.
I knew I would choose a Spanish-speaking country and decided to go all-out and visit Spain, since I hadn't been to Europe and heard that it would be pretty easy to see some additional European countries on the weekends, too. Within Spain, I felt drawn to choose Granada. It's a city (which I wasn't used to), but not a huge city like Madrid or Barcelona, which seemed overwhelming. I also liked the idea of escaping the cold Michigan winter to live in a warmer climate pretty close to the Mediterranean.


What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?

My experience was incredible and something that still has an impact on me five years later. My favorite memories are simple, everyday ones, like trying a new meal with my new friends that were also studying in Spain. My lifelong friends (several Americans from all over the country and a couple of Spaniards) are what made the experience most memorable.

I was in a long-term relationship at the time I studied abroad and my boyfriend at the time wasn't happy about me leaving for a semester. I think it ended up being the lightbulb for both of us that we had different lifestyles in mind, so the challenge of trying to keep things going while abroad has turned into a positive for me as I made an important realization.

Additionally, it was sometimes difficult to deal with the language barrier, especially in stressful situations like when I would get ill. I was very good at Spanish but it's still difficult to not have the option to ask for a medicine in English when you're feeling sick.


Granada - #studyabroadbecause It's YOUR Independence


What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad?

I became independent, open-minded and flexible thanks to my study abroad experience. I still have some Type A moments, but navigating different cultures and languages made me realize that some of the little things I could get worked up about wouldn't be worth the stress.


Haley Otman in Paris. #studyabroadbecause It's YOUR Independence


Has your experience helped you get to where you are today?

Yes, my experience has helped me get to where I am today. I think I just view the world differently and have become a really dependable, flexible team member who can be counted on to handle whatever comes my way without getting upset.


Haley Otman - #studyabroadbecause It's YOUR Independence


What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?

You can make it work financially and use your loans that you would be taking out anyway toward studying abroad. I decided to take out some additional student loan money so I wouldn't have to worry, but you really can afford to study abroad. I am glad I didn't worry about the little things when I was there, and took the trips I wanted to take. That being said, I never went too crazy and did seek out good deals.

I would also say that it's really easy to get caught up in speaking English with other Americans while you're abroad, and that's OK - I made really amazing friends that way. I do wish that I would have tried harder to interact with more Spaniards, though, as I know my Spanish improved but it could have been even more improved if I stepped outside my comfort zone a little more.


How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

My cultural identity is much more broad than when I left, as a small-town Michigander who hadn't seen much diversity. I'm much more appreciative of cultural differences and more OK with not following what people around me think of as "tradition," because there are so many different and wonderful traditions I've seen or heard about.


Haley Otman - #studyabroadbecause It's YOUR Independence



#Studyabroadbecause... You learn what you're capable of when you leave your comfort zone

#studyabroadbecause It's YOUR Independence



All photos courtesy and copyright Haley Otman