#StudyAbroadBecause it will help you to meet an open doorway with an open mind

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture


Amy E. Robertson is a Seattle native who has visited more than 60 countries and lived in six. Her favorite travel experiences always include connecting with the local culture and people. Her professional experience includes traveling the globe to conduct surveys on the cost of living, raising funds for international refugees, and writing about travel and food for guidebooks and magazines. She is fluent in Spanish and Italian, and is currently studying Arabic. You can follow her adventures in Beirut on her blog, www.gardeniasinbeirut.wordpress.com, and she tweets about travel and writing and life in general under the handle @traveler0603


Amy Robertson - #StudyAbroadBecause it will help you to meet an open doorway with an open mind


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

I’d wanted to travel for as long as I could remember, and in high school I was very keen to study abroad. My parents convinced me to wait until college so that I would be able to be more independent while abroad. I was studying Spanish, so the choice was between Spain and Latin America, and I decided on Spain so that I might have the chance to travel in Europe.


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

I had a fantastic time. I was placed in a homestay with a family of six, plus two other American students. I attended classes at the Instituto Internacional, which is home to the study abroad program for a handful of American universities. My classes ranged from one on Women in Spanish History to an internship with the Mexican Embassy. I think that the fact that I stayed for a school year rather than just one semester really helped me to immerse myself in the language and culture.

The siblings of my host family ranged in age from 12 to 22, and I became good friends with the son my age. I had the opportunity to spend a lot of my free time with him and his Spanish friends rather than always sticking with the Americans with whom I was studying. The everyday good times with my host family – from having a coffee in the morning with the host mother Lidia, to experiencing Madrid’s nonstop nightlife with my host brother José Luis – make up my favorite memories. In school, my favorite class was on the art of the Prado Museum, and seeing in person the artwork of Spanish greats from Picasso to Goya, El Greco to Velázquez, was another highlight.

Since I’m from Seattle and studied at Boston University, I was already used to seeing my parents just at winter and summer breaks. A much bigger challenge was the disconnect from my friends back in Boston during that school year. This was back before email and Skype, so we were rarely in contact. However, when I got back to Boston the following September, I found that everything picked up just where it had left off with my friends.


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

First and foremost, I developed fluency in Spanish, and I am a huge believer in the value of foreign languages. Becoming fluent in Spanish meant that I was able to plug into the culture and local community in Spain, and later on in Ecuador and Honduras when I lived in those countries. 

It also opened doors to job opportunities: my very first job out of college was with a clothing factory in Boston, where I served as a liaison between the office administration and the Spanish-speaking factory workers. Soon thereafter I found a job with a consulting firm that calculates cost of living differentials for international companies, and my language skills were key, as I spent roughly half the year traveling overseas to conduct surveys, much of that time traveling in Latin America.

I learned more than just language through my overseas experience. Without the cocoon of my university’s home campus, I became more independent. Having to put myself out there every day in a language that’s not my own, in a country that’s not my own, in a culture that’s not my own, taught me to how to find my courage in uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations. By living with eight strangers I learned that (1) every family has its quirks; and (2) some things you need to speak up about, and some things you just need to let go of, in order to find harmony. It was my first taste of living in another culture, and although the experience wasn’t without its bumps, I loved it. 

Amy Robertson - #StudyAbroadBecause it will help you to meet an open doorway with an open mind

Visiting Toledo, Spain, at the beginning of my year in Spain. I studied in Madrid; the trip to Toledo was a day excursion with my school, and it's where I fell in love with the work of the painter El Greco.


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

I’m a travel writer with an emphasis on Latin America, so learning how to travel independently and improving my Spanish were certainly crucial to that. 

I’m also a foreigner in my current hometown of Beirut, so learning how to be comfortable with “the other” (and in my case, learning how to be comfortable being “the other”) has also been important for me.


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

While disconnecting may be the hardest thing, it was probably one of the most valuable things I did. Nowadays it can be easy to spend your time chatting online with friends from home rather than forcing yourself to get out there and make new ones.  It can also be easy to hang out only with other international students, rather than the locals, whose cliques can be a lot harder to break into. But the more time you can spend truly immersed in the local culture, the richer your experience will be.

Related to that, I believe that the fact that I chose to do a year abroad rather than just a semester made a significant difference in my experience, as it enabled me to connect more deeply with the people and places of Spain.

The study abroad program I attended was through my university, and the only additional expense was the plane ticket from Boston to Spain and back. I needed to work in the summer to save up for each college year, and a regular semester or school year abroad can be financially more feasible than adding a summer program to your annual budget depending on what is offered by your university and how you are paying for it.


How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

During my study abroad year, I had the chance to see the U.S. from the outside, and to better understand how the rest of the world views the U.S. and why. That’s a valuable insight for anyone, but for someone like myself, who was studying international relations and has gone on to have an internationally-focused career, the insight was priceless.


and lastly, please finish this twitter-friendly slogan on why you love study abroad: 

#StudyAbroadBecause it will help you to meet an open doorway with an open mind.

(This borrows from EB White, who said, ““The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind.” )




All photos courtesy and copyright Amy E. Robertson