#StudyAbroadBecause an adventure of a lifetime awaits you

by Dr. Jessie Voigts / Feb 13, 2015 /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Kim Reiner is the PR coordinator of a nonprofit in Omaha, Neb., and a mother of two beautiful kids. She's spent more than 2 years abroad, studying in Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Belgium. She dreams of traveling the world, but until then, she writes at OhMyOmaha.com, a parent's guide to her hometown.


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

The seed was planted when I was young and my brother's best friend studied in Germany. Once I was a middle school, my family began hosting exchange students; the first two were very influential in my decision to spend my junior year of high school abroad. I opted to go with AFS since that was the program my family knew best, and my top choice was Spain. I knew I wanted to go to Europe, and Spanish seemed the practical language to learn.

A robust study abroad program was one factor in my college search. One of my majors was Spanish, so I chose to study in Costa Rica for a semester and Mexico for a winter term. I applied for an internship with the European Parliament - kind of on a whim because it sounded interesting - and hoped to be placed with a Spanish representative. That didn't work out, but I still got an internship - with a British MEP.


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

Each one was a whirlwind, but certainly my high school year in Bilbao, Spain was the most influential. I lived with a Spanish family with a teenaged daughter, and made great friendships that last even today. It was such an incredible experience, overcoming insecurities and doubt, growing in independence and developing a need to find adventure that still lasts today.


Kim was an exchange student in Bilbao, Spain, her junior year of high school. #StudyAbroadBecause...an adventure of a lifetime awaits you

Kim was an exchange student in Bilbao, Spain, her junior year of high school.


Costa Rica and Mexico were a blast - I had a much better command of Spanish, and made resolutions to experience as much as I could while there. I climbed waterfalls, white water rafted, snorkeled, learned to dance, watched sunrises. In Costa Rica, I had a host mom with grown kids, and in Mexico, I lived with a family with grown kids. My internship in Brussels was more professional and not for language development. I interned at the parliament part-time, attended classes part-time and lived on my own in a loft.

Favorite memories - there are many! In Spain, a vivid memory was introducing smores to my best friend, Ianhire, and her parents. They thought it was a delicacy, it tasted so good.


Kim with her best friend's parents, Marian and Issac, whom she calls her aitas (Basque parents). #StudyAbroadBecause...an adventure of a lifetime awaits you

Kim with her best friend's parents, Marian and Issac, whom she calls her aitas (Basque parents).


My favorite memory in Costa Rica was all the traveling I did with my American friends. Costa Rica was an easy country to navigate and affordable to explore; we'd plan weekend trips to the beach, cloud forest, rainforest, hot springs, volcano... My favorite memory from my internship was while in Strasbourg, France, when the EU Parliament had a session there and I got to attend a meeting in place of my MEP - the meeting was actually a speech by the Dalai Lama and I hung around after the meeting and got to shake his hand. Incredible!

Challenges - My time in Spain was also a challenging year - I'd do it all over again, but the first few months were very tough. I had a very hard time understanding people for a long time, and I was extremely homesick for many months. In Costa Rica, the biggest challenge for me was the cultural differences of how some men treated women there. I really hated the culture of piropos there - the catcalls that were a constant. The biggest challenge with my internship was being far from home when 9/11 hit. There was a lot of uncertainty about being able to return home, and whether the EU would be a target.


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

I learned practical things, like traveling in a foreign country on my own and finding common ground with others from different cultures. And a skill that doesn't go on a resume, but makes for a better person, I learned to be comfortable being alone - that if I wanted to go somewhere or see some show and no one wanted to go with me, I'd go alone. 

I changed a lot each time I was in another country. Before I left for Spain, my biggest concern was that I would miss prom while I was overseas. The world opened up to me and each time I went abroad, I saw how others lived, how others struggled, how others thrived. My opinions changed on things, my little bubble of what's important grew tremendously.


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

The language skill doesn't come in handy too much for my current job in PR for a performing arts non-profit - though I helped translate for a Cuban band when they were in Omaha last summer. My time abroad did feed my love of writing, though. I journaled while overseas, and that love of writing is still strong and helps with my career now (and my blogging).


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

Do it! No one ever regretted going abroad, but many regret never doing it.

And if you do go, don't hold back. Say yes more often than you say no. Get your homework done early so you can go out and have fun and experience the new world you are in.

If you're there to become fluent in another language, befriend locals, journal in your new language, read books in your new language (try young adult fiction that you're familiar with).

And the hardest thing, limit your contact with friends at home. If you're virtually trying to stay home and in the thick of what's going on in your friends' lives, you'll never have your own experiences abroad.

I think sometimes people overlook studying in a country because it doesn't seem to be a practical stepping stone to a career.


Kim interned for a member of the European Parliament. #StudyAbroadBecause...an adventure of a lifetime awaits you

Kim interned for a British member of the European Parliament in the fall of 2001. Her current job is not at all political.


Look past the language part or the career path; realize your time abroad is so much more than learning a second language or getting a key bullet point on a resume. (Don't worry - it will look good on a resume and it's a great talking point for college admissions).


Kim and her friends traveled as often as they could while studying in Costa Rica, often taking spur-of-the-moment day trips to places nearby, like Poas Volcano National Park.

Kim and her friends traveled as often as they could while studying in Costa Rica, often taking spur-of-the-moment day trips to places nearby, like Poas Volcano National Park.


How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

I'm more sensitive to how Americans abroad represent our country. It's not really fair but people are going to judge an entire country based on your interactions, your behavior, your attitude.


#StudyAbroadBecause...an adventure of a lifetime awaits you.




All photos courtesy and copyright Kim Reiner