Studying abroad is one of the best ways for a student to immerse themselves in a new environment by exposing themselves to new cultures and experiences. I am very grateful for my opportunity to have studied abroad in Valencia, Spain this past semester as a student in University of Virginia’s program. I am also one of the students who was placed in a very unique situation: I had to leave Spain early because of COVID-19. I spent two months in Spain, and two months at home completing my Spanish semester. While being grateful for the opportunity, I was heartbroken that I didn’t get a “complete experience” like students from past years. I pondered over how this unique experience changed my life and made me grow. Ultimately, I realized that this experience was multi-faceted: not only did I gain a global perspective while abroad in an intensive program, I also gained adaptability from being sent home, forcing me to “think on my feet”. I realized my global experience and adaptability would greatly benefit my future in the business world.
I pondered over how this unique experience changed my life and made me grow.
My semester abroad in Valencia, Spain was the perfect opportunity to immerse myself in a new culture while practicing Spanish in an intensive academic environment. My experience, combined with rigorous academic courses of Spanish history, economics, business, and literature, has taught me the cultural and societal differences between Spain and the United States. Besides learning about Spanish culture in school, culture shock was something that hit me by surprise, especially during times of discomfort. I quickly learned unspoken cultural norms of Valencia, sometimes the hard way: credit cards are not commonly used for two glasses of wine at a restaurant, gratuity after a meal is rare, jay-walking is widely accepted, staring at strangers is common, and you ALWAYS have to double check that you are not standing in a bike lane when walking through the city. It went through a process of comical mistakes and awkward interactions, but I slowly gained my footing in the first city I had ever lived in, and the first country I had ever spent time alone in. But through the discomfort, the speaking mistakes, the quiz I failed (my first F of college!), the cultural cues I slowly picked up on, and the laughs I had when talking to my new peers, I learned to love the ins and outs of Spanish business and culture, and to love living abroad.
Having this global experience will help me in my future endeavors as an incoming business leader. An article by the global analytics and advice firm, Gallup, states the future will bring leaders “who tend to be increasingly globally oriented and eager to explore the world”. They also explain how globalization is flattening the world, forcing people of different cultures to collaborate and interact: “As the world gets flatter it also gets less homogenous. The world economy is already demanding leaders with an evolved understanding and appreciation of the true diversity that comprises the modern world. The demand for a global mindset will only grow.” My experience in Spain has propelled my curiosity of different cultures and allowed me to experience business in a different environment. My curiosity of global experiences will allow me to grow as an individual and will propel my career as a leader who wants to understand different cultures in relation to their business norms. I am excited for the opportunities my global mindset will bring.
“As the world gets flatter it also gets less homogenous. The world economy is already demanding leaders with an evolved understanding and appreciation of the true diversity that comprises the modern world. The demand for a global mindset will only growGallup Article
COVID-19 has also allowed me to grow another vital skill: adaptability. In the TED Talk “3 Ways to Measure your Adaptability — and How to Improve It”, tech investor Natalie Fratto outlines a new way to determine potential in founders: “I look for signs of one specific trait, not IQ or EQ, it’s adaptability. How well a person reacts to the inevitability of change, and lots of it.” Instead of looking at a person’s intelligence — what school they went to, their past visions in other companies—and their emotional ability to connect with others —building teams and communicating with coworkers and clients — Fratto looks at a person’s ability to be flexible and innovative during uncertain times. Adaptability is one of the biggest strengths I gained from my semester abroad, specifically when I was sent home early. I was forced to change my mindset and think about how to get the best out of my experience. I can now use this trait in my future career.
“I look for signs of one specific trait, not IQ or EQ, it’s adaptability. How well a person reacts to the inevitability of change, and lots of it.”Natalie Fratto
My adaptability muscles were stretched pretty thin in Spain as I set the date and bought the ticket to go back home. Suddenly, every important experience and goal was heightened into a “bucket-list frenzy”. I was navigating the hardest classes of my college career, with speaking only Spanish, taught by native Spanish speakers, all while cramming every possible experience into my time left in Spain. I think every student studying abroad during Spring 2020 knew the inevitable fact that we would have to go home. It was a looming cloud that was pretty hard to ignore during an otherwise wonderful experience.
My adaptability muscles were stretched pretty thin in Spain as I set the date and bought the ticket to go back home. Suddenly, every important experience and goal was heightened into a “bucket-list frenzy”.
I was to leave Spain on Monday, March 9. Unfortunately my birthday was March 6. I was devastated to leave, but I wasn’t going to let COVID ruin the time I had left. I made a bucket list that included going to a lagoon, experiencing a few Fallas festivities (before that was inevitably canceled as well), eating at my favorite restaurants, and of course, savoring the walks through the city. My best memories were from this short weekend, because I was mindful of my impending trip home, and I chose to enjoy the time I had left. Adaptability is not only responding to an emergency situation, it is making the best of the situation at hand. Had I not studied abroad during COVID, I would have never strengthened this important skill.
Adaptability is not only responding to an emergency situation, it is making the best of the situation at hand. Had I not studied abroad during COVID, I would have never strengthened this important skill.
My semester abroad was far from perfect, but I gained two important skills that will ultimately help me after graduation. My global mindset and curiosity of new cultures will propel my career forward as an up-and-coming business leader in an increasingly globalized world, and my ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances will allow me to thrive in any new environment. I am grateful for the experiences I encountered during my unique semester, and I can’t wait for my next adventure.