What do I want to get out of this experience?
When traveling or studying abroad, having specific expectations and knowing what you want to get out of your experience is of utmost importance. Regardless of what type of experience it is, whether it be educational, professional, or personal, it’s integral to understand your motives behind doing something so that you can reap the most benefit from it and gain personal satisfaction. I learned this notion quickly when I studied abroad; personally, my main focus and motivation for studying abroad was to broaden my cultural horizons, learn more about local culture, and fully embrace all of the new cultural elements I was encountering. However, I was disheartened, shocked, and confused during my study abroad semester in Madrid when I learned that other students did not feel the same way. Other participants in my program did not want to speak in Spanish to improve their language skills and planned trips every weekend to nearby countries, further displaying their lack of desire to embrace the host country they chose to study abroad in.
It was difficult for me to understand in the moment why other students chose to study abroad in a particular location when their main motives were to just travel to other countries on the weekend and not really immerse themselves into their selected host country and culture. For me, my main goal and motivation was to embrace Spanish culture through as many different facets that I could: speaking in Spanish every chance I had, living in a traditional Spanish dorm and having close local Spanish friends, integrating and involving myself in the local Madrid community through social activities, and more. In fact, during my semester, I didn’t travel outside of Spain, as it was imperative for me to explore and learn more about my host country, while I saw many of my peers not embracing the cultural immersion aspect of living in Spain. It wasn’t until after my semester that I came to the realization that we all have varying expectations and objectives of what we wish to get out of different experiences in life. My peers just had differing motivations and expectations for their study abroad experience that did not align with mine.
A difference in values and motivations
At the end of the day, I also think I experienced my study abroad semester differently than my peers because of a difference in personal values. I didn’t know many people on my program that wanted to experience Spanish cultural immersion in the same way that I wanted, as most of my peers were more interested in the local party scene and nightlife, and spending their free weekends away from Spain. My good friend Daniela from Brazil, whom I met in the Colegio Mayor was one of the only people with whom I felt shared the same values and motivations for studying abroad in Spain. We connected in our mutual interest to fully embrace Spanish culture and take the time to appreciate and adapt to our new host country.
No one way to approach studying abroad is correct; we all possess a different set of expectations and motivations for certain experiences, and that was abundantly clear to see. Years after the fact, I don’t judge my peers for having dissenting views towards experiencing studying abroad and travel. I’m just more aware of those differences in goals and expectations, and I’m curious as to why some people are driven by certain motives, while others aren’t.
Studying abroad also taught me a great deal about general traveling endeavors, as I quickly learned that varying travel expectations can be stressful, conflicting, and difficult to work through. I’ve traveled in groups with people who are content with just taking things in and not having a plan; these people prefer seeing where the day takes them and enjoy living in the moment. On the contrary, I’m the type of traveler that likes to have structure and am driven by experiencing many things, constantly in motion trying to see as many important sites and take in as much of the location as I can. I’ve found it quite difficult to travel with multiple people, as we all have our own ideas and expectations of what we want to get out of our travel experiences, which undeniably leads to conflict, dissension, and drama within a travel group. I had to go through stressful group travel experiences to learn that if you want to achieve your individual travel objectives, solo traveling is most ideal. In this way, you get to fulfill your own expectations, shape your itinerary around your desires, and experience the location in the way that you envision. Ultimately, your travel expectations and motivations are personal and unique to you, and by no means are someone’s better than someone else’s… they’re just different. Set expectations for what you wish to gain from your travel experience and enjoy your time abroad according to your own personal values and objectives.