How My Sibling Impacted My Study Abroad

A sibling is not only an inherent friend for life, but siblings can be role models, motivators, and a great resource for life lessons. When it comes to studying abroad having an older sibling that’s studied abroad can provide great insight into what to expect, how to prepare, and encouragement. In honor of National Sibling Day, we spoke with five sets of siblings who have studied abroad and how their older and younger siblings impacted their studies.

But first, don’t forget about our Legacy Scholarship which is available to degree-seeking students who are the children, siblings, and spouses of alumni. You can learn more on our website.

Meet our siblings

Nicole (older sibling): Paris, France & Sarah (younger sibling): Palmerston North, New Zealand

Why did you choose to study abroad?

Nicole: I wanted to experience a new culture and push myself out of my comfort zone. At the time, I was unhappy with the college experience I had chosen at that point, so I wanted to branch out and explore a new country and a new way of life in a way that wouldn’t delay graduation (I still graduated in four years!).

Sarah: I chose to study abroad in order to get the most out of my college experience and to be able to experience college outside of the United States. I chose to go to UNR because of the great opportunities USAC provides through their study abroad programs.

Jamie (older sibling): Bilbao, Spain & Rachel (younger sibling): Oslo, Norway

Why did you choose to study abroad?

Jamie: When I first went into college, I had no plans on going abroad. I always thought that I would stay in the states; and, I would have a wonderful time here, living my best life in college. As I went through my classes, I wanted to study Spanish as a minor. I got further and further into my Spanish classes, I realized the only way for me to really speak the language is to go abroad. So, I chose to go to Bilbao, Spain; and, I had the time of my life. I am forever grateful that I got out of my shell and went abroad because it changed my outlook on life and improved my Spanish.

Rachel: I knew I wanted to study abroad since the beginning of college. My sister had gone abroad the year before; and, getting to visit her fueled my desire to have a similar adventure. When I was a sophomore in college, I originally chose to study in Brighton, England. After looking at the program more, I made a last-minute decision to switch my program to Oslo, Norway. I didn’t even tell my parents of the switch before I did it, which felt a little rebellious to me.

Belen (older sibling): Bengaluru, India & Valeria (younger sibling): Chiang Mai, Thailand

Why did you choose to study abroad?

Belen: I am a first-generation student that comes from a low-income, working-class family that lives in a wealthy part of California. Growing up, I observed my peers spending their summers in places like France, Spain, and Germany- and I would hang on to every word as they described their cultural escapades and fantasize about having my own someday. Then, the summer after 8th grade, I was awarded a scholarship to attend a dual soccer and Spanish immersion camp in Costa Rica that was led by my favorite history teacher! It was my first time getting a passport, being away from home for an extended time, and living with a host family. It may sound cheesy, but it really made me feel ‘this is the only way to live!’ and motivated me to study abroad twice after that!

Valeria: I was working part-time attending community college and not really sure about what I wanted to do next in life. I didn’t want to commit to a four-year college without knowing what I wanted to study, and I was considering taking some time off from school completely. My sister told me that studying abroad could be a good environment to help me do some soul-searching and give me a new perspective on life. I always thought I would study abroad once I was enrolled at a university, but I feel like the stars aligned to give me the opportunity to reflect on my academic goals in a unique setting.

Cynthia (older sibling) Viterbo, Italy & Yajaira (younger sibling) San Sebastian, Spain

Why did you choose to study abroad?

Cynthia: I chose to study abroad to fully immerse myself in the Italian culture and practice the language I’d been studying since high school with native speakers. There’s no better way to practice a language!

Yajaira: Much like my sibling, I chose to study abroad to completely immerse myself in Spanish language and culture. Although Spanish was my first language, I decided to major in it in order to fully perfect it. To me, there was no better way to perfect it than to study in a location where I’d be forced to use it every day!

Nadeen (older sibling) Pau, France & Nia (younger sibling) San Sebastian, Spain & Pau, France

Why did you choose to study abroad?

Nadeen: I have traveled with my family since I was a baby, so studying abroad in college was inevitable. I chose to study abroad in France mostly because French was one of my majors. But I also have family in Europe, so I wanted to study in a place that was close to them.

Nia: Traveling has always been a big part of my family.  My mother left Switzerland when she was 18, when she met my father she knew that she wanted to raise global children so from a young age we traveled as a family all over the world. I decided I wanted to study abroad because I wanted to travel on my own. My sister had told me all of her stories and adventures and I knew this was something I wanted to do. I also recognized how much she grew as a person from this experience and so this was not only something I wanted but something I needed to do.

Lessons shared from older siblings

Everyone shares their study abroad experiences with friends and family their own way. We spoke with our older siblings about how they shared their experiences with their younger siblings and what advice they gave.

Nadeen: I communicated regularly with my family when I studied abroad via texts and video calls. Nia was very young when I was abroad so I am not sure if she remembers too much of me being gone. It was not until she started college and developed her own interests in traveling that I really started sharing my experiences with her. A few months before Nia started her study abroad, we decided she needed a “practice run” solo travel and she came to visit me in Colombia. It was during that trip where I really got to share my passion for traveling and hopefully helped to inspire hers.

Belen: After I returned from my study abroad in India, I was so excited to share my new cooking skills that I made my sister help me prepare a massive multi-course Indian meal for the family! I loved telling her about all the different spices and ingredients as we used them, and showing her where to find them here in the U.S. To this day, we still make that same meal whenever we’re together (though she’s eager to show me her new Thai cooking skills next time we meet).

I gave her five pieces of advice:

  • Learn and use as much of the local language as you can
  • Don’t forget to make friends with the locals
  • Don’t buy the first souvenirs you see (and don’t be afraid to haggle where appropriate)
  • Always carry chewable pepto bismol / tissues that can double as toilet paper in a pinch
  • Neck pillows are travel are 100% worth it

Jamie: When I got home, I shared all my stories of the trips I went on and photos that I had taken with my sister. I had also gotten her a gift from every place that I had been to. This was one way of showing her all the things that are out in the world; and, I was able to share a little piece of my memories with her. My time journaling had paid off because I was able to give more details and remember the little things I did, like going to the beach with my friends, that otherwise I might have forgotten.

Nicole: I told her to say “yes” to as much as possible and to embrace every moment – the good and the ugly — because study abroad is all about opening yourself up to opportunities and experiences that you couldn’t have at home. Getting outside of your comfort zone is an important part of the growth you go through during study abroad.

Cynthia: The biggest piece of advice I shared was to enjoy every moment and engage with locals. Locals are an invaluable part of the experience and can provide much insight to the culture, language, and customs a textbook cannot.

Lessons learned from younger siblings

After speaking with our older siblings about how they helped their younger siblings in their study abroad journey, we asked our younger siblings about how their older sibling affected their study abroad choices and the most important lesson they learned from them.

Sarah: The best tip my older sibling gave me was to enjoy every minute of my time abroad because it would go by fast. I am so grateful for this advice because it was always on my mind when traveling, going to classes, when I was enjoying downtime with my new friends, and even when I would get a little homesick. I am grateful for this tip because I believe it gave me the reminder to really enjoy everything that my study abroad experience gave me.

Valeria: I knew for certain that I wanted to go to Asia. With that in mind, my sister helped me narrow down my options based on my interests, eligibility, courses, language, and scholarships. I wish I could show you one of the many charts or pro-con lists we made over the years! We would even go to various ethnic restaurants and food trucks to conduct ‘research.’ After careful consideration, I felt like Chiang Mai, Thailand was the perfect choice for me.

Yajaira: The greatest lesson I learned about studying abroad from my sibling is that it’s totally possible, as long as you’re willing to put in the work to get there. Studying abroad will take a lot of research and planning, but it’s possible and so worth it!

Nia: My sister warned me that there would be times when I would feel anxious or nervous or homesick but she reminded me that in the end, I would not remember these moments and I would only remember the good times. It is so true… I don’t remember anxious feelings even when I think of the stressful situations that happened. Now, I just laugh and remember the crazy adventure that came along with it. I will always remember that lesson and apply it to everything I do.

Rachel: My sister never really sat me down and gave me advice for studying/living abroad; and, trust me, I asked. I asked her about what she did, what she brought with her, what she did to make friends, and basically asked all the questions people ask when they are trying to figure out how their life will be abroad. My sister told me her stories, but she always emphasized that her experience will be nothing like mine. She didn’t want her time abroad to influence how I made any of my decisions when it was my time to go. Yes, it would have still been a wonderful experience if I had followed her and went to Spain. But, my sister wanted my experience to be special and one-of-a-kind, just like hers was. She wanted me to experience that feeling you get when you reminisce about your time studying abroad, the feeling that can’t properly be described with words. And this, too me, is the best advice my sister ever gave me.

Every study abroad experience is unique, but having someone in the family that you can learn from and confide in can help you prepare for your study abroad, set goals for what you want to get out of your study abroad, and get excited for the possibilities of study abroad. If you and your sibling studied abroad, we want to hear how your sibling impacted your study abroad experience in the comments below.