Study abroad results in a lot of things, but one common impact is building confidence and a clearer picture of your next step in life. For Eliza Kern, a sociology major who is minoring in Spanish, a year in Valencia led her to make new friends and memories while finding confidence in her voice in Spanish and English.
We connected with Eliza to hear about her year studying abroad in Valencia, Spain and how her experiences living with a host family, traveling, and volunteering impacted her study abroad.
Why did you choose to study abroad in Valencia?
I decided on Valencia because I felt ready to live in a city – especially a beautiful one by the beach! Honestly thinking about the process of deciding on where to study I barely even remember how I chose, I think I was just so excited to go, anywhere would’ve been good with me! But I was sure I wanted to study in Spain and when looking at the classes available for my Spanish minor, Valencia was a good fit. I didn’t want to go anywhere too cold, but I wanted somewhere that was different enough than where I grew up.
How did studying abroad for a year impact your overall experience? Why would you recommend it?
I would absolutely recommend it, I felt the first semester was necessary to adjust and it didn’t feel like I fully enjoyed the experience until the second semester. There were many fears, anxieties, and challenges in the beginning, of course. So after the first few months, I knew where to go shopping, how to ride the bus and get around the city. I had new friends and I had traveled more, my Spanish had improved and my confidence was much higher. By the second semester, I could fully enjoy and take in all that was happening without the interruptions and distractions like anxieties and confusion.
Why did you decide to live with a host family and how did it impact your experience?
My experience with my host family was a great one but also a bit complicated. The woman I was able to stay with was a dramatic, wonderful and temperamental Spanish artist who lived with her 23 year old daughter. It was so much fun experiencing life with them, but also, of course, awkward at times living in someone else’s space, you do get to see all sides of that person. It’s their safe space that suddenly becomes yours as well and that can feel uncomfortable and challenging to adjust to at first.
My host mom was very patient with us and things got easier as my Spanish improved. I lived with one other USAC participant who I ended up getting really close with, and this hugely shaped my experience throughout the second semester. I am so thankful I was able to have her in my life and to lean on, it was really helpful having a buddy who understands you, I think if I didn’t have her I would have struggled way more.
Our host mom was a great cook and a very strong, independent, caring, hard-working woman. The house was always very clean and there was always yummy food around. There were issues with communication in the beginning and working through those conversations was awkward at times, but I grew so much because of it and learning how to gracefully navigate confrontation or conflict (and in a different language too!) can feel impossible, but I came back and I felt like I’d found my voice! I felt more patient with myself and others as well as less fearful. One of my favorite memories with them was being able to celebrate my host mom’s birthday. Everyone dressed up and there was so much delicious food, and loud music being played. Everyone came dressed in fabulous outfits and were so inclusive of us.
You tutored during your time abroad, why was it important for you to have these experiences?
The family I tutored was absolutely one of the best parts of this entire experience. I looked after an 8-year-old Spanish girl and became quite close with both her and her mother. They became my second family in a way and were such a huge help towards my adjustment, as well as supporting me financially even though it wasn’t that much money it definitely helped! They would have me over for dinner and also pushed me to practice my Spanish more, I met their friends and interacted with way more locals through them. I miss them greatly now!
Has study abroad impacted your major, academics, or professional goals in any way? If so, how?
Studying abroad helped push me to find my voice and clarify my goals. Since I’ve returned I have so much more confidence and I say yes to more opportunities and experiences, I hold back less. I know for a fact this is going to take me far, I stress less about my future now!
Anything else you’d like to say about your experience and why students should choose to study in Valencia?
Valencia is such a special city that is so underrated. I felt honored to be able to stay there, there’s so much to do and see and new crazy people to meet and go dancing with, or look at art or listen to jazz music. Valencia felt so much like home towards the end, it was safe and comfortable especially for a city.