Madeline Weih--Abroad in Spain
Winthrop University student, Madeline Weih, spent the fall semester of her junior year roaming the streets of Spain in search of novel sights, fresh faces, and a reconditioned perspective on life. Weih, who is a majoring in both political science and Spanish, traveled through a program with Academic Studies Abroad, also known as ASA.
“It changes your perspective on how you view other people, yourself, and the world,” said Weih. “It really gives you time to think about what is important because you’re away from your normal life and it allows you to have time for self-reflection.”
Elizabeth Evans, who has a doctorate in Foreign Language Education and teaches French at Winthrop University said, “To see and experience how others live and speak is to gain perspective on one’s own culture and personal bias.”
Weih attended La Universidad de Sevilla and fully immersed herself in the culture by enrolling in all Spanish-speaking courses. She took classes in art history, cooking history, literature, and political science. She also took a class where she learned about wine in Spanish history, culture, and economics.
Additionally, the ASA program took her to visit Granada and Córdoba, which are both in the southern part of Spain.
While abroad, students are given the freedom to live and explore their country fully. Some even venture outside of their chosen nations to increase their cultural exposure. Weih visited a few surrounding countries including France and Morocco, but her educational curriculum was based in Seville. She also visited an array of historical monuments including the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Seville Cathedral, and the Louvre Museum.
Rebecca Godwin, who is studying to receive a doctoral degree in biological sciences from Auburn University, lived in Tanzania for more than two years and said, “Studying and spending time abroad helps a person to develop cultural empathy and a greater understanding of the diversity of people, cultures, habits, rituals, beliefs, and more.”
Some of Weih’s friends have noticed a change in her personality since returning to the United States. Hannah Hopfensperger, a junior at Winthrop University said, “Maddie seems less interested in the monotony of college life and more interested in seeing new places and meeting new people.”
Sam Matthews, another junior at Winthrop and friend of Weih said, “She has really opened up to other opportunities and has become more social since she’s gotten back.”Weih had lived in Mexico for three years when she was growing up, so she already had a decent understanding of foreign cultures. She explained that studying abroad reinforced the idea that there is much more to life than what is available just in the United States. It also allowed her to determine the path she wished to follow after graduation.
Erin Hill, a junior at Trident Technical College said, “I think Maddie is more focused on the future and has really figured out what she wants to do with her career.” She continued, “Now it seems like she knows exactly what she wants and wishes to travel and see even more of the world.”
Nina Lowenbach, another junior at Winthrop, said Weih has always been noticeably independent. “She has always been pretty adventurous, but now there’s very little room for doubt that Maddie can take care of herself.”
Hill agreed. She said, “I feel like she is even more independent now because she basically went to a whole different country completely alone and had an amazing time meeting new people and having new experiences.”
According to the University of California, Merced, 96% of study abroad alumni claimed an increase in self-confidence attributed to studying abroad and 89% also reported that it facilitated a greater tolerance for ambiguity. Additionally, a study by the University of Maryland on IES Abroad alumni found that 97% of students attributed studying abroad to increased maturity.
For Weih, raising the money to fund her trip was the hardest part about studying abroad. “It was money worth spending, but the most challenging part for me was just letting that money go. Being away from home was the easy part.”
Weih maintained three different jobs before leaving while also being a full-time student on a full scholarship, so she tries to be very conservative with her spending. Money is often the biggest deterrent for students who wish to study abroad. Hill, Matthews, and Hopfensperger all expressed an interest in studying abroad, but also agreed that paying for the semester was the main reason why they did not do so.
From the beginning of their college careers, Winthrop encourages students to consider studying abroad. For anyone who is interested, the International Center offers two group advising sessions per week during both fall and spring semesters.Once a student has attended the session, they should:
Set up an account in the online Study Abroad Portal
Research and explore various program options through the portal
Meet one-on-one with the Study Abroad Coordinator or a study abroad peer mentor
Discuss their plans to study abroad with their academic advisor, financial aid counselor, and family
Apply for a semester study abroad program online one full semester before they plan to study abroad