I grew up in a very small town, so the dream to get out and explore new things and different places was something I always had on my mind, but never really came into the picture until I went to college at the University of Cincinnati. It wasn't until I started taking a required Spanish class in college that I realized one thing I really wanted to do was study abroad in a Spanish speaking country.
I initially took a short study abroad trip with the University of Cincinnati to Queretaro, Mexico, where I stayed with a host family and visited businesses around Mexico and learned about international organizations and communications. That trip really blew the door wide open. From that point forward, I was hooked. I needed to continue traveling and I knew the next step would be a longer trip.
Why did you choose USAC?
I knew I wanted to go to Spain because I wanted the opportunity to travel around Europe during my experience. So, once I had that figured out, I narrowed it down to the city where I would feel most comfortable.
I chose USAC Madrid, but after looking at the classes offered, I realized most credits would not transfer back to what I needed them to cover, so that's when I looked into Bilbao/Getxo. They had everything I could've asked for as a marketing major, with minors in Spanish and international business. And a plus was that I would be close to the water, living with a host family in a small beach town, and taking classes in a large city; it was the perfect mix.
What was your favorite part about Bilbao?
Easily my favorite part about Bilbao was Getxo. I lived in a neighborhood called Las Arenas and while the commute to school became boring day after day, I loved being near the beach (my house was a five-minute walk), and being near hiking trails where I could roam with friends on weekends and discover new things. I really became infatuated with the Basque culture and food; it was so unique and unlike anything I had ever seen before. Spain was amazing because it's so relaxing and at ease Even when I was busy and stressed, I felt calm and more relaxed than I would have been if I was back in the U.S. I loved my coffee dates with friends after class, my weekend trips, and my host family.
What made your experience abroad unique?
I definitely think my host family and the other American students studying with USAC had a huge impact on my study abroad experience. My host family was there when I was sick, and my friends were there to help me get through the times when I missed home so much it hurt. Without the people that I met, I would've not learned as much about the culture, language, or even myself. The diversity of the people in USAC was incredible, and I met some lifelong friends who are some of the most intelligent, caring people I have ever met.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
USAC Bilbao Staff -- wow! I can't say enough about them. They made you feel a part of a family from day one on the Madrid tour. Whenever I had an issue or concern, their door was always open. They helped you get doctor's appointments, internships, and so much more. They organized field trips for the group on Fridays, where we went to the beach, the bull ring, or walked around Casco Viejo to get to know the city.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
One thing I wish I would have done differently would've been to stay for a year. Financially, I could have made it happen, but with graduating school and relationships back home, I felt the need to only go for a semester. I was so happy to get back home, but I won't deny that I cried as the plane took off from Bilbao on my return trip.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
A typical day would be me waking up early for class, attending class all day (with mini coffee/study breaks), then either going home for lunch and eating with my homestay family or going out for food with my friends. Then after a much loved siesta, I would return to school to participate in my virtual internship group where we created a business startup. Virtually, I had to get money from investors and run the business for the semester. Then I would get home, do homework at the park or in my room. Finally, I would relax and eat dinner and talk for hours with my host family in Spanish.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time I enjoyed shopping at small boutiques in the city, hiking along the coast of Spain, walking around the Guggenheim Museum and Casco Viejo, and eating pintxos with friends.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
My accommodation was an apartment, which was very nice and comfortable. It really felt like home; it was such a warm and inviting environment. My room was large, private, and I had a huge closet and desk along with a decently comfortable bed. I had my own bathroom too, which was extremely nice. The thing I liked best was the kitchen. It's where I would watch my host mom cook or she would watch me cook, where I did homework, and where we watched TV after dinner.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Know that you will miss home, and that everyone does at some point. But that's the best part about a program like USAC, every single person is going through the same thing you are. Even if it's at different times, you can always find someone to talk to, lean on, and learn from.
Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?
I am a more open and understanding person. I see the world with a different view, since I have seen more of the world, and I never want to stop traveling. Whether it's to another city in Ohio, across the U.S., or around the world. I've caught the travel bug and I can't wait to see where my next adventure takes me! I also cannot find a coffee shop that even compares to the amazing coffee I had while in Spain. The kalimotxos, pintxos, and tortilla are staples that I desperately miss in my life ever since I left Spain.
Would you recommend your USAC program to others? Why?
I would most definitely recommend my program to others. It's a life-changing experience and even if it isn't the same program or the same country, I urge every person to study abroad for any length of time because you will not regret it whatsoever. I learned more Spanish in one semester than I had my whole high school or college career previously.
It is also a chance to learn about yourself, your fears, and your deepest motivations, and channel them into something great!
My advice to anyone going abroad is to be open-minded. Understand that you are a visitor in their country and they have their way of doing things, just as we have ours. Nothing is wrong or weird, it's different, and once you accept that people and cultures are different you will see a huge difference in the way you look at others and life in general.
Paige is a senior at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. She had traveled to Mexico for a short study abroad trip before embarking on her semester-long study abroad adventure in Bilbao, Spain. Paige loves spending time with family and friends, and exploring what makes people and places so incredible.