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The First of Firsts

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Going abroad, in general, can be scary and challenging, however, I didn’t realize my experience would be so different compared to others. I am a First-Generation college student, the first to join Greek life, the first to join clubs/organizations, and the first to ever leave the United States. Because I was having so many firsts there wasn’t anyone that really could help me prepare. I am also very close to my family, so I didn’t let myself accept that I was leaving home. Since this experience was a first for me (like it could be for many) I wanted to share my uncensored experience to help others when traveling to study abroad.

Flying internationally was something that I had never experienced before, and even before this, I had only flown throughout the United States maybe five times. It was very stressful because I had three rolling suitcases and one small duffle bag. One thing I wish I would have done differently was to have a backpack instead of a rolling carry-on. Not only was it a struggle throughout the airport, but it was also a struggle getting on and off the metro system, as well as dragging them throughout Barcelona trying to find the place that I would call home for the next three months. Oh! Also, put some sort of string of duct tape on your suitcase because you think you’ll know which one is yours but, it is a lot harder to recognize your suitcases.  

Flashforward a few days and everyone is getting settled in, getting to know each other, and going through our orientation. Everyone was very excited to be experiencing all new things and just to be in Barcelona. There were many people who would leave to go explore, however that wasn’t the case for me. I was expecting to be in that honeymoon phase (just like everyone else) that I learned about through the culture shock curve. I was immediately sad and felt like I made the mistake of studying abroad. I spent most of my time sleeping, crying, face-timing home, etc. It took a while to adjust my sleep schedule to being in Barcelona time. Overall, I just felt very depressed for the three weeks that I was getting to know the amazing, new city that I lived in.  

If it wasn’t for my best friend (who I traveled with and had all these experiences with) I’m not sure that my study abroad experience would be what it is today. She really forced me to get out of bed, meet others, and explore the city with her. At this point, I was still very uncomfortable, but I was being to feel much better. Flashforward to around month two of being there both her and I had traveled to other countries and did so many things in Barcelona that the sadness of mine had somewhat disappeared. Although I was beginning to become more comfortable, I still had my waves of sadness, I wouldn’t say it ever went away it just got better.  

I’m not saying this to scare you away from studying abroad, I am saying this because I wish someone would have told me to expect it. Not everyone will go through this experience, everyone is going to have their own feelings, perspectives, etc., but knowing that you’re not alone if you happen to be sad would have made me feel so much better. I also wish I would have brought more personal things from home like a pillow, stuffed animal, or blanket.  

Studying abroad was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have grown so much and learned so much about myself. I pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone and live outside the box. I have to say if I didn’t study abroad, I would not be the person I am right now. Although I did have a rough start being able to have the amazing experience everyone tells you about definitely made it worth it. 

Hannah Ballard is astudent at Butler University and studied abroad with IFSA in Barcelona, Spain in the Spring 2022 semester.