Jennifer Karr: Study Abroad in Spain

How did you plan ahead to complete graduation requirements, and have time abroad?

I am a planner by nature and I always knew that I wanted to study abroad. However, I am double majoring in AMCS and Spanish, as well as minoring in Legal Studies, so being able to complete graduation requirements and have time to study abroad was of concern to me. Yet, by meeting with my advisors and carefully selecting which courses I would take (especially during my sophomore year), it became clear that I would be able to do both fairly easily. Also, at the beginning of my junior year, I created an Excel sheet that listed the classes I had taken, the classes I would need to take abroad, and the classes I would take Senior year. Being able to organize in this way helped me to clearly see exactly what was required of me and proved to be a great way to track my progress as the year went by.

Was it difficult to find classes abroad that contributed to your Major(s)?

For my Spanish Major, this was certainly not an issue! For AMCS, it was a bit more difficult to find classes related to American culture that would be offered specifically during my semester abroad. That being said, I was able to find a few that did have a sizable amount of content related to American culture, and it was not difficult to make a strong case for why these classes should count for AMCS credit.

How did you handle the transition to a new environment?

New can be scary, but new is also exciting! In my case, I had another student living with me at my host mom’s house with whom I explored and took the train to school most days. I also became good friends with many other students on my program and met students from other study abroad programs. The hardest part for me was being the only foreign exchange student in my political class, which was, of course, taught in Spanish. There were times when the teacher spoke quickly and when I was intimidated to speak up, but the Spanish students were very friendly and I was forced—in a good way—to talk to them, work with them, and even make friends with them. Although I was out of my comfort zone, this proved to be such a beneficial experience for me. Transitions are different for everyone, but there are things set in place to make them as easy as possible.

How did your studies abroad contribute to the knowledge base and skills you are developing in AMCS? Can you give an example of subject matter learned, a skill honed, or a disciplinary perspective or tool you gain?

The two AMCS classes that I took abroad were very different; one was about postmodern literature in English speaking countries and the other was a comparative political systems class. The English class consisted of deep analysis of various novels, poems, and short readings, which was similar to what I have done in many courses at Wash U. My political class, however, was by name more comparative. In 
4this class, I first developed a fundamental understanding of many political systems and after, focused on similarities and differences to see how they relate to one another.

Do you have any advice for potential study-abroad students? What do you wish you knew then (before departure) that you know now?

The biggest thing that I wish I knew pre-departure is how fast the time goes by. An entire semester abroad—one away from school, the comforts and luxuries we are accustomed to, and the people we care about—seems like a very long time... and it is. However, the days become weeks and the weeks become months and before you know it, you are packing up your room and getting ready for the flight home. If you are like me, you’ll have come to love the city that is your second home and you will not be ready to leave these new people, favorite places, and lifestyle behind. So, take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself abroad. If you can travel to other countries, do it, but also make sure to leave plenty of time to see what your abroad destination has to offer. Being abroad is an incredible experience that may only happen once in your life, so make it memorable. That being said, there is no “right” way to do abroad. Tailor your experience to best fit you.