Study Abroad: How My World Became A Lot Smaller


“The people are just like me; they just speak another language.”

By Randi Riggs | Twitter: @RandiRiggs4

I made it! I can’t believe I actually made it.” That was the thought running through my mind as I stepped off the Iberia Airbus into the Madrid International Airport. Well, that and, How the heck am I going to find my way to the host house?

Studying abroad in Spain had been a dream since I took my first Spanish class freshman year of high school. Six years later, I achieved that dream. I attended the Universidad de Nebrija in Madrid for a four-week summer study immersion program. And, as corny as it may sound, it truly was the best experience of my life.

I was never really nervous before the trip; just excited. So, I didn’t expect the emotions I felt when the cab dropped me off in front of a five-story building that housed my new family. What did I get myself into? I wondered.

I buzzed the intercom of the building, an old lady answered “Hola!” and I replied “Hola, soy Randi.”

When I stuffed my large suitcase into the tiny ancient elevator and made it to the right door, two older women welcomed me by giving me a kiss on each cheek and then began rambling on and on in Spanish as I nodded, saying “Sí, sí” and tried not to cry.

I called my mom (a very expensive phone call) and uttered the words I never thought I’d say: “I want to come home!”

Obviously, I knew I couldn’t, and deep down I did not want to, I just had never felt so alone and so lost in my life. Fortunately, my host family could not have been nicer. Being a veteran host family, they assured me it only took two days; two days to adjust and I wouldn’t want to leave. Boy, were they right.

School began the day after I arrived and I found my way there by figuring out the metro subway system and stopping in at a bar to ask for directions. When I saw the sign at the entrance that said “San Diego State Students 3rd Floor,” a wave of relief flooded over me. I walked into the room and immediately found a friend. Amy and I had both flown to Madrid on our own, not knowing a soul, but we found comfort in each other that first day at school. We did not know each other before Spain, but I learned you get to know someone really quickly when all you want is a friendly face.

The next four weeks I lived in a 120-year-old building, where my “familia” owned the entire second floor—directly across from El Palacio Real (The Royal Palace) and El Teatro Real (The Royal Theater). I stood on the balcony and watched the sunset behind the beautiful white palace, as an accordion player serenaded the passersby beneath the building. And on the weekends we opened up the house and listened to the opera music coming from the Royal Theater. It all felt surreal.

Aside from meeting amazing Spanish people, I met great people from all over the United States. My classes were filled with students from other U.S. universities, allowing me to make friends not only on the other side of the world, but from the other side of my own country.

The teachers at Universidad de Nebrija were wonderful. They were all extremely friendly and loved to teach us about their Spanish culture, as well as learn about American culture from us.

When the program ended, I did not want to leave. My host family, which consisted of Maria del Mar, her grandmother Tata, her two children Luis and Miguel, and her cousin Arturo, truly became a second family to me. We all cried when I had to leave, and even thinking about it now makes me tear up. I don’t know when I will see them again, but they assured me their door is always open. I am anxiously awaiting the day I can return.

This trip made the world seem a lot smaller. After just a few days, Spain was no longer a foreign country to me. The people are just like me; they just speak another language. I never could have imagined just four short weeks could impact me so much, but I truly feel like I returned to the United States a better person.


About Randi:

Randi Riggs is an English teacher and freelance writer with a passion for language, literature, education and travel. She enjoys swimming, biking, camping and, despite her better judgement, the occasional trashy romance novel.

Image credit: Madrid, by Greenwich Photography on flickr


Idelette McVicker
If you only know one thing about me, I'd love for you to know this: I love Jesus, justice and living juicy. I also happen to drive a minivan and drink my lattes plain. (My life is exciting enough!) Nineteen years ago, I moved from Taiwan to Canada to marry Scott. We have two teenagers, a preteen, a Bernese Mountain dog and a restaurant. (Ask Scott to tell you our love story.) In 2010, I founded and it has now grown to include a Dangerous Women membership community, a Red Couch Bookclub, events and gatherings. I'd like to think of it as curating transformational spaces for women in community. I long for women to be strong in our faith and voice, so we can be advocates for God’s heart for justice here on earth. As an Afrikaner woman, born and raised in South Africa during Apartheid, my story humbly compels me to step out for justice and everyday peacemaking. I have also seen firsthand the impact injustice has had on the lives and stories of women around the world. I refuse to stay silent. I am anti-racist and also a recovering racist. I am a Seven on the Enneagram, an INFP and I mostly wear black, with a dash of animal print or faux fur.
Idelette McVicker

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