Ava O. Exchange Ambassador
What is one word to describe your study abroad experience:
"I would say that I personally know of no life experience as culturally enriching as studying abroad. And I mean it."
Exchange student at the University of Malaga, Spain
Summer Language Program
Studying an MA in European Studies
- What is the best thing that happened while you were studying abroad?
I went to Malaga to attend a two-month course and before leaving I was so worried that I would not be able to make any friends in such a short time. However, I met my three classmates on the first day of my course. We would spend all the weekends together and we even travelled together a few times. I would say that the best thing that happened to me while studying abroad in Spain was getting to know such amazing people and sharing many moments of this experience with them. We not only had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the Southern Spanish culture, but we also learned about each others' cultures and lifestyles as we each came from a different part of the world.
- What was the biggest cultural adaptation you had to make?
I studied Spanish literature in Iran and worked as a Spanish language teacher there for a few years. Having travelled to Spain before and having dedicated most of my adult life to studying the language and media of this amazing country, I've always considered myself a part of this culture. That said, I did not have to make many cultural adaptations.
- In terms of your own cultural self-awareness, were there any instances where you realized that your own behaviours, perspectives, or attitudes were different. Where did those differences stem from?
I would also say that the Southern Spanish lifestyle is very similar to the Iranian lifestyle. Andalusians are night owls, like to have fun, have a unique sense of humour, and are very welcoming, just like the majority of Iranians.
- Where was the coolest place you travelled to during your study abroad experience?
During my studies in Malaga, I had the opportunity to travel to a few place in Spain, Portugal, and France. However, the "coolest" place that I visited was "la Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias" (The city of Arts and Sciences) in Valencia, which is one of the most important modern architectural complexes in the world. I particularly liked this place because of its science museum, where visitors could interact with very cool scientific exhibitions and conduct guided experiments. As an Arts major, I visited a lot of museums, as well as a few art galleries in Spain, but I could never guess that the most fascinating museum in Spain for me would be a science museum!
- What is something that you know now, that you wish you knew before you studied abroad?
I think if I go back in time, I would definitely travel lighter! I took a huge suitcase full of clothes with me, half of which I never wore!
- What was your best learning moment?
I honestly believe that my study abroad experience added a lot to my intercultural competence and communication skills. During this trip, I learned a lot more than what I would have learned in a university class.
- Who was the hardest person to leave from home? How did you deal with that?
I'm an International student from Iran, so I was studying abroad in Canada even before travelling to Spain. My family lives in Iran and I am so privileged to have parents that not only encouraged me to come to Canada to study and to expand my horizons, they have also always taught me that I did not have to be with them all the time to prove that I love them. Also, I believe that home does not have to be a fixed point and place in time. I left my parents to go and live in another city when I was 18, travelled a little bit, studied and worked in a variety of settings until the age of 26 and then I came to Canada, where I discovered my favourite study spaces, cafés, parks, etc. I travelled to Spain and got used to eating in a few small family restaurants, found a library and a few cafés in the city centre, where I would study most days, and it all became part of what I call home.
- Who was the hardest person to leave that you met while on exchange? How did you deal with that?
It was very hard to say goodbye to the friends I made in my program in Malaga, as well as the owners of a family restaurant where I used to have lunch at a few days per week. However, my friends and I have plans of visiting each other in a year or two, probably in Spain again.
- If you were to recommend exchange to your best friend, what would you say?
I would say that I personally know of no life experience as culturally enriching as studying abroad. And I mean it.
- What are your packing recommendations?
Always have an idea of the weather in your destination in order to pack the right pieces of clothing. ALWAYS take an umbrella with you, no matter where your destination is! I would highly recommend watching "study abroad packing" videos on Youtube as I personally found them very helpful. Find out if you will need kitchen utensils or not, as many residences or even off-campus houses/apartments offer kitchen essentials, so taking your own could only add to the weight of your luggage. Another important thing to note is to check the list of authorized drugs of the country you are going to, as this list may vary from one country to another. Last but not least, always weigh your luggage when you are done packing, as extra luggage weight could cost you a lot of money.
- Would it be helpful to learn another language for this exchange?
My program was actually a language program, but because I already knew Spanish, I had to take a placement test before leaving for Spain. If you are new to a language that you'd like to learn through a summer language program, you can just start from the beginning.
- Did you live on-campus or off-campus? Would you recommend it, and why?
I lived in an off-campus student residence called RESA, because the language institute where I took my course was closer to the city centre, but the same residence had another branch on-campus. I highly recommend RESA to any student wishing to study in Malaga.
- How did you finance your study abroad experience?
There is a variety of travel grants that students could apply for in order to finance their study abroad experience. I got three grants from my department, the College of Arts and the Graduate Student Association, which covered the cost of my flight ticket and one month of accommodation. Being a Peer Helper at CIP, I know that undergraduate students can benefit from more substantial amounts money in form of different grants available to them. I would recommend that students apply to external travel grants and awards as well.
- How do you see your exchange experiences benefiting your future career?
One of the reasons for which I decided to study abroad was my intention of pursuing a career in the International Education industry after I am done with my studies, so this experience would be indispensable to my goal. Having studied abroad will definitely help any job applicant's resume stand out, making them more competitive in the workforce.
- Is there any other helpful information you would like to share with future study abroad participants?
Don't be afraid of all the administrative processes that you might have to go through before departure. At the end you'll see that it was all worth it!