Studying Abroad: Part One with Holly Speed

Have you ever considered studying or working abroad? It is a huge commitment, leaving behind friends, family and the familiarity of home. However, in most cases, the rewards are worth it. For our blog series about studying abroad, we spoke to three alumni about the challenges and benefits of studying in a foreign country…

In our first instalment, we hear from Holly, who is 21 and from Liverpool. She has just completed her final year of her BA (Hons) in Spanish and History. As part of her degree, she spent a year abroad in Spain and in this week’s blog, she tells us how she found the experience…

“As part of my degree, it’s compulsory to spend a minimum of eight months abroad, either studying as an Erasmus student in a partner university or working as an English Teaching Assistant via the British Council. I chose to work as a Teaching Assistant and was placed in Ourense, a small city in the heart of Galicia. For those of you who don’t know, Galicia is a region in the North-Western corner of Spain and borders with Portugal – meaning I had many an opportunity to travel around Portugal too.

Holly in Valencia
Holly in Valencia.

“Ever since secondary school, I dreamt about my year abroad. I always went to Spain on holiday as a child, and was fascinated by the language and the culture. When I got the opportunity to move to Spain for a year, I chose Galicia because my secondary school Spanish teacher had always spoken so fondly of the region – its culture is so different to the stereotypical ‘sol y playa’ Spanish life.

“Although my year abroad was something I had been excited about, it did come with some challenges. The hardest thing about studying, working and living abroad is definitely overcoming the initial culture shock. One example was adjusting to the times of the day in Spain. One of my first memories was arranging to meet up with a new Spanish friend in the afternoon. To me, the afternoon meant any time after lunch, maybe 2pm or 3pm? Whereas in Spanish culture, lunch is still being eaten and the afternoon can be as late as 6pm or 7pm! It sounds a bit trivial, but being on your own and adapting to these slight changes can be overwhelming to start with.

Holly and her best friend
Holly with her best friend and mentor in Spain, Mercedes.

“However, I learnt to take this in my stride and fully immersed myself in Spanish culture. I ate like a Spaniard, drank like a Spaniard and even slept like a Spaniard (oh how I miss my siestas!). The best way to make the most of working abroad is to say yes to absolutely everything – within reason! Whenever a teacher at school invited me to dinner, or to their home, or even for a coffee, I always said yes. It was an amazing way to practise my Spanish and learn a lot about the culture, whilst meeting some really interesting people. I can honestly say one of my best friends from my year abroad was a teacher from my school. We still keep in regular contact and she’s even been to Liverpool to visit.

“Another recommendation for working abroad is that you should definitely take it as an opportunity to travel. Whilst in Galicia, I was lucky enough to meet a great bunch of Galicians that took me under their wing and showed me all the sights in the region. I even travelled a lot to northern Portugal and other parts of Spain, such as Madrid and Valencia. Seeing different cities is incredible and I have caught the travel bug for sure. It even influenced me to start a blog. I used this as a diary and wrote about all my experiences for my friends and family back home to see.

Holly and friends at the Ribeira Sacra canyons in Galicia
Holly and friends at the Ribeira Sacra canyons in Galicia.

“Working and studying abroad is not only a fun experience that adds to your CV, it leaves you with a different way of looking at the world. You gain a skill called cross-cultural awareness that you can take with you in life, not only in work, but social situations too. I enjoyed my year abroad so much that during my final year at Chester, I applied to work as a Teaching Assistant again through the British Council. Only recently was I accepted and I will start work in the region of Andalusia in September. I plan to stay there for one year and afterwards look into studying a Master’s in Translation at a Spanish University, as this was an aspect of my course that I enjoyed the most.

“Now that I have finished my degree, I will be restarting my own personal blog (To Liverpool and Beyond) about my travels around Spain. If anyone is interested in reading more about my time working abroad, I have written several blogs about my time in Spain last year, with more to come soon!”

As our alumni demonstrate, studying abroad can be the perfect way to learn new skills and return home to apply them, or make a life for yourself in a new country. Do you have a story to share about your studies abroad? We would love to hear them, so get in touch with us at alumni@chester.ac.uk or on our social media.

Join us next week for the second part of our Studying Abroad blog series.

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