Adventures Abroad: New Beginnings

By April Lanzet

As a freshman at Rider, I never would have imagined that this is where I would be in a matter of a few semesters – with one European adventure just behind me and another just begun. For someone who had barely traveled outside of Eastern Standard Time, I may have been the last person you would expect to study abroad.

Alcalá during the annual Festival Medieval in October, photo credit: April Lanzet

I guess I always knew it was a possibility or even an expectation, being a Spanish and German double major, but I never thought I would – or rather could – actually do it. Me, go abroad? Shy, homebody, resistant-to-change me? Such an amazing experience didn’t even seem within my realm of possibility. The cost, the homesickness, the vulnerability…would it really be worth it? That line of thinking makes me want to go back in time, shake my past self and scream “YES, it will be!!!”

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, photo credit: April Lanzet

When it got down to the process, it was hard to see any disadvantages or excuses anymore. I decided I would go all the way and use my junior year to immerse myself. I would go to Spain in the fall first, being much more comfortable in conversation and with the short duration (three and a half months). Then, I would go to Austria (Rider´s only semester-long choice in a German speaking country) in the spring for a full five months.

La Alhambra, Granada, photo credit: April Lanzet

So began my year-long study abroad adventure, September 2011 in Alcalá de Henares, a beautiful little city only a short bus ride away from the heart of Madrid. It was an experience nothing short of amazing. From La Sagrada Familia in Catalunya down to La Alhambra in Andalucia to everyday life in Alcalá, I couldn’t believe this was my life. I learned more in those three months about Spain than I ever expected. I learned so much about myself and met people I will never forget.

Ruta de Don Quijote, photo credit: April Lanzet

But that is all very easy to say after the fact. Anyone who has lived abroad will tell you that the first few days or even weeks can be the toughest. From the physical things like the change in time zone and diet to the mental exhaustion of taking in the environment and trying to get across embarassingly simple phrases in a foreign language, it is rough to say the least. And sadly, many end their adventure prematurely because the stress is overwhelming. The first week, especially, takes its toll.

Grazer Schloßberg, "castle mountain," photo credit: April Lanzet

That is where I am now. I am currently studying abroad in Graz, Austria for the sommersemester, which runs roughly from the beginning of March to the end of June, including a one-month intensive German course for the month of February. My first week has been interesting to say the least. I’d love to say that doing this once before has made me an expert and immune to those beginning blues but every experience is unique. For example, rather than living with a host family, I am living in an off-campus dorm with six other girls and no access to a dining hall staff to cook for me after a day of walking around (who would have thought it was possible to actually miss Daly’s?). Rather than being in an American-exclusive program, I am meeting people from all over Europe and the world. Graz sure is different from Alcalá.

Universität Graz, main building, photo credit: April Lanzet

A few things are the same, however. Public transportation in Europe still makes NJ Transit look pathetic. Like last semester, I am yet again the only Rider student in the program for the semester. Both cities are still only a six hour time difference from New Jersey (crazy, I know). These lists could go on and on; it’s only natural to compare the old to the new.

As I begin my three-week-long, three hour-a-day, five day-a-week intensive German course, I already know this semester will be a roller coaster and I hope for there to be more ups than downs – especially with the temperature. Slushy snow isn’t really what one would consider ideal conditions for getting to know a new city. On the bright side, it does make for some gorgeous photos.

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