Study Abroad + Study Away: Butler Semesters in Spain and NYC

Written by: Peer Advocate Raziya Hillery

Having the opportunity to study away twice throughout my college career is an incredible privilege I was able to have. My sophomore year of college, in Fall 2019, I studied abroad internationally in Madrid, Spain, and two years later, in Fall 2021, I was able to study away domestically in New York, New York. Learning about these Butler-sponsored programs and thinking I could only do one or the other is a common misconception I had. 

Per my last reflection on studying abroad as a person of color in Madrid, this blog would compare both two studying abroad experiences from Butler, specifically the processes, classes, and my experiences. I hope to encourage students to pursue their goals no matter how out of reach they may seem to be and study abroad if able. 

Thankfully, both the processes of applying to go abroad were easy and supported. The biggest issues were assuring I fulfilled my major requirements and financial requirements to be able to attend. By way of scholarships and discussing these issues with my advisors and Butler staff, I was able to earn funds and develop a schedule that would be best for me to go. 

The main difference in these programs is that they are simply for different reasons. In Spain, we were there primarily to study and be immersed in Spanish with other Butler students and faculty. This established program was pre-structured for me, with my classes, excursions, and internship being mapped out for me. 

In New York, we were there primarily to work and gain internship experience. Therefore, finding the internship, securing the applications and developing my schedule was in my hands– that means that I crafted and developed the majority of the program, which was unique to each student. The school handled the classes, accommodations, and connections to students, alumni, and organizations that would be there as well.

With the pandemic, there were extra precautions, and I didn’t quite know until June that I would even be going to New York, and I didn’t know my internship placement until  July. Nevertheless, I received extensive support in both application processes and they helped me navigate some of the issues I was going through pre-departure. Butler also has domestic study abroad programs in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles of the same nature. 

Perhaps, the biggest difference was in the structure of the program, primarily academics. Classes in both programs were a mix of lecture and field-based, and students were considered full-time. In the New York program, students took two semester-long classes, took three weekend classes with visiting faculty, and got credit for the internship. In Spain, all of our classes were semester-long at the university, with one being taught by a Butler professor.

Overall, both programs were geared toward encouraging students to learn more about the area, the people, and the culture. In these classes, we also had excursions to different parts around the city (and country in Spain) where we experienced the different things that we learned about in the classroom. All of these experiences from both programs were super enriching to see the area through new, informed lenses.

One of the biggest challenges was navigating culture shock, but domestically. I have roots in New York City but never once have I lived or been to Brooklyn, where myself and other students stayed in Butler-approved housing. I’ve been to New York City multiple times, and since it was a domestic study abroad opportunity, I thought I would not experience culture shock and homesickness as much. Since I came in with those expectations, those feelings of homesickness and loneliness hit me harder than what I expected. 

While in Spain, I was surrounded by 13 other students and a professor who were consistently there to help and discuss what we were going through. The university we attended was based on supporting students who were learning Spanish as a second language and guiding them through studying abroad. Therefore, facing homesickness and culture shock was expected, and there were already resources in place to support us.

 In New York City, I was working as an intern and taking night classes, so this study abroad-based support I previously experienced was not the same. I was also in a classroom, but it was about five of us. We didn’t have the structured schedule that my class had in Spain, and our internships were all different as we were all in different fields. Therefore, we rarely saw each other all together. Experiencing this made me make friends with more locals and meet new people from other universities, but it was also lonely at times. Having enough downtime to face these issues is what made me reflect more on life after graduation and made me question how far I want to be from my family and friends. 

Additionally, during the NYC semester. I interned at the Dominican Republic’s Mission to the United Nations, and that was often difficult for me to navigate as someone not fluent in Spanish and coming from an outsider perspective. The goals of taking this internship were to improve my Spanish skills, learn more about the country, and get the experience of working from a member state to the United Nations. I achieved all three of those goals, but going through the internship was a struggle that I didn’t see coming. It sometimes contributed to the loneliness and culture shock I felt in the city. 

Nevertheless, these experiences have given me numerous opportunities and memories that I am forever grateful for. I’m a person who loves change, so being able to have these dynamic college opportunities was incredibly fulfilling for me. 

The biggest thing I learned from these experiences is to give myself grace and to be my own cheerleader, because in these uncomfortable situations, we must acknowledge the strength and bravery we have to make it through. In these situations, it’s easy to only focus on what we could have done better and rarely focus on what we do well. These cities are beautiful places–  with their own charms, people, food and culture that are drastically different. It is my hope that we create opportunities for all students to have these remarkable experiences and to continue sharing them to encourage others. 

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