Graduate school wasn’t really on my radar while growing up, not even going to college. Before becoming a first-generation college graduate, it didn’t seem possible that college and graduate school would be achievable. Although my single-mother of 7 children always advocated for us “to get an education”, my ultimate goal was to complete high school and get a job.
That thought quickly evaporated when I enrolled at the University of Florida in 2007. Everything changed for me. Graduating from college became an accomplishable goal, and grad school seemed more than possible. In fact, college manifested opportunity and new goals for me, including studying abroad. Never before had I heard of that term, but with the help of a study abroad advisor, I applied to a 6-week summer program in Santander, Spain in 2009. This was amazing!’ – I thought. The girl that had never been on a plane before or traveled outside of the US was embarking on a trip to another country. It was going to be life-changing.
It wasn’t easy-peasy like I had hoped, or at least it didn’t start out that way (another story for another day). But, spending six weeks in Santander, Spain left me wanting more. I wanted to travel more and see the world.
Two years later, I was packing up to move to Madrid, Spain. This time for grad school.
After spending an entire year in the Ronald E McNair Program, I felt confident enough that I possessed the skills to conduct research and write a thesis. Spain was the test I needed on a personal, professional, and, definitely, an academic level. No one else in my family had obtained either their Bachelor’s OR Master’s degree, and I wanted to prove that I was capable.
Grad school abroad is more than going to classes and studying. The advantage of obtaining a graduate degree in the US, and for most of us our native land, is that we are already comfortable with the mannerisms, traditions, and culture here. Going to grad school abroad, there’s an added layer—navigating and immersing yourself in a different culture.
What I loved about this particular layer, I grew to love the culture, people, and the food on top of studying in one of the most popular cities in the world. Spain became my second home. Sometimes, I would breathe in deeply and say to myself, “Am I really living in Madrid?” It only took a second for the realization to set in that indeed I was living and studying in another country.
Most importantly, I would’ve never thought I, a black girl from Miami, could ever live abroad AND obtain my Master’s degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
Attending grad school abroad was THE best decision ever. Beyond the traditional scope of a graduate program, I gained the following skills that couldn’t be replicated or developed in the US:
- Fluency in Spanish
- Cultural and International competence
- Living abroad & International Experience (i.e. international relations) that expanded my employment opportunities
- Ability to test my limits and continuously challenged myself.
As Marva Collins, an African American Educator said, “Success doesn’t come to you…you go to it.”
In this case, I decided to find my success in Spain. I left with a master’s degree, language fluency, and a buttload of confidence that I can rock in any position in which I am employed.
Whaddaya say? Should you grad school abroad too?