My time in Spain was defined by a single mantra.  

I told myself: “I’m not in Spain to be a student. I’m a student so I can be in Spain.”

Those two sentences shaped my study abroad experience, guiding daily decisions.

Two examples:

First, when choosing classes, I opted for those that offered more days off. While some may see this as a missed academic opportunity, I saw it as a chance to immerse myself in Madrid. My true education was not within the walls of a classroom but in the day-to-day interactions and experiences available in Spain.

Second, when making friends, I actively sought out Spaniards. Surrounding myself with native speakers pushed me to speak Spanish frequently, and, in time, confidently. Daily conversation strengthened my language skills in a way no class, textbook, or app ever could. Though I may never be a Spaniard myself, befriending locals let me live like one for much of my time abroad.

Truthfully, I could have studied anywhere: at home, in Tuscaloosa, around Europe, or even online.

But I chose Madrid.

Choosing Spain as my study abroad destination was not about obtaining a degree or expanding my knowledge in a particular subject. It was about embracing a new way of life, a vibrant culture, and an opportunity to grow as an individual.

Prioritizing engagement with Spain over expectations for students shaped my time abroad. It allowed me to prioritize experiences over assignments, connections over convenience, and personal growth over comfort.

Do the same thing.

Don’t travel abroad to be a student. Be a student so you can travel abroad.

Caption: The Virgin Mary, carried on a massive float during the Semana Santa parades. This was one of many cultural events I attended during my time in Madrid.