On her journey to Spain, Pandora Affemann took in the sights of Northern Ireland.

Dora the Explorer goes to Spain- Blog 1

(THE PICKET) – Let’s face it: everyone is a little bit of a homebody. It’s comfortable to be comfortable, cuddled up nice and warm in bed, stuck in the depths of a Netflix binge. Sitting on the wall with our friends feels good—this is our town, our home. It’s what we know and love, and it makes us content.

But what about what we don’t know? What about what makes us uncomfortable? What about what scares us?

It is natural avoid what we don’t know or understand. We all do it, some more than others, and it makes sense: why venture from what’s comfortable when comfort feels good and discomfort feels, well, uncomfortable?

Next semester, I will explore these questions as I set out on my own journey to Barcelona, Spain. It is my firm belief that travelling enriches and grows you in more ways than you can imagine. You won’t expect it, and you might not even realize when it starts to happen, but you’ll find yourself expanding with each one of your new surroundings. Parts of your mind will open, parts that you didn’t even know were closed. Your strength and bravery will emerge as you navigate an entirely new place, new people and a new culture. It’s almost impossible to describe, as each person’s experience is different. But there is no doubt that in each new place you go you will gain knowledge that just isn’t available back at home.

As I navigate Barcelona—truly independent for the first time in my life, no friends or family by my side, no commitments to adhere to (besides school, of course!)—I’ll be sharing my experiences with you. Every week you’ll get to see, from inside your comfort zone, all that comes with discomfort. I can’t wait to share this with you. In fact, I’m so excited that I might just start today.

Studying abroad may seem like a lengthy, confusing, and time-consuming process. While it’s true that there are many steps that must be taken before that glorious moment that you board the plane to insert-country-here, the process isn’t impossible. Lengthy, yes. A bit confusing, perhaps. But taken one step at a time, it can and will be done. Besides, the experience will be worth every ounce of time and energy you spend on the set up. Believe me. This is how it goes:

First of all, to cause yourself the minimum amount of stress, it would be wise to start planning a year ahead of when you’d like to go. The first step before even deciding on a location is to create an account on Shepherd’s Study Abroad website. From there use the interactive world map to browse the different programs by country, or search by academic term, major, or type of program. There are faculty-led programs in which a Shepherd faculty member leads a trip abroad, or affiliate programs, which are sponsored by companies Shepherd works with. The faculty programs are often much easier as you have a faculty member walking you through each step, so I’m going to explore the affiliate programs.

Each affiliate program is a little different, with varying options regarding where to stay (including homestay, dorm, or student apartments), activities and excursions, and types of classes offered. The prices also vary by company and depend on the city or country and length of program (summer, January term, semester, or year). Here, with all the options laid out in front of you, comes the fun part: browsing the programs, letting your imagination run wild as you imagine yourself in different cities of the world, and finally settling on the one that’s right for you.

Once you’ve decided, just follow the directions on the study abroad office website to apply using Shepherd’s application, and upon approval by Shepherd you may apply for the program you chose using the application on their website. When you are accepted into your program, take a day (or week) to bask in the excitement and anticipation, because the next part involves about five million forms and you might want to die. Just kidding, there’s only like 10, but I’m not going to lie— you might feel like you’re going insane filling out form after form and running around campus to pester different faculty members for their signature or your transcript or just some information. But again, take it one step at a time.

Depending on the program, you’ll probably need to complete forms about your medical history, housing preferences, disciplinary clearance, requested courses, and financial aid. You’ll need to get a passport and possibly a visa, and schedule your flights. And of course, there will be payments to stay on top of (I’ll go into more depth about this next week.) Make sure to communicate with the study abroad office, financial aid office, and your advisor as you go, because you’ll need ample guidance from all of them. Just like each experience abroad is different, each experience planning to go abroad differs as well. As long as you keep your cool, plan ahead, and stay on top of your forms, you’ll eventually reach the end of the long and winding road that is the study abroad process—and that is only the beginning.

Next week, I’ll examine the financial aspects of studying abroad, and why it might not be as out-of-reach as you think (it wasn’t for me!) For more info on study abroad, visit Shepherd’s study abroad website at shepherd.abroadoffice.net, or see Beth Cauvel in room 211 of the Scarborough Library.

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