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Ava Milholin

In the fall of 2023, Ava, a Business Administration major with a concentration in Marketing, traveled to Madrid, Spain, to study at Universidad Pontificia Comillas. She shares why she chose to study abroad, favorite memories, and advice for future students.

Q: Why did you choose to study abroad?

A: I always knew I wanted to study abroad in college, even before selecting a university. NC State and Poole Global offer so many study abroad opportunities, including semester exchanges, summer programs, spring break classes, and Maymesters. Opting for a semester abroad was important to me, as it would likely be one of my few chances to live in a different country for an extended period.

I chose Madrid for a few reasons. First, I wanted to be in Europe. After visiting my friends studying abroad in Italy and Prague, I fell in love with the culture in both places. However, I wanted a completely different experience. Second, I had a background in Spanish, making it an ideal opportunity to practice the language in a Spanish-speaking country. And finally, I wanted to live in a vibrant city. Madrid, as the capital of Spain, offers unique opportunities such as participating in festivals, witnessing holiday parades, and enjoying a wide variety of restaurants, cafes, and shops.

I was torn between my options for a while, but I’ve realized there’s no wrong choice when studying abroad. Wherever you end up, you’re sure to meet amazing people and experience the beauty of a new culture. Both of these things will make that place really special to you.

Q: What is one of your favorite memories from studying abroad so far?

A: One of my favorite memories from my time here happened on one of our first days. We got together with all the exchange students for the semester through a big group chat. My roommates and I decided to meet up with some of them at a tapas restaurant not too far from our apartment.

Our first challenge was figuring out the metro. If you don’t know what to look for, it can be a bit confusing to figure out where you need to go and where to get off. But, between the three of us, we managed to find our way, and we even got to see some beautiful palaces on the way, which made it all the more enjoyable.

The restaurant we went to was crowded with students, both local Spaniards and international students. We immediately started conversations with people from our school and spent the next three hours chatting with people from all over the world. We enjoyed authentic Spanish tapas and sipped on tinto de verano until the place closed.

During our walk back home, my roommates and I couldn’t stop talking about the cool people we’d met, our impressions of Spain so far, and how we couldn’t believe that we were actually here. Now halfway through my semester, those people I met that night have become some of my closest friends.

Q: Where have you been able to travel during your time abroad? What are some of your favorite things about your host city?

A: So far, I’ve visited Valencia, Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada, Segovia, Toledo, and Menorca. For the rest of my time, I plan to explore more of Spain, including Barcelona and Malaga, as well as venture into France, the Netherlands, and Morocco. Being in the center of Spain has made traveling around the country very easy. Even though Spain is one country, it’s amazing to see all the diverse cultures, and be able to experience those differences up close.

Q: How do you think studying abroad is contributing to your future career goals and academics?

A: As a business student, I believe that gaining diverse global experiences is essential for expanding one’s perspectives on the world. It not only makes you a more attractive candidate to future employers but also instills a newfound sense of confidence, having lived and studied in a different culture.

With my focus on marketing, I’ve taken classes like international marketing and digital marketing from professors in Spain, who come from diverse backgrounds and have unique life experiences. This has completely shifted my thinking about marketing. I’m not just considering strategies that work in the United States; I’m thinking about what can work anywhere in the world. It’s made me a more creative thinker and better at applying innovative ideas in a practical, real-world way.

Q: What is a challenge you’ve faced while abroad and how have you overcome it?

A: One of the challenges I’ve encountered since arriving in Spain is finding a balance. It’s a common piece of advice to make the most of your time and say yes to everything, but it can be overwhelming trying to juggle school, clubs, friends, work, travel, and personal time. I’ve learned that overexerting yourself can be just as bad as not giving it your all, so finding that balance is super important, even though it’s not always easy.

In the beginning, it’s tempting to say yes to everything, but it’s important not to reach a point where you neglect self-care. Prioritizing my health has become one of the simpler ways to find balance. I make decisions based on how I feel both physically and mentally, but I also try to keep an open mind and not use it as an excuse to avoid new experiences.

I haven’t completely mastered this balance, but I’m confident that when I look back on my time here, I won’t have regrets.

Q: What advice do you have for future study abroad students?

A: Before leaving to study abroad, take some time to figure out what you personally want to get out of the experience. Once you’ve figured out your non-negotiables, everything else will become more manageable. Even though a semester is a substantial amount of time, it’s not unlimited, and neither are your resources.

You’ll meet so many new people throughout your time, and they might introduce you to non-negotiable experiences you hadn’t even considered. It’s important to stay somewhat flexible. However, if there’s something you’ve been dreaming about doing abroad, and no one else seems interested, don’t hesitate to go for it. You won’t regret it. This is your journey, so make it count!

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