Study Abroad Experiences and Advice from Fernanda Molina
Interview conducted by Tanner C. Knorr on 13 January, 2016.
Fernanda is studying linguistics, with an emphasis in ESL teaching, at San Diego State University. She moved to the United States when she was 18 and, since then, her life has been full of wonderful opportunities. She’s had the chance to live in other countries and learn everything that comes with that experience: the language, the culture, the people, etc. She has been forever changed by it and cannot wait for her next international experience.
TCK: From which country are you originally, and where did you study abroad?
FM: I am originally from Tijuana, Mexico. I studied abroad in Italy and France.
TCK: Where have you traveled in the world, before and during your studies?
FM: Besides my travels within Mexico and the USA, I had the opportunity to travel through Italy and France during my studies, as well as Spain, Morocco, and the United Kingdom.
TCK: At which universities did you study? What did you study while you were there?
FM: In Italy, I studied Italian language and culture. I studied at the ABC school, where I took my Italian classes, and then went to the building next door for my culture classes. In France, I studied the French language and culture at Aix-Marseille Université.
TCK: What made you choose those universities and countries?
FM: Going to Italy was a dream I had been having for a long time. I remember falling in love with the language when I heard my friend speak it, so I decided to teach myself, and when I got the opportunity to go, I just went for it! I am grateful every day for that trip because thanks to it, I discovered that I had a mad love for learning languages, and therefore, decided to study linguistics.
When it comes to France, it was more of me wanting to challenge myself. I always said that after studying Italian, I was going to study French. Since Spanish was my first language and I had an intermediate level of Italian, I thought that the combination of these two was going to be an excellent foundation for learning French, and it was indeed. My trip to France was undoubtedly the best experience of my life!
TCK: Was the language an obstacle while studying abroad? Did you have knowledge of the language before? How did you overcome this obstacle?
FM: I knew Italian before going there, and that was enough for me to survive and talk to the locals. Later on, my language skills improved and my relationships with the locals did as well.
When it comes to French, I knew a little bit of French. I had a year under my belt before going there, but it was not enough. During my first week, I could not understand French people, because I was not familiarized with the musicality of the language and how one sentence could sound like one word (French people love linking all their words together). But, with the program I was in, I was able to understand more and more French by the first week. As the time went by, I was also able to build relationships with French people and others who from francophone countries. It felt so great!
TCK: What were you most excited about before going abroad? Were you expectations met?
FM: I always research the country I am about to visit before going there. I like to know what I’m getting myself into; but, at the same time, I don’t like to have expectations. If any, my biggest expectation for myself was to be immersed in both cultures and learn their language and way of living. In many ways, especially this last time in France, my expectations were not only met, but exceeded.
TCK: What was your greatest fear before going abroad? How did you deal with it once you were there?
FM: My only fear was MONEY.
Italy – I did not have money to go abroad, but I did not want that to stop me from going. So, I got a little loan, sold my car, saved a little, and I was able to do it.
France – A week before I went abroad, I started having problems, for instance, my financial aid and scholarships not deposited on time, etc. Then everything was settled, and I was able to enjoy my time there, although I always tried to budget my money wisely.
TCK: Did studying abroad change you in any way? If so, how?
FM: I think my experiences abroad have shaped me into someone that I like very much, haha. What I mean by this is, I became a more respectful person, a more open-minded person, more empathetic, more patient, less worried about the unknown, etc. Not that I wasn’t all these things before, but living in Mexico (born and raised in Tijuana until I was 18 years old, when I moved to the USA), made me see the world I lived in through only one ‘set of eyes’ and I was not tolerant to a lot of things; in reality, I was not exposed to them to really have an opinion on them.
I think the more you travel, the more ‘sets of eyes’ you develop to understand the world from different perspectives, and the less you see yourself living in only one place. This world is so big! We must enjoy every corner of it as much as we can.
TCK: Now that you’re back from those two experiences, do you think you’ll go back to live a either place in the future?
FM: Well, I just got back from France almost a month ago. I am currently applying for jobs in Europe so I can hopefully move there after I finish my degree. I would love to go back to either Spain, France, or Italy, but any country will be just fine. I just love the European way of living and of course, I would love to perfect my Italian or French, or learn a new language altogether!
TCK: What else about yourself or studying abroad do you think is relevant to this interview?
FM: From my experience, I strongly believe that if you are genuinely nice to people everywhere you go, people will be nice to you in return. 🙂 I never had bad experiences with the locals in either Italy or France, but I think it was because I always did my best to speak the language and treat everyone with respect. Also, I was genuinely interested in their culture, so that made a huge difference 🙂
TCK: Finally, what three pieces of advice would you give someone who was about to study abroad in France or Italy?
FM: First, learn the language of the country you will be going to. Getting rid of the language barrier will not only make you feel happy and accomplished, it will also allow you to build strong relationships with the locals, as they will treat you like one of them 🙂
Second, don’t have expectations and be open-minded. Don’t let any experiences of the past or certain stereotypes cloud your judgement or cause you to close yourself. You need to be open minded and take every experience as a learning opportunity. Also, don’t get discouraged if something goes wrong, or if a local doesn’t treat you right. Things happen, it’s normal! Just try to not let it get to you. Remember, you’re in a foreign country and it’s all part of the immersion process. Always give your very best and good things will come your way.
Third, GET OUT THERE! Do things, become a regular at your local coffee shop, meet people, speak the language as much as possible, travel as much as you can, etc. Please, DO NOT stay in your room in front of the computer every day; DO NOT be on your phone Skype-ing every day with your friends and family (yes, you miss them, but arrange one day per week or so to talk to them; the rest of the week DO SOMETHING NEW). You get the point, haha. Perhaps it is easier said than done, but with a little effort of getting out of your comfort zone, incredible things will happen. You won’t regret it!
Tanner C. Knorr is an emerging travel and tourism professional with a Bachelor’s in Archaeology and Master’s in Administrative Studies, concentrating in Economic Development and Tourism Management from Boston University. He’s traveled to 11 countries and can’t wait for whatever comes next! He wants to learn more about tourism and work towards a positive change for all stakeholders in the industry. He looks forward to sharing articles of traveling and studying abroad, as well as discussing various topics relevant to the tourism industry today. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.
Nice interview. I got to learn a lot from it and would try to follow suggestions made by Fernanda as I start on my journey to Austria for study abroad. Thanks for all those tips.
You are welcome! It’s a great interview, and I’m happy to hear it helped you 🙂 Wishing you all the best on your study abroad. Such an exciting time!