My advice for students? Regardless of major or field of study, go abroad for at least a semester.

The experience that I have had in Spain has been absolutely unbelievable and I have done more than I had originally planned and then some.  Not only this, but being in a country that speaks a different language (and especially in a city where tourism isn’t as high, therefore no one really knows English) has allowed me to have unique experiences that others may not have had.  It’s amazing to have those moments when you easily communicate with natives of the language without even realizing it. Overall, talking with Spaniards in their native tongue is both rewarding and humbling most times, as you quite often realize how little you know, regardless of your level of proficiency.  What’s even more important is that during just about 4 months I have learned more than I have in years of classroom studies.  Although laying the groundwork of grammar, reading and writing are crucial, classes in the US pale in comparison to living in a country where the language is native.  Sure, reading poetry and writing analyses of a different language are good ideas, but if you can’t understand what someone is saying and respond in an intelligent manner, you are SOL.  If you want to learn a language, immersion in it is absolutely necessary.

I have been to 4 different countries and a dozen cities with countless pubs, bars, discotecas and restaurants in between.  I have taken planes, trains, buses, cars, vans, metros and trams to get there.  From the top of the Swiss Alps to the miles of coastal Spanish beaches and the tiniest Bolivian diner, I have seen and experienced a lot of things one might put on a bucket list.  After it all, what do I have to say?

I’m just getting started.

Pat Pederson is studying abroad in Valencia, Spain, with the University of Virginia.