This is our fourth post in our monthly Q&A sessions with international students turned peerTransfer employees. Visit here for last month’s post.
Today we’re interviewing Ashley Griffeth, originally from the United States and now our HR Business Partner. While she currently spends her time running around and “bringing the awesome” to our Boston office, she spent her junior year of college abroad in Spain. Here’s what we discussed:After hearing about Ashley’s semester, we were like the water – green with envy!
Where did you study and why?
When I was in 9th grade, I lived abroad for a semester in Copan Ruinas, Honduras and it was such an eye-opening life experience that I wanted to study abroad again for a semester while at Northeastern University. I thought Sevilla, Spain seemed like a good city to study in because of all of the interesting history and culture in that region, plus they offered an advanced Spanish program in collaboration with the Universidad de Sevilla. I minored in Spanish at Northeastern and one of my main goals was to come back from Spain as fluent as I could. There’s nothing quite like being fully immersed in a language to help with that!
Did you experience culture shock? Or, did your existing knowledge of Spanish culture help you avoid it?
I definitely experienced culture shock. Initially, I went through the “I-love-everything-about-Spain-and-I-never-want-to-leave” phase, but then it shifted into feeling very frustrated because I felt like everything was more difficult in Spain than it was at home in the US. It was harder to go to class and take tests, harder to navigate my way around the city, harder to go shopping, harder to talk to my host family and Spanish friends…everything was hard! Then I hit a point where I realized it wasn’t really hard, it was just different. From then on it was a piece of cake. I actually experienced reverse culture shock when I returned to the US as well—I remember riding the train in Boston and looked around at the people on the train and felt distinctly uncomfortable that they were all speaking English.
Wow, I bet you wouldn’t have ever thought that could happen. Besides the culture shock in Spain, what was the toughest part of studying abroad?
I think the toughest part was when I was taking classes at the Universidad de Sevilla alongside Spaniards rather than other Americans. I signed up to take Sociolinguistics of Andalucía, Cultural Anthropology, and General Geography of Europe. I thought they all sounded like interesting classes (which they were!) but the problem was they were not first year courses so many of the students in those classes were specialists in the subjects already. I had to work very hard in order to understand everything, and on top of that it was all in Spanish. In the end I felt very proud that I could hold my own in the classes.
What was the amazing moment you experienced during your stay abroad?
My most amazing moment of the trip was during Christmas time. Almost all of my friends had gone home to the US but I stayed behind to finish my classes and finals at the University which were in January. My host mom brought me with her to her “socio” which is basically a members-only bar where we had a pot-luck dinner. Everyone brought their best food dishes and it was delicious! Then after we finished eating, an 83-year-old man brought out his guitar and started playing the most amazing flamenco music to a captivated audience. Then people started to clap along and sing and then finally dance! I will never forget that moment of my trip!
Did this experience change somehow your outlook on life?
Any experience where you are pushed outside of your comfort zone makes for a great opportunity to learn about yourself and grow as a person. I learned how to not sweat the small stuff and take time enjoying life like the Spaniards do. For example:
- If you’re late to something, you’ll get there when you get there. No stress!
- If something unexpected happens while traveling, it makes for a good story later
- A supportive family and friend network helps so much when you are in an unfamiliar place
- No need to rush eating dinner—take your time and enjoy it fully, Spanish style!
Do you think that studying abroad has had some positive impact on your professional development and career opportunities?
Without a doubt studying abroad has had a big impact on my professional development. I feel my semester in Spain helped me get my job at peerTransfer as HR Business Partner. In addition, my experiences have helped me to understand all the challenges that our international student customers face. I also love that peerTransfer has an office in Spain so I can keep up my Spanish and continue to maintain contact with the amazing Spanish people through interviews with candidates for jobs at peerTransfer, and through contact with my “peerMates” in our Valencia office.