UMD: A Globally Connected University

Michael Hildreth

Michael Hildreth

Program: Clark-in-Madrid
Term: Spring 2019
Major: Bioengineering, English  

Growth is that one word describes my study abroad experience. From the moment I stepped onto that plane, I entered a world created solely by me; a new life unencumbered. I painted my newly blank canvas. I liken my experience more to like moving to a new city for a job, where you don't know anyone, where to go, what to do, or anything, just where you live and where you work. It was perfect. I'm naturally very shy in new circumstances and not a very spontaneous person, but being Madrid taught me how to open up and how to explore and take control of myself to overcome any worries I felt. Ultimately, I was able to make new friends with other study abroad students from the United States in addition to Spanish friends in my classes. Everywhere I went, either to a new country or to a discoteca, I made friends with new people. It was a wonderful feeling to learn that I could interact with so many people from various areas and backgrounds with ease. My time in Spain taught me a lot about life, how to take it by the horns, and run with it. I never felt more on my own before, but I never felt more supported either. I messed up a lot abroad - between planning things or trying to figure out small aspects like the metro, but I learned it's ok to fail; that's going to happen in a new place. Just stay calm and keep moving forward. ​

Advice for future #TerpsAbroad: Be prepared. The United States is not the same as everywhere else, so do your research about where you are going and planning on going. Be cognizant of where you are and don't take many things personally, it's not worth it. 

I was fortunate to visit many places during my time abroad. In particular, one of my favorite trips was to Dublin, Ireland with my two best friends from home. We all knew each other since 6th grade, and luckily all of us studied in Europe during the Spring semester. So, on the second weekend of February we all left to meet up in Dublin. We flew in midday and arrived at our hostel around early evening. I pre-booked tickets to the Guinness Factory so we headed there and did the tour. Learning about the history of Guinness, how it's made, the person behind it, the famous 9,000 year lease, was such an interesting experience. I'm now officially certified to pour Guinness. When we finished the tour...we found a small, delicious gelato shop, owned by a very nice man. We started talking to him about who we were, where we came from, and our backstory and then he started telling us about his life. Within 15-20 minutes I had learned a shortened history of this random shop owner's life. I was shocked at his openness and friendliness.

[At another location], a guy walks in and heads over to his friends, but suddenly turns around and says, "Where are you from?". I was so startled that this man started talking to us out of nowhere that it took me a while to respond, but after a bit we got to talking. We talked with him for a while, learned about his life and how he used to play professional rugby. At the end of our conversation, he recommended us to a club where he knew the owner and told us to say we knew him. I was so awestruck at this friendliness. Within one night I had met two people who immediately accepted me and talked to me out of nowhere, told me about their lives and welcomed me like a friend they had known for years. At the end of the night, we walked back to our hostel with a third man we met, and talked to him about Ireland, its history, its current state, and the people. Nowhere else did I feel so welcomed, so accepted, and encounter such friendliness. 

Advice for future #TerpsAbroad: I am a double degree bioengineering and English major. There was a program for me so there is a program for everyone. The process of applying is simple, the hard part is finding where you want to go and that will require research. Study abroad takes effort, but it's worth the experience, the people you'll meet and the adventures you'll go on.​

Homesickness is real. FOMO is real. But! I remembered that I have these amazing people I've met, lived in this beautiful city, and ate authentic food that I wouldn't get to experience at any other time. I called friends or family more often when I felt homesick, but I learned to appreciate how fortunate I was to be in Madrid, and that even if I miss my friends, I will see them when I come home and they will want to hear all about my travels.