For fellow Trojans Jenna Viets and Abby Blackwell, 2018 began a little differently than an average year. While other students were visiting family for the holidays and gearing up for the fresh start of a new semester, these two seniors were boarding a plane en route to Zaragoza, Spain, among a group of several Troy students. The chance to study abroad was an opportunity that turned their lifelong dreams into a reality.
While living in a foreign country for five months may seem daunting to some, for Abby Blackwell, a senior communication major from Birmingham, it was the experience of a lifetime.
Blackwell’s dreams of studying abroad began her senior year of high school when she realized her passion for exploring other cultures.
“When I got to Troy, I saw that studying abroad was possible and started searching for what country I wanted to visit,” Blackwell said. “This decision was difficult, mostly because I had so many options.”
When asked why she finally decided on Spain, Blackwell said it came down to her studies.
“I am studying Spanish, and I knew an immersive study would help more than anything else,” Blackwell said.
Some of Blackwell’s favorite memories of the trip revolve around the foods she tasted and the friendships she formed. While some of the featured dishes included things like paella and tapas, one distinct meal holds a special place in her heart.
“One of my favorite memories from studying abroad was when our Spanish friend Alberto met us in Croatia and cooked homemade tortilla de patata,” Blackwell said, referring to potato omelets. “I know that any time I cook this dish, I’ll remember the cascading waterfalls, new friends and good talks from that day.”
Blackwell confessed the friendships she developed on the trip impacted her life in more ways than one.
“All of our friends were from different places, so it was amazing being able to learn about where they were from and even explore their home countries with them,” Blackwell said. “It is also inspiring to hear about other people’s lives and adventures, and it pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone.”
While she gained countless memories on the trip, Blackwell said the biggest reward was centered on her faith.
“The things I want to remember most from this time are the things that showed me God in this world,” Blackwell said. “I am so excited to continue to understand different people, learn about new cultures and see more of God’s unique and wild creation.”
For fellow traveler Jenna Viets, a senior communication major from Dothan, the experience can only be described as a once in a lifetime opportunity. Planning and saving for such a long trip can be a hindrance for most, but Viets handled the pressure by starting the process at the beginning of her freshman year.
“Planning this far in advance is not necessary, but it did help me save money, focus on my GPA and even find friends to go with,” Viets said.
While she admitted there are benefits to traveling solo, Viets was thrilled to share the experience with three of her close friends. She was also able to have financial support from the University.
“Because Troy has a few partner universities to choose from, my tuition was covered by the Millennium Scholarship,” Viets said. “The Chancellor’s Award for studying abroad covered my plane ticket and all of the preliminary expenses, like my visa and insurance.”
While the focus of the trip was on Spain, Viets got to spend some time in a wide range of countries. Her favorite stop, however, was somewhat unexpected. While Viets’ traveling companions found their best memories in places like Ireland or France, she found hers in the small, picturesque country of Slovenia.
“Most people haven’t heard of Slovenia, but it was one of my favorite places,” Viets said. “You can wake up in dramatic snow-covered Alps and be on the beautiful Adriatic coast before lunchtime.
“I loved it there.”
For many people, the chance to study abroad only happens once. Despite this fact, Viets said she would do it all again in a heartbeat.
“I would absolutely do it again. It wasn’t all easy — traveling is a lot more complicated than it looks on Instagram — but the experiences, adventures and friendships were invaluable.
“I grew and learned through all of it, and it was 100 percent worth it!”