Student Reflections on Studying Abroad

DayOnna Carson is a Winthrop house senior concentrating in Psychology. Last summer, she studied abroad with the Harvard Summer Program in Madrid, Spain.

Female Harvard student on a balcony, with the city of Madrid in the background.

“Living with a host family in Madrid and interacting with madrileños throughout the day let me challenge my fear of being wrong and making mistakes.”

DayOnna Carson, ’24

Last summer, I fully immersed myself in Spanish culture, visiting iconic historical areas of Spain including Madrid and parts of Galicia, Mallorca, Toledo, and Segovia.

I learned the importance of making mistakes and going out of my comfort zone through this study abroad opportunity. In a normal academic setting, making mistakes is not usually rewarded or encouraged, which can cause one to develop a perfectionist mindset. However, when it comes to language learning or adapting to living in a new area, the only way to learn is through making mistakes. Conversing with strangers is already a daunting task, so speaking to strangers in a language that I am still learning is even more challenging. Living with a host family in Madrid and interacting with madrileños throughout the day let me challenge my fear of being wrong and making mistakes. I had to embrace the fact that I did not know everything about Spanish grammar and Spain to learn how to speak in Spanish correctly and confidently. This experience allowed me to learn to utilize the limited knowledge and vocabulary I had in innovative ways.

Speaking Spanish daily also improved my capacity to adapt to new or unfamiliar situations. The impromptu conversations I had with Universidad San Pablo CEU staff, my host family, and other madrileños challenged me to get creative with my initially limited vocabulary. Whenever I encountered new words and phrases, I had to quickly infer meaning based on the context of the words I understood. Challenging and expanding my vocabulary in such a way prepared me for unexpected problem solving.

After my time in Madrid, I plan to continue studying Spanish at Harvard and obtain a citation in the language. I hope to become fluent in the language so that I can reach a broader audience in my future endeavors. I would also like to uplift the voices and perspectives of Spanish speaking individuals. Through cultural exchange, facilitated by programs like study abroad, as well as collaboration among people with different regional and linguistic backgrounds, society can learn to be more empathetic. Such synergy beyond linguistic differences promotes innovative, inclusive solutions to global challenges.

Now, I can proudly understand and maintain advanced conversations in Spanish thanks to Harvard Summer School.

I heard about the program through various peers, advisors, and teaching staff. My peers, regardless of which Harvard Summer School experience they participated in, always report having such an informative, enjoyable time learning about another culture and hearing new perspectives first-hand.

I got funding through the Mignone Center for Career Success (MCS).  Thanks to the gracious donors of the David Rockefeller International Experience Fund, finances did not limit my academic experience. Through this generous fund, I was able to travel to another country for the first time and expand my Spanish speaking skills in an interactive manner. Being a first-generation college student, I never imagined I would get to visit or study in another country, let alone live there for two months. The lifelong friendships I developed among my peers and instructors has truly been one of the most rewarding, exciting parts of my entire Harvard experience.

Study Abroad Resources:

Resources for your Summer Search:

By Kristen Li
Kristen Li Summer Opportunities Funding Coordinator