Center for International Programs

Study Abroad

Student Profile: Ashley Karkenny - Saint Louis University, Madrid, Spain


Major(s): Psychology

Minor(s): Marketing

Abroad Program: Saint Louis University

Where & When: Madrid, Spain; Fall 2013

Favorite Course: Abnormal Psychology

Highlight: Making a Thanksgiving dinner for our host parents, who had been host parents for 15 years, but were never cooked a Thanksgiving meal before. They were so excited and it reminded us that we have a family abroad. 

Best Excursion: Paris, France

Favorite Dish: Zucchini with meat on top

Least Favorite Dish: Tortilla

Next Destination: Prague, Czech Republic

Describe your living situation.

I lived in a host family in Madrid. I had three other roommates, who felt like sisters by the end of the semester. The family I stayed with was a couple with two children. Their daughter was 26 and lived in the apartment, but their son was 30 and lived elsewhere in Madrid. A 26 year old still living at home was surprising to us, but that was just one of the culture shocks we experienced when we first got to Madrid. Of course in a Spanish family, the children are always in and out, especially during meal times. Both of their children were very friendly and their son even had an adorable dog that we absolutely adored. We lived one metro stop away from campus or a 20 minute walk, which was very convenient. Another plus was that our host mom was very sweet, extremely accommodating, and it was clear that she had a lot of experience hosting students. She left us breakfast in the morning, cooked us dinner every night and packed us lunches if we had an early flight or bus ride to a new city. She did our laundry and tidied our room. We felt like princesses and could not believe how well we were treated and how much we were welcomed and loved by a family we had just met.

Who will you remember most from your study abroad experience and why?

I will remember my host mom, Gabriela, most from my study abroad experience. I’ll always remember my roommates and the friends I made, but I would not have had the same experience if my host mom did not create such a welcoming environment for us to feel comfortable in. She was very sweet and wanted us to have the best time abroad, as if we were her own children. She gave us safety tips for walking around Madrid when we first landed and gave us a tour of the neighborhood as well. She took me to the post office the first time I wanted to mail a postcard. She was willing to take so much time out of her busy schedule to help us adjust. During dinner she expressed her love for Madrid, dancing, and other cities in Europe. Gabriela was a member of a dance group and we went to one of her flamenco shows. It honestly felt like we were her children and it was a wonderful relationship to have miles away from our own families. She did not speak much English, but was very patient in communicating and we taught each other our languages in the process. She provided us with more than just food and a bed, as she gave us an experience we will never forget and I am incredibly grateful for all that she did for us. 

What is one piece of advice you would pass on to a student who is about to study abroad?

One piece of advice that I would pass on to a student who is about to study abroad is to be open to everything, even if you are homesick. This experience is temporary and you only have four months. Before leaving, I remember thinking that so much would change at home without me and four months would feel like an eternity. Unfortunately, these were the fastest four months of my life and I wish that were not the case. In order to really feel like you have grown as person, you need to broaden your interests and reach out to new people who you would never have met otherwise. It is surprisingly so easy to go abroad and feel like you are still at St. Joe’s in terms of being consumed in home life and only spending your time with SJU students you went abroad with. If you go in with the mindset that this is a once in a lifetime experience, then you will be sure to make choices that reflect that attitude. It is amazing how much fun you will have seeing so many different countries and how many great, new friends you will make if you are willing to be yourself.