COLUMN | Being an Auburn exchange student

COLUMN | Being an Auburn exchange student

An unnecessary — but invaluable and highly encouraged — experience of being an Auburn student is studying abroad. I am currently in the midst of an incredible opportunity: taking an entire semester abroad to be an exchange student in Spain. 

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in Auburn and love it. I am not fleeing the “Loveliest Village on the Plains” for any dramatic or scandalous reason. Rather, I am utilizing one of Auburn’s many pathways to getting a well-rounded education. 

Education, of course, is going to class and learning from experienced professors. However, it includes more than lectures, homework and exams. 

Seeing the world — entirely new sets of language, customs, habits, governments and societies — is an experience that will change you for the better. It will tear down ideals you have constructed about both yourself and the world and replace them with more enduring and relevant truths.  

Sami Grace Donnelly | Writer Abroad

Auburn exchange students Sami Grace Donnelly and her roommate Caroline Chesnut explore Spain.

I grew up as a military BRAT (this is an acronym for “being relocated all the time”) since my dad was in the Army. I experienced many, many schools, states and groups of people. However, nothing prepared me for the radical change my life experienced when I moved to Spain for four months. 

First of all, culture shock is totally real and totally unavoidable. 

In my first week abroad, I was faced with an entirely new schedule of classes, eating times, commuting and socializing, which was different from anything I knew on “the Plains.” 

It felt like freshman year all over again, except more confusing because I had already developed college-level study skills, habits and hobbies. 

Even with my community at Auburn supporting me and the education program at Auburn guiding me, I still found myself feeling very lost, confused and exhausted. 

I was immediately overcome with so much empathy for international students at Auburn. Being an exchange student takes immense amounts of bravery and dedication. College, in and of itself, is a refining time; undergoing those challenges with a culture difference is beyond strenuous. 

Every class is like two-in-one when it’s not taught in your native language. Every interaction can be stressful when people are talking fast and your brain isn’t accustomed to working that quickly in another language. 

Although I had years of Spanish classes under my belt when I began my exchange program, I felt like I got about every tenth word people said. I felt stripped of my ability to communicate, which is something I love to do as an English major, newspaper employee and social butterfly. 

Sami Grace Donnelly | Writer Abroad

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I hope I’m not scaring anyone away from studying abroad. I am actually trying to do the opposite. However, the value of my experience cannot be understood unless it is examined in light of the challenges. 

Life is full of challenges. It was incredibly difficult to “give away” one of my semesters at Auburn because it is a place so dear to my heart. However, I am so grateful that I chose to walk down this path Auburn offered me. 

I am cultivating a deeper sense of humility in myself and a greater sense of gratitude for my life in the United States. I am enlarging my perspective of the world and the ways people live. Every day, I am inspired and taught things I could never get out of another experience. 

With the identity and firm foundation Auburn supplied me beforehand and this incredible experience it guided me to, I am enriching my Auburn experience to the greatest degree possible. I have uncovered new passions and been taught in an immersive and lasting way. 

And this is just scratching the surface of all the descriptions I could give, and I hope it sparks curiosity to have conversations with current exchange or international students. It is an important and valuable demographic of the Auburn Family — one eager to learn and always open to new experiences. 

Sami Grace Donnelly | Writer Abroad

Sami Grace Donnelly, junior in English literature, began writing for the Plainsman in the Fall of 2021. She has served as a columnist, the Opinion Editor and is now a writer abroad during her exchange program in Spain. 

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