Spain

Not only has she funded all of my travel expeditions we've gone on, but she's also one of the only people who knows me fully and knows how to deal with me at my best and worst times. That's the perfect travel companion, I think! She and I have been on a lot of expeditions, inside and outside the United States, with or without other family members or other friends, but I think no matter what we always have a fantastic time, and it's hard not to when you're sharing an experience with someone you love.

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It was a rainy and cold weekend for Thanksgiving this year, but that's probably nothing to the snow and cold poor Iowa got! Spending Thanksgiving here was definitely an experience, if only because there really wasn't an experience. Or we had to make our own experience, because while there is Black Friday here (completely commercialized), there is no Thanksgiving. Which makes complete sense, because Thanksgiving was all about the native Americans and pilgrims making friends (or so our kindergarten teachers tell us!).

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During my walk to class this morning I really took in the sights around me, looking back and remembering the time all of it was so strange and new. It was a huge accomplishment if I made it to class without getting lost. Now I try to get lost on purpose (not on my way to class though) so I can find the unfamiliar parts of town. When is the point in time where the strange and different becomes familiar, becomes home? Not only has my perspective changed, but I also feel different. In a very subtle way, like how your hair gets longer but you can't tell until you see pictures of you with short hair (my hair is in desperate need of a cut.)

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A study abroad experience during her undergraduate education at the University of Iowa led Cat Gaa back to Spain, where is now thriving post-graduation. Gaa received a B.A. in journalism and international studies from the UI in 2007 and now operates a small language school in Seville, Spain, writes and translates on a freelance basis, and is planning to launch a residency consultation firm.

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I'm going to start off by telling everyone it's 60 degrees outside, and I am FREEZING. This cold is giving me flashbacks to the polar vortex and -25 degree wind chill. Except it's 60 degrees. I am an Iowan in and out, 20 years of living with Iowa winters, and I have become soft. This place has changed me into the person that says, "Que calor!" At 80 degrees and "Que frio!" At 60 degrees.

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I’m close to my halfway point in my study abroad experience, and I think I’ve gained enough experience and expertise to let other people know exactly why they should be doing exactly what I’m doing (but in their own way!) If I can convince at least one person to go through with a study abroad experience, I think I would be happy. There are a million reasons why people should study abroad, or travel in general, but here are a few that I came up with that I think are pretty convincing arguments.

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October 8th. Can you believe it? I can't. It's been more than a month abroad, and somehow I'm still surviving. Actually, I know how I'm surviving. With lots of pastries and tea.

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I am at the point where everything is starting to feel somewhat normal and at home here. Things are feeling familiar to me, and it’s been more than 24 hours since I’ve gotten lost–although I wouldn’t put too much confidence in my inner-GPS skills just yet. I am also very consciously wondering, “Am I integrating myself into the culture enough? Do I look the part? I haven’t had paella yet, should I be worried?”, while also comparing what it’s like to be an American, a University of Iowa student, even just an Iowan, to the culture here.

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Just over 4,155 miles from Iowa City lies Oviedo, Spain, the hometown of freshman golfer Elisa Suarez. “People in the United States are very welcoming and open,” she said. “It was also nice to see that people had interest in meeting me and learning more about my culture.”

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I have never felt as though I belonged in Iowa — there was always a part of me that felt I needed to be elsewhere, be someone else. Last month, my dream of studying abroad came true in Madrid, Spain. Sangria, siestas, and sunshine were on the horizon.

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