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Education Abroad Experience
Michaela Donnelly ’24
Michaela Donnelly ’24 on a study abroad experience in Spain


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Global Leadership and Political Science

Location of Study Abroad

Alicante, Spain

Michaela Donnelly at a bull fight in Spain

Why did you choose this location/program?

I really wanted to improve my Spanish skills and have the ability to travel easily around Europe. I also wanted a lower-cost program that wasn’t going to be completely unreasonable, so I went through USAC, a study abroad provider known for having lower-cost abroad offers. Once I knew I wanted these things, Spain was the best option for me. I chose Alicante because it wasn’t one of the typical places people travel to in Spain, and USAC offered a summer program there that had a Political Science track. I loved that Alicante was big enough to feel like a city, yet small enough to feel like I always knew where I was.

What did you learn about yourself during your time abroad?

I learned that I truly thrive when I am able to be independent and set my own schedule. While abroad, I had to cook for myself, go to all my classes, get around on my own, create a workout schedule that worked for the city I was in, and had to learn to follow a budget and not spend carelessly. My time abroad truly prepared me for what my life post-college might be like. Of course it's not going to be easy, but having this experience in my back pocket will be helpful when times get tough. Lastly, I learned that I may want to leave the United States and continue my graduate studies in another country, most likely somewhere in northern Europe.

What was your housing situation?

I lived in an apartment with two other students from my study abroad program. Our apartment was on the fourth floor of an apartment complex in the hub of the city. My apartment was right next to a tram stop that could get us to the university we studied at in about 35 minutes, and to other important spots in the city, as well as surrounding cities to Alicante. Fun fact, at the time we were there, Alicante had just passed a rule that everyone under 30 (I think) was able to ride the tram for free through the end of July; all we had to do was show our university card and passport to get the free tram pass that was valid through our entire stay. 

What is your best memory from this experience?

My favorite memory has to be one of the last weeks we were there. For a week in late June, Alicante hosts its annual festival called the Hogueras de San Juan (Bonfires of San Juan). During this festival, there are parades every day, street celebrations, fireworks, and — most importantly — giant statues made by each neighborhood. These statues are typically based on some theme, like politics or cultural pride, and are judged at the end of the week based on their categories. Once the competition is over, one is chosen as the winner to be saved in a museum, then the rest are set ablaze throughout the night on the last day. So the city was filled with fire, smoke, and of course, firefighters safely putting out each fire. This was such a cool cultural experience that I would not have had if I had chosen to go somewhere else in Spain.

What was the greatest challenge during this experience?

My greatest challenge was creating relationships with the people in my program. I am someone who has to get to know people a bit before I become completely comfortable with them. Since I was only there for a month with everyone, I was not able to form these tight relationships that I saw others forming. I feel like it is a social standard that you become best friends with someone while you are abroad; you guys become so close that you can’t think about not seeing them ever again. Sure, this upset me, but I did not let it ruin my experience in a beautiful city and country.

What do you know now that you didn’t know before about Alicante?

Alicante is not the city people think about when they think of Spain. They think of Madrid or Barcelona, the two biggest cities. I wanted to have a different experience than this. So, in all reality, I did not know much about Alicante before I went, other than the fact that it was a coastal town right on the Mediterranean Sea. I know now that Alicante is much more than just a beach town. It has great culture and history, which can be seen through all the festivals during Hogueras and the important places all over the city like the Castillo de Santa Barbara. Though this is a tourist attraction, it was totally worth seeing and learning about; it truly showed all the deep history the city had.

Michaela Donnelly in Spain
Michaela Donnelly in Spain

What did you learn about Alicante that you think people would be surprised to learn?

Though it is not shocking due to its location on the Mediterranean, Alicante is a place full of immigrants. There were all kinds of restaurants and stands selling different cultural things from other countries. Alicante is also a place that has had open arms for refugees from Ukraine. The tattoo artist that gave me my tattoo while I was there was from Ukraine, actually. This aspect of the city made me feel at home. Philadelphia is a place filled with many cultures so it was cool to experience that while in another country.

Why would you encourage others to study abroad in Alicante?

If you are looking into having a Spanish experience that is similar yet different in many ways to that of one in a larger Spanish city (Madrid for example), then I would highly recommend Alicante. It is just big enough and has enough to do to feel like a large city, yet small enough to feel like home you could get used to.