First Year Away: The Student Perspective

Wondering what it’s like to study abroad for your first year at NYU? Some current students share their experiences.

A busy Madrid street corner with traffic at dusk.

Students who are admitted to NYU Liberal Studies can study away at our sites in Madrid, Florence, London, and Washington, DC, as soon as their first year on campus. All Liberal Studies (LS) students complete the same curriculum no matter their location. So you will integrate seamlessly with your classmates when you arrive in New York City your sophomore year. In this article, current students who studied abroad their first year in LS share their experience and offer advice.

Did you choose to participate in First Year Away (FYA)? If so, why?

Natacha ’22, FYA London: I did choose to study away. I went to high school in New York City so I wanted to use the opportunity to go away for a while and have new experiences. I also thought it would be a truly unique opportunity to go away your fist year of college.

Ella ’25, FYA Madrid: Madrid was second on my list, after New York City, but now I’m really happy to be here. Actually I was given the option to switch to the New York City campus last spring, but I was so excited for Spain by then that I didn’t do it. I came from a small high school, and I think the small size in Madrid helps the transition to college.

Sophia 25, FYA Madrid: I actually did choose to study away for my first year. I was interested in the LS program and I took the opportunity because I got to be away for a whole year.

 

Why did you choose your site if you chose?

Natacha ’22, FYA London: I chose London because it is my absolute favorite city. Also, I wanted to know what it feels like to live there.

Ella ’25, FYA Madrid: Again, I didn’t choose completely, but I considered it because I know some Spanish and wanted to see as much of the world as possible. I knew once I lived six hours away I wouldn’t come home much anyway, so the distance wasn’t a concern.

Sophia ’25, FYA Madrid: I picked Madrid, Spain, as my number one location because I know Spanish. So I knew it would be a smoother transition. I’ve also always just wanted to go to Spain. And being in Europe gave me the opportunity to travel a lot, which is something I’ve definitely taken advantage of.

What was/is your favorite part about studying away?

Natacha ’22, FYA London: All of the opportunities to meet and learn from people living there was my favorite part of studying away. Also, having European professors was pretty cool.

Ella ’25, FYA Madrid: I love the laid-back culture here. People really live just to enjoy the day. It’s been great trying new foods and experiencing all these old cities too! It’s so easy to travel around Europe from Madrid, so I always feel like I have so much to explore. Overall, I’m enjoying the feeling of Madrid the most.

Daria 23, FYA Paris*: I loved the independence. I was in a new country and had to figure out a lot of things on my own. It was overwhelming, but I had an even greater sense of satisfaction when I was able to figure things out for myself. It also really put my (limited) French skills to the test.

Emilio ’25, FYA Madrid:  Hands down, the experiences that I have gotten! It is so much easier to travel once you are IN Europe. I never thought I would have been able to travel as much as I have, but here it is very easy to get a $30 flight to Rome or take off to Barcelona for the weekend. As my friends and I learned on our 7 hour bus ride to Barcelona… ANYTHING can be done on a budget!

Sophia ’25, FYA Madrid: So far, my favorite part about studying away is that it’s just a whole different experience and I get to explore the culture of a place I have never been before. Since I am not a native, I view the city as my giant home away from home that I get to explore and learn more about the longer I stay. And there’s always something to do here, which is amazing!

*Paris is no longer an LS FYA location.

How was the transition back to NYU’s campus in New York City? Did you do anything specific?

Natacha ’22, FYA London: I didn’t only study away for my first two semesters. I immediately went from London to Paris for my third semester so I didn’t study in New York City for a long time. The transition was easy though because I kept in touch with the students who I knew from the other places. So it was not too wild.

Daria ’23, FYA Paris: Academically, the transition was easy. But it was somewhat difficult socially because most of my friends did not return to campus after COVID-19. It felt like starting all over again, but I met some great people and joined a sorority. I think the transition would have been way easier if it were not for the pandemic.

Any advice for incoming first years participating in FYA?

Natacha ’22, FYA London: I highly recommend studying away, always. You learn way more than you expect. You learn a new culture and new things about people. Sometimes, you go through hard situations, but living abroad made me realize how I can never stay at one place for too long.

Ella ’25, FYA Madrid: Nothing unexpected. Just enjoy it and reach out because it really flies by!

Daria ’23, FYA Paris: Take advantage of every opportunity and enjoy every moment. Explore and meet new people because you never know when you’ll be able to live in this country again.

Emilio ’25, FYA Madrid:  My biggest fear going abroad my first year was making friends, but I promise you… you will make friends and you will be fine. Everyone is stuck in one residence and you’re forced to get to know each other no matter what. I have made some of my best friends abroad, and I promise you will do the same.

Sophia ’25, FYA Madrid: Be prepared to be in a new environment where you might not know people or know what you’re doing (in regards to traveling and commuting throughout the city). Also, if your parents want to come with you to drop you off, it is no big deal. Do not be embarrassed because literally everybody comes with their parents. And enjoy every moment you’re there because time definitely does go by faster than you think it will. Take time to study in a park you’ve never been to or visit all the museums you can. Try to make friends with people from wherever your study away site is too because it’s nice to be involved in more than just NYU communities.

Did you have to convince your family this opportunity was a good idea? If so, how did you persuade them or alleviate any of their concerns?

Natacha ’22, FYA London: I didn’t have to convince my family because they value cultures and international opportunities as much as I do. I actually learned that from them, and they encouraged me to study abroad.

Daria ’23, FYA Paris: My dad was very supportive because he always wanted me to explore the world on my own. He raised me well and knew I was ready. My mom, however, was very nervous because not only was I going away to college, I was going to another country. She was afraid she would not be there if anything ever happened to me. It was really my dad who convinced her it was time to let go. Every parent needs to trust they’ve done their job well enough that their child will know how to navigate difficult situations whenever they arise.

Emilio ’25, FYA Madrid:  My family took a lot of convincing for them to finally come around to the idea of me leaving the country. As a very traditional Hispanic family, they wanted me to live close to home and go to college in my hometown.

Ella ’25, FYA Madrid: Fortunately, my family supported this whole process and was excited for me to go to Spain. That being said, they did find the NYU-provided webinars helpful in understanding what was happening.

What challenges did you encounter in your first year away? What did you learn from them?

Natacha ’22, FYA London: Studying abroad can have practical challenges like going to the bank and dealing with daily life situations that are different than those in the United States. The work rhythm and ethics are different, which can be challenging at times. I will never forget the day my credit card was cloned in London and I had a panic attack in the bank. I called my dad and he was like, “Grow up and deal with it yourself. It’s your bank account. There is nothing I can do for you.”

Daria ’23, FYA Paris: Getting sick and figuring out how to make a doctor’s appointment was one of the greatest challenges. Luckily, NYU Paris has a lot of resources available, and the staff was accessible when I had questions. This experience taught me confidence, especially in my language skills, and another level of independence. The rest of the students were also navigating these challenges, so everyone was willing to help each other, and it really brought us closer together. Everyone was living away from their families, so my friends and I became a second family for each other.

Emilio ’25, FYA Madrid: Definitely the time zone difference of 9 hours that isolated me from my friends and family back home. It was really hard trying to find times when I could call them and just catch up, and it was definitely an adjustment from seeing them everyday.

Ella ’25, FYA Madrid: I think most of the challenges I faced were pretty universal to college first years, such as making friends in a new environment and living on your own. Being abroad specifically, I think the time zone was the biggest challenge because it was difficult to keep in contact with people back home.

How do you think studying away shaped the rest of your time at NYU?

Natacha ’22, FYA London: I think studying away taught me how to deal with people. How to be more respectful of other cultures and not to judge so quickly. Beyond that, I learned life skills that no textbook or professor could ever teach me.

Ella ’25, FYA Madrid: It’s definitely made me excited for new experiences in New York City. But it also helped me decide to major in Global Liberal Studies, so hopefully I will go abroad again my junior year.

Emilio ’25, FYA Madrid: Before coming, I thought studying away was going to screw with “my academic plans” or limit my options, or not allow me to transfer into a “sciencey” major like I wanted to. But it did the opposite, studying away opened my eyes and made me realize how many more options I have and made me realize I don’t need to have everything figured out, so maybe I’ll try new courses and topics before absolutely settling.

Daria ’23, FYA Paris: I could not imagine my time at NYU without this experience. It pushed me as a person, and I was able to experience so many new people and places. I’m so grateful that my parents worked so hard and prepared me so well so I was able to take advantage of this experience.