You never know who you'll meet while studying abroad!

Published September 12, 2012

When most people think about studying abroad, they don’t imagine themselves befriending an international pop star.  But that’s exactly what my friend Sarah got to do when she studied abroad in Madrid in the spring of 2009.

Have you heard of Soraya?  Her last name is Arnelas, but apparently she doesn’t even need that.  She’s like Cher.  Just a first name is enough for everyone to know who she is – in Spain, at least.

Even international pop stars have lives outside of the spotlight.  Before Soraya won a European version of American Idol and became famous, she met a Swedish boy named Jonathan.  Jonathan moved to Spain to learn Spanish for Soraya… and he just so happened to enroll in classes at the same school as Sarah.

When Jonathan asked Sarah and some other Americans if they’d want to go to lunch with him and his girlfriend after class one day, they didn’t even know who Soraya was.  Sarah says, “Jonathan was from Sweden, and we were interested in getting to know him more and hear about where he was from.  So we went over to a small café around the corner to meet them, and we were waiting, and then his girlfriend showed up.  She was this small, blonde girl, and I remember thinking ‘Wow!  She’s gorgeous!’”

Aside from that, Sarah didn’t realize anything was strange while they were eating.  She even pulled out the good ole’ American PB&J sandwich she had packed for lunch and offered half to Soraya.  They don’t have PB&J in Spain the way we do over here (it’s a very American meal), so Soraya was immediately impressed - and Sarah had made a new friend.

It wasn’t until the end of the meal when Sarah suspected anything different.  She recalled , “I realized people were starting to look at us weird.  Then the waitress brought the check back, and she wrote ‘It was so nice to be your server today!’  Soraya called over and asked, ‘Oh, would you like an autograph?’”

Jonathan and Soraya finally explained to the Americans who she was.  They were very down to earth and modest about the whole thing.  Sarah says, “You could tell she didn’t want it to be a big deal.”

Of course, when Soraya left to go on tour, there was no denying the fact that she was a star.  She even invited Sarah and some Americans to come backstage for one of her shows.  And, the next time she was back in town and the group went out for dinner, they had to reserve a whole restaurant for the night in order to keep the fans away and the commotion down.

Now that Sarah’s back in the US, she still listens to Soraya’s music from time to time.  It’s a great reminder of the people she met and experiences she had studying abroad.  Hopefully her story will encourage you to study abroad as well.  After all, you never know who you’ll run into when you’re traveling the world!