I knew I wanted to write a post when I returned home regarding all the things I learned during my time abroad. It is obvious that living in a foreign country for 3.5 months will teach you a lot, but what exactly did I learn? There are some apparent things every study abroad student learns, and some things that I honestly didn’t expect to learn about.
My Lessons Learned:
This one is pretty obvious, and was one of the main reasons I went abroad. I wanted to become better at Spanish. Before leaving, I had taken some advance Spanish courses for my minor. I was able to read and write relatively well, but speaking was a different story. However, I certainly learned quickly once I was living with a woman who spoke no English. It is challenging, but exciting to be able to speak another language. I was able to catch on to slang and colloquialisms of Sevilla. Before I realized what was happening, my brain began working in Spanish. What I didn’t expect to learn, however, was how to speak a little of some other languages…such as Arabic, French, Portuguese and Italian. I also became very proficient in the art of charades while abroad, especially when my words failed me and the language barrier was too high.
(My “intercambio” (talking partner)Macarena: she’s a Spanish student at the University of Sevilla and the sweetest person!)
I guess it is clear that I would become a better packer while studying abroad. Since I traveled on air planes that charged for suitcases, we always packed what we would need for our trips in our carry-on bags. I am a very indecisive person sometimes (especially when it comes to clothes). But when it came time to pack, I always had to choose a few outfits and hope the weather prediction for the weekend was true. I also learned to not only pack efficiently, but quickly. I can’t count how many times my roommate and I left packing to the last minute. (Not necessarily out of choice but because we were always busy!) At the very end of the semester, one hour before I left Sevilla for my flight home, I was still packing. And then a half hour before leaving, I was sitting on my suitcase in an attempt to get everything to fit. (That was out of choice because I couldn’t believe I was really leaving Spain). When it came to packing it was all about versatile items, such as light jackets that could be taken on and off depending on the temperature. I also learned how to work with less. The packing skills I acquired while abroad will come in handy for the rest of my life!
How to Relax
Living in a country with a slower paced lifestyle than the US, I learned how to truly relax. For anyone who knew me before I left, I was always very busy and always very stressed! This trip was like an extended vacation for me. I finally learned how to slow down, take a deep breathe and enjoy the things around me. I started planning less and less, and celebrating each moment more and more.
Living in a computer aged world, where I was always able to rely on my phone or GPS to help me find my way, I was forced to revert back to reading a map during my time abroad. I can still remember my first day in Sevilla, when my roommate and I had to navigate our way from the center of the city, back to our apartment in Triana. (Getting lost was a normal occurrence my first week abroad). More importantly, maps were most important when visiting other countries. I remember relying on our map of Rome to get us EVERYWHERE. (At least in Paris and London we had some friends to show us around). We would have never found the Trevi Fountain without a map! Being able to read maps, whether city maps, metro maps or bus maps—is a skill I have acquired while living abroad. It is the best way to figure out a city quickly. In all honesty, I think I prefer a map over a GPS now!
This was one of the most important things study abroad taught me. I wouldn’t say I was particularly impatient when I left for Spain, but I certainly did not have the patience I have now. In Europe, Spain especially, people do not mind waiting in lines. My average wait at the post office was 25 minutes, and the average wait in a grocery store check-out line was 15 minutes. As an American, I am not used to waiting like this, but people overseas don’t seem to mind as much. The people in Spain definitely walk slower than in the States too, and no one is ever in a huge rush to get anywhere. My friends and I would constantly joke that we were on “Spain time” when we would show up late to a meeting place—because Spanish people are always late.
Another aspect of patience I learned was listening. At the very beginning of my time abroad, I learned how important patience is when it comes to speaking another language. Lucky for my roommate and me, our host mom was equally patient when it came to conversations. It’s important to not allow yourself to get frustrated when you don’t understand—even when someone repeats themselves three times and you are still confused. Spanish people in general are very patient, not only when it comes to waiting in line but when it comes to speaking with foreigners.
I don’t know how obvious this was to me when I was first planning to study abroad, but saying goodbye to my parents in the airport made me realize that I had no choice but to be courageous the next few months. This was the first time in my life I was truly on my own. Yes, I live at school, away from home, but if I want to see my parents it is only a short drive for either of us to visit. Then suddenly I found myself 3,000 miles away in a foreign country.
Although people often view courage as huge heroic acts, I see it a little differently. Courage is climbing 551 steps to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica even though I’m afraid of heights. It is taking a chance on a trip to Africa and having it turn into an amazing adventure. Courage is asking directions in a country where you don’t speak the native language. It is trying new food…like blood sausage and duck liver and bulls tail. No matter how outgoing you are, courage is something living abroad will teach you. There is no doubt that Spain and the other countries I traveled to tested me every chance they got, but it made me a stronger person in the end. I am so proud of what I achieved and who I have become from living abroad.
(Top of St. Peter’s Basilica!)
Getting Lost is OKAY
I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I learned that getting lost is okay. Sometimes, when you wander off the beaten path, you stumble upon some of the coolest things. I used to hate getting lost when I was in the US, but there was something tranquil about getting lost on the streets of Paris or the back roads of Sevilla. Eventually, you will find your way… but enjoy getting lost in the meantime. It is something I never appreciated before, and now I realize it is all part of the journey.
(One day when we were lost in Sevilla, my friends and I Stumbled upon this!)
Of course I understood what friendship meant before going abroad. But friendship takes on an entirely different meaning when you live abroad with someone. I was blessed with an amazing roommate and best friend to live and travel with. We saw each other at our absolute worst. We comforted each other when we were homesick and we laughed hysterically over saying the wrong things in Spanish. We took care of each other when the other caught a cold and we looked out for each other, wherever we went. Kayla was my family while abroad and made me realize how truly important it is to have the right type of friends in your life. I cannot express how much I appreciate all the times we had together adventuring around the world. It is certainly difficult to be with someone 24/7 but Kayla and I just worked together. It takes a lot of trust, patience and understanding when living with a friend abroad. I now understand more about true friendship than ever before. Thanks Kay!!
As strange as it is to say that I learned about love while abroad, it’s true. Love is a universal language and my host Mom made that clear right away to us. She explained (in Spanish) that she wanted her home to feel like our homes back in the US. She wanted us to be comfortable and always reminded us that she was there for us if we had questions or needed anything. Although we didn’t always understand each other…smiles and laughter were always understood. It feels like just yesterday I was meeting her for the first time—worried about living with a complete stranger. Before I knew it, she was family. A little over two weeks ago, I stood on the side of the road in a group hug with Kayla and our host Mom, waiting for a taxi to take us to the bus station—all three of us crying because it was time to say goodbye. There are no language barriers when it comes to caring for another person, and my host Mom taught me a lot about hospitality, kindness and love.
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of knowing and loving people in more than one place”