I am very sad to say that this will be my last post on my study abroad blog. Over the past 4 months I have learned so much, about the world and myself. I’ve been so blessed to have this experience and live my dreams. I am happy that I decided to blog about my journey, and have followers like you supporting me throughout all my adventures…so thank you!
There are many people that I could not have done all of this without, and I just want to give them all a quick shout-out.
- Thanks to my Nana and Papa for always supporting me…even though I know you worried every single day about me! Thanks for being my #1 blog followers too!!
- Thanks to my brother, who always managed to tease me on Skype and make me feel like I was back home.
- Thanks to my best friends, who kept me laughing 3,000 miles away and always cheered me up when I was homesick.
- Thanks to Mark, who bravely watched me venture across the world, to live in Spain for 4 months, with a smile on his face. That’s not an easy task for a boyfriend to do, and I am so grateful for his non-stop support in every new adventure I take on!
- Thanks to my past teachers and professors (some of whom follow my blog), for helping to shape me into the person I am today. I would have never been interested in international relations, Spanish or traveling if it weren’t for some of my favorite teachers/professors who inspired me! (You know who you are.)
Finally…there are two very important people I owe it all to.
Mom & Dad. You guys never cease to amaze me. I am inspired and motivated by you every single day of my life. I could have never accomplished all that I managed over the years without your love and support. I wasn’t afraid to adventure out into this world because of you both, so thank you.
This ones for you...
THANK YOU MOM & DAD FOR GIVING ME THE WORLD. XOXO
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”
I know it’s been a while since my last post, but let me fill you in! After saying goodbye to my incredible host family, some amazing friends and the most beautiful city, I traveled for over 27 hours to get home to the United States. It was certainly a roller coaster of emotions. By the time I stepped off the plane in Boston, made it through customs, grabbed my bags and made it out to arrivals where my loving family and friends waited for me—I was too delusional to realize that I was finally home. Let’s just say I woke up the next morning, very confused at where I was.
But now, it has been over two weeks, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that my study abroad experience is over. (However, I know this is not the end of my traveling adventures). Everyone seems to be asking me how it feels to be home. In all honesty, it’s amazing, but definitely a mix of emotions. Although I am back with all my favorite people once again, it was sad to leave a place that grew to become a second home.
What is Reverse Culture Shock?
Now, before we left Sevilla, our study abroad program warned us about “Reverse Culture Shock”. Although I’d like to say I didn’t go through culture shock when I first arrived in Spain, I did. And although I’d like to say “Reverse culture shock” doesn’t exist—it does. It’s very difficult to explain exactly what this is, or what it feels like, but I’m going to try to give you a taste of what it was to me.
Basically reverse culture shock is the feeling that you are a stranger in your own home. When someone explained this to me, I didn’t quite understand what they meant so let me try to paint a picture for you.
For almost two days, I struggled to find light-switches in my house. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it gets annoying very quickly. My stomach had a hard time readjusting to American food (maybe because it’s less fresh and more processed than in Spain, but it wasn’t the easiest transition). I wanted to say “gracias” instead of “thank you”, or “perdon” instead of “excuse me” to people. I had to tell myself to speak in English. I even got overwhelmed when I went out to eat for the first time, because of the number of choices on the menu and how frequently the waiter came to check on us. Driving was exhausting and strange to get used to again. I was waking up at 5:00am, wide awake, and falling asleep at 9:00pm. I missed the friends I saw every day in Spain, especially my roommate Kayla. That is what reverse culture shock was for me. Now that I am through with the confusing adjusting phase, I am faced with missing study abroad and traveling.
I am relieved to be home, but there is no doubt I will go through waves of sadness as I talk about my experience and show people pictures of my trips. But I believe that is natural. I miss the sunshine of Sevilla and being able to walk anywhere. I miss sitting by the river and watching the sunset. I miss having futbol (soccer) be the only sport they show on TV in bars and restaurants. I miss telling my host Mom about my day at dinner. I miss being able to legally have a glass of sangria with a meal. I miss jet-setting off to a new country each weekend I miss my host brother making fun of us. But, most of all, I miss the culture and relaxed atmosphere of Spain. It was hard not to enjoy life while abroad, and I will certainly miss that.
Getting over Reverse Culture Shock
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” -Dr. Seuss
Even though a lot about first coming home is tiring and stressful…it passed quickly. I was able to get over the frustration of “reverse culture shock” by spending time doing the things I missed while being away, like hanging with my family and friends. There are so many things that make me happy about being home. I am relieved to eat American food and take a shower in my house, where the temperature of the water stays the same. I can walk into a store and understand (mostly) everything strangers are talking about around me. I can go out to dinner with my boyfriend instead of having “skype dates”. I can watch TV in English, without bad voice-overs on American movies and shows. I can go into a grocery store and have choice (probably too much choice). My milk is stored in the fridge instead of the cabinet. I can wear sweatpants out in public without being judged. I can hang out with my Mom whenever. I can text/call my friends without worrying about a time difference…The list goes on.
The important thing about getting over reverse culture shock is to realize how blessed you were to have the experience of studying abroad in the first place. You can look at your home country through new, well-traveled eyes. You appreciate the presence of your family and friends much more.
The best thing you can do when coming home after an extended period away, is to realize that you can and will most likely go through “reverse culture shock”. Being aware of this will help you to quickly overcome it. Surround yourself with loved ones and keep busy. Attempt to get back into a normal routine as fast as possible. When you’re ready, make a photo book of your time abroad. Try not to dwell on the fact that this adventure is over, but look at it the beginning of many more adventures! xoxo
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can se the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” -Terry Pratchett