When you first start thinking about studying abroad, there are a lot of details to consider and a lot of countries to choose from. You can narrow programs down based on the academic opportunities they offer, their cost and their location.
Because I wanted to go to Europe and study Spanish, my choice was easy: Spain.
I knew there were areas in Spain where it would be easy to switch into speaking English (such as Madrid), so I opted to go to a city where English would be less well-known, Sevilla.
This choice would go on to influence the adventures I had abroad such as the people I met, the accent they used and the places I could easily go. But many of my experiences were similar to those of anyone who has studied abroad.
If you choose to go abroad, you will inevitably learn things about yourself you never knew before. Sometimes you’ll find unexpected strengths.
Other times, you’ll discover weaknesses you’d overlooked. One of the first things I realized , and was constantly reminded of throughout the trip, was that I was not very brave, or assertive, or even talkative.
At Drake, being quiet never bothered me. But in this new city where everyone was social, where being standoffish was not only strange but a little bit rude, I suddenly felt inadequate. I had to learn how to work with my shyness and not let it keep me from meeting people or seeing new places.
There were other obstacles, too. The accent in southern Spain was a bit unique. Locals spoke quickly and frequently dropped the ends of their words.
Sometimes when they realized I was from the U.S., they would speak more slowly and carefully.
Other times, I had to ask that they repeat themselves and slow down. But every time I was able to successfully communicate with someone else, without the aid of a translator tool or a textbook, my confidence was boosted.
Abroad, I was able to see how well I could communicate in reality, not just in a classroom.
Sometimes, it was really hard to be away from my friends and family. But this also gave me a freedom I’d never experienced before.
I was surprised by how much I was capable of doing on my own. I navigated a new city that spoke a different language. I ate with the locals and spoke to them in shaky Spanish, using an American accent that sometimes made them laugh.
I haven’t been so conscious of my learning, or felt like I was learning so fast, anywhere in the U.S. But of course not. When I’m in the U.S., I’m comfortable.
Since I got back from studying abroad, I’ve noticed that I took some things with me.
I still incorporate some of the eating habits I picked up from my host mom. I don’t drink soda as often and I put olive oil on my salads instead of dressing. I’m a bit more assertive and I’m less worried about looking silly or out of place. Using Snapchat or Facebook, I still get to speak Spanish with the people I met.
I’m not so afraid of taking risks, either. The struggles I experienced abroad were so important for helping me learn about myself and the language I love. And naturally, they’ve given me a lot of stories to tell.