My experience abroad has been everything I’ve imagined and more. You’ve probably heard it before: studying abroad is a life-changing experience. Personally, studying abroad is a turning point in both my personal and professional life, and I am sure it will help me shape my future.
It wasn’t always perfect and happy, but it was immersive and educational. Exciting, exhausting, transformative. Every time I travel it’s like coloring in a section of a map, and my world expanded enormously when I made the decision to pursue my college career in America.
Most of the blogs you’ll find online about what they learned from their trip abroad will tell you the same thing and in a general way. Instead, I want to tell you what I’ve REALLY learned studying abroad.
One of the most important lessons I took from America was to love what I didn’t understand. Loving the strange, or at least i miss it for me. That sounds silly maybe, but I learned to love the customs I didn’t diss from, the conversations I couldn’t follow, anything that made me scratch my head in confusion. I remember the first week I felt weird, I couldn’t follow most of the conversations my fellow Americans had, and at the end of the day, when I came back to my room and started analyzing the day, I was frustrated. Frustrated at not being able to keep up with them. This frustration, I used it as motivation to learn more, to be more curious, to put more effort into my pronunciation, to my vocabulary. I made that frustration something positive, at the end of the day that’s what’s important. So often our first reaction to something we don’t understand is fear or anger. But studying abroad helped me to be curious and to embrace what is strange to me.
I learned to keep people, places and things freely: studying abroad is so impermanent. I came in knowing it’s going to end, and you build up relationships knowing you’re going to be leaving at some point. Yes, you can keep in touch, but it won’t be exactly the same. Everything is so fleeting and fast, but it doesn’t make it any less precious.
It teaches you, as cliché as it might be, to live in the moment. I will probably never return to this exact place, nor will I be with the exact same group of people again, but being here in this particular arrangement of time and space flowing quickly is enough. It also showed me how important your loved ones are. I knew that my time with them when I was back in Spain was limited, two-three months at most a year. It’s hard not to see them that often, but I’ve learned to value them more, to value their love, the importance of having their support at all times. I have learned to value the small moments with them, I have learned to squeeze those moments to make them beautiful memories so that I can turn to them when I’m back in America and I’m homesick.
I learned to take risks. Studying abroad can feel a bit of a risk: going to a new and confusing place, living with people you don’t know, often in a language you don’t speak. But looking at these last three years of studying abroad, my best memories were times when I risked a little more. I remember my freshman year, it was my second week in the US, some friends and I went to a lake that had a rope swing. To get to that lake, we had to cross a small river. At the time, I still didn’t have private insurance and in the event that something happened to me, I would have to mortgage for life to pay the hospital bills since in the United States there is no public health. Going back to history, when I finally decided to pass the river, I noticed something rubbing on my leg and coming to the surface. I saw a three feet long black water snake.
After that happened, we arrived at the lake and had an incredibly good time. The next day, when I became interested in the fauna of the area, I discovered that what grazed me was a water moccasin. It was a risk that I ran and as far as I can remember, its still one of my favorite moments in the US.
I’ve learned that many challenges can be easily overcome with a little creativity and carefreeness. By that, I mean that when frustration arises, my first response is to sit down and look around. Instead of getting angry immediately, I try to calm down and take a moment to soak up the whole situation before acting.
But maybe the greatest lesson I’ve learned while studying overseas is that the world has tremendous depth. It has excellent beauty, landscapes and towns that I enjoy and that ruin sometimes excellent ugliness, earthquakes and disasters. But there’s more to learn under what we see with the naked eye.
The world is waiting to be discovered, maybe you’ll be the one to accept the challenge.