Last August I was a wreck. I was checking and rechecking my packing list, going over my AIFS handbook, and generally trying to prepare myself for leaving the country for nine months. Not an easy task.
However, what I was most concerned about was preparing myself emotionally and mentally for going through culture shock and rearranging my life in Spain. Rightfully so – from previous study abroad experiences, I knew that the mental hurdle is the biggest one for students. This means getting through homesickness, finding new friends, speaking a new language, and generally adjusting to a place where you feel lost. That doesn’t sound so great, but let me tell you, it is the best part. Because when you do overcome those mental hurdles, the magic of living abroad starts to fall into place and you begin to see yourself in a brand new context – as a citizen of the world.
While I was prepping myself for these hurdles last August, I was coming out of a difficult place. I had a very lonely summer while I worked four different part-time jobs and lived at home, and I wasn’t feeling happy enough or strong enough to prepare in any way. I felt that I had lost that sense of independence and adventure and I dwelled on those emotions. That was wrong, and I see that now. As I arrived in Spain, I let those negative emotions follow me on this journey for the first few months and it only made my transition harder.
But then that magical thing happened.
I began to see myself in a new light, as a better, more caring, independent young adult. I allowed myself to be happy and meet new people and to perfect my language skills. This all happened because I let go of trying to force this experience to be what I had expected. I stopped blaming myself every time something didn’t fall into place as it had during other experiences. I finally just let this experience happen to me, rather than trying to constantly create it. There is something to be said for taking responsibility for having a positive experience and integrating, but sometimes things just do not happen as you expect, and that is okay.
As I near the end of this year in Spain, I have had plenty of time to reflect on how everything I learned has come together. While at times I was confused or lonely, those memories are distant now as I make plans with local friends and walk confidently around the city. Those mental hurdles were not fun, but leaping over them really was worth it and I am a better person because of them. When you study abroad, you don’t just learn about a new culture or a new language, you also learn a great deal about yourself. And that is worth all the effort.