A lot has happened. I started classes at the University of Granada in Spain in a building known as the Center for Modern Languages and am already only two weeks away from midterms; I visited Córdoba, Seville, and Gibraltar; I played intramural volleyball; I got lost and found some really cool new places to eat and shop in the process; and, somehow even having done all of these things, each day I seem to stumble upon a new lesson or experience that can be applied to my life.
It was my intention to write about all that this experience has taught me in a farewell post in December before I return to the States. I may still do that; however, there is one lesson that has been constantly on my mind over the last couple of weeks, and I feel it cannot wait until December.
When you leave your native country there is an inevitable change that begins upon arrival to that new place. You may not notice it at first, but after about a month you begin to realize how far you’ve come and how much you’ve changed in so little time. What’s even more interesting is that these changes aren’t like, “Poof! You’re a whole new person!” They are more gradual than final, but my goodness, how beneficial they are nevertheless. So here we go with my next post: the one lesson that Spain has taught me in just 4-5 weeks’ time.
Relationships really are the best resources.
I used to hear people say this and agree but not really be completely convicted by it. Since coming abroad, however, I have lived this. Spain is a very collective/contact society. Here we greet one another with besos (kisses) and enthusiasm, we speak to waiters and store clerks as if they have been our friends for years, and because of the abundant amount of exchange students, many of us go to hangouts called “intercambios” where five or six English speaking students meet up with five or six Spanish speaking students to practice speaking to one another in our native languages. I went to one of these intercambios last week and had an incredible time. We sat around a table in the pattern of one Spanish, one English, one Spanish, one English, etc. This was done so that on both sides of you there was someone who did not speak your language. Doing something like this back home may seem a bit taboo, but here the people do gatherings like this on a regular basis.
In addition to the intercambios, my roommates have been a big part of helping me to develop friendships with new people. I met my first roommate in London while I was on my way to Spain. When we arrived to our homestay, we were introduced to our other roommate – a girl from Germany who has already been here for four months. We have all gotten to know one another and have developed a bond over our similar situations and our different backgrounds.
In addition to my roommates, the other students in the program have also been great to get to know and become friends with. We often get together with some of the other students at their apartments to have dinner with foods representative of each country. Just last week we got together with some other girls in our program and their roommates and had a beautiful dinner. Around the table were people with backgrounds from all over the world (Portugal, the Netherlands, Poland, Egypt, and America, too). We had the most incredible discussions about the world and different points of view. I really enjoyed that we could come together and just talk (and in different languages!). It was nice because no one was trying to change anyone or force their beliefs on the rest. We just talked, laughed, and bonded.
Another cool thing about being here is that in the university the professors are extremely personable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still school, but they make the class time memorable and enjoyable. Even on my tired days I find myself engaging. The distance between teacher and student is warm and inviting. I often see some of my professors in the street, and it’s no scary thing to yell, “Hola!” or something of the sort when passing. They demonstrate how sincerely they just want you to feel comfortable, participate, try, get things wrong, and learn how to use the language.
What all of these interactions and relationships are teaching me are the meaning of acceptance, open-mindedness, and simply put, the love of others.
I find myself listening more intently when people speak and caring more about what they have to say than what I’m going to tell them about me. I’m learning that just because someone isn’t your best friend from back home doesn’t mean that you can’t be a friend to them – have their back, check in on them, give of your time when you see they’re struggling. Because the truth is, as incredible as studying abroad has been, it’s no easy journey all of the time. Sometimes you freak out and wonder why you took such a chance. Sometimes you just want to hug your loved ones but realize that they’re a world away for another couple of months. Sometimes you’re just tired and don’t know what you’re feeling. The list goes on and on. But the secret weapon is these relationships. These bonds that somehow remind you that you did this for reasons deeper than you can always explain and that being abroad really is a magical experience. My time here has been eye-opening in so many ways, and I am so very happy that I chose to do this.
So to those you who are already abroad, I hope that this post gives you something to relate to and be encouraged by. And to those of you still considering going abroad, come on already! The scariest part is starting, but you will find that it is one of the best decisions you will ever make. The relationships that you will form will greatly impact you for the better. For me it has made me breathe a bit more deeply when I’m out exploring to just take it all in. Many of my stereotypical thoughts have been destroyed. I have observed others’ philosophies of life, and I have even strengthened some of my own values. There’s no one specific thing you gain from being abroad; that is why I hope you read this and make the decision to do so… so that you can experience all of the wonderful things waiting for you.