As I approach the end of my semester abroad, I’ve been reflecting on the entire experience and what I’m going to take away from it. Needless to say, there are countless amazing things that I could recap about having seen and done during my semester in Spain. But, I also realized that the study abroad experience isn’t just about what you take away from it, but what you have put into it throughout your time.
Being abroad is the time of your life and more, but there’s some work to be put in in order to really get the most from the experience. It’s a different kind of work than I’m used to at home, working on papers and projects in the library, but still important and necessary.
Study Abroad Lesson #1: Be Patient and Try Again
Being stubborn, I’m not typically one for giving things a second go around if they didn’t work out for me the first time. However, I quickly learned that this would not suffice while living in Spain and traveling in foreign cities. If a Spaniard yelled something at me in the grocery store for accidentally skipping them in line, it was easy to get frustrated and make assumptions about them. But, I knew I had to start giving second chances or I would be highly disappointed with every little thing that went wrong.
When traveling around for months, something is bound to go wrong at least once or twice. In the times when hunger and exhaustion got the best of us, it was hard to remember that we were having once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. However, studying abroad and living in these foreign cities is much different than vacationing, so we had to give things another chance with each new day. It’s okay to stumble on your words ordering, as long as you try again and again.
Study Abroad Lesson #2: Acknowledge FOMO
Of course, studying abroad also gave me a pretty bad case of FOMO. Regardless of whatever historic monument I was seeing abroad, I couldn’t help but wonder what my friends back home were doing. Most days I pretty occupied with whatever was in front of me, but there were some that were just as average as a day back home, where I wasn’t doing too much, and it was easy to feel like my friends back home had all moved on. They hadn’t really forgotten about me, but my absence seemed to feel less and less prominent.
I had to remind myself to be mentally present where I was physically, and know that everything and everyone was still going to be there in the United States when I returned. It also helps that things like texting and FaceTime exist to close the virtual gap across the Atlantic Ocean and ease the FOMO or homesickness.
Study Abroad Lesson #3: Find a Balance; Take Time to Relax
Spaniards have a saying that goes along the lines of, “Americans live to work while the rest of the world works to live.”
Having now spent a semester in Spain, I can testify that there the statement holds some validity. Many Americans feel accomplished when they burn out from a 9-5 desk job for the chance at a promotion. There are great things to be said about the “American Dream,” but at times we forget that sitting down with friends to do nothing but eat and converse is just as important in life. Some might say Spaniards are actually experts at this activity. Going out for a drink with those closest to you, or just simply walking around leisurely, is just as important to the people of Spain as showing up to a job.
It was easy to learn, live and love this practice of just sitting around with the people you enjoy with no grand plans and nowhere to be. This is a concept that seems so foreign to many Americans. I am quite positive that my stress levels have decreased significantly since being here, except for that time we almost missed our bus to Porto.
Study Abroad Lesson #4: There’s Always Common Ground
I’d like to think that study abroad has also given me a more worldwide perspective. After having lived in Spain and learning so much history and current news, it’s hard to look at things the same way I did before going overseas. Being such a large country, Americans tend to think that the United States is at the center of the world, but there are so many people, cultures and histories that we know little to nothing about. Stories of injustices and ongoing fights for independence that I knew nothing of before this semester in Spain.
Being the outsider in a place where the people don’t speak your native language is truly eye-opening. It’s easy to think that you may have nothing in common with these people who grew up in very different worlds than you did. It can be hard to put effort into having a conversation with them. But there are moments when even the barriers of verbal communication cannot stop the universal human connection from forming. Far and few in between as they may be, these are the moments that make the experience so worthwhile and make your perspective just that much wider.
Studying in Salamanca has been greater than any experience I could have hoped for. I will forever be grateful for the friends I have made and traveled with. It takes a certain person to put up with traveling and spending almost every waking moment together. Not even the hardest of days or the worst of stares from locals would have been worth giving this up for. My heart stings as I say my final “Hasta luego” to my favorite place.
This post was contributed by Andrea Maspons, a student from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Salamanca, Spain.