With just days to go, I have been thinking a lot about what I have learned during my time abroad. Don’t worry Mom and Dad, I have learned a LOT of español (after all, that’s what I’m here for) but there has been so much more to this experience than that. Salamanca has transformed me into a more independent and confident version of myself than I ever thought I could be. If living here has taught me anything, it’s to pay attention to my surroundings. This means staying alert when I walk home in the dark just as much as it means taking note of the life lessons I learn every day.
Here are five of the most important lessons I have learned during my semester abroad.
1. When in doubt, trust your instincts.
You can never be too sure of yourself or too overly confident in your ability to do something. But I don’t mean “be cocky.” Was I absolutely sure that the return bus to Spain that I was waiting for in Porto, Portugal was definitely not the bus in front of me that was set to leave in 4 minutes? I thought so. But I doubted myself one more time and, sure enough, I was the last on board and got a lecture from the bus driver in Portuguese about paying more attention. Doubt isn’t always a bad thing: it keeps you on your toes.
2. Don’t take anything for granted.
A week after going to Madrid my stomach was in pretty bad shape and, for a Celiac, that usually means I got “glutened.” But I didn’t have my typical resources here to help me get better. I couldn’t do a quick Google search to find medicine at the pharmacy that was gluten free and free from manufacturing cross contamination. I couldn’t stay home from school because my absences would hurt my grade. I never thought about little things like this when I was sick in the U.S. because I had my usual support system close by — but I didn’t have them here. So thank you, support system, for everything you do for me.
3. Respect cultural differences.
One of the great things about studying abroad is that everyone comes from such different backgrounds. I’ve made friends from Norway to Wyoming and so many places in between and it’s made me realize how easy is it to think that the way you live and the way you were raised is just “normal.” But in that small town in Wyoming, there’s a shortage of doctors and the nearest hospital is two hours away. Never assume that someone has access to the same luxuries as you.
4. Keep your priorities straight.
Call your mom, or your dad, or whomever is important to you and tell them you love them. The phrase “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” really hits home here. No, I’m not permanently “gone” and I’ll be seeing my family soon enough, but not being able to hug my mom or walk my dog or have a night in looking at memes with my friends has been rough at times. So make sure you don’t forget about who you’ve got rooting for you in life. They’d appreciate a call more than you know.
5. Embrace change.
I’ve already touched on cultural differences but when I say change here, I mean anything: change that you’re expecting, unwarranted change, change you have no control over, all of it. As difficult as it is to deal with change, it’s inevitable. My change in environment was something I brought upon myself; I chose to be here. But that didn’t make living on my own and figuring out how to “adult” in a different country any easier. But I was open to it and I accepted it for what it was, and things became less scary. Now I’m a fiend for meal-prepping and grocery shopping has become a favorite past-time.
Even though I learned all of this while studying abroad, it doesn’t mean that it can’t apply to your life in your hometown or anywhere that you find yourself ending up.
Keep your heart open and your mind constantly wanting to learn more.
Keep your eyes forward but don’t forget to check behind you.
And remember to be thankful for the life that lets you do everything you’ve done, everything you’re doing, and everything you can do.