“You must be having the time of your life!” is the kind of reaction I usually get when people ask me about my semester in Bilbao. Of course, I get questions about the food and if we really take siestas and what trips I’m planning but the resounding theme of these interactions is how much fun I am having. And the truth is, I am having a blast and there’s no doubt about it. But I completely underestimated the personal growth and change I would experience. When I go back home, back to the things I know and am comfortable with, I will look back on my experience abroad as the season in which I became the person I want to be.
A huge lesson I learned was to accept myself for who I am and to not be ashamed of that person. It is a lot easier to feel comfortable with yourself when you are in a familiar place with familiar people. However, when I first arrived in Spain, that isn’t how I felt. I was an American unfamiliar with the city, the customs, the food, and even the water tasted different! This situation can feel daunting and overwhelming, but actually, it is a great opportunity. It is a chance to discover whom you really are; what it is you enjoy and what it is that brings you to life. I realized that I am so much stronger than I ever thought and that I am able to overcome missing my loved ones immensely. These may seem like small things but to have this experience all on my own makes it that much richer. Just because I have different traditions and customs than most everyone around me doesn’t mean I am wrong or I am “less than.” Rather, it gives me an opportunity to see the world through someone else’s eyes.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved history, politics, and culture. It is exhilarating to learn about a new way of life and discover how it is intertwined with my own background. It is an interesting time to be alive, with the recent US presidential election and Brexit and so many other events on the horizon. I am so thankful to have spent the past few months in Europe because I have been granted a unique perspective on the world I live in. My worldview has constantly been molded and shaped into a more inclusive one that does not solely rely on my American upbringing. I consider it a gift to have spent this semester studying and analyzing Spanish culture and European attitudes because I believe that it has molded me into a better student, peer, American, and person. The classes I’ve taken, the people I’ve had conversations with, and the environment I’ve lived in have all transformed the way I see myself and the world I live in.
Studying abroad isn’t for everyone. Not everyone can jump on a plane and live in a country halfway across the world for a semester. But if you have the opportunity and know you want to do so, take the chance and jump! There were moments when I doubted myself and whether it would be worth it but I am so glad I did it. That is one of the best lessons I have learned abroad. Taking chances, although not always easy, can result in the best experiences. It can be something small, like trying the interesting food your host mom made or even exploring somewhere new. Be confident in who you are and what you like, and take a chance on something new. You never know where it might lead you.
The world awaits…discover it.