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COLUMN: Losing baggage after a semester in Spain

COLUMN%3A+Losing+baggage+after+a+semester+in+Spain

Having expectations for the future is overrated. It is much more exciting to go into the next experience with an open heart and mind, putting your best self out there and riding the thrills of the ensuing emotions. It was this cold-blooded expectation-less attitude that I had going into my Spanish study abroad experience in the spring of 2023.

Well, that is not the entire truth. In reality, I went to Spain with hopes of regaining the level of happiness I had felt before last winter; to somehow magically reinvent myself with the dream of attaining something near fluency in Spanish. 

In the end none of those entirely came true, at least not in the ways I had expected them to.

I never achieved the fluency thing. However, I did improve my Spanish skills immensely and was able to set more realistic interim goals on the road to fluency. My self-reinvention came in the form of its milder cousin: self-discovery. The happiness quest is always ongoing, but since I have come back from being abroad I have found myself smiling brighter, longer and more frequently.

There is something so freeing about being in a completely new place around unfamiliar people immersed in a different language. The person that was conditioned for years to fit into a life in North Carolina suddenly found himself in a foreign world. I was in a land where the only label I wore was the vague one of “American.” 

Spain is a lot different from Boone. 

After a couple flights, I was no longer facing the pressures of falling into the grooves I had carved out for myself in my familiar life back home. All of a sudden, I could allow my personality to seep out in every direction that felt natural to me. I could be whoever I wanted to be.

In Spain, the only expectations imposed on me to be a certain person or act in a certain way were my own. It was as if for my whole life I’d been a bottle of fizzy grape juice left on a shelf somewhere. Then one day, someone grabbed me by the neck, shook vigorously, and everything that was bubbling inside me finally burst free. 

I was able to let my personality flow freely. This is one of the scariest possible things that can happen to someone who has spent their whole life learning how not to be shy. Yet, there is nothing to lose in a place that is halfway across the world from where you actually live.  

Not only does studying abroad have the potential to release the floodgates of your personality, it also gives you the opportunity to grow. There is no better way to nourish one’s own humanity than to experience a different culture. 

Spending time among people who see the world differently is empowering. Entering into another language and culture allows one to let go of their hardened worldviews and predispositions to see everything from a new angle. I think in this way being in another country gives us the opportunity to become better people. 

My willingness to experience a new point of view allowed me to accept unfamiliarity a bit more. Acceptance of the greater world around me was the key that relinquished my wild spirit to dance freely.

For many young college students, college marks a period in life underlined by significant personal growth as well as an accumulation of the life skills essential to the transition into the greater world which lies beyond higher education. Studying abroad challenges one to grow even more and to strengthen that practical life skill set. I came home with a bursting suitcase –– packing that thing was a skill, if not an art form –– but I also returned with a life skill set much fuller.

To name a few things, I became a ruthlessly efficient planning guru. I can now navigate an unfamiliar city like a true seasman on the ocean blue. I also learned how to turn strangers into friends, regardless of differing backgrounds. 

The high-strung, knotted-up, timid person I was upon leaving home came back a little less afraid to dream and live openly. I brought home with me a world much bigger and brighter than the world I had set out with. That, to me, is worth more than any self-help book or piece of advice out there. That, to me, is the value of my study abroad.

I believe every student should take their chances on a study abroad experience. Chances are, you will learn something new about the world and yourself. Or at the very least you will have a good time.

For questions about study abroad, see App State’s Office of International Education and Development. They have resources, options and guidance to suit a diverse range of situations to make study abroad possible for students.

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