Things I Learned About Myself From A Semester Abroad

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When I moved to Spain for a semester, I knew no one. No one. It was scary and intimidating, and at first, lonely. I’ve always been someone who has enjoyed being alone. But it took studying abroad to realize that while I may like to be alone sometimes, to watch tv or read a book, I didn’t know how to actually be alone. Studying abroad has been an amazing experience: I’ve seen incredible places, met great people from across the world, and eaten some delicious food. Despite all of that though, the most valuable thing I have gained from this trip is confidence.

Three months ago I thought I was confident. I had jobs and leadership positions on campus, great friends, and belonged to a sorority who promoted confidence more than anything. By second semester of junior year I actually felt like I was getting my life together and figuring myself out. But when I arrived in Spain and was nervous just ordering coffee in Spanish, I started to question that confidence I thought I had. All semester, I’ve been trying to gain it back.

This semester in Spain has been a remarkable journey that I’m so fortunate to have had. While I don’t really feel like I’ve changed, I also don’t think I’m the same person I was three months ago. I’m sure I’m forgetting some stuff, but these are some of the most significant things I’ve learned about myself, and in general, over the last three months:

  1. It actually is possible to eat at a restaurant alone, with no WIFI connection, book, or phone. This may be one of the most important things I discovered in three months. Sad, but true. When I sat in Piazza Navona in Rome with nothing but the food in front of me, it actually felt liberating.
  2. Despite my history as an over-packer, I can fit three days worth of clothing and necessities into one tote bag. Considering I used to take suitcases on overnight trips, this is an accomplishment.
  3. I am capable of figuring out public transportation. It took me a month in Barcelona to understand the metro system. But after an afternoon spent taking multiple routes, I was a pro. I even took the metro in Rome all by myself to the Vatican!
  4. I can read a map. It’s not that I couldn’t before studying abroad, I’d just never seriously had to.
  5. I can speak Spanish. At coffee shops and stores, when getting a haircut from someone who doesn’t speak English, at the doctor’s office with pinkeye, etc.
  6. Museums still aren’t my thing. After my friend told me he spent two hours in the Picasso museum when I spent only 30 minutes, this was confirmation. Not that I really needed it.
  7. You don’t need to cake on a bunch of make up every day. At first I did, but then I thought, what’s the point? For the record I haven’t had single zit or breakout in 3 months.
  8. I really need to learn to keep myself on a budget. Too much shopping with no job. Ugh.
  9. I can survive without a car. At least in Barcelona…in Iowa there might be too many cornfields to actually get places.
  10. The stereotype about people from the Midwest being nice is true. After meeting a lot of people from a lot of different places, both in the US and Spain, I now really appreciate this.
  11. Five-minute showers are possible. Not necessarily enjoyable, but possible; and with hair as long as mine they require leave-in conditioner.
  12. Apparently I like tomatoes now. And tons of other vegetables and foods I didn’t think I liked/was too afraid to try before.
  13. I am a very easy going traveler. Mainly because I don’t like conflict. Sometimes I think I might be too easy going.
  14. I AM SO LUCKY. And for so many reasons. I’m lucky that I have great parents, family, and friends; I’m lucky that I’m a US citizen; that I have educational opportunities; I’m lucky that in the US unemployment isn’t almost 30% and I can actually get a summer job. There is so much I could say. Before studying abroad I just didn’t fully understand how fortunate I am. I appreciate my life so much more now.

After taking several buses, trains, and flights alone and overcoming cultural and language barriers, I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do. I’m so thankful for the independence I’ve gained and I hope I’ll be able to keep it with me when I return to the United States next week. It’s funny; I’m grateful that I finally feel comfortable being alone, while at the same time I’ve never valued my family and friends more.

It’s going to be hard saying goodbye to the people I’ve gotten to know in Barcelona over the last three months. It will also be horrible leaving such a beautiful city; but I’m so excited to return to my life in Iowa. Can’t wait to see you in 7 days Mom and Dad!!

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I love this city.

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One thought on “Things I Learned About Myself From A Semester Abroad

  1. Pingback: College Tourist Global Writer's Round Up | The College Tourist

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