I Am Who I Am Thanks To Study Abroad Programs

Flickr / Feliciano Guimarães
Flickr / Feliciano Guimarães

When I first arrived at Emerson College, I had no idea what to expect. Everyone kept talking about wanting to go to the Los Angeles program or the “Castle” in the Netherlands. Not even for one second did a thought about doing those programs cross my mind. I went to school with the intention to play soccer and lacrosse until I graduate. But going to a school barely cares about sports and pumps out emails about each program every month made me feel left out. I felt like I was missing out.

With some luck, or not so much, I ended up breaking my foot during lacrosse season my freshman year and had to stop playing. A week before my surgery, I was looking through my emails and found an old one about a new external program that Emerson was offering. It was a program with Berklee College of Music in Valencia, Spain. I didn’t even know there were any other programs besides Los Angeles and Kasteel Well (the Castle’s official name). I took four years of Spanish in high school, so I decided to apply. Why not? That was the day my life changed.

There is only a small amount of students that study abroad in college. At my school, almost everyone does. It’s the norm. I guess you could say I had FOMO (fear of missing out), but I’ve always wanted to travel. I just never thought it would actually happen. But during those five months in Europe, I blossomed into a completely different person. Most of the time was filled with great memories, but there are a few crucial moments that made me grow.

I gained confidence in myself and trust in others:

The first day I was in Valencia, I didn’t even know how to order a cheeseburger (who orders a cheeseburger in Spain?). Spanish classes were great; it gave me a chance to brush off the cobwebs of the high school classes. But I learned the language through observation and forcing myself to have conversation. Yes, it is extremely difficult in the beginning. I was nervous that people would laugh at my obvious American accent and the fact that I can’t roll my Rs (I still can’t by the way, I guess some things never change). Get rid of the ‘people are mean’ mindset. People are nice. They are always willing to help, as long as you try. I made my way through Spain, France, Italy, and Austria barely knowing any of the languages. I even traveled by myself. By the end of my semester, I had the confidence to speak in full Spanish conversations.

I’ve learned to be aware, but not overly cautious:

Barcelona and Rome are the famous capitals of pickpocketing in Europe. The funny thing is that isn’t even where my friends had their things stolen. I’ve seen gypsies, pickpockets, and beggars. It’s not hard to avoid them, just keep your hand on top of your purse. It becomes second nature. Don’t leave it open and by your feet. The scariest moment of my study abroad experience was when I traveled alone. I’m sure part of it was because of the movie Taken, but I’ve learned how to lie and protect myself. When I was by myself in Nice, France, I had walked the boardwalk and took pictures of Castle Hill. An older man approached me, his name Philip, and asked if I knew what I was looking at. He decided to walk with me and explain the history of it. It seemed harmless at first, but when he began asking where I was from and who was traveling with me, I became weary of the situation and made up a completely false story of my trip to Nice. I’m sure Philip was a nice man, but you always have to be aware of your situation and surroundings.

I learned how to drink – the right way:

Drinking in college is a little ridiculous. No one knows what they’re doing, they become disoriented, and people throw up. It’s not as fun as it sounds, I swear. Why drink when you aren’t going to remember? In Europe, for the most part, people drink during lunch and dinner with glasses of wine or pitchers of sangria. It’s for taste, not for excessiveness. In consequence, I’m not very fun during my last semesters because I don’t want to drink heavily. But this taught me to grow up and learn that partying doesn’t last forever. Plus, it’s not as fun as I thought it was.

I’ve learned how to put myself out there:

I went into my semester abroad clueless. I didn’t know much about my city and I didn’t know anyone in the program. I just hoped and prayed that people would like me. It was kind of like starting college all over again. You have to put yourself out there, otherwise people will bond without you and you might be missing out on some awesome people and opportunities. What if you don’t make friends? So what? At least you tried. Now you get to do things that other people might not have wanted to do. Putting yourself out there is a part of life. It’s a skill I didn’t have. Now I can walk up to anyone and start a conversation. I’ve learned not to care what others think and just go for it.

So many people say that after studying abroad you become more cultured. That might be true, but I think you become yourself more than anything. Nothing is more important than knowing who you are and what you want out of life. That’s what study abroad is for. It’s just a plus that you get to travel to all kinds of cool places. TC mark

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