Maddie Bernard, Guest Writer
Before I left for my semester-long study away trip to Granada, Spain, I was incredibly nervous. I was starting my life over completely in a foreign country, and leaving my life at Pacific Lutheran University behind.
I was the only one studying away in my house, and was nervous that my friends would move on without me, and that I would miss out on a lot at PLU.
I was also worried because I would be completely on my own. When I traveled to Australia last J-Term, I was in a group of other PLU students and we were guided by a professor. But now, only one PLU student was traveling with me, and I would have to navigate through this unknown place. Everything in Spain would be new and different.
I would be living with a host family I had never met before, attending a new school, and have to make new friends. Not to mention doing all these things in another language.
Though I had been taking Spanish classes for many years, I was not confident in my skills, and hardly participated in class. I was afraid to embarrass myself by making mistakes, so I avoided speaking Spanish. I knew I was going to have get out of my comfort zone, and speak Spanish everyday if I truly wanted to learn the language. It was scary and intimidating, and I did not think I was brave enough.
I will never forget when the taxi driver dropped me and my roommate off in front of our host family’s apartment complex. I was terrified and we were completely on our own in this new city. What if this was the wrong address? We would have no way to contact anyone, and had no idea how to get around.
When we approached the door to the apartment, I was practically shaking. I was not prepared to start my new life and speak Spanish full time. It was one of the scariest moments of my life.
While it was difficult at first, I pushed myself every day to speak more and more. The more I spoke, the more I learned, and the more confident I became. Soon, I wanted to speak Spanish all the time, and I was no longer afraid.
Studying abroad in Spain pushed me outside of my comfort zone and was the best experience of my life. I met so many amazing people, experienced a new way of life and traveled to four other countries.
Even though I was away from my friends and family, we still kept in touch through Skype, and it was as if nothing had changed when I returned.
By overcoming my fears, I grew as a person, became more confident and strengthened my Spanish skills. It took a lot of guts, and I had to be courageous every day, but it was worth it.
Studying away for a semester also provided more of a rewarding experience then traveling for just one month. Last J-Term, I traveled with a PLU group to Australia, which was a great experience, but since we were only there for 30 days, we were more like tourists. We saw the sights, learned a lot and then went home.
Since I was in Spain for an entire semester, I got to really live there. I experienced Spanish life and culture daily. I lived with a typical Spanish family, ate traditional Spanish food, attended a Spanish University and made Spanish friends.
While I did lots of touristy things, I was able to develop a daily routine, explore the city for myself and live more like a local. It was awesome to dive into the Spanish culture, and it felt so different from just being a tourist. Spain felt like my second home.
Don’t be afraid to study abroad for a semester! While it is a long time to be away, it is extremely rewarding in the end. I would not trade my experience abroad for anything in the world, and am so thankful I had this opportunity.
Looking back on my fears now, they seem silly, and I cannot believe they almost stopped me from discovering my second home. So be brave, get outside your comfort zone, and study abroad for a full semester–you will be glad you did.