Accept the bumps in your time abroad

Coming back to Colby after a full semester away is one of the weirder things I’ve done in a while. I spent last spring in sunny Sevilla, Spain, teaching English as a second language to elementary school students, taking classes, traveling, and the like. Although I ended up loving my time there and I continually think back on my experience, there were certainly bumps in the road that require some reflection.

First off, leaving my family at Logan was a bigger bump than I thought it would be; a small hill, if you will. I barely slept the night before out of the typical anxiety/excitement combination, and I babbled for the entire 30-minute car ride to the airport. We got through bag-check early, so we stopped at the little Dunkin’ stand for coffee and a bagel. I prolonged the conversation as long as I possibly could, realizing that these precious minutes were the last I’d spend with my three best friends until late May.

When the time finally came for me to head through security, my body went into autopilot: churning stomach, pounding head, shaking legs, the works. I didn’t cry, however, until after I had hugged my parents and my sister, said goodbye, and began to schlep my luggage toward the metal detectors. I only started to cry when I got past the point where they could come with me, and I turned back to see if they were still there. They all were, their arms around each other, smiling widely and waving frantically. That’s when I lost it. I began sobbing, almost uncontrollably, to the point where the security guard had to help me heft my stuff onto the conveyor belt. I got it together a little bit once I got my liquids and laptop back and wheeled my way toward my gate. So that was bump one, with more to come.

Bump two was the adjustment to Spain. Not to being abroad, but to Spain. It’s obvious that there is a large culture difference between my home and my destination, but for some reason, my mind hadn’t accepted it until I actually set foot in Sevilla. I had a lot of trouble finding my footing in the unique culture that is Andalucia, otherwise known as Southern Spain. People in Andalucia walk slow but talk fast, judge you but open their arms to you, and are a combination of traditional and progressive, depending on the type of Sevillano you’re talking to. I found myself spending a lot of time in my room in my apartment watching FRIENDS or Facetiming with people from home, without really seeing a pattern. I realized about a month in that I was doing these things because they were comfortable. They were what I knew. It took me a while to get the strength to push myself out of my apartment and into the streets, museums, cafés, bars, and clubs. Bump two (somewhat) complete.

Bump three, and possibly the biggest bump of all, was coming to terms with the fact that abroad wasn’t what everyone said it would be. It was great at times and not great at others, and for a long time I thought I wasn’t doing it right or that something was wrong with me. I was upset because I didn’t feel like I was having that “life-changing experience” that everyone seemed to be raving about. It was an instant response for almost everyone that went abroad: “It was incredible. Seriously life-changing.” Or something along those lines. So, if I was abroad, and I was going out and making friends and traveling to cool places, why wasn’t my life being changed? What was so messed up with me that I didn’t fit in with everybody else? The answer, something that I came to realize only after I returned from abroad and came back to Colby, is NOTHING. Nothing was wrong with me. Abroad wasn’t life-changing for me. It may have altered me as a person slightly: I can now travel on my own confidently, I’m a bit more comfortable in my own skin, and I have a better stance on drama, but it wasn’t life-changing. It was another experience in another place that was really cool.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is this: don’t worry if you’re abroad and you don’t feel like it’s changing your life or your very being. Don’t worry if you’re back from abroad and you don’t feel like you learned much about yourself or that you’re not a different person now than before you went. Some people have an experience they rave about every second of every day and already have plans to go back in a month, and that’s great for them. That just didn’t happen for me. And although I was upset and bothered by that at first, I’ve come to be at peace with it now. I cherish my abroad experience for what it was, and that’s all I can do.