81 days. That’s how long I’ve been in Alicante, Spain. Just imagine what can change in that amount of time.
I could have spent my last semester of college at CMU, taking the easy route and going about my normal habitual days: stopping in the morning for a coffee, avoiding the library and gym, and trying to meet the most interesting people I could.
But–I decided that this is my last opportunity to do something amazing before I’m done with college forever: study abroad.
Now, here I am reflecting on these 81 days. I can still remember the thoughts that went through my head the very first day I stepped off the plane. Those thoughts are a mere memory of the “before-study-abroad Chelsea.”
It’s hard to say exactly how this trip will affect my future, but I have confidence that it will be for the best. However, I didn’t realize the personal worth of this trip until I hit rock bottom. They say you can never truly feel love without knowing pain, or that you can never understand a point of view until you’ve walked a day in those shoes. Now, I understand.
“Below so much grey, lives a neighborhood full of color.”
Here are some of recent, most fruitful discoveries I’ve learned from studying abroad.
1. Before coming here, I called myself “worldly” and said “I love to travel” but that takes on a whole new meaning for me now. Going on vacation does not mean traveling. Meeting the people, plunging into the culture, experiencing a different way of life–that is traveling. Besides, if you don’t learn anything new while in a new place, what’s the point anyway?
2. Coming here has tested my patience. I’ve always considered myself a patient person, but being perfectly patient is damn near impossible. It takes a toll on you sometimes. Sometimes you can only handle so much until you’re pushed past a breaking point. At times here, I’ve become a nasty person. I’ve seen myself treat others poorly due to the negativity building up inside of me and spilling over the edges. Which leads me to my next discovery.
3. You and only you control your own happiness. I’ve always believed this, but I never realized it until I was completely alone. When you get comfortable with your location, with your friends, with your life, you learn that you can always fall back on those things. Since being virtually “alone” in this new place, I’ve learned that my thoughts have the power to make this trip good or bad. Which, wow this is sequential, because it leads to point number four.
4. Never be afraid to ask for help. I was struggling with a situation here that was only my problem and I thought I had no one here to share my feelings with. I spent many days in my room stressing, thinking, isolating and all this achieved was to successfully make my problem worse. Sometimes, you get stuck in a spiral of negative thoughts and it seems like you’re trying to swim against a riptide, when in reality all it takes to get you out is a fresh, new perspective.
5. One of the new perspectives I gained here includes fully understanding that it is virtually impossible to get along with everyone. And sometimes, there’s people you wish you could get along with, but you can’t. Prime example: my host mom. We butt heads about absolutely everything. She even said to me, “you and I, we are just incompatible.” I knew it. She knew. It’s been a cloud of tension in the air, but you’re going to face this your entire life. You’re never going to like all of your peers or all of your coworkers, but so what? Be civil. Be respectful, and get on with your day.
6. “Mis monos” as they call it in Spain, otherwise known as “my cravings,” are probably as hard to kick as a drug. I was so accustomed to coffee every morning, beverages every weekend, and naps every day. Why? I thought coffee energized me, I thought alcohol helped me relax and let go, and I thought naps made me feel better. It’s incredible how kicking caffeine, alcohol and even junk food has changed me completely. Without caffeine, I’ve been sleeping better and if I sleep better I won’t need naps. I also never realized how unhealthy my eating habits were until I was forced to completely change them. I can’t believe that the few things I absolutely loved and craved now make me feel like absolute garbage. Incredible.
7. Next, being in the position of a minority changes everything. When you’re a minority in another culture, it’s almost like you don’t get to choose who you’re around, those people choose you. I reached out to people, but since I’m different and maybe not the best at Spanish, being friends with me is too much trouble. Many people don’t care to leave their comfortable “bubble” and I know they don’t want to explain the meaning of every slang sentence to me. I know it because I’ve been in their shoes. Oh, how the tables have turned. It’s so much easier to see the whole picture when you’ve been on both sides. But now I know, if someone doesn’t have the patience for me and doesn’t want to learn about me, I shouldn’t let it bother me. It’s just going to influence how I treat people and try to understand them from this point onward. Which brings me my last, but excellent discovery.
8. Body language. I’m so much more conscious of body language now, of others and of myself. When you’re learning a second language, you don’t have much of a choice. Sometimes body language can be more powerful than words. Especially if you’re studying PR like myself, controlling your own body language and learning the signs is something we need to absolutely soak in like a sponge. Communication is a crazy thing, isn’t it?
So finally, I’d like to conclude by saying that I’ve been confused, lost in translation, frustrated and even felt like I emotionally hit rock bottom, but even after the “montón de estrés” that I’ve experienced while being here, I have learned some pretty valuable lessons. Studying abroad has been one of the most thrilling rides of my life, and I hope the adventures won’t end here because I’ll take these memories and lessons with me for a lifetime.