Getting Over Myself While Studying Abroad in Spain

Getting Over Myself While Studying Abroad in Spain

foreign-correspondent badge finalI began my study abroad journey to Salamanca, Spain with (what I thought) was a pretty good understanding of myself. I knew I was type-A, but I realized that that’s just a polite way of saying that I am stubborn, closed-minded, and anxiety-prone when it comes to adjusting to new things.

Due to my extraversion and determination, I envisioned myself as the perfect candidate for studying abroad in Spain.

“Are you serious!?” a close friend asked me incredulously via Skype. “You struggled with leaving New Jersey to go to school in Pennsylvania…could you imagine going all the way to Spain?”

Now, I don’t know if I even have it in me to leave Jersey ever again.

This semester didn’t exactly go as planned. My study abroad wasn’t the fairy dust-coated experience that all my friends had. Study abroad is supposed to be a time where you “explore,” and “discover yourself.” At least, that’s what all the brochures say. My study abroad experience had the opposite effect on me. There were days (even weeks) where I absolutely hated Spain. By mid-April, I became so hostile and homesick that I couldn’t wait to come home.

Once upon a time, I harbored this crazy dream of using my Spanish skills and travel experience to join the Peace Corps after graduation. Now, I don’t know if I even have it in me to leave Jersey ever again. Before I started this semester, I explicitly stated that I wasn’t going to change my lifestyle. I had planned to live my life exactly how I do in the US…in Spain.

Yes, I realize how idiotic that sounds.

The only thing I “discovered” about myself is that I don’t do particularly well outside of my comfort zone, I have a bad attitude when I’m stressed, and I’m just as closed-minded as my dad, who didn’t even want me to go to Europe in the first place. I never fully overcame my anxiety about body image and the Spanish diet, and that was a huge contributor to my bad mood. I never fully adopted the Spanish cultural trope “no pasa nada,” because to me, the direct translation for that is “irresponsibility.”

I never fully overcame my anxiety about body image and the Spanish diet, and that was a huge contributor to my bad mood.

I get frustrated very easily. I can blame Spanish food, culture, and lifestyle all I want, but the reality is that the only things ruining my study abroad were my own bad attitude and proneness to losing my cool whenever things don’t go as expected.

Charles Darwin has always been one of my heroes. Everyone learns about him in, like seventh grade biology. Natural selection is colloquially known as “survival of the fittest.” Favorable biological traits prevail in a population over time because these traits have helped the organism survive long enough to reproduce and pass on said traits to its offspring.

I don’t naturally have the traits to study abroad like some of my friends do. For example, my friend Zoe is naturally adventurous and loves planning excursions. I’ve never met someone like my friend Cailey, either, who is naturally curious and open when it comes to other cultures. I’m pretty sure my friend Kyle is going to be elected mayor of Salamanca, because he made friends with literally everybody this semester. Meanwhile, I’m over here pouting and complaining like a pale moth.

I may not miss Spanish culture and the undue stress it’s brought upon my life, but that doesn’t mean I won’t miss this semester.

Adaptation is the process by which an organism becomes better equipped to survive and thrive in its environment by means of natural selection. In plain English, we say “go with the flow.” My friend Carlota is a prime example of adapting to her habitat. She had a nightmarish homestay situation, but she didn’t let the stress ruin her experience. Most importantly, she didn’t give up living with her family, even though they put her through the wringer.

If Darwin were refereeing, I don’t think I would have won Survivor: Study Abroad. In terms of survival, yes I survived…but there’s a difference between surviving and living.

Salamanca really is a beautiful city. I may not miss Spanish culture and the undue stress it’s brought upon my life, but that doesn’t mean I won’t miss this semester. I have so many outrageous memories: all-nighters in airports, Scottish hostel shenanigans, club hopping on the Gran Vía, 4 am döner kebabs, rock climbing on the beach in Portugal, and trying to watch the sunrise over the Río Tormes are all things I loved about my time abroad. Most importantly, I’ve made friends with people I never would have met otherwise. It’s not the place, but the people.

My time abroad is almost over, but the lessons I’ve learned about myself and about life in general are permanent. Hopefully I can temper my stubbornness and bad attitude in the future. I want to learn to actually enjoy my time on this planet, rather than just marathon my way through it like I usually do. Trying to be perfect doesn’t necessarily make you happy…it actually just drives you crazy. There’s a difference between being disciplined and being neurotic. Coming to Spain was the wake-up call I needed.

Leave it to me to mess up study abroad. Only I could ruin a semester that’s supposed to be a vacation. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn my lesson. That’s why I just booked a solo trip to Barcelona for the weekend right before I leave. I regret not traveling more, but I think I have time for one more adventure. This Jersey girl’s going swimming in the Mediterranean!

Studying Abroad in Spain
Ray during her study abroad in Spain experience

 

Getting Over Myself While Studying Abroad in Spain

About Ray Gallagher

Ray GallagherRay Gallagher, a student at Muhlenberg College, studied abroad at the University of Salamanca in Spain.

One thought on “Getting Over Myself While Studying Abroad in Spain

  1. Avatar
    May 20, 2014
    Reply

    You didn’t mess up your study abroad. It’s supposed to be hard. It probably wasn’t easy for any of the people you mentioned. People tend to try very hard to conceal that they are struggling, so your honesty is refreshing. Living abroad is not a vacation. It’s always challenging. For EVERYONE. So don’t be so hard on yourself.

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