How long have I been imagining this? I can assure you it has been a more substantial period of time than your average 20 year old dwells on these sorts of things. I remember sitting in my first Spanish class in 7th grade, simply obsessed with every new word that escaped my teacher’s lips. I began to see that I could learn how to reach lives with words that meant scarcely anything to me; though in the end these words came to mean more to me than I could’ve ever imagined, as I chose to spend the past 3 years of my life studying them diligently.
I spent years learning how to order food, find the bathrooms, hold a menial conversation, introduce myself, describe my family et cetera, et cetera. But I can assure you that the pressure of standing up in front of a class of American students who know just about as little as you do does not compare to the ocean of fluent Spanish speakers that comes with cultural immersion.
Naturally, I chose to strain my mind more than ever by going to a part of Spain that not only speaks Spanish, but also Vasco…a mix of Castellano and French and a bunch of strange sounds. Well done, kid…
But I digress! I will be heading to Bilbao, Spain, in 2 days, folks! After 8 years of waiting, it is time to dive in!
Making this choice was always a given for me; and while I love and respect my mother, there was no way she was going to stop me leaving.
Again, I digress…
So, in an attempt to help you avoid being reigned in by your loving mothers, or ignoring a wonderful experience put in front of you, I’ll give you my oh-so-helpful wisdoms:
- Let cost play into your decision, but absolutely do not let it dissuade you from choosing the country of your dreams.
This is an experience that most of us only get to indulge in once during college, own that! Choose your country and then look at all of the companies and affiliates that are out there for you. Hey! UA even offers some pretty amazing opportunities for us! I chose Bilbao because it was the cheaper of the cities I could go to; but I am not compromising on my desires, and I’m going to be able to use my extra money to experience more aspects of Spain!
- Spend some time researching the location you’ve chosen.
It can be terrifying to venture into some country you aren’t familiar with, try to learn their life and language, and God forbid you screw up and embarrass yourself. Let’s just do ourselves a small favor and see if this city and culture is something that interests you before you thrust yourself in there for a month or a year… That could get awkward and depressing pretty quick. And who wants to spend there time like that? Answer is no one. Get in there! Find out something exciting about where you’re going, find something to be passionate about!
- Be prepared for a big culture shock.
Culture shock, contrary to popular belief, is a process y’all. Goodness, that country will be the best thing you’ve ever experienced for a week, then it’s gonna be stinkin’ annoying. Why do people eat so late? Why can’t I communicate with anyone? Where the heck do I buy my emergency Sour Patch Kids? But! Don’t let that second stage scare you, you’ll come around! You have to make an effort to love your new home, you’re going to be there for too long to be angsty, suck it up!
- Don’t forget who got you where you are.
All that stuff about culture shock being said, try to remember that by leaving you are in fact deserting that over-protective mother, sad little sibling, or best friend. Your experience will change you—or at least in my opinion it should—but this shouldn’t lead us to neglect the ones who have stuck with us for so long. Shooting a text or message out to some USA-sians every once in a blue moon will allow you to keep a balance between the dream you’re living, and the life that you already have! But don’t get snooty about your travels… No one likes a bragger. And don’t be bogged down by communication so much that you miss opportunities unique to your travelling!
In 2 days I will be sitting on a plane headed from Atlanta to Rome, connecting Rome to Bilbao. I will be staying in hostels for the first couple of days until I move in. I will have no idea where I am, and no communication with anyone I actually know—apart from when I have free wi-fi (Please, it’s Europe. That’s a sick joke.).
I am terrified.
But I think what terrifies me more is missing out on the opportunity to grow. Without this experience I would remain the mediocre Spanish speaker I am, and I wouldn’t have the understanding of another culture and people to add to my worldview.
This is how we touch lives, by experiencing life itself through the eyes of others.
2 days folks. Ya vamos.