Sometimes it takes leaving the country to learn an important lesson
If there is one thing I have learned in my two years as a college student, it is that you have to set your own expectations. Trying to live up to a standard set by others who have had completely different experiences from you, in different places and at different times, is an impossible feat that nearly always leads to disappointment. Unfortunately, this knowledge seemed to escape me when I decided to take on a new challenge: studying abroad.
This summer I spent six weeks living with a host family, taking classes with UF professors in a foreign university and exploring a country I had never visited. When I arrived in Spain, my expectations were at an all-time high. My family was ecstatic when I told them I had decided to study abroad, especially when I told them my goal was to perfect my Spanish. I spent months hearing people tell me this was going to be “the greatest time,” a “life-changing experience” that would “change my perspective on the world.”
Those are some pretty big shoes to fill for just over a month.
My study-abroad class
Nevertheless, I was looking forward to my time abroad. I was excited to meet new people that I would be able to spend time with when I got back to school. I had already begun planning the weekend trips I would take with my future best friends whom I would talk about these adventures with for the rest of my life. It seemed I was getting a bit ahead of myself. Arriving in a new country by myself was a lot scarier than I anticipated. The people around me seemed to be making friends and forming groups quicker than I expected, and I didn’t know where I belonged.
The last thing I wanted was to feel left out.
I spent the first week of my time abroad in a state of constant anxiety…not ideal. I was worried I wasn’t meeting enough people or going out to enough clubs or taking enough weekend trips. I imagined returning to campus in the fall and having nothing to show for my time in Spain.
It wasn’t until I had a conversation with a friend I met in my program that my luck started to change.
This friend helped me realize that this was not just my first time traveling alone, but it was everyone else’s, too. The eagerness to go out, travel, and fill my day all stemmed from a place of desperation to make these short six weeks worthwhile. I was not the only one with high expectations.
After realizing this, it became much easier to actually embrace my time in Spain. I spent several nights getting to know my host family and fully immersing myself in the language. I took a few days to explore the city on my own, getting lost and finding my way back, in order to absorb the culture and learn more about myself.
An important facet of studying abroad that should be taken into consideration, is it is a great opportunity to learn more about yourself. There is so much pressure in our daily life to meet new people and form close bonds in a limited time, but a semester abroad serves as a valuable opportunity to grow as an individual.
This new perspective also alleviated the sense of urgency I felt. I took my time to truly get to know people and do things I never would have done before, like taking a three-hour hike to a natural spring with a group of strangers.
It became easier to get to know the people in my program. I formed great relationships with them that would not have been possible if I had been trapped in my own head.
My experience abroad truly was once in a lifetime, as everyone had claimed. I found it to be an incredible opportunity to force myself out of my comfort zone.
Although it proved to be difficult at first, it paid off in the end.
Studying abroad, moving to a new city, or starting a new job are truly exciting experiences that can take some time to adjust to. The lessons I learned from my time in Spain are not unique to my experience, they are values that can be applied to various aspects of life. It is crucial to recognize that it is okay to not get it ‘right’ immediately, these things take some getting used to. We must set our own expectations for ourselves and leave the perceptions of others behind.
Jacqueline Schaffer is an Online Editorial Writer for Rowdy Magazine.