You’ve probably just come from Fortune Cookies Are American, Part 1, where I wrote about ways in which I’ve found myself fortunately well prepared for studying abroad.
On the flip side, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. I have swung through my fair share of low moods, and because of the six hour time difference, I haven’t always been able to call home for a pick-me-up. Luckily, with a little time, I can recognize that everything from minor discomforts to particularly trying moments are opportunities for growth – and here are some of the life skills I predict I’ll be improving over the next few months:
- Adaptability. Moving to Spain has meant a lot of changes. As veterans of the war that was my teenagehood, I’m sure my parents would attest that I can be pretty stubborn and strong-willed. And for someone like me that likes to be in control, the general uncertainty and cumulative effect of a lot of small changes can be overwhelming. This semester will certainly help me accept not always being in control of what I eat, when things will happen, or any number of other factors – which is ultimately a useful life skill since we’re never completely in control of our lives, anyway.
- Making Decisions. Planning logistics for both studying abroad and weekend excursions continues to force me to take ownership of what I’m doing with my time and money and make decisions that I’m accountable for. It’s time to forget about making things perfect and just make the best decisions I can. (Mom, I do listen to you, see?)
- Building New Relationships. I was shocked to realize that I’ve never before been so far from friends and family. I’ve always had friends with me when changing schools, and even when my family moved to Virginia, I had my younger sister to spend time with. In moving to another country, many of my lows have centered around feeling lonely or isolated. I think this is pretty normal, and luckily I’m already meeting both Spaniards and international students. I’ve never been one to mope around, so I know that there’s much in store for me in the future. (Ok, I confess, I occasionally indulge in a Ben & Jerry’s night, but everyone needs those days sometimes.)
- Exposure to Other Cultures. For the most part, I’ve stopped awkwardly reaching for people’s hands when I meet them or uncomfortably backing away from someone moving toward my face – two besitos (kisses) on the cheek are standard here. I’m becoming accustomed to the smell of cigarette smoke (many, many people smoke here in comparison to the communities I come from) and the pace of life here (why do we rush so much in the US?). I’m meeting travelers from all over the world and all over the US, and gaining a unique perspective on both the country I come from and the larger global community.
They told me that the most important lessons you learn while abroad don’t come from a classroom – and while it sounds cliche, I’m already starting to see that it’s a cliche very much rooted in truth. I look forward to bringing back stories of success – and even more than that, to bringing back the funnier stories about when absolutely nothing goes according to plan.