It’s 9:19am in Madrid, and I am writing this blog—my laptop precariously balanced on my knees—as I wait for my flight to Granada. Frankly, I’m a bit numb. Time zone shifts never fail to disorient: a few hours ago I was scrambling to Dulles in the swampy afternoon heat of August in DC but, now, it’s a sunny morning in septiembre and a thick-accented airport employee serves me breakfast sandwiches de jamón y jugo de naranja (freshly made every day!)
Since the pandemic, I’ve developed the habit of arming myself with the expectation that my plans will, inevitably, take a swift and unexpected turn for the worse. So, I’m somewhat surprised that, other than a delayed flight, my travels have been as smooth as they have been. My Spanish, however, is a different story. Conversing with the flight attendants and neighboring passengers, I’ve found my language ability has declined from half-decent to an embarrassing Spanglish since last taking a class. The somewhat lisp-y Spanish accent and the return of the -ois conjugation make the task no less daunting to my unpracticed brain—but what’s the point of studying abroad in Spain if not to improve my Spanish?
Having helped move my younger sister into her freshman dorm a week ago, I cannot help but note the parallels between my feelings entering the first year of college and how it feels now to be on the brink of studying abroad. The buzzing of a newly formed GroupMe? Check. The last-minute packing, complete with mom’s insistence that I actually fold my clothes instead of throwing them in haphazardly? Check. The almost-overwhelming sense of possibility, juxtaposed with anxiety for the unknown? Check.
But, after a few years of college (what a difference it makes), there are a few things which I repeatedly remind myself as I draw closer to my study abroad experience. First: I’ve often heard the word “life-changing” thrown around the subject of study abroad, but, while the word conjures idealistic images of beautiful vistas, cherished friendships, and fashionable outings, I often find myself forgetting that the most sincerely “life-changing” experiences have been those in which I encountered discomfort, awkwardness, and adversity. That’s not to diminish the beauty, friendships, and cultural experiences that study abroad assuredly contains—but I can’t help but wonder if romanticizing such ideals is a disservice to what study abroad is really about.
So, as I embark on this new journey (scheduled to begin boarding in the next 20 minutes), I’m excited to learn why study abroad is so “life-changing”—my expectations appropriately tempered with the knowledge that such an adjective is loaded with both the positive and negative.
Before boarding my flight, I am also reminded of a passage I recently read from The Alchemist—which is set, quite appropriately, in Andalucía:
“We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.”
For all the expectations, hopes, worries, and possibility of study abroad, it is an experience that, ultimately, happens once—and whatever this experience becomes, I am looking forward to cherishing each moment of it.
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Hola! My name is Caroline (she/her), and I am a rising junior at Bowdoin College studying History and Economics with a minor in Mathematics. Beyond the classroom, I’m a Wordle enthusiast and love spending time outside (though I am a notoriously slow walker). Another fact about me--I love the em-dash. Looking forward to sharing a sliver of my life here in Granada!