Making the decision to study, live, or visit another country for a significant amount of time is a courageous one. Before I left for 8 months of study in Spain and Portugal, my dad watched Taken and never fully recovered. Obviously, international crime rings are not typically a part of someone’s experience abroad, but there are other ways that taking that plunge can be intimidating.
During my semester in Madrid, I lived in a dorm with 150 Spaniards and about 10 other Americans. We came from all corners of the US, attended vastly different universities, and brought a diverse set of life experiences to the table. By the end of the semester, we all had different feelings about Spain. Some didn’t have a great time, and saw very little change in their language ability or Spanish culture know-how. Some, like myself, loved their experience and improved their Spanish by leaps and bounds. What had these two groups done differently to cause such a divide between experience? After all, we had traveled together, lived in the same place, ate every meal together, took roughly the same classes, and were inseparable during our time together. But there was one factor that determined how positive (or negative) our experience was.
The people who enjoyed being abroad leaned into the discomfort. This may sound strange but let me explain from my personal experience. When we arrived to our dorm in the middle of January, I was the American with the lowest level of Spanish and didn’t know a single person in the entire country. However, I decided that first day that I would be damned if I didn’t make the most out of this weird experience. This meant walking up to random groups of people in the lounge and trying to talk to them. This meant going out to neighborhood bars and restaurants with locals. This meant joining every club, activity, or group I feasibly could.
Did I look like an idiot sometimes? Yes, absolutely. Did I make mistakes? 100%. But I improved my Spanish rapidly and had the time of my life. I won a dance contest. I ran with bulls in the mountains north of Madrid. I had an internship. I wrote for my dorm newspaper. I even helped with the dorm student government and help plan cross-cultural events. Most of all, I created amazing friendships with people who I still talk to almost 3 years later.
If you are about to go abroad, lean into the discomfort. Practice the language with anyone you can. Take every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. This opportunity is yours so take it.
Have you been abroad? How did you handle the discomfort? Let me know below!