The scariest part about studying abroad is that deep down, in your heart of hearts, you have no real idea of what to expect. Advisors can warn you about culture shock, your friends and family who have traveled abroad can give you tips and you can do all the research you want before that plane ride. Then you’ll arrive — jet-lagged, nervous, and completely clueless — and all of that preparation will be put in the back of your mind. You’re finally here. And it’s a little — okay, very — terrifying.
When I first touched down in Spain, I was the perfect example of a student traveling abroad. I was incredibly anxious, wasn’t confident in my Spanish-speaking skills, and a part of me was ready to go home. It felt like I was in a different world. In a way, I was. My friends and family were thousands of miles away (and not even available due to an annoying nine hour time difference). I was fumbling around a foreign airport with a group of other USAC students. If I was already this overwhelmed, how would I handle another six weeks here?
This is something I know a lot of study abroad students can relate to, especially those like me who had never traveled alone to a foreign country. As much as I fantasized about finally going to Spain, in those first couple weeks of dealing with culture shock, schoolwork, and a different language, I questioned why I even bothered to come in the first place. But I was there, in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, San Sebastián, Spain, and I knew that it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Slowly, I started focusing on the amazing parts of studying abroad. Every time I was stressed about schoolwork, I would remember how understanding and helpful my professor was. Every time I missed my friends and family back home, I cherished the great people I had met that summer. After a while, all those struggles that made me want to give up became reminders of how lucky I was. I became comfortable with the fact that I was going to make mistakes, and opened myself to everything Spain could offer me. Each day I was learning so much about the culture, the language, and even myself. I was so exhausted every day, even on days I mainly stayed at home, simply because my brain had to work overtime to take in all the new and different experiences. Towards the end, I realized I had gained something much more valuable during my time there — perspective.
Though I consider myself someone who is as open-minded as they come, studying abroad introduced me to places I would never knew existed. The world is so much bigger than the United States, and it’s difficult to truly grasp that as someone who’s never left it. I learned about Spain’s history, its people, and its traditions, all in a unique and unforgettable way. This is why I am extremely grateful — not just for the food, festivals, or beautiful views — but for the simple fact that I can now see the world for everything that it could be.
So, my biggest piece of advice I can give to any student traveling abroad is to be open to that gift. Even if you’re scared out of your mind and missing home, embrace every aspect of your country that you possibly can. It’s one of the most important things you can get out of your experience, and your life will never be the same.
Bianca Wright is a USAC San Sebastián alumna. She attends school at the University of Nevada, Reno.