A Study Abroad Experience In-Waiting

“I imagine many of us come to Goucher because of the study abroad requirement.” Photo courtesy of Google Images.

I imagine many of us come to Goucher because of the study abroad requirement. At least, that was the case for me. My senior year of high school was a period of uncertainty– it involved quite a bit of waiting and wondering what the future held. Yet the one thing I was sure of was that I wanted to learn more about the world by studying abroad. Today, I find myself in yet another period of uncertainty, but this time, curiously enough, the variable is the study abroad experience itself.
Before coming to Goucher, I envisioned study abroad as a mystical experience where every day would feel like a wonderful dream. I would forge ties with people who spoke a completely different language, learn about a completely different country like the back of my hand, and come back home with lots of pictures and warm and fuzzy memories. Now I find myself only a few months away from beginning my program in Seville, Spain, with a changed vision. The feeling of enchantment is still there, but I am much more apprehensive of the challenges I will likely face.
I had assumed that when the time came that I received the study abroad acceptance letter I would feel prepared. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The truth is, I feel far from prepared. While I manage to express my ideas in Spanish more or less coherently in class, I think back to times when I have interacted with native speakers and have lost my language ability completely. This may partially be due to the fact that, as a bilingual constantly struggling to maintain my French accent, I am painfully aware of differences in language fluency. I worry that when I travel to Spain and meet my host family I will choke up. I question whether all of the vocabulary packed away in my mind will decide to reveal itself in the moments I need it most. Say it does, will I have the energy to recognize and use it 24/7?
I had also assumed that having grown up in both France and the US I would feel prepared for the cultural immersion of studying abroad. In my ignorance, I had thought to myself, Since Spain and France are both European countries, won’t it kind of be the same? After learning more about Spanish culture through my classes, through research, and by quizzing Goucher alumnae of the program, I realized that there would actually be multiple adjustments in my lifestyle, French or not. For one, while we do eat late lunches in France, they apparently are not nearly as large as the almuerzos of Spain. Second, the french eat late dinners and can go to bed quite late by American standards, but I may be expected to stay out till five in the morning in Sevilla and catch up on some z’s during the siestas.
Granted, these are all anxieties that may be founded on generalizations, and some cultural adjustments may end up becoming blessings. For example, I love to sleep (what college student doesn’t?), so I may come to appreciate afternoon naps. Apprehensions aside, I am anticipating an enjoyable study abroad experience overall. I am looking forward to engaging in interesting classes and with different people. I’m eager to explore the beautiful, historical city of Sevilla. I’m excited to learn whole new perspectives; I’m particularly curious to know what Spaniards think of American politics. As a foodie, I’m very excited to taste authentic tapas, cola de toro, and torrija.
My expectation, then, is not that my semester in Spain will be unpleasantly difficult, but rather that it may be more challenging than what I had originally thought. While new challenges can be intimidating, I am choosing to embrace this one because ultimately, I believe it will be worth it. The road ahead may be uncertain, but when I return I will have an even better story to tell – this I can be sure of!

Olivia Baud, a Senior at Goucher double-majoring in Spanish and International Relations, joined Quindecim in the spring of 2017 as a writer and now serves as Quindecim's Co-Editor-in-Chief. The interviews she conducted for a competition called National History Day led her to develop a passion for journalism, both in written, visual, and audio format. When she is not working on her next story, you will likely find her in the apiary tending to the honeybees, at the gym planning her next climbing project, or at her computer stressing over email etiquette.

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