Study Abroad · travel

Study Abroad Reflection: Lessons Learned

Four years ago, I was in Seville, Spain doing a semester-long study abroad program. When I think about that semester, a lot of mixed feelings come up. On the surface, it was an incredible experience. I traveled all over Europe; I took a lot of fun classes, such as a cooking class, and a film class where we just watched Spanish movies; I immersed myself in a new culture. But I also faced some real hardships. In today’s post I wanted to open up and touch on two of the most difficult experiences from my semester abroad. As much as I love to be positive and share happy memories on this blog, I also don’t want to sugar coat things. So here is some blunt truth about two of the struggles I faced during that semester, and what I learned from them.

I had a hard time making friends
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The study abroad group from my school (I’m on the far left)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been lucky enough to have a solid group of friends by my side. Going into my semester abroad, I was sad to leave my tight-knit group of college friends behind, but I assumed I would make lots of new friends while I was in Spain. So when I arrived and it quickly became apparent that clicks were forming in my study abroad group, it was quite a shock. It seemed as though some people had magically made friends overnight, and I felt like I had missed the boat somehow.

The picture above stood out to me because I am on the very end, set apart from most everyone in the group. This is how I felt the entire semester. Just a little bit removed from the inner circle. It makes me sad to think back on it because at the time, all I wanted was to be liked and to fit in. But struggling to make friends taught me a few lessons. First of all, I learned that by nature I am not someone who makes shallow or short-lived friendships. I may take longer than most people to open up and develop a friendship with someone, but once I do, that friendship is going to last. There were many “friendships” that people from my school formed during that semester, which I know for a fact broke apart the minute they returned home.

I also learned that you’re not going to get along with everyone in life. Not only did I feel like an outsider among a sea of clicks, but my roommate and I did not get along. We had multiple disagreements and fights during that semester, and she even switched to a different room and blocked me on social media at one point. I liked to joke to my friends back home that she was acting like we were going through a breakup. But deep down, I remember being upset. I really wanted to have a best friend there and at the beginning of the semester, I had been hopeful she could fulfill that role for me. Much like a breakup, it’s sometimes hard to let a friendship, or potential friendship, go. Coming to terms with the fact that sometimes friendships just aren’t meant to be was an important lesson for me to learn.

I almost got kicked out of the program
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The only photo I have from my infamous 21st birthday

On my 21st birthday, I went out to a bar to celebrate, and had WAY too much to drink. When I got home to my host family’s house, I caused a disturbance and woke my host mom up. She was upset, and told the organizer of the study abroad program. The organizer felt I had disrespected my host mom by coming home drunk and waking her up in the middle of the night, and on top of that, she said I could have gotten hurt somehow being that drunk, and I needed to understand that I couldn’t let it happen again.

I was put on “probation”, which meant that I could be sent back home without completing the rest of the semester if I had any further disciplinary issues. My punishment included writing a handwritten note of apology to my host mom, keeping a journal about what I was doing each week and sending it to the study abroad organizer, and attending two meetings with counselors once I returned to my college in the States. At the time, it felt like the punishment did not fit the crime. I felt angry that there were repercussions for a mistake I made one night, whereas some of my classmates would brag about how drunk they got the night before on a daily basis, and they never once got in trouble. I remember feeling like I was being disciplined for not knowing how to binge drink, and my classmates were being rewarded for successfully pulling it off.

This taught me the important lesson that one wrong move can really cost you. You always have to take responsibility for your actions and own up to your mistakes. I could easily blame what happened on peer pressure, my host mom telling on me, or my program organizer being too strict. But when it comes down to it, my actions that night are what caused me to get in trouble, and I had to say my apologies and move on. On top of that, I learned the age-old truth: life isn’t fair. So my fellow study abroad students got to continue partying all semester while I stayed home and felt bad about what I’d done. It may not have seemed fair, but such is life.

Don’t get me wrong, there were also a lot of beautiful moments during my semester abroad, and I do not regret going in the slightest. But whenever I talk about my study abroad experience and leave out the difficult parts, it feels like I am lying in a way. So I wanted to shed some light on some of the moments that weren’t so great, in an effort to open up more. And who knows, maybe some of you have had similar experiences, or you can learn something from these stories!

If you want to read more about my time abroad, you can head on over to the Travel section of my blog. Have you studied abroad, or are you planning on studying abroad? Tell me about it in the comments! And feel free to let me know your thoughts on some of the topics I touched on today.

 

 

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