Before I left for Spain, I made some clear goals that I wanted to achieve. Although I achieved them, as I look back I realize that the main lessons I learned abroad did not fall into some traditional plan that I crafted beforehand. Instead, they were lessons that challenged me, encouraging me to live in the moment, look at situations from different perspectives, and more than anything, become uncomfortable with being uncomfortable.
I do not mean “uncomfortable” in the sense of doing something against my will, but rather jumping outside of my comfort zone and viewing challenging moments as growing opportunities. I remember when I arrived in Madrid, I took the Metro to meet the rest of the Emory group. I got off at what I thought was the correct stop, but when I got to the road’s surface, I had absolutely no idea where I was. I walked up and down the same streets with my luggage, and although it was a wonderful sightseeing opportunity, I cannot say that my arms and legs enjoyed it as much as my eyes did. I finally mustered up the courage to ask for directions, and I was informed that I was on the right street, but I had to get to building 92. I was at building 1. The man I asked wished me suerte (luck), and although I was not fully ready for the walk ahead, I felt invigorated. I was in a completely unfamiliar environment, and I challenged myself, speaking in Spanish and making a connection with someone instead of trying to solve the problem all on my own when I was struggling. This moment was the start of my growth in Spain, and it helped me see the value in every new experience I took on.
With this fresh perspective, I began to value progress over perfection. I participated more in class and used mistakes I made in the language as opportunities for learning and getting to know my host mom on a deeper level. Throughout every opportunity, I began to let go of my expectations. This process was not perfect, though– I definitely embarrassed myself and felt uncomfortable often. When I look back at those experiences, however, I feel grateful because they allowed me to grow the most. I would have never attended my first live soccer (or, fútbol) game, gotten to know Spaniards studying at the Universidad de Salamanca, nor developed close relationships with my host family and professors if I had not challenged myself or done my best to live in the moment. Even the simplest moments, like walking along the Puente Romano with other Emory students (including Brandon, a fellow Emory Explorer!), meeting at the Plaza Mayor to grab a coffee, and studying at the Emory Center meant the most to me because I was no longer afraid to try something new.
No, my study abroad experience was not perfect, but at the same time, it was more than what I could have ever expected. Nothing could have fully prepared me for it, and to me, this was the beauty of it all. I accepted each opportunity as it came, and I cherished it no matter how simple or challenging it was, using it to help me grow and connect with others. For this, I am forever grateful.