I made it back to the States just in time for a whole bunch of cool things: the little sista’s confirmation and prom, my godmother’s wedding, the last Alpha-Omega of the 12-13 academic year, and most importantly, the baby sister’s 15th birthday.
I purposely waited a while to write this final post. More than a month. Mostly because it was hard to analyze the study abroad experience immediately after returning. When all you do is take naps and avoid unpacking by taking more naps, your life doesn’t make for a very exciting blog post.
Reverse culture shock didn’t hit me like I thought it was going to. Instead of feeling like a slap across the face or setting your hand on a curling iron, it appeared much more subtly. Like when you find an enormous painful bruise on your leg and wonder how the heck it got there, and then vaguely remember your run-in with the kitchen table three days prior.
There are the obvious things that I needed to readjust to: eating American things at American hours of the day, speaking English all the time, realizing that ordering a glass of wine with dinner is probably not going to fly, and reinitiating myself into the world of texting and 3G. Yes, those things required some adjustment, but nothing too drastic.
The shocking part came whenever I tried to analyze or explain my experience to the world. Every conversation I had went something like this:
“Amanda! It’s so good to see you! How was Spain?!”
And then there is an awkward silence while I try to think of something else to say.
In the past four months, my life has changed in so many ways. I have had amazing experiences, seen beautiful sites, and learned much more than I thought was possible. The experiences and the sites are all documented through these blog posts and more photos than I can handle sorting through. But it is the learning that is really what has changed me.
Number one on the list of things I have learned? The Spanish Language. Looking back at my list of goals, my number one was learning to speak Spanish like a boss. Since coming back, the most common follow-up question to “how was it?” is about my Spanish fluency. I can confidently say that I am fluent in Spanish. One hundred percent bilingual with no grammar mistakes and a perfect accent? Not quite. But I’m close, to a point where I have the ability to communicate with any Spanish speaker. LIKE. A. BOSS
The list of “Things I Have Learned While Studying Abroad” continues, with lessons learned ranging from the best way to approach eating foreign foods to mastering public transportation to the sequence of Spanish royalty. The list goes on and on and on. I’ll spare you the details for now, but be sure to check out your local Barnes & Noble in five years for my Spanish memoir. You can find it on the Bestseller table.
“Don’t hate, appreciate” was a very important lesson for me. There were times when it was so easy to complain. Seeing the sites was incredible, but at times daily life seemed like it was just one thing after another. “This food makes me queasy” or “I can’t understand the bus driver” or “Spaniards are never on time”. I could find a million and one problems with my life. But then, I had to stop and reflect. Before leaving, a wise woman told me: “You have chosen, used the free will God gave you, to go abroad and He will bless you abundantly for that. So don’t wallow.” I realized that if I wanted to make it through an entire semester in this country, I needed to be a little more patient, a little less irritable, and a lot more appreciative. To sum it up, my experience in Spain has taught me the importance of enjoying the little moments in life. “La vida está hecha de pequeños momentos.” (Life is made of little moments.) Is it really worth it to stress over the miniature-sized coffees or the slow walkers on the sidewalk? It is not a big deal. Instead of hating on the little things that really don’t matter, I learned to appreciate them, making them really matter. Those small moments are what I remember most about my semester.
I can make dozens of profound conclusions like this about my experience abroad. One conclusion that I did not expect to have was not about Spain, it was about the USA. Going abroad as an American can be challenging. I read “The Ugly American” in APUSH in 11th grade; we all know the images and stereotypes associated with good old ‘MURRICA. Being abroad makes you want to contradict those associations as much as possible. You want to prove to the world, that the United States isn’t a bunch of McDonald’s-eating, flag-shirt-wearing, Starbucks-drinking know-it-alls. At times, the fact that you are associated with the United States makes you embarrassed. It made me wish I had dark hair and a better Spanish accent, so that my citizenship wasn’t so painfully obvious. At times, it was really hard.
Eleven days before I returned to the United States was the 2013 Boston Marathon, a devastating event for our country and for the world. The aftermath of that event from an outsider’s point of view was just incredible. We are America. Sure, we joke that Wisconsinites and Minnesotans can’t be friends and a New York Yankees fan would cut off his own arm before he would share a cab with a Boston Red Sox fan, but in times of crisis, America bands together. Watching this unity from overseas made me see the United States in a whole new light. It made me forget every embarrassing stereotype. I saw the United States come to Boston’s aid and I thought, “That’s my country.” It made me proud to be an American.
Studying abroad taught me so much about myself. It boosted my confidence, strengthened my values, and changed my perspective on everything. Studying abroad helped me see the world in a completely new way. The experience was unreal. At times I think, “Wait, did that actually happen?”
There are few times in life when I am at a loss for words. Ask anyone in my family, I never stop talking and I always have something to say. But as I mentioned before, it is difficult for me to put my semester into actual words. Words don’t do it justice.
And so, with these random, semi-profound, analytical ramblings, I am officially signing off as a UW Study Abroad Correspondent. Shout-out to everyone who gave this blog a few minutes of time during the past five months; it means a lot to hear that you were mildly entertained by my adventures. It has been a pleasure.
It’s been real. It’s been fun. It’s been real fun. You stay classy, España.