Ink Stains in Spain: Reflecting on a semester abroad

In Columns, Features
Breanna Vasquez has been studying abroad in Spain for the last three months. While the journey has had its ups and downs, she says studying abroad has provided unparalleled opportunities for personal growth and life experience.
(Breanna Vasquez / Daily Titan)

My first semester abroad in Spain is coming to an end, and I really don’t know where time went. I can still vividly remember my fiancé driving me to LAX as I sat and wondered, tears rolling down my cheeks, if I was making the right decision to leave everything behind. A part of me felt selfish for choosing to leave everyone behind for a year, and another part of me felt excited for the unknown adventure.

When I decided to study abroad, I added another year of school to my already completed four years. I took the challenge of leaving for a year-long program instead of the typical semester-long program and at the halfway point of the program, I feel fairly accomplished.  

I never left the country thinking that leaving for a year would be easy. I knew I would have days that would test my confidence in my decision. I’ve cried with frustration because of my inability to speak fluent Spanish, cried because I missed my fiancé and cried because I wanted to give up.

On my worst days, I would try to stop and reflect on some of the greatest days I had so far abroad, on the friendships I’ve created and on the amazing things I’ve experienced. It’s the positive things, the places I got to see and the people I met abroad that made my worst days fade away.

Sometimes, people get caught up in everyday life. We think we can’t leave our family, jobs and partners and travel for a year. But leaving for a long period of time can be the best thing for us. Not only does missing our families make us appreciate them more, but being away from them can allow us to learn about other cultures in the world.

In the three months I have been abroad, I’ve traveled to two other countries and met people from all over the world. I lived with a host family for a month and got to experience what being a true Spaniard was, and I lived in my own flat for two months trying to figure out how to get warm water. I’ve had rocks thrown at me for being a tourist in the streets of Morocco, and I’ve stood in the same German plazas where Hitler would rally Nazis.

It’s the collective memories and experiences abroad that have made life so much more powerful. It’s the strangers who have helped me find what I’m looking for and then taken me on a tour of the whole city, just because they’re nice, that make me feel like good does exist in the world.

And it’s the not-so-nice experiences, like someone pretending to help me find something in the labyrinth of Tangier, only to demand money afterwards, that have made me laugh when they are over.

Committing to being away for a year was not an easy decision to make. However, as I sit at a café and drink a café con leche, Christmas lights lining the street outside, I can feel within me that I made the right decision to leave everything behind and study.

Some see the fact that I’m taking more than four years to finish my bachelor’s degree as a flaw, but I see it as me taking advantage of what the world and life has to offer.

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