1.) Your problems won't leave you, no matter how far you go.
Traveling abroad is not a means of escaping. To be honest, I have always been an anxious and overly thoughtful person, and I thought all of that would leave when I arrived in Granada. But I still feel the same sensations, still have the same thoughts, and still have the same habits. Yet, that does not hinder me from enjoying my time here; it is only a part of me that I have to accept and learn to control wherever I am. If anything, I have grown more resilient after being here for almost 2 months.
2.) Signing up for the challenging-- and not thinking you're on a vacation-- will be more rewarding.
Before coming here, I had a desire to learn my parents' second language (Arabic), yet I believed I didn't have the patience or the chance to. Also, many classmates back home told me that it would be incredibly difficult to learn the language in Spain, because I'd have to be learning a foreign language (Arabic) through a foreign language (Spanish). But being here, it is much easier than I thought, and my Arabic class highlights my entire week. So if there is one tip I can give you, it would be to do whatever you want to do during your study abroad experience that will make you smarter, stronger, and happier. If I listened to what the students back home said, I would not experience this excitement of learning two languages!
3.) Not every day is sunshine and happiness during your study abroad experience; you will also have not-so-good days.
For example, my roommate and I confused the times we had to meet our CEA group to go to Nerja (a beach in Malaga) and Frigiliana (a beautiful white town in Malaga). So ultimately, we missed our CEA excursion that was included with our program. Though it was raining and humid, we grabbed our prepared bocadillo, our raincoats, and took a different bus to Nerja. Yet, we ended up getting off at the wrong stops. When we thought it was the end, we ended up finding a beach in Almunecar, and had an incredible time! We were so surprised that the day quickly turned around and the sun started to come out. But right when I thought things were going great, my phone fell in the waters of Almunecar shortly after this photo was taken.
This was definitely not my worst day, but it is just an example of the roller coaster of events that can occur during your time abroad. Not everything will go as planned.
4.) You have to be patient.
Whether it is waiting for care packages to arrive, taking your time formulating a Spanish conversation, or trying to find your niche, being patient is key. It took me three weeks to get my package from Chicago, a month to see a drastic improvement in my Spanish, and a few weeks to find my closest group of friends in Granada. Not everything will happen in a day. I don't speak perfect Spanish and I didn't get the right skincare I needed in my care package, but stressing over these things only causes breakouts and unnecessary stress. Also, the phone I dropped in Almunecar started working again today! It took a month and a half of patience. :)
5.) Don't take so many pictures.
What I constantly heard before my departure to Spain was, "Take lots of pictures!" That is true; you should take pictures to remember. But don't feel obligated to bring a camera everywhere you go. I guarantee you will have a richer experience in Spain if you don't take so many pictures! An experience is through your senses, not your phone or Instagram or Facebook. (Note: I have a ton of pictures so far, but not of every sunset, or every parade, or every time I've seen the Alhambra.) Snap the photo, but learn to balance out actually enjoying the moment, too.
6.) You will most likely find yourself, not lose yourself.
Lately, I've been thinking of a quote from the song "The Inner Light" by The Beatles: "The farther one travels, the less one knows." I can agree with that in a different context, but with my experience here, it is the opposite. Very recently I realized that I am closer to myself than I have ever been. I realized how patient I really am, especially having to translate my English-speaking thoughts with my host family every. single. day. I have been achingly missing the things I never thought I'd miss about Chicago-- like the cloudy days and watching Middle Eastern shows with my family while having a traditional Assyrian meal. Though I am away from the roots of me, I offer so much in the classroom, at the dinner table, and with local Spaniards during intercambio. Being plucked out of my environment has allowed me to pick out the qualities I admire, and begin to create my own unique identity.
Stephanie Khio is the Fall 2013 CEA MOJO in Granada, Spain. She is currently a senior at Roosevelt University in Chicago.
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