I am a Latina, born and raised in the Dominican Republic, who moved to the United States in 2010. I always saw myself traveling, but I did not think it would have been this soon. My heritage means that I am considered a minority within the study abroad community, since only 10.6% of study abroad students identify as Latinos/as. I chose to study abroad in Spain because I had already experienced the difficulty of not understanding the language of the place in which you live, which is how I’ve felt my first few years living in the United States. To avoid this language and cultural barrier, I decided that a Spanish-speaking country in Europe would be best for me. I always knew that I wanted to learn more about myself and the world through traveling.
As a first-generation Latina college student with high financial need, my experience abroad is different from everyone else’s in the program. I had to sacrifice valuable time with family over the summer in order to get here, working two jobs. Because of this, being here means so much more to me. Yet dedicating time to work was complicated by the fact that in the typical Latino household, there exists an expectation that everyone must contribute to benefit the family as a whole. My duties at home are supposed to take priority over my personal success. Studying abroad is often not a consideration because it is an inherently individual experience. Furthermore, taking the initiative to study abroad is looked down upon because of gender roles, which can be quite prevalent in Latino families, and there is an associated domestic obligation for me, especially as first-generation college student. I was conflicted with the idea of being independent and working for myself and having to put my family aside, and sometimes this left me feeling regretful. My independent nature has gotten me into trouble with my family, because to them, it seems like I am doing either too much or doing things I can’t handle because of my young age.
Ultimately, I am here and happy to be. It is such a blessing and a privilege, and the work that I put in makes me want to make the most out of this experience. I feel that dedicating my time to work to get here was well worth it. Studying abroad has opened my eyes to new possibilities, it’s helping me grow and teaching me about things I did not know I could learn. After spending two months living in Alicante, I have learned a lot about myself as well as the culture. I have learned that I can be more independent than I thought I was already by having to do almost everything for myself. Back home I lived in the dorms, so having an apartment here that I have the extra responsibility to maintain has made more independent than I thought I was already. I have also found similarities within my Dominican culture, especially la hora de la siesta. Spain prioritizes the health and well-being of its citizens, and I can see that through the foods to which I have been introduced. I did experience some culture shock, specifically in regards to what defines one’s personal space here in Spain. Regardless, coming to Alicante has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life. I am surrounded by people who are willing to be there for me when I need it. I have met family members I did not know I had so close to me, and that has opened so many possibilities of what I can see here. I have made friends for a lifetime. I am very proud to be a first-generation Latina college student, and I hope to continue to spread the word about the great things anyone can accomplish by studying abroad and the amazing experiences you will have.
Thania Inoa De Jesus is the Fall 2019 CEA MOJO Photographer in Alicante, Spain, and is currently studying at Albright College.