January 6, 2020. The day that loomed in my head for months. The day that filled me with excitement, nerves, and uncertainty. The day I left for a semester of studying abroad in Spain! Flash forward one year, January 6, 2021, and I am saddened by how lackluster the day was, knowing the excitement that awaited me on this day just one year prior. As I look at my “one year ago today” Snapchat memories I find myself reflecting on a year that was filled with adventure, growth and ultimately heartbreak. Here are some of my main takeaways:
All that I learned:
Reflecting upon all that I learned while studying abroad, it is clear that I learned SO much more than I ever expected to prior to arriving. Throughout the year following my study abroad adventure, I found myself explaining cultural differences that I experienced to others back home, recreating Spanish recipes, and teaching the historical significance of many Spanish landmarks to friends back home. My Spanish language skills improved exponentially. I learned a lot about the world in general, and how important it is to see how other people live. I learned about myself, my passions and the limitations of my comfort zone. The list goes on and on, and one year later I am still discovering new things that I learned while abroad.
All the people I met:
While abroad, I met unique people from all over the world who I otherwise would not have met if it were not for this experience, from fellow American students studying in Granada, to people from China, Australia, Morocco and Germany, to Spanish locals. Whether it be watching friends’ Instagram stories from all over the world or FaceTiming my amazing host family, one year later I realize how my own life was enriched by the unique experiences each of these people shared with me and the fond memories I have with each of them.
All that I saw:
Looking at the thousands of photos I took of my travels, I realized I was further exposed to the beauty of the world. Whether it be the vibrant colors of La Sagrada Familia, the wonders of La Alhambra or simply the daily sunset behind the mountains, I am so appreciative for the beauty I witnessed with my own eyes, and find great comfort and joy in revisiting these photos one year later.
Adversity I faced:
There are certain challenges one expects to overcome when studying abroad: culture shock, speaking a new language, different educational system – however, thinking back one year later, the biggest adversity I faced abroad was one I never imagined: a pandemic! After being sent home, I felt every emotion imaginable: anger, depression, longing, reverse culture shock... the list does not end. To be honest, one year later the wound of being abruptly sent home halfway into my program still stings. I mourn for the adventures that I was denied, and wonder what would have happened if I got to live out my full time there. One year later, however, I also realize how lucky I was to have gotten the experience at all, and the importance of not taking things for granted. While this reflection is an ongoing process, one thing I know for sure is that Granada has not seen the last of me, and I will surely be back to live out the rest of my European adventure.
Despite being sent home early, reflecting back on my experience I realized that there was nothing about my experience that I regret. I truly feel as though I pushed myself outside my comfort zone and made the most of every day that I did get, and that is all I can really ask for. Studying abroad is such an individual experience, meaning it will look and signify different things for everyone that does it, and I can say at least for myself personally, there is not a thing I would change.
At the risk of sounding a little dramatic, while still being completely candid with my emotions, one year later, I would declare January 6, 2020, as the day that my life changed. Sitting here reflecting on all the things I learned, experienced, and all the people I met it is undeniable that my life changed for the better the day I boarded my flight abroad. So, while exactly one year after my departure I am feeling many different emotions, the biggest one is gratitude. Gratitude for all that I learned, saw, and experienced. And while I can not wait for my return to Granada, my “one year ago today” Snapchat memories will suffice for now….
Amanda Hall is the Spring 2020 Alumni Ambassador in Granada, Spain, and is currently studying at Illinois State University.