The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Studying Abroad

I never imagined what studying abroad would be like, until I actually experienced it.

Like many others, studying abroad was always a dream of mine, I promised myself that I could not graduate if I hadn’t studied abroad. The thing about me is that I am a bit of a homebody, or I guess a huge homebody. I hate change and hardly ever step out of my comfort zone. However, this was the exact reason that I wanted to study abroad. I went back and forth on whether I should do a summer program which meant less time, or a full semester. After debating back and forth I realized I wanted to make the most of it and chose a full semester in San Sebastian, Spain.

To ease my transition, I chose Spain because I am already fluent in Spanish, so being able to speak Spanish and English was something that I was looking for in a program. I also wanted to be able to pay Truman’s tuition while I was abroad so when I found Deusto Business School I knew it was the perfect match, of course it didn’t hurt that the city was surrounded by three different beaches. I probably google searched and Pinteresed San Sebastian,I kid you not, 10 times a day to see just exactly where I would be living. I instantly fell in love, it was voted the most cultural city in Europe in 2014, widely known for its gastronomy, beautiful beaches, and Basque culture.

I boarded my plane on February 7th with no idea what was on the other side. Up until three hours before I was to leave, I was calm and collected. Then the nerves started to hit; what was I doing? This is not like me at all, I can’t handle this! Regardless of what I was feeling, I had no choice but to board that plane.

Eight hours later, reality set. I had no idea that my phone carrier wouldn’t work abroad. I assumed I could make phone calls in case of emergencies, but that it would be expensive. In reality, there was just no service, the phone wasn’t good for anything. My program had a system where you rented apartments through the school, so the person in charge would pick you up from the airport and take you to your new home. Well, just my luck, that person wasn’t there to pick me up when I landed in Spain. It didn’t help that the airport was extremely small and that I was exhausted from a long haul flight and terrified. I instantly started bawling. I didn’t have any change for a pay phone and nothing was open because it was 7 am. Luckily, I found two girls in the waiting area and asked if I could borrow their phone. When the flat rental office answered, they told me that they had forgotten that I was getting there that day, and that I was actually in France so it would take about 30 minutes to an hour to get to me. Eventually they did pick me up, but it didn’t end there.

I got to my apartment to realize that my three other roommates had actually already been there for about three weeks and had no idea that they were getting a fourth roommate. Although it wasn’t necessarily their fault, they weren’t very welcoming in the beginning. Since all their stuff was already arranged, they had to make space for me in the kitchen with cabinets and also cabinets in the bathroom. Although this wasn’t the end of the world, at the time it seemed like nothing was going right and I felt like I had made a huge mistake.

Two days later, we had orientation for international students–where we got to meet everyone. There were people from all over the world: Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, Colombia, Chile, Slovenia, and so many more. The school was thirty minutes from my apartment, but the city was so incredibly beautiful that the daily walk was a breeze.

Making friends at first was honestly hard. I had this preconceived notion that studying abroad was a breeze, full of laughter and traveling. I hadn’t prepared myself for the hardships. I guess I never registered that I would be living here for four months and not just on vacation for two weeks. I tried to make the most of it by walking up to different people and introducing myself and touring the city alone. I tried not to sulk in my room and actually do something for myself. After two weeks of being there I was exhausted of trying. It seemed like it wasn’t getting any better, I was lonely and missed my friends and family. I tried to get information about how to come back home, I felt like it wouldn’t get any better and I didn’t want to be sad anymore. My advisor told me that these kind of things happen to so many people and I would deeply regret going home if that’s what I chose to do. I considered it for about a week, but every time a cool activity would pop up I would say, okay I’ll go to this and maybe it will get better next week.

Deciding not to go home was the best thing I could have done for myself. If I could pinpoint what it was that made me change my mindset, it was probably the fact that I knew this was temporary, but in a good way. I knew I may never have this experience ever again especially while I was still young. I had five months to make this an unforgettable journey and I intended to make the most of it.

A month later I was having the time of my life and laughing at myself for honestly thinking about leaving such a beautiful country. I made so many friends from all over the world, I got to travel to the most amazing places and just overall do things I would never have dreamed of doing. I skied in the Pyrenees Mountains, bungee jumped off a bridge, white water rafted on the coast of Spain and France, played bubble soccer, tried surfing, paddle boarded, and went to a wine tasting all through my school’s activities program. I learned to be independent, how to cook, and how to communicate with people from all over the world. I managed to get all A’s while traveling all of Europe. In four and a half months I traveled to eight countries and 14 cities, and it is something I will forever cherish the rest of my life.

Night life in Spain was always a good time. There was always something to do and somewhere to explore. My favorite memories where being at the beach with everyone until nighttime just chatting and laughing. The bonds we all formed where indescribable and I definitely know that I have made lifelong friends.

Studying abroad teaches you things you could never learn in a classroom setting. Despite my hardships in the beginning, I would choose to do it all over again if I had the chance. This experience made me stronger and more confident in myself. It truly makes you feel like you can handle anything, but you’ll never feel that unless you experience it.

written by Carolina Benitez, Fall 2015 Study Abroad Ambassador (San Sebastian, Spain)

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