Final Reflections

I never wanted to study abroad. I have always desired to travel and adventure and see and do things. But, I never wanted to study in a foreign place. However, by some fluke, I ended up in Spain this semester. I think I just followed the motions of what everyone else was doing: applying to places, going to meetings, and then finally, receiving my acceptance.

I was scared to be left in Denver alone, without my people, living with my roommates’ subletters, and wasting time counting the weeks for their return. I never looked at myself as dependent on others, but I think that moment of my life, so dictated by what all of the junior class was doing, showed myself that I wasn’t as independent as I had hoped.

I, as I’m sure many people do, went into the study abroad experience thinking it would change my life. In reality, four months is not that long. But, four months in a foreign country? A new place with a different culture, language, and living with a family who can’t even understand half of what you’re saying (let alone what you’re feeling)? That makes for a long four months! And that should be life changing.

When I first started reflecting on my experience this semester, I was worried. I couldn’t see any direct changes in myself (other than the dreaded Abroad 15, of course). Then, I realized that parts of me did change, it just was not in the way I had expected; I was anticipating to have some specific impact from Spain.

Studying and living abroad taught me to rely on myself more than any amount of college, travel, or work could. I became my own translator, personal navigator, planner, friend, and even my own parent. Of course I made some of the best friends abroad. But, studying abroad made for so much quality alone time, too.

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Taylor and Ali are some of the many friends I made abroad

 

Simple tasks became tests of independence abroad. Getting money from the ATM in Spanish? Sure. Filling out gym membership paperwork? Okay. Navigating the metro system? One wrong train and I never made that mistake again. While abroad, I became a lot more comfortable asking for help. My first day in Spain I was panicked by how little Spanish I knew. But I learned to format the little vocabulary I knew into questions and statements that portray almost exactly what I originally meant. I thought asking for help made me weaker, but it really made me less reliant on my friends and family.

While I stayed close to home for college, studying abroad gave me the confidence that I can move away from Denver after school. During these four months in Spain, I could not call my family for a pep talk before my first Skype interview. I did not have anyone to take care of me when I was sick. And perhaps the worst of all, when your suitcase gets lost at the beginning of your trip; you have to handle these things alone.

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A picture of the National Palace from my first solo trip to Madrid

Everyone who went abroad this semester overcame things on their own because there was no other choice but to do just that. As for me, I am finally the independent girl I thought I was before studying abroad, and I have no regrets about following the crowd in order to get there.

 

A Look Back: A Year Later and a Year Wiser

Staring out at the rain-pattered window, I sat anxiously on a crowded bus, headed for Moscow. My train for Saratov was set to leave in an hour, whether I was on it or not. We had been driving for nearly four hours, when our bus grinded to a halt, nowhere near tour destination. I had only 40 minutes left to navigate the enormous and inevitably congested train station, in hopes of making my train by 12:01. While pondering how on earth this would be possible, the bus driver announced that this would be as far as he was going, due to the traffic; we would have to walk the rest of the way. Great! I not only have no idea where I am going, but its pouring rain and I have to lug all of my stuff there in about 20 minutes. And that’s what I did. I jumped off the bus, grabbed my bags and started running. The bus driver pointed me in the right direction and off I went, asking every person I happened to run into “where is the train station?” And you know what, I made it. I stepped onto the train and seconds later, I was on my way to family and friends.

It was that bus ride and subsequent train ride that made me realize so much about myself. As I sat listening to music and soft trickle of the rain, I understood that my parents did the very best job they could in raising me. I understood that though they have made choices that I don’t agree with, it’s not a reflection on me; I can let it go, forgive and be free. I understood that I was alone, travelling in Russia and never once doubted myself, never once thought that I couldn’t do it and never once looked back. I understood that in those few hours, I became a woman, a better human being and truly began to live a life of my choosing. I understood that the only one who stood in my way was me, and when I removed my self-imposed limitations, the opportunities were endless.

For me, Russia was an escape from the chaos, but through its bureaucratic serenity, I found what I was looking for. I was set free, reinvigorated and ready to return to my mom, my dad, my brother, and my amazing life. Russia reminded me just how precious life is and that you can’t let it slip away from you. This lesson is one that I will never forget.

 

Kelsey Guyette, OIE Peer Advisor