LIZA LEONARD- For much of 2015 I was in a state of distress, wracked with anxiety. From an outside view, my life looked the same, like it was going on normally, expectedly, down a path. On the inside, I felt the sensation of myself being torn apart into pieces. Some of the pieces were banging together angrily, rattling my whole being, while others were disappearing completely. These feelings left me feeling unsure of what to do next and how to respond. I don’t think this is especially embarrassing to share on a public platform because I know a lot of people my age experience mental health issues—anxiety, depression, doubt—but they don’t always talk about it, don’t let it out in the open, sometimes not even with people close to them.
Even though I was not sure what my response to unhappiness should be, I found myself boarding a flight to Madrid, with no return flight to speak of. I didn’t know what would happen on the other end of the flight, but I knew I was looking for a change, for something to happen. I am not going to attest all of my rejuvenation of my mental health to being in Spain, but there was a correlation between the going away and the coming back to a happy version of myself.
This semester I have observed a noticeable change in myself, and now that it is coming to a close, I am asking myself, “What have I discovered here” and “How have I changed.” In response to these questions, I am thinking about how we have the capacity to change for the better, and we have a better chance at if we are honest and mindful. Being in a new place, with new people and situations, coaxes that mindfulness forward as suddenly our mind is reeling, suddenly every situation we encounter is new, even if it may be familiar.
I know my friends here feel similarly. There is a vitality to the people around me. They are excited, in a state of flux. The people around me this semester, the students in the Tufts-Skidmore Spain program and the Spanish mentors and our Spanish families and friends, have fostered something really awesome. Most people I have met here are open to learning new things and to positive change in response.
This semester, I felt like I was doing my own thing, but yet surrounded. I felt like I had a lot of free time to myself, but also a lot of time socializing. A lot of time home, “studying” reading or commuting, but also a lot of active time engaging with others.
The Spaniards participate in a day that is really long. The days here are full, and include a lot of time for others. Time with friends and family isn’t relegated to a quick catch-up, it can span hours and full days. I’ve liked getting swept up in the socializing, the days that transform and change before my eyes. Days here start mid morning (if you are like me), include a lot of public transportation and moving my body and writing things down and Spanish conversations and end with a late dinner and friends and falafel at 4am.
My time in Spain has been a really happy time. I am so thankful for the four months I had here. They were very full—full of people and places and new experiences. The four months are over, and I am gathering them up piece by piece and thinking about how lucky I am to have been here during such a perfect moment in my life.
I know not everyone is lucky enough to study in a different country, or travel at all. I also know that many people are not lucky enough to be with a program that is so encouraging of true cultural and lingual immersion. I now appreciate how fortunate I was, not only to have been here, but to have been able to share this time with such great people. Yesterday, I went into Tiger (the most tempting store in Spain) and bought 8 greeting cards to thank the people that made this semester possible. I don’t think 8 cards is going to be enough, but it’s a good place to start.
Last, thanks for anyone who has read my blogs this semester! It’s been a lot of fun sharing with you. See you soon!