When my plane landed in Madrid on September 4th, I knew one other person in the program, was obsessed with speaking perfect Spanish, and wanted to travel to as many countries as possible. At the end of my time here, I can say that I made a lot of lovely friends from Tufts, Skidmore, Smith, Swarthmore, and la Universidad Autonóma de Madrid, have a better understanding of grammar, and have been in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) the whole time. Although my grammar, vocabulary, and reading comprehension have improved a lot, ironically, the biggest improvement I have made is realizing that I cannot speak Spanish perfectly, or without a foreign accent, and that’s okay. I also realized that I like being in one place and getting to know it, so I stayed in Spain and in Madrid a lot more than I expected.
Through these realizations, my time abroad became a lot more about the experience than achieving a series of lofty goals or checking things off on my perpetual to-do list. (I still really love making lists though, that will never change.) Because this was my second semester abroad, I didn’t go in with all the expectations that I did the first time, and that resulted in a much better experience. I feel like because of social media and the way people talk about abroad after they return, the expectations surrounding study abroad are very high, but studying abroad, like life, isn’t always perfect. However, it is an amazing way to see the world and meet people with very different perspectives on the world. Although I didn’t visit every country in the European Union or every spot I wanted to in Madrid, have a Spanish boyfriend, or become so good at Spanish that no one can tell I’m not a native speaker, I learned more about Spanish culture and my own culture in comparison.
I am not a completely different person than I was when I arrived in Madrid, but I have seen myself become more patient, more confident in my ability to speak Spanish and get along with people from all different cultures and have reframed the way that I address challenges. Studying abroad is challenging—there are times when no one understands my Spanish, when I have felt uncomfortable with my host family, and when there were aspects of Spanish culture and life that I found disappointing. However, I have grown as a person and in the way I view the world in addition to the education system in the United States in response.
And not just because I fear that people will see this post as lame and depressing, I want to say Spain is beautiful, the food is delicious, traveling through Spain and Portugal has been really exciting, and I love the people I have met here. Although I experienced many of the personal problems I do at home and study abroad was not a fairy tale, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Spain and I am proud of myself for having pushed myself out of my comfort zone by studying in a different country and language and by taking a class at the Universidad Autonóma de Madrid. I loved my experience abroad because I knew and accepted that it wasn’t going to be perfect.