Hola, if you're still there!
I can't believe it has been a year since I went to Spain. I have thought about my experience abroad every day, and I'm pretty sure I have talked about it every day, since I've been back. Studying abroad felt like a fairytale and the only proof I have of its existence are pictures, the friendships I made and my host family who I still contact here and there. I am so grateful for those 5 months and I don't think I will ever look at January 9th, the day I went abroad, the same again. I will always remember this day and the experience. I even decided to find a way to integrate my experience abroad and my senior year by working with study abroad on campus. It definitely helped me with my re-acclamation to the US, Bradley and all the responsibilities that came with coming back. I am so grateful to have this job and share my experiences with other study abroad students and interested students at my university!
Studying abroad taught me many things that I could write about for ages, but I have a few topics that are most important:
1. Reverse Culture Shock
3. After-Graduation Plans
Now let's talk about reverse culture shock....
1. Reverse Culture Shock
Reverse culture shock is real, don't let anyone tell you different. Mine is subsiding since I don't have the urge to jump on a plane and go back anymore, but it was pretty bad. Though I never experienced culture shock while abroad, I think reverse culture shock is worse than the initial culture shock everyone talks about before you go. Going back to my normal life after traveling was difficult in the easiest way. Crazy right? I was used to living out of a backpack and suitcases, being on a 7 hour time difference and prancing around Granada eating gelato and people-watching on benches. Life was so relaxing and sweet, but I did miss my family and I enjoying being closer to home.
However it did take me a week to get over jet lag. I missed Memorial Day completely because I was sleep for most of it and it took a few days for my appetite to get on the right schedule too. I resumed working at my summer job, which was fine, but the biggest reverse culture shock was last semester, my first semester back. It was so rough because I began to process the differences between the US and Spain's teaching and learning styles of the college education system and having more busy work at Bradley than CML. Also, understanding I had to do my homework on the weekends instead of traveling Europe made it extremely hard to focus and put my semester into perspective. I realized how privileged and blessed I was to gain those across-country experiences. Despite all this I had my best academic semester ever at Bradley, a few mini-meltdowns, and Spanish music parties in the privacy of my dorm. I adjusted and I'm looking toward graduation in May.
If there is anything I learned from studying abroad it has been about friendships. Being abroad, I found that you will learn more about yourself from the people you surround yourself with to share your adventures. I will admit that I didn't integrate with as many locals as I would have liked, but I enjoyed those who I did connect with. It always nice to know you have friends from all over the world and it also gives you cool places to visit too. The biggest lesson I learned was about maintaining these friendships.
Building these relationships, especially with good friends, is important; I would rather have 3 good friends than 30 wishy-washy ones. Yet, when you are half way around the world, where you know a handful of people, you all become acquainted with each other really fast and those people who were on your flight may not be the ones you hang out with once you reach your destination. This is not necessarily a bad thing and can be a blessing in disguise, who knows. But with the friendships you do make and maintain, you can find out more about who you are and what you value in people. You'll meet many locals and tourists abroad, from randoms in bars, to clubs, the park, from your classes, etc. because you are constantly looking for that community to belong to. However, you will also come to treasure those who take gelato walks with around the city with you, go out for wine and sit and listen to your life story or indulge in corny jokes after hours in the park. Just keep in mind that getting to know each other is easy and making plans to keep in contact with them afterwards is the true testament of friendship.
3. After-Graduation Plans
On May 14th, 2016 I will graduate from college as an undergraduate student. Initially I wanted to go straight to graduate school. However, my inability to choose the right program for me and my current travel bug to see more of the world have taken over my plans. I do want to go to graduate school eventually, but not now. I am looking into a few psychology graduate programs and internationally-focused graduate programs too. I have applied to many volunteer and teach abroad programs in places such as Africa, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico and of course Spain! However, I have also applied to domestic service-learning and volunteer programs too. I would be happy with anything because I know I'm going abroad again one day. Fingers crossed.
I'd rather splurge on a good meal than a nice hotel, wine than water and plane tickets than club covers. Traveling and eating are my two favorite things, so follow my journey to see where I go and eat next! I'm just living my best life.