A year always seems like such a long time until it has passed. When I was looking into the programs Holy Cross had to offer in Spain, I was surprised to find that 75 % of them were year-long programs. Although I was hesitant about a program that long, I decided to take a leap of faith and sign up. It was the best decision I have made so far in my life. My year abroad has changed me from a confused, hopeful college student into a mature, independent adult.
When people share their study abroad experiences, they tend to focus on the end product: how much they’ve changed, etc. I agree that almost everyone undergoes a change when they study abroad for a year, but I don’t believe that is the most important part. Yes, we are all more independent, mature, and better understand ourselves, but every year we grow in these areas, whether we’re in a foreign country or not. I believe that the journey we have taken to make these changes is the most important.
Living in a foreign country when you’ve lived in the United States your whole life is not a simple, quick change. It takes a slow adaption process to fully immerse and become a member of the community. You can’t just drink sangria, go out for tapas, and take a nap, then call yourself a Spaniard. Much more has to happen.
This year, I have learned and developed my own personal strategies to adapt to new situations. Because of these strategies and the frequency of new situations thrown my way, I have grown to form a comfortability when confronted with the unknown. I know how to perceive, think, and act in situations I haven’t encountered before while still being myself and acknowledging others present. During the process of acquiring these strategies in the multitude of new situations, I tried and failed several times. Those times I failed were crucial, because that’s where I learned the most. Learning what not to do through experience is usually a better guide than being told what to do. Furthermore, I was lucky to have the excuse of being a foreigner and forgiven more easily. This opportunity to grow and develop as a person in a forgiving environment was an essential part of my abroad experience.
More than just learning to live differently, I learned about people, lots of different people. Although Holy Cross has diversity, it does not compare to that I found in Spain. At Holy Cross, the student body is around the same age, so your options of people to socialize with falls in the zone of age 18 through 23. Also, at Holy Cross, it is common to form a group of friends who have similar interests as you, including classmates who have the same major, members of the same sports team or club, or neighbors in your residence hall. I have loved every minute of my time at Holy Cross, but there I would not have been able to find and interact with the different types of people I have met in Palma.
In Palma, I have met very interesting people, whose lives and stories differ greatly from those in the United States. I have learned how people lived during Franco’s reign, how some people want to continue living this way, how poverty is a constant threat, and how different family dynamics function. Learning about how fragile life is because of sudden deaths, about how a life can be ruined through flaws in the justice system, or about how a political regime can drastically change a generation of people has opened my mind to the issues still present in the world. Listening to the ways people’s live have unfolded in Mallorca has made me incredibly grateful for mine.
Although I could go on forever about how amazing my experience in Palma de Mallorca was, I will not bore you with every detail. I will say that if anyone is reading this who is thinking about going abroad, do it! You know what you will be missing at your school if you go, but if you don’t go, you will never know what you missed out on. Going abroad is more than just traveling around and saying I’ve been here and I’ve done that, it’s about experiencing new things and growing as a person. I can guarantee that if you go abroad with an open mind, you will come back with no regrets. In fact, the only thing I regret, right now being home, is leaving.
Mallorca will forever be a home to me and the people there will forever be my family.