This past summer, I spent nearly one month studying abroad in Seville, Spain, a city located in the southern, Andalusia region of the country. While most students study abroad for full semesters, I decided that a shorter, summer session was the best fit for me. Leading up to the day I was flying out, I was so excited and could not wait to start this new adventure. However, when the day I was leaving came, I became more anxious and nervous about the whole trip.
What they say about ‘culture shock’ is real. Everyone in my group was placed in a home with a host family. Fortunately, everyone had at least one other student in a home with them—which was especially ideal for me, because I do not know a lick of Spanish, so it was nice having someone to talk to when I got home every day. Straight from the airport, we were immediately dropped off at our host home to unpack and eat lunch. What I was expecting was a home with a father and a mother, and maybe a few younger children. What I got was an older, single woman, a Chihuahua, and a cat, in an apartment smaller than a dorm room in The Village. Then I found out this woman did not know any English, not even “Hello”. Instantly, I became more nervous—I thought, “how could someone choose to host students from America when she cannot even greet them in their own language?”. In my defense, I had just finished nearly a day of traveling, I was jetlagged, and I did not know any of my host’s language either.
As the first few days went on, the wonderful study abroad agency that Auburn works with, helped all of us with the adjustment. They told us that giving a little of yourself during this trip is necessary, especially when you’re thrown into another culture. Eventually, classes and sight-seeing started and I began growing closer to the people in my group. What I learned beyond the classroom is what has stuck with me the most. The class I took in Seville was an International Public Relations class. In order to accomplish all of what was on our syllabus, we took it upon ourselves to observe the people around us every day, even in our host homes. It is amazing how different parts of the world work every day. I often imagined what students from Seville would think if they came and studied in Auburn, it would probably take them a long time to adjust to our culture as well.
After nearly four weeks of living in another country, I learned how to navigate the city without (almost) getting lost, how to say a few new phrases in Spanish, and how to overcome challenges when they are thrown upon me in the most unlikely manner. I often found myself struggling to communicate with my host mother, not because of the language barrier, but because of the differences in culture—if we were 10 minutes late for lunch, yelled at; if I showered for 8 minutes instead of 5, yelled at; if I dared turn on the ceiling fan, yelled at. I realized there was nothing I could do, but give of myself—not get angry or upset, but just do what I was asked of, as this was her home.
I like to think that I grew up a little during my time abroad, it taught me so much and made me a stronger person. I stopped worrying about taking pictures of everything, even though I did get a lot, and started enjoying the moment. I stopped playing on my phone when I sat down to eat, and started having more meaningful conversations with the friends on my trip. Finally, I learned that a trip like this is not always going to be a cake-walk. It took some time to get over the initial culture shock, but in the end, it was the time of my life, and I am so grateful I took a chance on this opportunity. For anyone contemplating study abroad—do it. Go out on a whim and take that chance. Learn, grow, and meet new people. Most importantly, live in the moment.