Studying abroad: exhilaration despite fear

Life has been different lately. I see the sun come up seven hours before my family and friends. I carry Euros in my purse and ask for my coffee in Spanish. I eat lunch at three in the afternoon and dinner at 10 at night.

And it’s wonderful. I’m studying abroad in a beautiful country situated right by the Mediterranean Sea. I’m practicing my Spanish, day in and day out. I can go to the beach and mountains every weekend if I please. France and Italy are to my right. Morocco sits below me. Portugal greets the Atlantic on my left.

And it’s exhausting. From the moment my Spanish host mom calls me to breakfast to the moment I wish her buenas noches, I’m thinking, listening, speaking, reading and writing in a second language. My shoes are wearing thin as my feet log an average of eight miles a day walking to and from school, exploring the city and running errands.

And it’s exhilarating. I get to kayak down the river every day and go hiking in the Sierra Nevada when the snow melts off the mountains. I go to Amsterdam one weekend and Athens the next. There are Flamenco lessons in the evenings and fiestas in the early mornings.

And it’s curious. Men urinate on the street without inhibition. Waiters don’t expect a tip when I order tapas. I have to go to tobacco stands when I want to buy postage. Bus schedules aren’t reliable. People wear scarves when it’s sixty-five degrees outside.

And it’s not home. My parents are building a house without me. I won’t be at my own graduation ceremony. My little brother will walk across the stage at his high school graduation, and I won’t be there to cheer him on. My friends eat delicious quesadillas at the Taco Truck without me. NeedtoBreathe will play in Kansas City and Northwest Arkansas without their No. 1 fan.

And it’s scary. Public transportation is my only transportation. Everyone knows I’m not from here. I’m miles away from the Bible Belt.

And it’s the only thing that separates me from life after graduation. I don’t have a return ticket to the US. I don’t know what I’m going to do for a job once I graduate. I don’t know where I’m going to live. Student loans come due in October.

And it’s a blessing. I’m learning more about myself. I’m learning more about my own culture. I’m learning more about Spanish culture. I’m becoming more independent. I’m becoming more daring. I’m making mistakes. I’m learning from those mistakes.

And I’m content. I remind myself that there is a time and place for everything. Right now, in this moment, I’m supposed to be in Spain. Tomorrow, I’m not quite sure where I’m supposed to be. All I know is that this has been an amazing semester so far and that, despite all the differences and difficulties, vale la pena. It’s worth it.

Arant is a senior majoring in Spanish. She can be reached at arantl@jbu.edu.