It wasn’t a hard decision to study abroad. I always knew that I wanted to live in a Spanish-speaking place at some point in my life. I also always knew that I wanted the chance to explore Europe while I was still an undergrad and the severity of life’s responsibilities were not yet going to deter me from traveling around for four months. Conn’s study away options are plentiful, so I had many different choices. But, when it came down to it, I was drawn to Barcelona, Spain.
Leaving the safety and familiarity of Conn to live on my own in a foreign city and country terrified me to my core, but this is why I’m so glad I took a chance and left Connecticut to experience something entirely new. I remember the final days of winter break before I left for my trip when internal anxieties had taken over. I couldn’t get excited. I thought with a secret jealousy about my friends who would be returning to Conn in a few weeks from their study away adventures, while it would now be my turn to take the leap that would ultimately change the way I would see the world and myself forever. Days before I left, I packed my suitcases, conscious of the 50-pound limit. I got some Euros to bring with me. I ate my last bites of Skippy peanut butter, which I knew I would not be able to find in Spain. And I took one last look at the familiar Connecticut coastline.
The following months in Spain were filled with (a boring but necessary descriptor) adventure! I was lucky enough to travel to 10 different countries, 17 cities and to really get to know Barcelona. My four months abroad fostered a new kind of maturity within me. With each trip I took and with each escapade I managed on my own, I felt myself growing into an independent adult. I knew that once I got back to the States I would feel like I’d grown tremendously into a more confident and worldly version of myself. And when I got back, I did. A defining moment for me occurred within my first month when I traveled to Perugia, Italy, on my own. It was only my second trip, and I was able to navigate getting to this rather remote town via planes, buses and trains. I was terrified, but I look back and can truly visualize my sense of the world and myself beginning to flourish. Yet, a lot of this maturity grew first out of loneliness during my first month abroad. It’s easy to forget that what we see others post on social media platforms is not the whole story. And though I contributed to posting about my time in Spain, the reality is that it was hard for me to live so far away from my family at first. I would often wonder if they were okay and what they were up to. Yet, as the months passed I learned more about how transitional processes work for me, and these hard realizations aided in nurturing this new independence I now feel. I look back and know that if I was able to navigate a foreign city in Spain on my own, tackling the world beyond Conn is doable.
Though I was technically a student at a different school while in Spain, Conn continued to care for me and make me feel safe while I was away and that allowed me to then thrive when I got back. It makes sense to me now. Sometimes we just need to trust that new experiences are the ultimate teacher. And though at Conn I have learned endlessly about things I never thought of before, it took some time away from here to learn some of the scariest lessons: lessons in autonomy.