Dearest readers, it seems that I haven’t been completely honest on my latest blog posts…and I really haven’t been very honest to myself either.
Okay that sounded way more dramatic than I thought it would. Let me rephrase.
What I mean to say is that I have been avoiding talking about a whole other part of my study abroad experience that is very real and that much more difficult to talk about.
You know how when you were little you could just close your eyes or cover yourself with a blanket and all of the monsters that were obviously hiding in your closet or under your bed would disappear? Well, I was hoping that I could do that with my feelings. Hide from the bad and all the great parts would be enough.
But that’s not how feelings work. Sometimes it’s better to let yourself feel what you feel.
So what I really want to talk about is just how there are a lot of frustrating, tiring, and even sad moments that happen while studying abroad. Yes, this might be different based on my own personal experiences. And yes, there are so many ups that I do believe outweigh the downs. But that doesn’t mean there still aren’t rough bumps in the road when travelling. Especially for a long period of time. In a different country. Alone.
So with that, let’s begin!
STRUGGLE #1: LEARNING A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE
First of all, one of the roughest experiences I have had is with learning to speak Spanish. This might not be applicable to everyone, but it is a real challenge.
It feels like an emotional roller-coaster. Sometimes, there are really good days. You can understand everything everyone says to you. You can hold a conversation for a long time. Manage to give directions to people. Basically feels like I’m on cloud nine.
But then there are really, really rough days where you blank and you can’t even make intelligible noises. Everyone appears to be speaking too fast. You forget all the vocabulary. AND the grammar. So you’re basically a baby making motions with your hands trying to communicate. And everyone looks at you like you’re stupid. Then they ask how long you have been here and you shamefully say almost two months now. So to make this better, you try to explain that you’re just having a brain fart, but they obviously don’t know what that means so then you try to explain but your brain is still blanking on you. You begin to kick yourself and ask yourself what is wrong with you, why you are even here wasting your time and money, and how you will ever become fluent.
Yeah…that’s what a rough day looks like.
And it happens a lot. I’ve talked with other students about it and they all related a similar experience. It’s just that your brain is working all the time trying to translate, remember, and make sentences in the different language. And it is exhausting. And sometimes a huge letdown after working so hard to get it right.
STRUGGLE #2: LEARNING ABOUT YOURSELF CAN ALSO REVEAL THINGS YOU REALLY DIDN’T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT YOURSELF (INCLUDING HOW MUCH YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOURSELF…)
I really cannot stress this enough. When you are travelling by yourself, you begin to learn a lot about the very person you sometimes forget to get to know. I have found out a lot about myself through this trip…some things I never wanted to know. And I’m not just talking about bad habits like biting your nails or chewing with your mouth open. (PSA: I don’t actually do either of those…you sickos.)
It’s kind of hard to put it into words. Since I didn’t know anyone when I came here (as is the situation for many students studying abroad or solo travelers) I had to put in work to make new friends, something I have not done in a really long time. Meeting new people and running into new and sometimes strange situations has made me see how I behave and react…and it is definitely shedding new light on myself. Sometimes I feel disappointed in how I respond to something, but the fact of the matter is I am young and inexperienced in a lot of ways which means I’m bound to make mistakes. It really doesn’t make it any easier, though.
Also…well this isn’t always true for everyone, but in my experience I have found that I end up spending a lot of down time alone and that has been quite the trial. I have spent time by myself before, but this is very different. I have realized that I don’t really know what I like to do for myself.
You see, normally I like to put myself into projects and into working. Working on shows, working on writing, working on future plans/ideas. And I love doing this. I do. But even if I love it, it still is work. So what do I like to do that doesn’t involve deadlines or working until my mind goes numb? What do I like to do by myself for fun?
I have no idea.
The positive in this, though, is I get to figure it out for once in my life. The downside is I feel even more lost than before I came here…which doesn’t help with all the other stuff.
STRUGGLE #3: TIME MOVES ON…AND SO DO PEOPLE
The almost-most difficult thing I have had to accept is that while you are abroad, time will keep moving everywhere else meaning that people’s lives will keep going with or without you. Family and friends will do amazing things and accomplish so much…like graduate high school/college, march in a professional DCI marching corps, have relationships, get internships and jobs, start YouTube channels, win competitions, move to a different state/country, perform gigs at awesome places, start college, have their first child…and you won’t be able to be there for any of it. You won’t be there for your family or your friends through all of the good, the bad, or the ugly. And in my case, you’ll miss your niece being born. And maybe it didn’t seem like it would be a big deal two months ago, but now it will really suck. It actually will hurt a lot.
Of course I’m not saying people should put their life on hold for you (and you shouldn’t have to either)! That’s not fair for anyone. But it still sucks. Change is always hard to accept. It is inevitable and healthy, but hard. And it doesn’t get easier when you’re gone because no matter how hard you try, you can’t runaway from time. Going abroad doesn’t save you from reality.
AND VERY PERSONAL STRUGGLE #4: YOU WILL NEVER BELONG (ALWAYS THE FOREIGNER)
Since I was a little girl, I have never felt like I belonged. I know that’s a mood killer right there in itself, but I have a point.
You see, as a mixed race first-generation American I never felt like I belonged in my own country. I didn’t even start calling myself an American until I came to Spain and people would ask me where I am from. That’s about 20 years of denial and feelings of isolation.
Yikes, I know. Not fun stuff to talk about.
The thing is for some reason I used to believe that I could feel at home in another country. That since I didn’t belong in the United States that I could find another place to belong. Travelling seemed like the key. But then I went to Mexico and I didn’t belong. I went to South Korea and I didn’t belong. And now here I am in Spain…and I really don’t belong. My first day here I was called an Aztec by a group of Spanish children pointing at me like I was some novelty and then treated by American tourists as if I was part of the Asian tour groups. I have never felt like such an outcast in my life. Both Spaniards and Americans are treating me as a foreigner right now.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love travelling. I love getting to know different cultures and learning. But I realized that it was wrong to think I could find that feeling of belonging. I realize now you don’t find that feeling. You kind of have to make it on your own.
I’ll admit, I’m glad that I’m beginning to learn from this experience. It’s just, it’s hard to feel alone and like an outcast especially when you’re trying to take a break from it all.
And no matter how hard you might try to argue with this, understand that experiencing prejudice and discrimination every day is exhausting and frustrating.
So there it is! The longest complaint post about studying abroad problems ever. I hope you understand that I do appreciate and love that I got to have this opportunity and that I still have a few more weeks left in my program to enjoy my time in Spain. Also understand that there are so many positives and great parts to studying abroad! (I will most likely make a lengthy post about them soon after my program ends, so stay tuned for that!)
But at the same time, I hope you also know that these bad feelings have not gone away for me…even after two months. I was talking to a friend of mine who has been abroad now for about 7 months and she even admitted that it is still difficult for her at times.
The fact is transitioning to the unknown and studying abroad can be very difficult. It comes in waves of good and bad moments. But I do honestly believe the good trump the bad. Just be prepared to face personal obstacles, to make mistakes, and to open yourself to change.
And maybe, just maybe, you will change for the better. I know I hope I do.
Actually, I know will.
But until then,