Lessons from a year abroad

Honestly, I envy you, Unionites. School is coming to a close and soon summer will be upon you.

Sadly, my school does not finish until May 31, and even then I’m stuck in Spain until June 10. I’m ready for this year abroad to be over, but I can’t deny the effect it’s had on me. Here are five lessons I’ve learned within my time abroad.

1. Don’t let criticism stop you from going abroad.

When I first came upon the idea to go abroad to Spain, a lot of people thought I was crazy. They asked why I would put a stop to my education to learn a language. They brought up how I was wasting money by staying in school an extra year. I defended myself by saying it will raise my marketability as a future teacher, but nothing worked. During a difficult step in obtaining my visa, someone essentially told me to give up going abroad. The next day, I drove two hours with my best friend to a random town in Minneapolis to complete a task for my visa. I refused to let criticism sink in.

2. The distance will make you realize who is really there for you.

Long distance friends have always been hard for me to keep since I need frequent communication in my relationships. I understand not all my friends can spare time among studies, work and relationships to be in constant communication. But even a message a few times a month is appreciated. Plus, the only way I can communicate with my friends back home is va Facebook messenger, and sometimes, the Internet isn’t reliable. Those who are closest to me have remained there. The distance makes it clear who is willing to stay in my life despite the odds.

3. It’s okay to struggle sometimes—people change through suffering.

I didn’t believe in this logic a year ago. I hated it when people told me I needed to be pressured so I could grow. But with this year abroad, I’ve changed my mind. Yes, people change when they are pressured. Spanish has made me struggle this whole year. At first I resisted it, but then I started molding to it, learning how the pressure worked and adapted. Staying rigid and closed-minded only provides more hurt.

4. You will learn about yourself.

I’ve had ups and downs, but since I am in an unfamiliar environment, I needed to learn how to comfort myself. The first few weeks were hard and embarrassing. I cried—a lot. But eventually I learned how to comfort myself. I learned music had an effect on my mood—good and bad. I learned drawing was calming, reading helped and writing gave me an outlet. I still have my bad days, but because I understand myself and my emotions, I’m able to pull myself out of the gloom.

5. Fake confidence until you make confidence.

In high school, I tricked myself into having confidence. I wore bright clothes, I laughed at myself, and I drew a smiley face called Jerri on my hand to remind me to smile. I faked confidence until I truly had confidence in my heart. As I arrived abroad, it almost seemed I left my confidence back in the U.S Learning a new language is uncomfortable, and for a while, I didn’t believe I could be successful. That is, until I forced myself to have confidence. On April 15, I took the dreaded Spanish test, the test that weighed the amount of learning done within the last months abroad. When my name was called to take the oral portion, I looked at my classmates and threw my fists into the air. Even if I didn’t feel confident, I would act confident. When I came out of the room, I felt good.

I feel good now, as I await the end of the school year. I’m glad for this time abroad and the lessons it’s taught me, but my adventures are not finished quite yet.

If you’ve enjoyed hearing about my life, feel free to visit my blog: blondesbeyond.blogspot.com

Melissa Ratter is a senior english language arts education major studying abroad in Spain.