Regardless of how prepared you think you are for visiting a foreign country as a study abroad student, the initial experience can be extremely overwhelming. I thought that since I am an easygoing and relaxed person I would be able to seamlessly adjust to a new culture and daily routine, but as soon as I disembarked from the plane I knew that was not going to be the case.
It was overwhelming to be unable to understand the airport signs and the majority of people who were talking around me. To make things even more difficult the airline lost my luggage so I had to go through the process of submitting a claim using an address that was written in a way very unfamiliar to me. I could feel my stress level increasing and I was very thankful that I paid my study abroad program to pick me up. It was 1:00am and my Spanish was not fluent enough to take a taxi, let alone know which one would be safe to travel in. After arriving at my host mother’s house I was hit once again with the overwhelming feeling of not being able to communicate. She did not speak any English, and I spoke minimal Spanish. I went to bed the first night wondering what I got myself into and wishing I had spent more time improving my Spanish skills. I honestly wanted to return to the United States right away.
However, the next morning I woke up with a new mind set. I reminded myself of why I chose to study abroad and how lucky I was to have the chance to learn Spanish while immersed in the culture. That morning I committed to keep an open mind and to gain as much as I could from the experience. I may not be able to speak much Spanish or understand a lot of the culture now, but by the end of five weeks I hope to have learned a lot. I think that being open to every aspect of the culture, environment, and people is the most important thing to realize at the beginning of a study abroad experience. You can read about the country and culture and practice the language regularly, but none of that really prepares you. You just have to accept that you are unprepared and learn as you go from your host family, your friends, and everyone else around you. The experience will be what you make it, make it great!