Growing in discomfort
For most of my college career, I romanticized studying abroad. The friends and relatives that went to faraway countries always came back with colorful experiences and stories, Facebook albums filled with fun pictures, and a more cultured and worldly personality.
Although I studied French in high school and visited Paris once, I had never been to any other European country. I was ecstatic to be able to study in Valencia, Spain for the summer. I told my parents that this would be a perfect opportunity for me to grow as a journalist as well as become more self-sufficient by living alone in another country.
I didn’t expect my first week in Valencia to be perfect, but it wasn’t even close.
After my plane from Los Angeles to Zurich delayed one hour, I missed my plane from Zurich to Valencia. I had to stay at the airport for an extra three hours and missed the first night of the program. I didn’t expect my host mother to have so many rules as well as the cultural and language barriers that prevented us from understanding each other.
I didn’t expect to lose my passport the first week, making it impossible for me to go on a planned trip to Portugal with my new friends. I had no idea that the process to get a new passport in Spain would be so tedious, leading me to run around the city in frantic panic, confusion, and uncertainty. The Valencia Consulate informed me that if I ordered a new passport, it would take two to three weeks, but if I took a three-hour train ride to Barcelona, I would have it in an hour. The anxiety of not knowing what to do clouded my thoughts at every moment of every day.
It seemed like nothing was going my way and small things began to bother me. Even things like pouring rain during the one day I decided to go to the beach almost led me to tears.
No one ever hears about the downside of study abroad, but here I was, experiencing one loss after the other.
I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel. It felt invalid to complain — I’m already so lucky to have the opportunity to be here in this beautiful country for this program — so why do I not feel as happy as everyone else around me? Is it wrong to feel this way? When everyone was emptying their sangria glasses one by one and laughing, I couldn’t help but empty on the inside.
The first six days of my trip to Valencia was a growing experience. It opened my eyes to the possibility that studying in Europe isn’t always as mind-blowingly perfect as it is portrayed in media. It made me own up to the fact that I need to be more careful with my belongings and surroundings when I travel. Most importantly, my string of unfortunate events taught me to always try to keep a positive attitude instead of sulking all the time.
It’s not always smiles and rainbows and non-stop sangria and paella, but it doesn’t mean it can’t still be awesome. The night I lost my passport I went out with my friends and danced the whole night. While my friends will go to a different country this weekend, I’ll take the time to explore the city alone, work on my journalism project, and reflect on my solitude.
Crossing over comfort zones and past walls — opens us up to growth, even if it’s uncomfortable. Everyday is a new start. I decided I should give myself one.