because it teaches you more than a textbook ever will and you learn more about yourself than you could ever expect.
Never in a million years could I have ever thought to feel that Toledo would be considered a second home. These past six weeks have flown by and I can’t believe that I’m already back in the good ole USA. I have learned so much about culture, etiquette, friendships, and myself in my short two months here. It will be hard to put these lessons and experiences into words upon my return to the US, but I’ll give it my best shot. No matter how hard people try to understand what I’ve experienced, it will be almost impossible to fully grasp unless they have experienced it.
The hardest part about being back is that people don’t ask me about my experience. They’ll ask the surface questions that seem so materialistic, like “Did you have a good time?”. Well obviously I had a good time, it’s impossible to put in words how you feel about studying abroad. However, they only care about the one word answers, yes or no. They aren’t interested in the what’s, how’s, why’s…it doesn’t aid them in any way to know these facts. I understand why, but I wish that they were interested in what truly happened in my six weeks abroad. Sometimes I feel like I want to shout from the top of the mountains “Listen to me. See how I’ve changed!” And I think that is the most frustrating part. People can take note of physical changes, of alterations in appearance, but they can’t see emotional changes. They can’t see spiritual changes, they can’t see ideology changes, they can’t see changes of opinion…these are something that need to be seen with the mouth and ears, but many people don’t take the time to see them. It’s just another way in which the world we live in is completely and utterly enamored by materialistic things and the appearance of things. Who cares how it got to be the way it is as long as it is pretty, right? Wrong. We should care. We should be interested to see the journeys people have taken, to learn how they have evolved as an individual. But that takes time and effort, two things Americans are prone to not give. As sad as it is, I understand. I understand because I would still be one of them if I hadn’t traveled abroad for six weeks.
To try and sum up all of the experiences I have gained would be time consuming and fruitless, so I have instead decided to name a few things I have learned that I am going to carry with me for the rest of my life:
1. Take the time to enjoy. In America, we are accustomed to the fast paced style of go go go. We rarely ever take time to stop, sit and take in the beauty of every day life. If I have learned anything from my time in Spain it is that it is okay to sit down and eat, to walk at a leisurely pace and to do things at my own pace.
2. Take the time to relax. Similar to the first point, one of my favorite things about Spain was the way that they take the time to relax throughout their day. Not only do they have the “siesta hora”, which is a saving grace from God himself, but they also sit down to eat. In fact, walking and eating is not a thing there, it is actually considered rude depending on what city you are in. Eating hours are used as relaxation periods. The service is never rushed and you are allowed to spend as much time eating, talking and drinking as your heart desires. It definitely makes for a less rushed lifestyle and makes life that much more enjoyable.
3. Explore your surroundings. When you are in a foreign country, people want to go to as many cities as possible. It’s normal, but it also means that people forget to explore the city in which they are staying. There were people who went somewhere every weekend of the five weekends we were studying in Toledo and they never truly explored the historic city. They missed out on some incredible sites and it is something they will probably regret in a while. Take the time to explore the city you get to call home, whether permanently or temporary. Chances are there are some pretty neat things around the corner.
4. Turn your phone off once in awhile. One of my favorite things about studying abroad was the fact that I wasn’t attached to my phone and laptop 24/7. I barely got wifi most of the time and at first it may have been frustrating, but at the end I had grown to love it. It was so nice to actually be in tune with my surroundings and actually SEE what I was looking at. I won’t be disconnected all of the time, because that would make life quite difficult, but I will be taking more time away from my phone, social media, wifi, and laptops. It really does a lot for the mind and soul.
5. Don’t be afraid to go solo. Alone doesn’t mean lonely. Not everyone is going to want to do what you want to do, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Do what you want to do and don’t let anyone stop you, it could lead to some of the most enlightening experiences of your life. It just so happens that sometimes traveling by yourself is the best way to learn about yourself.
6. Don’t be afraid of change. I feel like today change is synonymous with bad, but change isn’t always bad. I’ve learned that traveling will change you for the better. You learn more about your beliefs, your personality, your likes, your dislikes, the relationships you maintain…the list of things that you learn is outstanding. Most of these lessons will help you to change yourself and your life so that it is better in a number of ways. Change forces you to step outside of your comfort zone, so stop fighting and start embracing.
7. Go with the flow. Anticipate the unexpected. Plans don’t always go accordingly, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be wonderful experiences to come of the unexpected. Some of the best memories I have involve getting lost in the city and the adventures that ensued. Don’t fret, don’t worry, just keep moving forward.
8. See, don’t just look. More often than not, people are too caught up in the idea of studying abroad. It’s one of the easiest things to do while traveling, but it’s also one of the easiest ways to miss what you are observing. Remember to stop. Just to stop and take everything in. Not to stop and take a picture, but to stop and look around to remember this moment and appreciate just how lucky and fortunate you are. Traveling is fleeting, but the memories you create will last your lifetime, make sure you have them.