Midway across the Atlantic, I see no better time to reflect on my experiences over the past three and a half months. In this literal and figurative transition between countries and cultures I find a mix of emotions. It’s tough to say a final goodbye to people and places, not knowing when or if I’ll ever return again, but amidst this difficulty, there is a sense of satisfaction in the way that I spent my time. I explored what Palma had to offer, took advantage of all opportunities to see new places, and enjoyed the many new friendships that I made. A common reflection over a long period of time is that, “it all went by in a flash”. I disagree with this statement. Sure, it’s still hard for me to believe that Christmas is two days away, but this doesn’t mean that I can’t accept the end of my study abroad experience. I enjoyed my classes, took my trips, had my fun and made the most of my cultural immersion. In this alone, I find closure.
At the start, I had my doubts about how our small group would impact the quality of my time in Palma. As I made clear in my early posts, it was tough to adjust to my new companions, but we eventually found equilibrium in our own individual schedules (and became close friends in the process). Freedom became my escape and I’m happy to have done a significant amount of escaping.
It all started with a spur of the moment 21-hour trip to Ibiza. Next was a group trip to Madrid, a two-day venture to Barcelona for Sensation, a long weekend in Sevilla (and Granada), another visit to Barcelona, another to Madrid (including Toledo), and finally a grand finale of London, Milan, Venice and Paris.
Traveling alone is something that many people avoid, but when given the opportunity, I think it’s a very rewarding thing to do. Buying tickets, finding hostels, and deciphering public transportation systems are all actions that are complicated by a language barrier. Out of necessity, passivity becomes hyper-observance and it’s in this observance where cultural differences are perceived.
Cultural differences are the most important aspect about studying abroad. Three and a half months isn’t long enough to completely understand a new culture, but it’s plenty of time to gain a new understanding of your own. In order to truly gain a sense of American culture, it needs to be seen through the eyes of a foreigner. We might think that countries of similar development levels have similar ways of life, but this is not the case. In the bubble that is our American lifestyle we’re too myopic to critique our own customs, positively or negatively. For example, after experiencing the Spanish professional culture, I have a new appreciation for the work ethic that is ingrained in American society. Sure, I learned plenty about Spanish culture in my day-to-day life, but having 20 years of American experience to compare it to, the emphasis is unconsciously placed on what I know.
Another drastic change for me was adjusting to city life. By choice, I go to school in the middle of nowhere, so I knew that I wanted something different from study abroad. Palma isn’t a huge city, but it’s a city nonetheless. Living in a small apartment with a Spanish host padre (Carlos), dealing with walking/metro commute to classes and just navigating crowded streets every day were all drastic changes to my lifestyle, and I’d be lying if I said that I’m not excited to go back to having a car, and a two minute commute to class.
I think I’m so satisfied with my experience in Palma because I was constantly pushed out of my comfort zone and forced to adapt. New friends, new family, new language, new food, and a very different lifestyle all offered a challenge that I was forced to meet in order to survive the three and a half months. I needed to get out of my comfort zone to emerge a changed person, and I think I did exactly that. Study abroad is a personal journey and you truly get back what you put in. I’m content to say that I came to Palma with an open mind and a strong desire to use the tools at my disposal, and I feel that this mentality paid off. This chapter in my life might have come to a close, but I can say definitively that it has drastically altered the way that future chapters will be written.
Cultural Encounters Class
Goodbye to British friends
Casual paella street snack