Thriving Outside the Familiar: Lessons from Studying Abroad

Nora Turriago '16Opinions Editor

I always knew I would study abroad. Before I applied to Smith College—before, in fact, the college application process even began—the opportunity to live in a different country for a year, immersed in an unfamiliar language and culture, was something that needed to be a mandatory aspect of my college experience. And so, when junior year finally presented itself, I found myself in Barcelona with two suitcases, an abundance of nerves and excitement and a return ticket marked for June 2. Studying abroad has been an incredible experience that has provided me with endless moments to learn about the country I’m residing in—a different culture, language and history with a unique set of customs and norms different from my own. By learning about this different perspective, I am able to critique the culture and customs of the U.S. and compare the two. My year abroad has also resulted in self-reflection and growth, with countless opportunities to learn more about myself and the person I am. To be alone in an unknown country—with an unfamiliar language, without family or friends who know you and where you come from—can be a scary sensation, but also provides the possibility to realize your own capabilities and what you are truly capable of. When I first arrived in Barcelona, I remember worrying about how I would navigate the unfamiliar transportation system, or getting lost in the endless city streets, and hey—what if no one understood my Spanish? However, being here for a year, I’ve observed how much I have learned, adapted, and gained confidence. Barcelona now truly feels like my home and I smile when I think of those first jitters and how far I have come from then. From navigating an unfamiliar transportation system to confidently walking the streets of Barcelona, being abroad is a chance to learn how to thrive outside the familiar. Being outside your comfort zone and taking risks results in finding out that you already have the capability to succeed and flourish.  By keeping an open perspective, being patient with myself and not shying away from trying and adapting to new things, I have learned a lot about both Barcelona and myself. What is learned from traveling can be used throughout life. Whenever I feel unsure of something, all I have to do is take a breath and remind myself that if I could master the metro system and find my way in an unknown city, what do I have to be afraid of? I have all the tools to succeed within me.