Tellus: (tel’us), n. 1. [Latin] earth, soil, and the land; a country; the world. 2. a collection of Willamette University student’s insights, stories, photos and thoughts from their experiences studying abroad.

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Believe: One Word That Kept My Confidence Abroad

Studying abroad in Granada, Spain was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. This is not only because of the knowledge I gained, Spanish I learned, friendships I made, or places I traveled. It was because of the confidence I gained in myself today.
During the application process one year ago, I never thought that I would actually go through with my decision to travel to another country thousands of miles away from my family and friends for a long period of time. You see, I am an only child and chose to go to school only an hour away from my hometown of Gresham, OR, in order to stay close to my family. The day I left for college was the hardest day for both my parents, and myself. It was the first time I was without guidance or help in everything that I did. Somehow, my parents and I both survived my first year of college, and then the second. But, this past Fall was the biggest challenge of all that my mom and dad had to face…their only child traveling abroad to Spain for four months. I spent the weekend before I left with friends and family that I would not be seeing for many months to come. The morning I left I thought I was going to board that plane with courage and strength without shedding a tear…but this did not happen. Once I saw my mom start to cry as I was about to enter the security line, I realized how hard this was going to be on my family and I. At this point there was no turning back. My passport and boarding pass were in hand, backpack on back, and travel buddy at my side, I had to go on…and I did. After 26 hours of traveling I made it to my host family in Granada, Spain. At this point I had already accomplished one of my biggest fears, flying across an ocean. This first night was difficult as my roommate and I were so jet lagged that we could not sleep through the night, and wanted to do nothing but sleep during our first day of orientation.
After the first two weeks I became adjusted to, the time difference, accepting the fact my mom and dad were no long 60 minutes away, and facing the reality that I had to speak Spanish 24/7 because my host mom did not speak or understand English. This was difficult but not as hard as I thought it was going to be. I realized that I did know Spanish enough for my host mom to understand me, even though there were many times I didn’t always understand her. My roommate and I also helped each other out when we were holding conversations and struggled in the midst of one. I depended on having a roommate a lot when I got there, because we were both facing culture shock together and a new home environment.
It was after the first month that I thought the rest of my experience in Spain was going to be terrible. This is because my roommate decided to switch host families. I am going to be completely honest with those of you who may be thinking about studying abroad and staying with a host family…not all host families will be wonderful or how you imagined them to be. I came to Spain with no expectations, just as I was encouraged to do, but still had held hope that I would have a mother like figure abroad like I do in my own home. My host mom and roommate did not get along at all. At first our host mom was a little harsh on both of us, and would say we were old ladies because we weren’t out exploring Granada every moment of everyday, but instead were being good students on a Sunday afternoon doing our homework or just relaxing preparing for another busy week. It was one day at lunch where the problems began. We were eating paella, my favorite Spanish dish, and my roommate scooped the paella from the opposite side of the dish from where she was sitting. Apparently this is frowned upon in Spain and you are only supposed to scoop from your side of the dish. Our host mom became upset about this. This was not the only thing that aided in the many struggles my roommate faced. My host mom would allow me to get up and put my dishes in the dishwasher while she was still eating, but when my roommate got up to do the same my host mom would say how “feo” (ugly) it was to get up while there is another still eating. I did not understand this as I was allowed to do the same just moments before. These events led up to the heated debate that occurred yet again during lunchtime, one lunch I will never forget. My roommate asked why she was treated differently all the time and was always yelled at, and not me. This caused much discussion, and the need for me to bring out my Spanish dictionary, because later it became my role to play moderator. There was much screaming, confusion, and tears. I knew that I could not keep up with this for 4 months. The next day my roommate informed me she thought it was best she switched host families…the first incident in our program where someone has had to switch houses due to host mom issues. Needless to say, it was a change for the better in the end, as my host mom became more relaxed and friendly, and made sure I had a positive experience.
From that point on when my roommate left, I was forced to believe in myself. I had to believe I could do this on my own without another American living with me, that I could communicate effectively with my host mom, and that I could live without having the same support system from home. I had to believe I would survive this experience no matter what obstacles came before me, and I did. If I had to go back and change my time in Spain, I would not change a thing, as I know everything that happened, happened for a reason. Not only did I overcome the struggles with adjusting to a host family, I learned in another language, and by the time I left, I was able to understand everything my professors would say. I gained confidence that I was able to understand and speak Spanish. Through the support of my new friends abroad, and advisors, I broadened my speaking abilities, and comprehension as well.
When you go abroad, everything may not be completely how you expected it to be. You will face obstacles, but you will overcome them. You will experience culture shock, but then become adjusted to your community. You will miss home and everything about it, but you will move on and find new things to do, places to go, and people to meet, to distract you. Most importantly, you WILL have fun, no matter what happens along the way. When you come home and people are flocking you asking “How was your experience abroad?” you will be able to answer without hesitation, “simply, amazing.” And remember, if you find yourself in a hole, a set back, or a moment of doubt, just BELIEVE.

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