Orienting Priorities and Taking Risks

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When I applied to study abroad, I only had two goals: to go to Italy, a postponed dream of mine that had been canceled in March 2020, and to take classes that I was interested in and enjoyed. I didn’t have any idea of how my day to day would look like, but I imagined it would be very similar to my daily routine at my home institution. I was confident that in my free time I would find ways to explore every corner of Seville and go out every weekend with friends.

Now that I am halfway through my program, I laugh at how unprepared I was mentally for studying abroad and for managing the extra time I had. I became so used to being constantly busy with homework, work study, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and socializing that I now found it impossible to manage my time when I had nothing to orient me. My host family took care of all of my needs, so I no longer had to stress about taking the bus to Target and hauling two weeks worth of food back. I couldn’t work, my attempts to volunteer had fallen through, my homework was minimal, and I only had two days of classes. That left me with 4 day weekends that I should have been using to go out, but usually ended with me watching tv in my bed and calling my parents for hours. I wasn’t unhappy, but I wasn’t satisfied either.

It soon dawned upon me that I was trapped in my comfort zone, which was inhibiting me from exploring not just Seville but Spain and the rest of Europe. Coming abroad had forced me to take a huge risk, and as soon as I had adapted I was stuck on what to do next. I reflected on what my priorities were and what steps were realistic. I started with what was most easily accessible, so I signed up for excursions to visit nearby towns like Cordoba and Ronda with my program. This allowed me to foster relationships with my peers while seeing sights that took my breath away. Soon enough, as we got used to going outside of Seville, some friends and I decided to take a risk and plan our own weekend adventure to the city of Málaga. None of us had ever planned an excursion on our own before, so we took this as an opportunity to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and strengthen our bond by looking out for one another in a new environment. During that trip we spontaneously decided to take a day trip to Nerja, a nearby resort town, and while in our search for some ice cream we found a hidden beach tucked around a corner. As we soaked in the sun, we couldn’t help but laugh at how we had found the Mediterranean Sea accidentally and how we had almost missed this experience due to our fears. I think back to that moment, to the way the water sparkled and how the pebbles looked like tiny diamonds, and I smile. The best moments are always the most unexpected. I’ll still make it to Italy, but while that day comes, I’m keeping my eyes open for those hidden gems lurking around the corner.