After months (okay, years) of planning, in just one week I’ll be flying to Spain to begin my semester abroad. I’ve known I wanted to study abroad since before I decided to double-major in Global Studies and Spanish, and even before I chose Temple. In fact, my desire to study abroad was just about the only thing I knew for certain when I started looking at colleges. Because I’ve had this plan for so long, I sometimes forget how challenging and intimidating the experience can be. Don’t get me wrong—the fact that I’ll be an ocean away from my family, my friends, and my favorite bagel vendor for almost five months has crossed my mind more than a few times—but the distance has never caused me to think twice about my intention to experience Spanish culture and language firsthand.
The first time I got a taste of hesitation was about a month ago, during my Uber ride to the airport on my way home for Thanksgiving. As we were pulling away from my apartment near campus, the driver, Amber, politely asked about the two enormous suitcases I had just heaved into the back of her car. I explained that, in preparation for my semester abroad, I was starting to empty out my apartment and was bringing as many belongings as possible home with me to Houston. We got to talking about travel in general, and Amber seemed especially interested in my plans to study in Spain. As I told her about the program, I became more excited myself, but she soon started to ask questions that hadn’t even occurred to me.
Some of the things Amber asked about were similar to concerns that I know are really common. She wondered about safety for students in unfamiliar cities, so I told her about some of the information I’d received in my Program Manual. What really surprised her, though, was one of the parts of the program that I’m looking forward to the most. She was completely astonished when I told her I would be living in a homestay. “You’re going to live with total strangers for five months?” she asked, disbelievingly, “What if they’re crazy?!”
While preparing for the semester, I realized I would soon be living with people I didn’t know, but I had generally focused more on the process of getting to know them than on the challenges that could arise. After listening to Amber’s questions, I began to think about the potential differences between my host family’s culture and mine. I know that I’m excited about settling into a new place and learning about the people I meet, but I might also be surprised or confused by some of the customs I encounter. In a partial effort to maintain my own confidence, I explained to Amber that I had filled out a survey with some of my preferences, that I knew students who had successfully built lasting relationships with their host families while studying abroad, and most importantly, that I hoped to develop an understanding of my hosts’ culture and daily life, including any aspects that I might find challenging at first. I definitely believed all of the things I told her, but by the time we had arrived at the airport and I had unloaded my two massive suitcases from her car, some of Amber’s apprehension had started to rub off on me. After all, I would be flying across an ocean and moving in with strangers in less than two months. Did I know what I was getting into?
After that moment of panic on the curb in front of the Philadelphia International Airport, I’ve returned to my typical levels of excitement, with only minor amounts of stress creeping in when I think about packing (I’m still in slight denial that I’ll only be able to bring one suitcase). I spent a good part of my flight to Houston reminding myself of all the reasons I wanted to study abroad in the first place: I’ve always loved learning about the history and culture of different places, it’ll be a great opportunity to practice Spanish, and the strangers who welcome me into their home in Oviedo will probably be pretty incredible people.