2016 Fall External Programs IES Abroad Richelle Kota Spain

Pre-Departure: Madrid, Spain

As I prepare to leave it all behind—the city I have known for so long, the people I know and love, and the memories I have made here —I cringe slightly. Anxieties and fears consume my thoughts. How do I find the will leave somewhere I have grown up for someplace completely unknown? How do I find peace about not seeing my family and friends for months? Who will I be when I come back?

I ask these questions as if my parents did not pack every small remnant of our belongings from Liberia into a small suitcase and come to the United States. I ask as if leaving the land that raised them— where they forged relationships, had a child, and had family was not stripped—unwarranted— from their hands by the Liberian Civil War. And I ask like the culture shock was almost unbearable at first, and that adaptation was necessary for survival.

I, young and unimpressionable at three years old, remember none of this. I fit in quickly, lost my accent, and forgot all those I loved four thousand miles and an ocean away. So as I look forward to travelling to Madrid in the fall, I realize I have no experience like this to fall back on and that makes me scared. I am scared to miss my friends and make new ones. I am scared to speak Spanish and embarrass myself. I am scared to leave something behind.

But I meditate on the fact that people do this everyday, for no matter how long or how strenuous the situation. We all leave where we are comfortable because comfort doesn’t ever manifest change or helps us grow, but only aids us in staying in the same place we have been before.

In the show, How I Met Your Mother, the main protagonist and the narrator—Ted Mosby— says, “If you’re not scared then you’re not taking a chance. If you’re not taking a chance, then what the hell are you doing anyway?” This could be nothing more than a chance, but one full of many benefits. This is a chance to globalize my mind and knowledge of the Spanish history and language. If I don’t take this chance, I fear even more than leaving everyone, that I will regret it forever. I will regret not making memories that will last a lifetime and adding this experience to my resume. The opportunities that lie within studying abroad in the Fall are endless and that prospect excites me.

Although I’m still very fearful, I have come to terms that this experience can only exist to benefit me and the others around me— to open my mind and realize there are histories, politics, and cultures that I have never been exposed to, but exist for me and others to learn from. So now as I prepare to leave it all behind, an inherent fear still lingers, but now it’s coupled with the excitement and passion I know will make it worthwhile. The dust has been cleared from the small suitcase, but this time I am prepared to pack my own remnants and leave some things behind— even if it’s just for a semester.

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