I always knew that I wanted to study abroad, but it was never a reality until I was in the plane on my way to Spain. It was the most unique feeling I've ever experienced. Half of me was thinking I was crazy for just leaving my life at home and going by myself to live in a new country in which I don't speak the language, to live with an unknown family, in an unknown city, with a group of other students I had never met before. But the other half of me was euphoric. I was following my heart and doing what I wanted to do. Little did I know that it was more than just a trip, but a life changing experience. I am forever a different person with a new outlook on life and the world all together. The moment I set foot on that plane I began a whole new chapter in my life, and I am forever grateful. When I try to describe my thoughts and feelings about my year abroad, I simply run out of adjectives.
I didn't sign up for a whole year abroad, but only a semester. After arriving in Valencia, Spain, the next thing I knew I was moved in, settled, and calling home to let my parents know that I didn't want to come back. After only a week there I had my mind set that I wanted to extend my stay to two semesters instead of just one. Going to see the school and having orientation only accelerated my efforts to stay. Everyone at the school was welcoming and extremely helpful, paired with a list of incredible opportunities like excursions to Morocco and attending various festivals around Spain. I realized that before this experience I was so intimidated by the unknown, but after, the unknown became what wished for. If I can do it, anyone can.
Spain's culture instantly grabbed a hold of my heart. The family I stayed with made me feel like I was truly part of their family. My host mother and father were both so friendly and helped me learn Spanish, which I knew practically none of prior. They helped me acclimate to the culture and made me feel like a Spaniard. Every time fish was served for a meal, my host father would tease me because I didn't like it. He would kid about how I was less Spanish in his mind unless I ate fish. That aside, I developed a great relationship with them and miss them dearly everyday. Everyone was friendly and positive, and I think that helped me step out of my comfort zone and realize what I am capable of. I fell in love with the Spanish lifestyle. I even learned, or realized, a lot about my own lifestyle, after being out of my element. Reflection was a prize quality that I acquired from doing this. It opened my mind and made me realize how much there is to learn about the world we live in and the person that I am, and can be in the future.
In addition to the wonderful staff of the school, the friendly family I lived with, and the culture I became a part of, I met some of the most incredible people ever. I made lifelong friendships with other students who went on the program with me. Everyone was there for the same reason: to learn. Whether it was to learn the culture, the language, about themselves, or about the world in general, everyone was open minded and has left a lasting impression in my life forever.
I picked Albany's Valencia program for many reasons. For one, the city is incredible. It is the perfect combination of everything I was looking for. It had a historical background that adds to a rich culture with festivals such as Fallas, and outstanding architecture like the Miguelete Tower. Then it has an intense modern quality with works such as Calatrava's Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias. In addition to those it is right on the Mediterranean with an exceptional climate. I knew I wanted to see other parts of Europe, so having a home base in Spain allowed cheaper travel to places such as Paris, Prague, Rome, Lisbon, and even Morocco and Egypt. I got to see a ton of new places, each with something unique to offer.
All in all, it is difficult to put words to how I feel about my year abroad. If anything, know that it is more than just a trip or vacation. It has the possibility to change a person profoundly, and forever. Going with the right attitude and open mind allows a person to grow and learn an innumerable amount of things about almost everything: the world, people, yourself, home, friendship, love, culture, and etc... It also taught me to be grateful for what I have and to make every moment count. I would never take back that year for anything. Since coming back to the United States, I changed my major and my whole life direction. I'm pursuing a major in International Studies and interning at my International Education office at my home school of Oneonta.
This changed my life, opened my world, shaped some of my values, and introduced me to some of the most important people of my life. Way more than just a trip, and an experience I would recommend to everyone.