This past spring semester, spring 2023, I studied abroad for about five months in Valencia, Spain. Going into this experience I was excited to meet people from all around the world and learn a new culture. Although I did meet tons of new people, and even made some very close friendships, I got a lot more out of this experience than that. Out of everything I learned through this experience, I learned the most about myself, and I am a different person now than I was when I left Chattanooga.
I have lived in Chattanooga, TN my entire life. I have done quite a bit of travelling, but nothing super long term and I’ve never lived anywhere else. The decision to move abroad for a semester was a troubling and scary decision, but it was mostly an exciting one. I was excited to finally experience what it’s like to live somewhere else. I knew I would get homesick, miss my friends, and even feel lonely at times, but nothing prepared me for just how lonely I felt.
The first month abroad was spent getting to know the other students in my program, taking local trips, and adjusting to my new home. Everything was moving so fast, and everything was so new, I didn’t really have much time to miss home. However, as the second month away began, school was in full swing, and I really started to feel like I was living somewhere else. I had many moments when I wished I could be home and not in some foreign place where I didn’t quite speak the language. I started getting frustrated at signs I couldn’t read, customs I wasn’t used to, and even not being able to chat with a stranger at a café. But I found that through finding comfort in myself and in being alone, I really started to enjoy it. I found what made me happy despite my location in the world. I found a routine in this new city and really became a part of the community. I got better with my Spanish, and I adjusted to the eating schedule and the day-to-day schedule of a Spaniard. I travelled to different cities in Spain and countries in Europe with the new friends I made, turning these strangers into close companions who were going through the same hardships that I was. I spent most of my weekends in a new city or country, experiencing brand new, lively cultures and food I’ve never tried before.
Spain was the perfect place for me to study, because, after a lot of adjustment from the American lifestyle, I came to love the slow-paced lifestyle of Spain. I also lived on the coast in Valencia, so I was able to experience living on the beach, which I had never done before. Spanish culture is a unique culture in Europe, focusing on family, traditions, and celebrations. I was able to participate in countless holiday ceremonies and festivals that brought almost everyone out of their homes and into the streets to celebrate together. The energy of the Spanish people is one I’ve never experienced and am grateful I was able to.
The balance between school and travel was an issue for me at times, especially at the end of the semester when I had to really focus on my studies for my various final exams and final projects. But, with the help from my fellow students and helpful professors, I managed to get everything done and pass my courses.
Overall, my experience abroad in Spain was worth the culture shock, loneliness, and lifestyle change and I am immensely grateful I was able to take this opportunity, and I am most of all grateful I was able to go to Spain. Spain will always be another home for me, and I will always remember the friends I made there and the once in a lifetime experiences I gained.
Gracie Gilreath (BS Environmental Science) spent the Spring 2023 semester studying abroad in Valencia, Spain through ISA. Gracie had the following to say about studying abroad, “Studying abroad is the perfect opportunity to completely take you out of your comfort zone and expand your flexibility with life. You will meet people from everywhere, try new food, see new things, but most of all discover who you are under completely different circumstances.”
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