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A Stretched Mind

Eleanor L. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Germantown Friends School in Pennsylvania.

I don’t think I’ve really found myself through living abroad, whatever that phrase may mean. Rather I think I truly know what I’m capable of.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions”. This is the maxim we as a class at SYA were presented with early in the school year. Looking back at that time, with my return to the U.S. creeping up on me in less than one week, I have so much to be thankful for. These last nine months have not only extended my brain, but they have also taught me how to use that stretched brain to lead a passionate, adventurous life.

Upon arriving in Spain, I was both apprehensive for the unknown that I’d just gotten myself into and elated at all the adventures I presumed were ahead of me. I’ll never forget meeting my future classmates at the airport for the first time. We all held this similar curiosity and thirst for more, and yet none of us really knew each other.

I’m not going to lie and say I was immediately excited once we landed in Zaragoza. I guarantee that there will be at least one moment in which you will regret having chosen to pursue this experience. That regret came at the beginning of this year for me, and stemmed from the fact that I couldn’t believe, as I looked about at the foreign environment surrounding me, that I had put this discomfort on myself. That regret crumbled away once I made connections with the city of Zaragoza. Then, once I got out of my head and began talking to other SYA students, I realized that we were all going through the same emotions. Out of the low of that regret, I’ve perceived how strong I am. I chose to put myself in a hard situation, and for that I’m proud.

The reality is that if you seize this opportunity by the horns, you will have an amazing year. But it won’t be a perfect year; that’s why it’s so fulfilling. Throughout the year, you will be pulled back and forth between the U.S. and Spain. You will feel, at times, uncomfortable - or even embarrassed - to fully express your American identity in Spain. On the other hand, there will be times that the Spanish culture hits you hard and you feel isolated. Not everyone experiences culture shock the same way. In my case, it was extremely subtle and manifested itself in the differences between the way my host family and U.S. family interact with one another.

I urge you to not be afraid to let go of, or adjust, some of the commitments you enjoy back home in order to fully involve yourself with Spain. You can only really feel the effects of cultural fluency when you let go of parts of who you were back home and embrace the present, fleeting days. As someone who has taken full advantage of these short nine months, I know there’s always more you can do.

The best advice I can give to someone looking for more out of life through SYA is to not shape your experience out of preconstructed expectations. Let it happen naturally. It was my choice to come to Spain, but I went into the program perfectly unsure of what it would give me, and that willing submissiveness has left me feeling incredibly accomplished at the end. I made this year into my own.

SYA isn’t for everyone. It’s self-selective to a certain extent, but you still have to think about why you’re doing this. There’s an essential intrepidness that comes along with living abroad, which grants you maturity beyond belief. You are the one heading this feat and making it what it will be. If you are willing to step out of your comfort zone (no matter how big it is, I guarantee you’ll have to do it), then you will thrive.

SYA has been the most fun year of my life. I’ve met people, both Spanish and American, whom I love with all my heart, and the community at our school is supportive beyond belief. This year truly would not have been what it was without my teachers and fellow classmates. Your SYA friends are no longer just those you enjoy spending time with; they are home.

As I make my way over the Atlantic back to the U.S., I guarantee I’ll have just as many nerves as I did upon my arrival to Spain. I’m not going into the unknown like I was from Boston to Spain, rather I’m venturing into the known as a developed person. And for that I’m apprehensive, but fully elated to merge my two lives.

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