“The questions/hopes/fears running through your mind before departure lead to information worth acknowledging.”
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Caroline Hollister is a communication studies junior and Mustang News study abroad columnist.
On Jan. 19, I will set off on a journey many college students only dream of, many others regret turning down and a lucky few remember forever.
Studying abroad has been a goal of mine since my first day of college, but it took a long time for this destined trip to manifest itself. If it weren’t for the daunting idea of the preparation it requires, I have no doubt I would’ve gone earlier — this fall, or maybe even this past summer. I was under the impression the road to this experience would be much more difficult than it turned out to be. Yes, it requires you to be on top of paperwork and pay attention to deadlines, but the key is realizing no one is intentionally trying to stop you from living your dream travel experience, and there are multiple resources to reach out to for help if needed. Besides, the more you prepare, the more benefits you’re bound to reap from the experience in the end. Once that light bulb went off for me, everything seemed to fall into place.
In the weeks leading up to my departure, however, I began to realize preparation is not simply ensuring your forms and payments are turned in on time and that you have your passport and visa in possession. Preparation, I’ve learned, also encompasses doing research on your host country and familiarizing yourself with its culture before you arrive. Understanding some of my destination’s customs, values, etc. will help me anticipate various situations and may even prevent some embarrassing ones (I’m already tall and red-headed — I don’t need another reason to call attention to myself unless it’s impressing someone with my accent). I also found talking to other students who had gone abroad to be extremely beneficial. If it weren’t for speaking with a couple good friends who had just returned from Italy and Spain, I would’ve brushed off the idea of culture shock as a symptom of traveling that I would be immune to, I might not have decided to visit a certain city or country, I might not have been as wise with my money — the list goes on.
I will spend the next four months living and studying in Granada, Spain, a smaller urban area located in Andalucía. I have many hopes and fears about this swiftly approaching chance of a lifetime. I hope to learn everything I can about Spanish culture and, in turn, about myself. I hope to travel, though not too often, and I hope to make lifelong friendships and establish ties with the city that I know will have such an impact on me. On the other hand, I fear being submerged in a culture so different from my own will be overwhelming. I’m studying abroad at a time uncommon for Cal Poly students and I won’t know anyone in my program. What if the language barrier is too great? How will I adjust to a more relaxed way of life? I think the only way to overcome fear is to embrace uncertainty, and I resolve to embrace every experience I encounter with openness and a desire to learn.
I’m here to say that the study abroad experience begins long before you arrive at your destination. Preparation has already taught me so much. The questions, hopes and fears running through your mind before departure lead to information worth acknowledging.