Universidad de Cantabria Undergrad Program in Spain
Majors: Global and International Studies, Spanish
By: Morgan McCullough
A Journey of 3,000 Miles
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” -Confucius
What a time to be alive. In a little over two weeks, I will be whisked up into the clouds and carried over the entirety of the Atlantic Ocean….again. A new adventure is destined to begin right out of the dust of the first one.
Let’s start from the beginning. Once upon a time, when I was 15-going-on-16, I somehow ended up in a small village in Galicia called O Porriño, which is near the breathtaking, vibrant city of Vigo on the northwest coast of Spain. I fell deeply and quickly in love with the Spanish culture…tortilla española, the ocean, the mountains, Diego Velázquez, and the way of the people. I found a real home within my host family: a mother, a sister, an abuela, an aunt and uncle, a cousin, and some lifelong amigos and alma gemelas (soul mates). Leaving them and returning home was the most tragic and heart-wrenching thing but it all turned out to be a colorful, charming story and I have been back to visit twice.
When they say that studying abroad turns you and your perspectives completely upside down, they are not lying. I left knowing very little about my life path and returned ready to take on two majors at Western Michigan University in Global/International Studies and Spanish and a minor in Arabic. To draw my Spanish major to a close, I have decided to return to Spain through a university program and take some classes at the University of Cantabria in Santander.
I am going to be completely honest with you, blog. I haven’t been this far out of my comfort zone since my junior year of high school, and I am now a sophomore in college. Since then, I have conducted plenty of in-depth studies about culture shock and I should be feeling at peace, but I am nervous about a whole new array of things.
My fears the first time around were pretty “exchange-student-typical”… getting lost in airports, having a bad first host family, being ridiculed and embarrassed, not making friends on the first day of school, and the incredibly large and impending language barrier. I wish I could tell you that all of these things proved to be totally unwarranted, but that would be a straight-up lie. Every single one of those things happened to me (especially the airport problem…lost my boarding pass…spent the night in the Newark, New Jersey airport…plane almost crashed en route from London Heathrow to Chicago O’Hare…you name it, buddy) but once I finally had overcome each one, I felt truly invincible; like that no matter what happened, I would always find a way.
My Galicia story is over, however, and the lessons all learned, folded neatly, and put away. I can stand up for myself better, I switched out of my first host family and found something beautiful in my second one, I have fewer qualms with the language and am fearless of the embarrassment of mistakes, I know many European and American airports like the back of my hand, and etcetera. Now, I have all kinds of new fears and I know that there are at least a dozen challenges waiting to surprise me. Will I be as valiant as the first time? Will I be able to use my Galicia slang? This time, how will I deal with the awkwardness and loneliness that comes from hanging out with a new group of friends, who already have memories that I am not a part of? Will I like Santander as much as O Porriño? Will the reverse culture shock be worse when I come home than it was the first time? Will I get homesick for Galicia? What if my host family is offended by my choice to be a vegetarian (meat is very important to the Spaniards)? What if my classes are too hard/easy? How do I balance family, friends, school, and the people I care about from home?
I thought perhaps I would return to Spain feeling confident as a well-seasoned traveler and confident study-abroad alum, yet I am surprised to say that I am afraid to relive all of my past challenges, especially in the face of new ones. I may be afraid, but I am also eager to live out another adventure. I am eager to drop everything familiar and replace it with a chance to learn, because deep beneath the fears, this is what my life is all about.