Indiana University Overseas Study

MaryO

My summer abroad in Barcelona isn’t going to begin when I step off the plane in the unfamiliar Spanish city. As I face my half-packed suitcase with a furrowed brow, I realize that my upcoming adventure has already begun, at least to a degree.

My summer abroad truly began when I first received the exciting news of my acceptance into my program, at which time I became the recipient of much advice. In the months between my acceptance and now, as I prepare to depart from Indiana, I’ve formed ideas about what to expect during my time abroad based on the advice that others have given me. My challenge has been choosing what advice to take and what to ignore, but I think I’ve reached a happy medium.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the advice I’ve received has come from different types of people with whom I have varying relationships. I’ve broken these people down into a number of categories, and I’ve determined the value of the advice from each group. Even though I’m still facing this adventure alone, the advice of those around me is a sort of support system that I hope to lean on while away.

Parents are notorious advisors, and in the months leading up to my departure, I’ve noticed that they’ve taken this role more seriously than ever. It’s easy to roll my eyes at some of the precautions that my mom has encouraged me to take while abroad, but as I’m closing in on my departure date, I’ve stepped back and reconsidered some of her seemingly overprotective advice. There is no harm in packing the pepper spray she sent me because, as she and countless others have said, you never know what could happen. The message may be trite, but safety is serious enough to necessitate repeated enforcement. I’ll gladly keep my money in a less-than-fashionable money belt if it means that I won’t have to worry about pick pocketing while I’m touring the city.

Safety issues out of the way, I turn to the advice of my friends when I feel unsure about what to pack. One great thing about the study abroad program at IU is its level of participation; since approximately a quarter of IU students study abroad at some point during their undergraduate career, I have numerous friends who have gone on an IU-sponsored study abroad program. A friend who studied in Florence last summer advised against bringing heels. She said that it’s no fun walking on cobbled European streets at night, so her wedge heels ended up being a waste of space in her luggage. She also mentioned that small items like umbrellas and cosmetics add up in your luggage; it’s just easier to get some things once you’ve landed.

Advice from those who have already studied abroad inspires confidence in me, and I feel secure about my packing decisions. Still, the prospect of leaving my loved ones to live in a foreign city is daunting, so I confide my apprehensions in those with whom I’m closest. My boyfriend, who knows I’m nervous about speaking Spanish since I haven’t taken a language class for a couple of years, recognized my fear of the initial exchange between me and the taxi driver who will take me from the airport to my home. The best thing to do, he said, will be to write the name of the address on a piece of paper and hand it to the driver. I do hope to improve my language skills while abroad, but in that situation, after a long flight, I think I’ll feel best taking his advice and using the cab ride as an opportunity to take in the land surrounding me.

As I consider the advice that people in my life have given me, I know that it’s all I’ll be able to take of them while I’m abroad. I’ve never suffered from homesickness, not even when I went away to college, but that’s because I’ve never faced a new chapter of my life alone. I know no one who is going on the program with me. As excited as I am to make new friends, I worry that I won’t have anyone to turn to if I’m ever feeling overwhelmed. At these moments, I will take solace in the wise and encouraging words of my stateside family and friends while still maintaining a level of unprecedented independence. With these thoughts in mind, facing this momentous summer becomes less intimidating and more opportunistic. If I’m lucky, I’ll even be able to form a new meaningful relationship—one with Barcelona.

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