I've known since I was about 14 that I wanted to study abroad in college. I also assumed that it would be to a Spanish-speaking country, most likely Spain, since around the same time I started taking Spanish. But the opportunity to go and live in Spain came to me sooner than I expected through the IU Honors Program. The short version is that it's a program for high school students to go live either Germany, Spain, France or Mexico and be completely immersed in that country's language for seven weeks during the summer between their junior and senior years. I pounced on the opportunity when I first learned about it and ended up being placed in Ciudad Real, Spain for the summer of 2007.
That's when the love affair began.
Spain was everything I didn't think it would be. Having never been to Spain before, but I essentially expected bullfights, sunshine, and Picasso. While it has all of those things in part, that's not really what Spain is about. But seven weeks wasn't enough. I was too young, too chained to my program (as great as it was), and too inexperienced as a traveler to really take in and absorb everything that was happening around me. So I came home, exhilarated, and bided my time, waiting until I would be able to go again and really live there like I had always imagined I would.
When sophomore year of college rolled around, I realized that it was time to plan. Despite my eagerness to study abroad, I had always thought that I would go for a semester. A year seemed unreasonably long, I thought. There would be so many things I would miss in Bloomington or at home -- the holidays, my birthday, Little 500, Halloween. I obviously would miss some of those things during a semester, but a year's worth of IU activities seemed extreme to skip out on. Then one day, I changed my mind. I could go to Spain for a year and still graduate on time. My birthday would still happen abroad. I might miss Thanksgiving, but that could be okay. So I applied for the IU Madrid program for an academic year, and got in. I was scared, and my friends were shocked, but it all felt right. I realized that, personally, I couldn't go there for just a semester and get everything I wanted out of the experience.
I cannot stress enough how deliriously happy I am that I went for a year. A year gives you enough time to settle in, to calibrate your life to the rhythm of the city, to travel, to learn the language. And when I say "enough time," that's pretty relative. No amount of time could really have been enough. Every day I still ache for Europe and the thrill of living that I experienced there. It all seemed less routine, even if it wasn't. Every day meant something new. I traveled all the time, all over the place. I went to Morocco, and Prague, and Berlin, and Brussels. I spent New Year's in Paris and Christmas in Barcelona. Thanksgiving was a blur of my best friends from my program and me drinking wine and stuffing our faces, and then going to our favorite bar where they played Shania Twain randomly, and it all felt just right. My 21st birthday was spent in Amsterdam. Every experience I worried I was giving up before I went I got back tenfold. I grew and matured and made lifelong friends. My passion for traveling is coming to shape my career choices and I can't wait for the opportunities it might bring. I learned more about myself in those ten months in Europe than I had my previous twenty years of life. I wouldn't trade any of it for anything, and this brings me to the moral of this story: study abroad. There is no reason not to. You'll graduate on time, you'll find a country where you can get by with English or whatever language skills you possess, and you'll never regret it. It was the best experience of my life, and as much as I missed Bloomington, IU will be waiting for you when you get back. Go.