Studying abroad is an exhiliarating, scary, fun and life-changing experience. I lived in Valencia, Spain during a semester of college and it opened my eyes to the expansive world around me. My parents were on board with me earning credits toward graduation and gaining Spanish fluency — and I couldn’t pass up a chance to learn about myself and experience an unfamiliar culture.
I met people from around the globe with interesting accents and lives far different from my own, discovered what we had in common, how we were different and developed a sense of myself that I didn’t have before leaving college in New York State. I learned how the world could feel really big and really small at the same time and how people on the other side of the ocean have the same hopes and fears that I did. While eating delicious Spanish tapas and flamenco dancing, I soaked up a beautiful culture that helped me reflect on my own, and what it meant to me. While wandering the cobblestone streets of old Valencia, I caught a glimpse of life several centuries in the past and saw how it merged with the present.
Sure, I have cool stories about how I lived it up in another country. But Spain gave me a lot more than that. I stepped off the plane at home with confidence, maturity and insight into who I really am.
Melissa Hartford is a freelance writer in Boston, Massachusetts.