Junior Year Abroad: The Good and the Not-So-Good

Today, June 25, marks one month since I’ve returned from my year abroad!

Before I begin reflecting on my entire Junior Year Abroad (JYA), I have to admit that I had the privilege to study abroad and travel in and out of Europe during the year. However, like any new experience, it had its good side and its not-so-good side, to put it nicely.

As a Latina, studying abroad and living in Spain was, at times, draining. No one ever told me that it could feel as if your own being and identity were questioned or made to feel inferior to theirs. Don’t get me wrong, I had some amazing times both semesters. I traveled places I only ever dreamt of visiting. I experienced different cultures and met some great people, both from Spain and from the program.

I’d ask if you want to hear the good or the bad first, but since I have to write this blog anyway, I will start with the bad, because I like to believe that after the storm comes the rainbow. So, let’s start with the bad.

Bad:

  1. When a Spaniard believes that their way of speaking Spanish is superior to yours, even though their Spanish is full of Spanglish words and phrases.
  2. When a professor thinks that certain Spanish words that you say or use are not “real” only because they do not use them.
  3. When Spaniards tell you that the Spanish were the first to appreciate and want mestizaje because Hernan Cortez had a son with Malintzin, also known as Doña Marina or La Malinche, and the English did not “mix with their conquered people”. History is white-washed. For Cortez, Malintzin was a tool he acquired to conquer more land and people, not the woman he fell in love with, as many Spaniards tried to tell me.
  4. When they seem to ignore the fact that the conquista was not simply an “act of migration”, attributing our (the Latin American people’s) ability to communicate with the international world solely to the Spaniards, as if erasing languages and killing and enslaving many natives was all part of a plan to only bring the language to this side of the world. Yes, we speak Spanish because of what started in the 15th century, but forcing people to learn your language and practice your religion and customs is not a “noble cause”.
  5. When they saw what was happening in the United States and said every negative comment that they could about this country, forgetting that the Spanish government was not at all perfect. Yes, there are many terrible things happening in the US, but Spain was without a government for a whole year, so they are not that great either. Yes, I understand the United States has not been great, but you can’t ignore your own problems and criticize other’s. I also understand the anti-United States sentiment, because I know what the U.S. has done and such. But, imagine people who have gotten to know you, sharing meals and/or having discussions, say that ALL AMERICANS are dumb or senseless. Plus, referring to the United States as “America”, when many more countries make up the Americas is erasing the other identities and cultures. 
  6. When they judged any and every immigrant that migrated to the United States and did not speak English, because, to them, if a person migrates, they must learn the country’s language. It is easier said than done. But, they thought assimilation was the only way to go.
  7. When they said immigrants and refugees should not go to Spain because, “no es como si España pudiera darles trabajo ni hogar” (it’s not as if Spain could provide them with a job or a home), as if immigrants and refugees left their homes just because they wanted.
  8. When they blamed Muslims for the terror attacks, saying that their religion was “muy agresiva”… because Catholicism/Christianity is so peaceful, right? (Note the sarcasm.)

However, I did say that after the storm comes the rainbow, so here comes the good.

Good

  1. Becoming close friends with students from different schools, specifically with Sophie, Nathalie, Libby, Jasmine, Fable, and Maleah. Without them, my semesters abroad would have been completely different. They were always there when I needed to vent or a distraction, no questions asked.
  2. Traveling and experiencing different cultures and traditions, not only in Spain, but in Morocco as well. I was mesmerized seeing the differences and similarities in foods, customs, fashion, entertainment, and anything that composes our way of lives.
  3. Cheap European traveling! I traveled to Paris, London, and Rome for such a cheap price. Not only was my experience traveling and sight-seeing amazing, but I got to see places I never thought I would.
  4. Getting out of my comfort zone. I’ll admit that I am not the best with figuring out directions and asking strangers for help, or deciding to explore the city on my own in places I had not been to before. But, I did these things and more.
  5. Traveling internationally on my own. I have traveled on my own plenty of times before. However, when I do not know the place where I am going, or the airport, or the process (customs) like the back of my hand, I get nervous.
  6. Appreciating my loved ones even more. There was a 6-7 hour difference, so having the regular conversations that I was used to was complicated. Either I was asleep or at school or eating, and they were asleep or at work. However, being far from home and unable to talk to my loved ones at any point of the day, truly made me appreciate and love them even more. 
  7. Appreciating Smith more than I thought I would. When I was applying to go abroad, I was so excited to get out of Smith for the year and have a calmer year. I will admit that I missed Smith, the professors, the workload (yes, you read the correctly), the teaching method, the support I’ve received, my work supervisor, and my house community. 

Going abroad was a great experience, but it was also emotionally exhausting. Most times it felt as if I could not express that negative side of my time abroad, because I would be seen as the person with so much privilege to say that going abroad was not as great. I was thankful to have people going through similar situations who understood me. 

Despite the bad, if you asked me whether or not I’d go abroad again on the same program, I’d say yes. And, a piece of advice to people going abroad: take all of this into consideration and ask questions to former students to really see if the program/city/country is the right place for you. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to share your feelings and emotions, and if anyone tries to discourage you or take away value from your feelings, cut them out of your life, because how you feel is important. Go abroad and experience other cultures, but don’t be afraid to share your feelings, whether positive or negative. 

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