Dear Younger Me…the Life You are About to Have While Studying Abroad Will Change You Forever

Dear Younger Me…the Life You are About to Have While Studying Abroad Will Change You Forever

With only a little less than 1 month left of my high school abroad program in Spain, I look back at all I thought it would be and all it was, who I was before and who I am now, and I see how different exchange was than I ever imagined.

If I could have told myself at age 16, when I applied to study abroad, of all I would endure in the next 5 months I would have thought I wasn’t ready… and I would have been correct, I wasn’t ready.

The truth is nothing can prepare you for the journey ahead except taking the leap and embarking on it. No one is ready to experience all the changes they will feel by living abroad, that’s what makes you change.

When I imagined my life in Spain many months before I arrived, I imagined endless adventures: scenes of me climbing up the mountains of Spain or wandering the streets of Portugal. I have been to numerous countries, cities, seen hundreds of years-old castles and stood on mountain tops in Portugal, but I’ve realized the adventure is less in what I do and more in myself.

The mountains I’m climbing inside are much bigger and numerous than the ones I’ve climbed physically and they are something you can’t prepare for no matter how many exchange students you talk to or homesickness packets you read.

Each day I climb a new mountain.

Olivia and her host family.

Whether it being the one of the new language or the one of adapting to a new life, they’re endless and at times they feel difficult, but at the end of the day once I’m on top, look down, see all I have overcome, and that I didn’t quit, it is the most rewarding feeling.

My exchange in Spain has taught me more lessons than in all of my 17 years of life.

It has tested me. It has made me question everything about myself only to realize there’s so much more to me that I didn’t know was there.

It’s where I lost who I thought I was and found out who I really am.

There’s so many things I never knew about myself:

  • I am strong
  • I am brave
  • I am capable of learning a new language and living without all my family and friends
  • And most of all I am happy. I am truly happy in my heart without anything I used to have

I think that is the greatest thing I have discovered, how little it takes to be happy. It’s not composed of the things from home that I brought with me, because there is hardly anything. It’s in the sunrises I watch every day walking to school with my friends and host sister, cooking a meal with my host family, the gentle smile of someone when I don’t understand. It’s something you find when you’re content with yourself and learn to take in the little things of the world around you.

Studying abroad has taught me to believe in myself more.

Olivia with her friends in Spain.

Before I always dreamed of doing something like this and living an untypical life. It wasn’t until I came on this journey and started making paella in a kitchen in Spain, taking Spanish dance lessons, and speaking Spanish every day that I realized those don’t have to be dreams. I really can do whatever I want in life; I’m doing more than I ever imagined right now!

Even though often times people will try to steer me away from the chances and opportunities they wouldn’t dare take, it’s better to take the chance and discover adventure, happiness, and life, than just do what everyone else does and always wonder.

I’m confident in my dreams now and am ready to live them.

Being here, I’ve experienced some of the greatest joy I’ve ever felt in my life. I would have never thought on my first prom night I would be watching the sun set on the wavy water in Lisboa, Portugal or that I’d make a best friend whom I sat laughing with on a crazy, spinning fair ride. It’s been all these moments where I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else that I realize how right I was for making that “crazy” decision to leave home and move abroad at 16 years old.

I see now that there is so much more to life than that one place most of the people I know will never leave and that we can find happiness anywhere in life. I’ve made Spain my home, these people dear to my heart, and memories to last a lifetime.

So looking back and seeing how unprepared and undefined I was before my overseas adventure to now, a confident Olivia ready to set out in the world in front of her, I can’t thank this study abroad exchange enough. Through the difficult and the joyous times, it’s shaped me and made me new.

It has been my first adventure, first love, first push out into the world that I will carry with me forever and has allowed me to know I can live an untypical life that I didn’t believe before.

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