It’s incredible what can happen over the course of 1 1/2 months.
Since I began living here in Salamanca, my life has changed considerably– from the smallest of things (what time I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner) to the biggest (what language I use in my daily life), it seems like every aspect of my life has been affected by this experience. A lot of the changes were things that I expected to happen, but I’ve been stretched and challenged in ways that I definitely didn’t foresee going into this adventure. After living this new life for over 1 1/2 months, I can confidently say that studying abroad has changed me. Not just the academic, Spanish-speaking side of me, but more importantly the who-I-am-at-heart me. Throwing myself completely into the unknown has opened my eyes to the ever-present faithfulness of our Savior, and has given me confidence in who I am through Him more so than I have ever experienced previously.
Going into this experience, I was FILLED with worries, doubts, and anxieties about what would happen. I remember that, the weekend before I left for Spain, I completely broke down crying because I just didn’t feel like I had the strength to face so many unknowns at one time. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be prepared for all that was waiting for me in Salamanca– from worrying about if I was bringing the right clothes for the weather, to being anxious about what level of classes I would test into, I was scared. Although there was never a moment before leaving that I debated backing out and just staying home, I remember just thinking “what am I doing?…what in the world am I doing?” as I tried my best to prepare myself to leave.
Looking back now, it’s almost kind of funny to think about the anxiety-ridden-Catherine who thought she could actually be prepared for this experience. For anyone who is reading this and thinking about studying abroad…I’m really sorry to say this, but there is NO way you can prepare for something like this! There’s just no way. Even for someone like me (someone who spent hours reading study-abroad blogs, pinning Pinterest packing lists, talking with study-abroad veterans, watching YouTube vlogs about studying-abroad, and researching the program I was entering), there’s just no way that one can go into this experience prepared. But (as I now know), you CAN go into a study abroad experience like mine confident.
I know that sounds insane (especially to worriers like me who naturally think being prepared is the predecessor to being confident), but I promise you it’s true. You can be completely unprepared, but 100% confident. Why? Because your level of preparedness isn’t what is going to make your experience easy or difficult…your willingness to place your experience in God’s hands is. I went into this time of studying-abroad clutching onto control like my life depended on it. I thought that, the more prepared and in-control I was, the more confident I would feel in Spain. But, if you go back and read my blog post from that first week, you’ll see that my “preparedness” didn’t do anything to make me feel comfortable my first day in Salamanca. The peace, joy, and comfort came ONLY when I relinquished control of my experience over to God. The moment that I acknowledged that I, on my own, couldn’t face the unknowns…my fear dissipated and was replaced with confidence.
What I’m trying to say is, all of my efforts to find confidence through being prepared and being in control failed. They failed miserably. I arrived in Salamanca “prepared” with a million print-outs of maps, shoes for every possible occasion, a med-kit that could rival a pharmacy’s, my old Spanish textbook…and absolutely no confidence that I would make it through the next two months. But the MOMENT that I prayed to God to take control of my new life in Spain, I was filled with a confidence and strength that has not left me once since being here.
So, to everyone out there reading this blog who is planning on doing something that requires a huge leap of faith (whether that be studying abroad like I did, or something completely different), I hope you can see my experience as a testimony: having confidence in God’s providence and faithfulness is ABUNDANTLY more powerful than doing your best to be “prepared” on your own.
And I can prove it!!
Here is an example of a very big worry of mine and the very big way God answered it:
Before leaving for Spain, I was TERRIFIED that I had lost the majority of my Spanish-speaking abilities. Although I had taken Spanish classes my freshman year at Fox, I neglected my Spanish over the summer and had absolutely zero time to fit a Spanish class into my schedule Fall semester. So, even though I resumed Spanish class in the Spring semester, I felt like those six months away from studying Spanish had really taken a toll on my abilities.
I kept telling myself I would do some independent study to brush up on my Spanish skills before I left on my trip…but that didn’t actually end up happening until the train ride from Madrid to Salamanca.
But, as I was hurriedly trying to re-learn things I had forgotten, I realized that my efforts weren’t really going to make-up for all the time I had spent away from Spanish (I mean, the train ride was only an hour and a half long). So, instead of trying to rush through all of the verb tenses in the short time that I had, I began to pray. I prayed that God would help me to be brave…to strike up conversations even though I knew I would make mistakes…to ask another question in class even if I had already asked twenty. I prayed for bravery over and over throughout this train ride, and implored God to help me once I got to Salamanca.
Today, exactly one month and ten days after this train ride, I am blown away by how God has answered my prayers.
Every single day I have an opportunity to speak to someone new in Spanish, and every day I am given a chance to use my Spanish in practical, real-world situations. Because absolutely every aspect of my life is in Spanish, my own ability to speak and understand it has improved more than I ever could have imagined! Honestly, I am so immersed in the language to the point that I now catch myself actually thinking in Spanish.
As for my previous worries about my competence in Spanish, God has proven faithful in meeting my needs there, too. I have absolutely INCREDIBLE professors here who truly care whether or not I learn, improve, and grow, which I think has really improved my confidence. Although I was nervous to be taking the highest level of Spanish classes here, the professors have provided constant support and encouragement throughout even the hardest concepts. In my Spanish Language class, for example, the majority of the 20-student class (except for Madi, two Asian students, and myself) are native Spanish speakers. When the class first started, this terrified me! I saw around me people who had been speaking Spanish for their entire lives, had been raised in Spanish-speaking countries, and whose Spanish would clearly put mine to shame. I looked at my own background–high school and college Spanish classes and a very white family–and immediately prepared myself to struggle in this upper-level class with people who “already knew everything.”
I soon saw, however, that God knew exactly what He was doing when He placed me in this class. Our professor, Eugenia, has created a cohesive, safe, and collaborative atmosphere in our classroom that leaves no room for competition and allows me to ask as many questions as I want without feeling inferior. The other students in my class, instead of being Spanish-know-it-alls, have become sources of support and help (as well as good friends <3). Because I’m surrounded by people who have an excellent grasp of the Spanish language, I can feel myself improving as we all work together during class time.
Since this blog post is more of a reflection (and doesn’t really give many updates on what I’m actually doing) these pictures might seem a bit random, but that’s ok! : ) I just felt the need to write down what I’ve seen God do in my life while I’ve been living here in Spain, and hopefully you were able to follow my scattered thoughts throughout this post!
Here are some wonderful moments from the past week or so: