WANDERLUST: a strong desire to travel and explore the world. I had it, and now it’s even stronger. I always knew that I wanted to study abroad in college. I have been fascinated by other countries and cultures ever since I was young. I was probably the Travel Channel’s biggest viewer when I was ten years old. My favorite winter-time activity was going to the German Christkindlmarket in Chicago and eating potato pancakes with applesauce and buying little wooden toys from the merchants. My favorite exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry was the room full of decorated Christmas trees from around the world. I would even read my mom’s cooking magazines when they had special articles about foods from around the world. Needless to say, I have always had the desire to explore other countries.
I have gone to ten countries in the past two years. Every trip but one was through the University of Illinois. The summer after my freshman year I had the opportunity to go to Turkey with fellow classmates and deans in the College of Business through a business program that I am in. This past summer, I went to Costa Rice for a mission trip. Last semester, I studied abroad in Granada, Spain for four months.
My experience abroad in Spain was something that I had been looking forward to for many years and it far exceeded my expectations. It was a period of discovery – discovering the world and discovering myself. I feel so blessed to have had the experience and it is something that I will never forget because of the impact it left on me.
I took five classes while I was in Spain. I only had class two days per week and so I had four-day weekends every weekend to travel. My classes were quite small – one of them only had four other people. The professors didn’t speak any English so it really forced my Spanish to improve. I took a class on Spanish culture, Spanish Art History, Arab-Islamic Studies, a Spanish literature class, as well as taking a business course online. I lived with a host family who treated me as though I was part of the family. I felt so welcomed and comfortable in my house. I even had two host sisters, ages 12 and 17, which was so much fun because I only have brothers. Living with a host family truly immersed me in the culture – not to mention the amazing food my host mom cooked! I made a lot of Spanish friends and even participated in some of their student events. One night a few of them took us out to learn salsa dancing which was a blast but also kind of embarrassing. Those Spaniards really know how to dance… My goal in Spain was to be a traveler instead of a tourist. I tried to become part of the culture and participate in the community. We went out for tapas almost every night, we went to the Spanish festivals, we watched a lot of flamenco dancing and even tried to partake in some of it, I volunteered at a church, we became regulars at certain cafes, we ate a lot of pastries, and I definitely took a “siesta” almost every day. Overall, I tried to embrace the Spanish lifestyle.
I traveled almost every weekend when I was in Spain. This is where the other seven countries come in. I went to Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, Belgium, Portugal, and Morocco. One of my favorite ways to experience a different culture is through the food. France was crepes, Ireland was shepherd’s pie, Morocco was couscous, Belgium was chocolate, Germany was jaegerschnitzel, and Italy was pasta. These trips were vacations from my vacation.
Granada became my home. It was incredible to wake up and walk to class surrounded by mountains and beautiful architecture. I was surrounded by a culture that is so different from my own and I loved it. I miss the culture. I miss the people. I miss the lifestyle. I miss the beauty. Now my desire to travel is even stronger than before. Part of my heart will always be in Spain.