By Jennifer Thomson
“Life changing” is a phrase I seldom use. Probably due to the infomercial feel of it. It sounds dramatic and cliché. Yet it’s the phrase I come up with when asked to describe my semester abroad.
Last year, I was in a rut. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, and I wasn’t sure where God’s plan was taking me. I felt confined by my life. Talking to a friend, I realized I needed a change. And then came my mom’s question: “Have you thought about study abroad?”
Of course I had thought about study abroad! Who doesn’t want to spend four months roaming around a foreign country? I just never thought it was an option for me because our financial situation wasn’t the best. “Apply for a program, God will figure out how we get the money.” After being accepted into St. Louis University Madrid, God dropped several scholarships in my lap. Thanks to the generosity of these scholarships, including the BAA Legacy Scholarship, I was able to completely cover the cost of study abroad. Without these scholarships there’s no way I could have traveled abroad.
Living in Madrid, Spain was such an incredible experience for me. There’s a stereotype that studying abroad is an excuse for slacking off for a semester and taking a lot of cool pictures. And I did take a lot of cool pictures. But studying abroad is so much more than that. There’s so much learning that you have to do outside the classroom. Not only do you learn how to live in a different culture, you learn about yourself.
I learned how to relax
You don’t expect another developed country to be so different than America, but Spain has its own culture that I came to love. The Spanish value family and good times. In America, I felt the pressure to always be busy, with school work, jobs, extracurriculars, and “having it all.” In America, it’s almost a compliment to be busy. We use it to brag about our lives. Being busy shows how successful you are. And yet being busy means you’re always stressed. In Spain, enjoying your life is more important than filling it. Mealtimes last longer so you can properly converse with whoever you’re eating with. It’s not a strange idea to go out with your friends and stay out all night on a Thursday. Young people often live with their parents until they graduate university, further strengthening the bonds of their families. Living in Spain, I learned how to relax.
I learned Spanish
I’ve studied Spanish since high school with average results, but being in Spain and surrounded by the language has made me conversationally fluent in four short months. As part of a country that stands to be the largest Spanish speaking country in the world be 2050, I recognize how crucial learning this language is for me. Learning the language also helped me understand more about Spanish culture. For instance, you can see how important family is through language. The word consuegro/consuegra means the father in law/mother in law of your child. The fact that the Spanish language has this word shows how much time fathers and mothers in law spend together. Besides learning the Spanish language, I got to teach my own. Each week, I met with two wonderful kids to tutor them in English. I loved getting to know them, as well as learning more about Spanish culture through them.
I learned about Spain.
One of the best parts of studying abroad is getting to explore the country you’re living in. Spain is such a diverse country, from the warm sun of the south to the crisp mountain air in the north. I had a great time traveling throughout the different regions in Spain. I was able to take a Spanish Culture and Civilization class, where I learned about Spain’s fascinating history. Spain has been ruled by both Muslims and Catholics, and it was intriguing to see the combination of the legacies left in the architecture. This was especially prevalent in La Mezquita in Cordoba, a mosque transformed into a Catholic church.
I learned how to be humble.
One of my most difficult qualities has always been my pride. While it’s good for my work ethic, it also means I hate asking for help. Living in a new country tests your pride. You have to accept that you need others’ help now. Not being fluent in Spanish, sometimes I didn’t know the words I needed to say, or I wouldn’t pronounce certain things correctly. I was so grateful to all the people who patiently waited for me to find the words I was looking for or politely corrected me when I made a mistake. Being in a new country, I had to accept that I needed help navigating my surroundings.
I learned how to be independent.
I’ve always been the youngest in my family, and because of this I’m not used to being independent. Living in a country where I knew no one, I had to learn to like being independent. I realized that it’s completely okay to spend the day by yourself! If you want to do something, just go do it. I took a solo trip to the north of Spain and it was one of the best weekends I’ve had.
I learned how to get out of my comfort zone.
I’ve always been more of an introvert, but living in Spain I decided it was time to come out of my shell. And I met some amazing people because of it! By opening myself up to new experiences and people, I now have friends from all over the world!
I learned what I wanted to do with my life.
I picked up an International Business major at Baylor because I wanted to travel. I was never really sure what I wanted to do with my future until studying abroad. Living and learning in Spain made me realize how much I want to continue traveling and learning about different cultures. Studying abroad has helped me see the importance of understanding different cultures. In this time of chaos in our world, it’s important more than ever to see how similar we are, instead of how different. After graduation in May 2016, I want to volunteer with the Peace Corps and then pursue a career at the United Nations.
When I decided to study abroad, I was told that it would change me. I wasn’t sure if I believed that. Now, I know it’s true. It feels cheesy to say that studying abroad was life changing, but it’s the only phrase that makes sense. Thank you to the Baylor Alumni Association for providing me with one of the scholarships that made it possible to go abroad.
We published Jennifer Thomson’s Baylor Family story here last year. The Baylor Alumni Association awarded scholarships to 54 Baylor legacy students for the 2015-16 school year. It’s a program the university doesn’t offer, and our goal is to give out more scholarships with larger amounts to help these students and their families pay for a Baylor education. If you’d like to make a donation, please go to this page. There will be a special surprise for donors who contribute $500 or more.