I remember getting my acceptance letter to Saint Mary’s and reading something that every Belle (Saint Mary’s woman) has engraved in her mind: “We promise you discovery: the discovery of yourselves, the discovery of the universe, and your place in it”. At Saint Mary’s we are forced to face issues we often want to avoid talking about, and we are encouraged to listen and learn from people who think in a different way than we do. We are taught that in life we will have to deal with situations and people that might challenge and hurt what we so strongly believe in and stand for. As a student, I often saw these courses as a waste of time and money but now, more than ever I am so grateful for the way Saint Mary’s has taught me to deal with tough situations in which knowing how to listen and keep my mind open proves to be the only way to solve certain issues.
Now I know what you’re all wondering… How does this relate to my abroad experience? What does this have to do with Sevilla? Doesn’t this look more like an ad for Saint Mary’s?? Well let me tell you… studying abroad is not always rainbows and butterflies, it is more than traveling to beautiful and far places, it is dealing with new issues and cultures, it is being surrounded by situations and people that don’t align with what we are so used to, and that force us to listen and understand different points of view.
Let me give you some context for this, as I’ve said before, my program is full of amazing people from all over the States, people from different universities, different religions (at Saint Mary’s I’m used to being surrounded by mostly Catholics), and different points of view. I’ve always loved to hear people talk about their beliefs, and try to understand why they believe and stand for the things they do. Through some of my classes at Saint Mary’s I’ve had to attend lectures, and events related to issues that don’t necessarily align with my set of beliefs, but I’ve always enjoyed hearing and learning what people on the other side have to say. The thing about these lectures is that I never had to be on “the defensive”, my beliefs were never directly challenged and I was never judged or targeted because of what I believed, but being abroad has put me in situations where people are not always as tolerant and respectful about other’s beliefs as I am or would want them to be…
Being abroad, far away from the comfort of what I know, and the place I am comfortable in has forced me to put all of the skills SMC has tried to instill on me to work, and I like to believe that all of the uncomfortable and upsetting situations have led me to become a better person, and member of society. A member that is able to listen, and respect, instead of insult and belittle those who might have different opinions than I do.
I think that when thinking of studying abroad everyone needs to make sure that they are ready to face challenges that might not be an issue when in the comfort of a familiar place, and people whom they share the same thoughts with. People studying abroad should be ready to be challenged to think in different ways and respect what others have to say. By being abroad you expose yourself to cultures and realities you’re not exposed to in the comfort of home, and when you’re not ready to be tolerant and loving of people of all faiths and beliefs then studying abroad is probably not for you… I have seen people struggle with their abroad experience just because they just couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that people have different opinions, and that that is OKAY… I have had people from my own country, a country that is supposed to embrace freedom of speech, religion, and belief, belittle my ideas and beliefs while claiming that they fight for equality and freedom for all… I strongly believe that if it wasn’t for the exposure to “different” SMC forced me to have I probably wouldn’t have been able to turn these negative experiences into learning and growing experiences.
So when you start thinking about studying abroad, you should also prepare to encounter people that will not think in the same way that you do, and that will challenge and belittle many of the things you feel strongly about. I hope that people don’t see this as a block in the road, but instead as a way to grow stronger as a person, as a way to become more tolerant, and open your eyes to the fact that different is good, and that the fact that people think differently doesn’t mean that they are bad or worthy of less than you are.
On a less serious side, I’ve had some awesome trips in the past couple of weekends that I’ll be writing about soon… For now enjoy some pictures from a quick trip to Aracena, Spain