Take a moment to read this beautiful story written by our story contest winner, Chloe Imhoff, this spring!
A Beginning Not an End, by: Chloe Imhoff
How do you put an entire semester into a blog post- especially when that semester changed the way you look at the world, the way you look at others, and the way you live your life? I don't think it is possible, but I am going to try to put all the thoughts in my head down on paper. On a side note, of course I am writing this while listening to Vitamin C- Graduation (--get the tissues) is there any other way to end something?
Way too often we get caught up in our small world- our routines, our to do lists, our lives, that we forget that others exist outside our bubble. We are just a small piece in this giant world. There is such a focus on the deadlines, the need to be perfect, the need to achieve greatness that the small moments escape our attention. By focusing on the end goal, we miss the small steps that took to get there. That is how I was living my life last semester. In order to understand the impact this semester had on my life, you need to understand where my thoughts were at the end of last semester.
Last semester (fall 2014) I got caught up in others opinions of me and my future, and something I used to love, school, became something I dreaded. I call last semester my quarter life crisis. It was hard and I didn't sleep. I began questioning my future. I faced friends and family (not intentionally) putting down my future profession. On a daily basis I was asked if I was challenged during my classes or the assumption that my classes are easier than the science, math, and business classes my peers were taking. These questions were coming during a time when I was drowning in tests, projects, and papers. Easy? Is that what this is supposed to be? I began to doubt my intelligence. I must not be smart enough to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer was a mantra I began to live. I began to believe these people who have never seen the magic of a teacher. I was ready to quit.
I arrived in Spain ready for a change, and ready to discover a new life direction. Life is funny how it works, because while I was here in Spain I began to volunteer once week in a school. I was in a five year old classroom during their English hour. When I arrived, the teacher kept asking me for weeks if I was sure this was the room I wanted to be in, because 'these children are crazy.' I assured her that yes, I wanted to stay in her room. She took that as a green light to hand over the entire classroom to me. Bad decision. The students chose not to listen to directions in English (they understand a lot more than you'd think), and because I spoke limited Spanish and had no vocabulary for 'educational Spanish' (ie. disciplinary vocabulary) the children went crazy. Picture the scene from mean girls when she's imagining the girls as animals- that was exactly how the children were acting. At one point I simply stood at the front of the room and watched as the children ran around, tackling each other to the ground, and standing on chairs screaming. I froze. I had always had control over children, so I figured this moment proved it, everyone was right, I was not made to be a teacher. Not wanting to break my commitment I continued to volunteer, and something amazing happened.
During this semester one of my friends in my program stated that sometimes it takes the tourist to see the beauty that goes unnoticed by the rest of society. That statement is extremely true. I learned that if you open your eyes, look around there is beauty in everything and I honestly believe that we can find thanks anywhere we look. I began to look around at the world I was living in. I began to embrace the culture even if that meant bocadillos for lunch everyday. I noticed the beautiful architecture, and got to know the others within my program (maybe too well?) Due to the Spanish culture, life slowed down, and I was sleeping for 8+ hours a night for the first time in forever. On the daily I laughed till tears came out of my eyes, and I was walking everywhere enjoying the outdoors. I was happy and I was content. The best part was I beginning to fall in love with the Spanish language for the first time in my life. All of this was happening, and I was still volunteering at the school, where every week I was learning more and more.
Once I understood the culture better, I was able to understand the reasoning behind the teaching styles. I was able to understand the children's behaviors. The simple act of understanding and the will to seek to understand changed everything. These 'crazy children' transformed into some of the most loving caring children I've ever met. In three months they transformed from wild animals who wanted me gone to peaceful children who fought over who got to hold my hand while walking to recess. Their English also improved. I saw children who never uttered one word of English suddenly begun speaking in full sentences. It was amazing to see how much of a difference three months could make, and my thoughts began to change again. Whenever I went to the classroom I felt like that was where I belonged. I remembered the reasons why I wanted to become a teacher. I found my passion again, and I was able to fit into a society across the world. It was eye opening, and amazing.
This study abroad experience was more about learning outside the classroom than within. It was about taking chances, and putting yourself out there. My experience was what I made of it, how many opportunities I seized, and what I did with my free time. Am I going to lie and state that every moment was amazing. No, but those moments teach you a lesson and they also help you grow. Sure, there were difficult moments. I was in a foreign country for 3 months, and had to adjust to the way another culture lives. Of course I miss aspects about home, but the more you begin to accept a new way of living, the less the little things about home matter. To be honest if it wasn't for my friends and family who are anxiously awaiting my arrival, or chicken nuggets and ranch, I don't know if I would ever return home.
Returning home will be weird, and there will definitely be reverse culture shock. While it will be nice to be home, there is fear that somehow I won't fit into the life I left. Every person in the program has grown in some way. I can assure you that we are not the same as when we arrived, but that is okay, because that is the beauty of life- it twists and it turns. I will miss my bunk bed (okay, probably not, sorry Quinn). I will miss the afternoons by the river, walking by the beautiful cathedral everyday, and the children at the school. I will miss Plaza de España and the Alcazar. I will miss Gitana Loca- the best hangout location with the cheapest food and drinks. I will miss Bolas with the best dairy free ice cream in the world. Most of all, I will miss the people who have grown along side me, who have sat and listened through every story about my life, and who always know how to make me laugh-- (do you know what I mean?) Unfortunately we cannot slow down or stop time, so I guess it is time to say goodbye to Sevilla, SAIIE, and everyone in it.
I was given the world. That statement by itself sums up my semester. I was able to see places that I had only ever dreamed I would be able to see. My eyes were opened, and I learned about different cultures. I traveled all throughout Spain, traveled to Portugal, traveled to Morocco, and traveled to Ireland. The amazing part is that my adventure is not done yet. On Friday I have to say goodbye to a city that captured my heart along with some of the kindest people I've met in my life, but I have been opportunity to travel for a month to more places within Europe and I couldn't be more grateful. If you know me, I hate goodbyes because they mean the end has arrived, but if this semester has taught me anything, it's that while I will be saying goodbye to Sevilla, this is not an end, but rather this is a beginning. A beginning to simply be. A beginning to continue to find where I fit into this massive world. A beginning of traveling, exploring, and discovering. A beginning not an end.