I figure the best way to keep myself accountable is to set goals for this blog and for my study abroad trip before I leave, so I can’t make excuses later. The items on this brainstormed list aren’t in any particular order.
I can play the camera-happy tourist role, snapping photos of everything in sight, but I always forget to include myself in those pictures. Having a photo of myself standing in the Pantheon would be a lot cooler than a photo of the empty marble floor inside the ancient structure that could’ve been taken by anyone. Because I’m a visual person, I know that taking pics is the best way for me to remember the breathtaking views I’ll encounter.
Respect cultural values
It’s easy to forget that not everyone lives the same way as we do in the U.S. I’ll need to remember that other cultures may have different values or norms that I should respect, even if I may not always like them. Part of studying abroad is realizing that other worldviews and lifestyles exist. For example, Spain is what is often called a “polychronic” culture by anthropologists. Instead of quickly accomplishing one task at a time, people in polychronic cultures juggle several tasks over a longer period of time. In contrast, the U.S. is a monochronic culture that views time as a commodity to be spent or wasted.
Because I’m not much of a regular traveler (my parents’ house is only about 30 minutes from my university), I chronically overpack. I’m also a worrywart–like I really needed eight books for the plane to the Philippines (spoiler alert: I did not). I’m making it my goal to only pack the necessary items for the next six months and buy the rest there. It will be an exercise in self-control.
Speak Spanish – not English!
One of the reasons I chose Spain was to improve my Spanish speaking skills, and I can’t do that if I use English as a crutch while I’m there! Since I’ll be staying with a host family, it’s considered rude to talk to my roomies in English. Plus, only one of my classes will be taught in English. I hope to force myself to learn new Spanish vocabulary and phrases and put them to good use–all the time.
Make new friends
Although I’m naturally an introvert, I want to get myself out there and befriend actual Spaniards, whether they’re fellow classmates or just someone at the grocery store. Speaking with native sevillanos and finding common ground with them will help me learn more about their culture and help me feel more at home there.
Travel outside Spain
As I mentioned before, I’m a homebody. I like to stay in one place and enjoy my surroundings, and I’ll probably be studying and chilling in Sevilla for most of the time. But it’s not every day that I get to live in Europe, and I want to take full advantage of being only a train or plane ride away from the vineyards of France and the museums of Italy.
Be open to new adventures
Like all of us, I get anxious thinking about foreign cities and unfamiliar customs even as I’m hopelessly excited about the very same. But I have to remember that sometimes I need to break out of my comfort zone if I want to explore the world. (I still draw the line at eating crazy stuff like frog legs, though.)
Stay in contact with my family and friends in the States
Sometimes, this goal is the hardest to remember. When I’m snorkeling in the Pacific Ocean, I’m not thinking about my loved ones back home and whether they’re worried about me. But every couple days or so, it’s important to check in with my family and close friends so they don’t imagine horrible plane crashes. It’s also nice to gush about the amazing day I had in words rather than impersonal Facebook photos.
Once I get to Spain, I’ll probably break these promises–both intentionally and unintentionally. At least now, when I’m nearing the end of the spring semester, I’ll be able to look back and see how many of these goals I’ve met.
On my self-imposed study abroad “report card,” I’m aiming for at least a B+.