Finding My Path in Spain

This is an excerpt from a larger piece for the Honors Program at Elizabethtown College. In it, Sara shares about her transformative study abroad experience in Valladolid, Spain, and how her time there led her to many important revelations about her future.

Though some may say the notion of studying abroad as an experience completely changing one’s life is merely a cliché statement, that idea was my exact sentiment while abroad. For many students who struggle with various issues—be they mental, familial, etc.—studying abroad offers an opportunity to not only escape those problems, but be reminded of the life waiting for them. Throughout my time at Elizabethtown College, I struggled with severe mental health issues, thus creating an experience that in some ways was anything but typical. I was not satisfied with merely “existing”—such a notion of going through the motions every day has always terrified me. Moreover, though I was an excellent student and had always been a high achiever in college, I truly felt I had no purpose. Not only could I not envision my life beyond graduation, but I could not even picture the kind of life many wish for—a family, a rewarding career, travel opportunities—and what it would entail. Yet within the first few days in Valladolid, I experienced something I had never felt before: true happiness. I remember gazing out over the tops of the city buildings and watching the morning doves perch precariously on the tips of the tree branches. I could not believe this life was not only attainable, but it was finally mine. After three days of being in Spain, I made the decision to switch to Spanish as my primary major, and when my close friend Tiana—a former Elizabethtown College student—called me, I burst into tears when I told her I was happy.

Though there were many things I appreciated about Spain, several stood out. Spain has a truly family-oriented culture: grandparents take primary roles in assisting parents with their children, entire families—including cousins and other relatives—eat lunch with each other every day, and there is a sense of protectiveness among family members I have not always observed here in the United States. Moreover, people truly “work to live” rather than “live to work,” meaning they view employment as simply a means to spend more time with those they love and enjoy life, not the main focus of their attention. This family-focused atmosphere provided a model for my own life; I realized although work can be meaningful and enjoyable, having a family is my single most important goal. I also appreciated Spain’s laid-back lifestyle—Spaniards typically spend hours enjoying café con leche at coffee shops with their friends, and time is not a crucial concern. While studying abroad I learned to value the relationships in my life and enjoy them a bit more; I had always been very studious and reserved during my early years at Elizabethtown College, yet I did not allow for many opportunities to “slow down” and appreciate the finer things given my rigid schedule. Traveling alone to such places as Iceland also confirmed for me what I already knew, but what others had always doubted; I am highly adaptable, independent, and have the ability to pursue whatever experiences I wish.

Another crucial realization I experienced in Spain relates to my future career. For the past several years, I have always envisioned different professions with the same no-nonsense mindset: I would pursue a PhD in the Spanish language solely because I “would do well,” or perhaps I would attend law school because I was “argumentative and intelligent.” Yet what was always missing from my career opportunities was the sense of fulfillment; instead of pursuing my passions and choosing something I enjoyed, I was merely determining my future profession based on others’ expectations of what I would excel at. This attitude changed drastically while I lived in Valladolid. I discovered I had a true, earnest passion for teaching, in part because I loved watching the light bulb “appear” over my students’ heads when they realized they understood the lesson material. Furthermore, being able to help Spaniards learn English and thus unlock entirely new cultures and perspectives is an indescribable feeling. Teaching English as a second language allowed me to understand just how marketable my skills were, and receiving such positive feedback from my E-town Spanish professor, Dr. Linares about my accent and improvement in Spanish confirmed that not only do I have a gift for learning languages, but I cannot under any circumstances allow my dreams of being a teacher to die. Due to these experiences abroad, I applied for a Fulbright ETA grant in Galicia, Spain and plan to apply for a number of additional government-funded teaching opportunities.

This paper, and its associated presentation, is part of a series of study abroad narratives written for the Honors Program. If you are an Honors student, you too can earn four Honors credits through your study abroad experience! To learn more about the BCA Valladolid program, click the hyperlink.

About the Author: Sara Allocco ’20 – 2018-2019 year in Valladolid, Spain

Sara Allocco is a senior Spanish and Political Science dual major at Elizabethtown College who studied abroad in Valladolid, Spain for the 2018-19 academic year. She incorporated extensive international travel into her junior year abroad (including a 6-day solo trip to Iceland!) and enjoyed working as an English teacher at the YMCA Valladolid and private tutor for Spanish children of various ages. Studying abroad was the most formative experience of her life, and she plans to return to Spain upon graduation to work as an English language assistant or teacher.

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