Travel can be stressful. Foreign languages can be stressful. Bus schedules can be stressful. New places can be stressful. This semester I’ve realized that traveling isn’t always the sunshine and rainbows that we see on social media or that people like to highlight. Sometimes it takes a couple mental breakdowns in a bathroom stall in an airport to get to that point. If you can’t tell, I speak from experience.
This semester, I’ve had my fair share of difficulties. Just to name a few, there was the tent that floated out from underneath me in El Chalten, the six-mile walk at six in the morning through sand dunes and a river to meet our reservation in Cabo Polonio, and the hundreds of conversations I’ve held in Spanish that just didn’t make any sense.
Of course, these situations aren’t the most pleasant of experiences. In fact, they can be a huge annoyance. When they’re happening, I constantly bother myself with the “why’s.” Why didn’t I put the tent at higher ground? Why couldn’t I have booked a cab before the company closed to take us to the reservation? Why am I so horrible at Spanish?
But in reality, these situations are what made my semester the beautiful experience that it was. When I look back at all these little adventures, I remind myself that I figured it out in the end, and I made it to where I am now. Yes, I was cold and wet when my tent flooded, but here I am right now, in my warm bed writing a blog post, and now I’ll always make sure to put my tent at high ground. Yes, I was exhausted when walking through the sand dunes in Cabo, but I also was able to catch the sunrise on that walk, and there’s nothing more beautiful than an Uruguayan sunrise. Yes, I know that I put myself into embarrassing situations with my lack of Spanish fluency, but with each conversation, I’m getting better! I survived these ridiculous situations that I got myself into and I have the memories to show for it.
I came into this experience as a girl who had barely traveled, spoke no Spanish, and knew practically nothing about the country of Uruguay. Four months later, I am leaving as a girl full of one-of-a-kind experiences, a new understanding of different cultures, and a second home.
Don’t be fooled when people tell you that they had a perfect semester abroad. They didn’t. It can be messy and it can be stressful, and sometimes breathing techniques are necessary to get you through the day, but it can also be the most wonderful experience you’ll ever have. Even the coldest, wettest, unluckiest, most chaotic, overwhelming situations, can be beautiful. If you can’t tell, I speak from experience.
Lindsey Towle is a journalism and global health major at the University of Iowa, who will be spending her semester in Montevideo, Urugauy, in a program administered by the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC).