We asked fellow Dreams Abroad members what they would do differently if they were just starting out on their adventures now. Amanda shares her journey in a two-part piece about the unique circumstances in her life that challenged her to be where she is today. Here is what she had to say.
I arrived in Madrid in September 2016. This piece describes what I’ve overcome to get here, and how I managed to build a life, find work, and discover love in a new country.
Some of the things that I write about apply to me and very few others. Other things may sound typical and oh-so-obvious. Hopefully, I can provide some advice for the next poor sod who is broke, naive, and terribly desperate to travel but, like me, can’t or won’t join the military.
First though, I would like to tell you a little bit about myself, as it may provide some insight into some of the decisions *internally shudders* that I have made. Spoiler alert: It’s nothing too exciting. I never had to sell a kidney or any other organs, thank goodness.
Who The Heck Am I Anyway?
I am a small-town girl. Ugh. This already sounds so wholesome that I want to barf. As I was saying — a small-town girl looking to see the big, bright world. Liberal-arts-educated in an obscure university in a town that no one has ever heard of. Growing up, there wasn’t a lot of money. Fortunately, I was motivated to get good grades and earn scholarships for college.
It wasn’t always that way though. I remember being in grade school and bringing home a lot of Cs (and worse). My mom began working with me using flashcards, and I studied every night until I got my grades up. Once I began reading (mostly thanks to our school’s Accelerated Reader program in fifth grade) everything locked into place and my scores shot way up.
Later, in my early teens (and I didn’t realize it at the time) I was dealing with some fairly crippling anxiety and mild depression. I have to give a lot of credit to our hard-ass school counselor for helping me with the scholarship process in high school and beyond. I felt so terrified of rejection that I didn’t even apply to schools (let alone for financial aid). I remember being in the library reading one day when the counselor walked in. She asked if I had applied to college or for scholarships. When I answered “no,” she put the forms in front of me and even turned them in for me. Not many people have that kind of support in their lives. I was, and remain, so very appreciative for her involvement.
Amanda Goes Abroad
While in college in Tahlequah, OK, I finally got my first chance to travel with a program called CIEE. Their study-abroad credits were the only ones accepted by my university. I scraped, begged, borrowed, and saved the money to be able to go to Buenos Aires, Argentina for six weeks to study Spanish. Damn, what an adventure. It was my second time being on a plane. Boarding that colossal hunk of metal alone was the most heart-racing, optical-migraine-inducing experience that I have ever had. In one of the essays that I wrote to land a scholarship for that project, I talked about wanting to visit ”The Paris of South America,” Buenos Aires. I wanted to experience South America and Europe at the same time. It wouldn’t be until I went to Spain several years later that I would realize just how much European culture I had already experienced having been to Buenos Aires. Being in Argentina got me out of my comfort zone. I had always thought that I wanted to see the world, but if I hadn’t been hooked before seeing Buenos Aires, I certainly was after.
Going alone to a place so “foreign” gave me a confidence boost that was bigger than anything I had ever known. Plus, 70% of Argentina’s population lives in Buenos Aires, so the city is absolutely massive. Seeing real cathedrals in all their glory, smelling fresh bread on every street corner, riding a bike in such an enormous city, hell, even learning to navigate a public transportation system (something we don’t have back home) was a life-changing experience for me. Six weeks later, I was back in the United States, finishing up my degree and hoping to travel again soon. Although I didn’t know at the time, that would have to wait four more years. After graduation, retail work, more retail, breakups, family tragedies, depression, feeling mired in, stuck, unable to claw my way out or being able to breathe, therapy, medication, and then finally working in social services was the Molotov cocktail that led me to decide that I really, REALLY, needed to go to Spain. I had already been south and it was time to go in a different geographical direction.
Soon you will learn more from Amanda about her adventure in Spain and hear what she has to say about her experience.