“This One Time”: The Story I’ll Tell Future Students About Studying Abroad

Kate Klygis is a student at Denver University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Bilbao, Spain

This one time, we hiked so far from Bilbao that we had to take a train back to get home by midnight!

When I heard about the hiking club at my university in Bilbao, I was hesitant to sign up; there was a lot of information I didn’t know. Who will be there? Is my Spanish good enough for this? Despite these doubts, two of my friends and I signed up for a hike that would be leaving in just a few days.

The morning of the hike, I packed my bag and filled up my 1 liter water bottle: a strict requirement. I had more questions: What if they don’t think this rain jacket is good enough? I put an extra rain jacket in my bag. What if my friends don’t show up? Am I going to have enough food? I put on my boots and left my apartment. I was focusing so much on the things I didn’t know that I hadn’t even thought about what I already did know. I knew it wasn’t this group’s first time hiking, nor was it my first time either.

My friends and I met the rest of the group, and we headed towards our destination for the day- Pagasarri- one of the most popular hiking spots around Bilbao. I spent the first few hours imagining my place in the conversations I was overhearing between locals. I wanted to contribute, but I was unsure how they would react to me. So, I didn’t say anything. We arrived at the top of the mountain before 11am, to my surprise. Should I have told my host mom I’ll be home for lunch? We took a group photo and started on our way back down – at least I thought we did.   

I noticed the trail we were taking was different than the one we originally took. That’s when my friends and I overheard two group members trying to differentiate between the English words “so” and “sew”. I looked up and made eye contact with one of them. Knowing we spoke English, he asked for our help without hesitation. He asked us when we started learning Spanish. They asked why we chose to study in Bilbao. They asked us about our interests outside of school. We asked how hard it was to learn Euskera. I got to share why I love learning Spanish so much. We were so caught up in conversation that I didn’t even realize what time it was until we took our lunch break at 3pm.

This photo was taken right before our lunch break!

The daunting questions I kept in my head all morning were now replaced by more meaningful ones that I actually asked.“Why did you join this hiking club?” It was within these conversations that I learned something else important- just because the club says we’re hiking Pagasarri doesn’t mean it’s the only thing we’re hiking that day.   

I want this story to be an example to future study abroad students- don’t let the fear of the unknown limit your potential!


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