Three Lessons I Could Have Only Learned by 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

Self-reflection is important. I already knew this before coming to Bilbao, but I had no idea how crucial it would be to my study abroad experience until now.

I have always been pressured by in-class participation. I can be shy, and I tend to use this as an excuse usually resulting in a mediocre participation grade. I’ll participate in class, but only after I’ve thought it through for a while, and this was made clear to my Spanish Conversation class at my University when I tried to explain that I was shy because of a limited Spanish vocabulary. Disagreeing with me, our professor immediately responded saying she’s “sure I act the same way when I speak English”. That’s when it clicked for me: It’s not my lack of vocabulary at all, I know more than I think I do; it’s just more natural for me to hesitate before I speak up. It’s my personality, and even a language barrier can’t hide it. Once I understood this, it became clear to me that my personality would shine through no matter what language I was speaking.

Allowing my personality to shine meant that I had to speak freely and honestly. As someone who is more cautious, this wasn’t always easy for me to do. But, there was something that tremendously helped me break this hesitance: I surrounded myself with people who wanted to learn, and these people were my language conversation partners. I initially signed up for conversation partners at my University for the sake of practicing languages with native speakers; it never occurred to me the kind of friendship that would come out of an experience such as this. What started as meeting for coffee and exchanging colloquial phrases in our native languages turned into much more. Together, we were exploring different displays of ‘Belenes en Bilbao’ (nativity scenes in Bilbao) or attending a local film festival. We brought groups of our friends together, shared our stories, and listened to one another all for the sake of learning.

Something that brings a story to life for me is knowing who it’s coming from. At some point in my life, I want to hike the most famous pilgrimage across Spain known as the Camino de Santiago. One of my friends in my ISA program spent a weekend on the Camino, and through a conversation I had with him, I noticed that I am a ‘people-person’: we all are. Because of my introverted personality, I always thought I was a ‘paper-person’. But, talking with my friend made me realize that no book or movie has ever impacted me as much as hearing his stories in person. He shared how the Camino fosters an environment of vulnerability and openness which allows people to leave lasting impressions on one another, and this left a huge impression on me.


‘Pamplona’: While I was reading the book, El Peregrino de Compostela by Paulo Coelho, I visited the “Monument to the Pilgrim” along the Camino de Santiago with my ISA program near Pamplona, Spain.

Your Discovery. Our People… The World Awaits.

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