My desire to travel began all the way back in the crib. If you ask my parents they would tell you I was the kid that just couldn’t stop moving. As soon as they put me down to sleep I would burst right back up and begin bouncing. When we used to go to my brother’s baseball games I would often disappear and my parents would find me running around in the sand pits and climbing soccer fences. I was the kid tapping my foot in the classroom with my head in the clouds. It wasn’t until I was 15 sitting in another classroom assembly that I finally realized just how I could keep moving.
This assembly wasn’t like the other hundred we had already sat through that year, but I think I was the only one who left it completely curious. It was put on by AFS Intercultural Programs, a program that specialized in sending secondary students on study abroad programs in over 50 countries. It was a movement starting back in 1914 as an ambulance service in France where Americans would treat wounded warriors. The program gained notoriety in the 1960s when program participants met with US presidents. John F. Kennedy’s Speech to AFS Students
Diplomacy is not just world leaders sitting in a meeting space talking about how to better achieve a peaceful world. It is found in all of us when we step foot on a new country. It is connecting with the natives and realizing how similar we really are. “Simple exchanges can break down walls between us, for when people come together and speak to one another and share a common experience, then their common humanity is revealed. We are reminded that we’re joined together by our pursuit of a life that’s productive and purposeful, and when that happens mistrust begins to fade and our smaller differences no longer overshadow the things that we share. And that’s where progress begins.”
– President Barack Obama
My parents were always hesitant about me studying abroad at the age of 16, but I think if you talked to them now they wouldn’t have had it any other way. Having studied Spanish throughout high school my first choice had been Spain. Unfortunately since the program was a year and could significantly delay my graduation I looked into other 6 month options. When I stumbled upon Italy it just seemed fitting. It was in the Romance language family which meant my 2 1/2 years of Spanish might help me with the language barrier.
The program is fairly simple as far as the process goes. You submit your application, get accepted, then receive your family which also includes your regional placement. If I recall correctly you only get to pick the country of choice but you region/city is assigned based on families available at the time. I ended up in the region of Calabria in the city of Cosenza. I did move families once for personal reasons, but was able to enjoy the rest of the program after that switch.
It wasn’t easy studying abroad at 16 but I know that the experience has paved my life up until now. The hardest part is at 16 you’re still completely unsure of who you are. You’re not quite old enough to feel secure in your decision making yet you’re old enough (in Italy) to be handed a glass of wine or beer. Considering I spent my whole study abroad experience in Italy; in AFS you can’t travel outside the host country without the host family. I still had this strong desire to go back since the day I stepped foot back in the US.
Fast forward 7 years, a college degree and one breakup later I found myself applying to Spain’s Auxiliares de Conversacion program for 2017-2018. Truth be told I wouldn’t have ever tried to live abroad again if I was still in that relationship. I wish I could say it was because the relationship was so good that I couldn’t picture living away from him but that just wasn’t the case. He didn’t support my goals to be abroad again which inherently made me start to forget about my dreams. Word to the wise: the moment you compromise your goals and dreams for another person, dump them.
I really didn’t think I had much of a chance with this program. I applied April 17th and the deadline was the 18th. This program essentially works off of a “first come first served’ basis. The lower your inscritta number is (aka the number they assign to you when you’re accepted) the more chance for you to get one of your chosen 3 regions as well as a spot at all.
Considering I was born and raised in California just 15 minutes away from the beach I tried choosing regions that were closer to the sea. I missed the fresh ocean air and sounds of the ocean. My choices were Balearic Islands, Cataluna region and Madrid. When assignments started pouring out in late May I felt compelled to check my email every 5 seconds to see if I got a region. June 19th I finally saw it come through.
“Ha sido adjudicada la plaza en Islas Baleares – España a su solicitud ******* del programa de Auxiliares de Conversación en España.” I stared at that email and burst into tears.
This program meant so much more for me that it might have the other 3500 applicants. It was the chance to reinvent myself after I spent 3 years pretending I didn’t care if I ever left the USA again. It’s the ability to meet new friends, learn a new language and visit places I’ve spent so much time using street view on google maps to see.
Now I have no idea what to expect from this program, but I’m ready for whatever is thrown at me. I’ve got my passport in hand, a savings account for a rainy day, luggage big enough to fit clothing for a year and a mind as clear as a sunny day in California. I’m ready for this new adventure and this time… nothing’s getting in the way.
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett,