We are taught to be “global citizens” in the Breech School of Business but I often question what that really means. In the last semester, I have concluded that it is a two part equation: the willingness to walk in another’s shoes and being confident to jump into new situations. Throughout my semester I walked in many different shoes, and even wore through a few soles. I was faced with many new and sometimes scary situations but it made me a stronger, more confident young woman. Simply put, studying abroad is a chance to experience a different way of life, which can directly benefit ones future success.
The most beneficial experience during my time in Spain was my total submersion into a Spanish home. My housemother Pilar was both terrifyingly expressive and incredibly loving. There were many unexpected cultural barriers that were thrown my way within the first hour of my arrival. The biggest clash arose when she found out I was a vegetarian, and for weeks she attempted to transform me into a meat eater. The battle for me to eat meat was one of the very few arguments that the fierce sixty-year-old did not win.
After about two weeks, Pilar and I were the best of friends since we were both avid fans of politics and very active supporters of the feminist movement. With the economic depression in Spain, daily protests were commonplace. With Pilar’s assurance that the strikes and protests were safe, I took to the streets nearly every week soaking up all the raw political passion I could. The national strike on March 28th was one of the most powerful demonstrations of public dissent I have ever witnessed or read about. With participation of over three-fourths of the population, the Huelga General combating the conservative Spanish government taught me that it is possible to achieve unity across an entire country when people are willing to work together.
Everyday Pilar and I would discuss politics, ranging from John Edward’s affair to the French presidential election – all in Spanish of course. Our day-to-day discussions are not something I could have experienced in any classroom setting. Our in-depth chats went much further than talking elections. The characteristic I admired most about Pilar was her courage to be bold. She had no problem telling me exactly what the Spanish thought about the United States, and its citizens. She berated me about wasting natural resources and how the U.S. is always intervening in other countries affairs. She believed us to be warmongers always looking for a fight. There were so many different jabs she took towards the United States but they never offended me because many of them rang true.
Stepping outside of one’s comfort zone is the first step towards personal growth and becoming a global citizen. Traveling across the globe without the security blanket of parents, friends, cell phones, wireless internet devices, and the English language, forces you to rely on your own skills and courage. In Spain, I had to venture out on my own, navigating my way through bus stops, international airports, and back alleys. You learn to rely on yourself. Self-confidence and a sense of adventure are vital both abroad and in the business world. I believe that my four months in Spain gave me a fresh perspective on the world and a sense of accomplishment for surviving and thriving all on my own.