STEP in Madrid

For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by cultures that are different from my own and the ability to speak multiple languages. As an aspiring medical professional, I knew how crucial it would be for me to gain cultural competency and an appreciation for others’ cultures. As a result, when I was designing my STEP signature project, I wanted to combine these two personal objectives and immerse myself into another culture’s way of life. For my project, I chose to study Spanish language and culture in Madrid, Spain for approximately six weeks through an OSU approved third party provider called, ISA. In Madrid, I enrolled in an intensive Spanish program at a Spanish University where I took Spanish language courses for 20+ hours a week while living with a host family.

Going to Spain, I knew I was going to change as an individual, but I could not predict how is transformation would take place and the role it would have on myself. On the first day of orientation, the director of the program told me that I would never return back to America as the same person and I fully believe this statement. Being abroad, meeting new people, and gaining new perspectives is an extraordinary opportunity that helps you define who are and role that we individual play as human beings in society. My STEP project allowed me to develop independence, faith, confidence, and a deeper appreciation for human differences. More important, I learned how to slow down and live life.

Growing up as a military kid, I always believed that I was an independent individual. Due to my parents’ careers, I was used to taking care of myself and taking the initiative to achieve personal objectives. However, traveling abroad to Madrid allowed me to see independence from a different perspective. The independence I had was always supportive by the safety net of my family and friends. These individuals were all people whom I could consult for opinions regarding difficult situations or when a plan went awry.

However, as I traveled throughout Spain solo, I began to re-conceptualize the idea of independence. The challenge of navigating a large city such as on my own without cellular data was daunting. For the first time, my parents and friends were not a phone call away. But, the process of learning how to gather the courage to use my limited Spanish to ask strangers for directions allowed me to grow faith and confidence within myself. This exposure to independence and growth in confidence continued as I immersed myself into my Spanish institution where I had to make new friends, adjust to a new life style, and learn a new language.

This experience not only allowed me to develop independence, but I learned how to live life fully. One of the first things I noticed in Spain was the change in pace. My Spanish host family and friends truly to cherished every moment they spent with their family and friends. While abroad, I never felt pressured or rushed to get somewhere or to meet someone. The realization that work was driven to allowed people to live their lives became especially salient. This starkly contrasted to my Asian-American culture where one’s life is defined by one’s work. Having a constant reminder to enjoy the present has allowed me to achieve a better work-life balance as a student and aspiring professional. It also helped me realize that I had allowed my academic and professional ambitions dictate a large portion of my life.

Finally, having the opportunity to practice my Spanish with locals allowed me to learn to accept failures and mistakes. Throughout my life, I considered myself a perfectionist and lived up to this image where I always had to succeed. However, while partaking in “intercambios,” or conversational exchanges, with my new friends and host family, it became salient that failure and trying again are crucial components of the learning process. At first, I was extremely discouraged and embarrassed to continually make small mistakes. However, it began to see each mistake as an opportunity to improve! These are lessons that I am planning to actively apply to my academic, professional, and personal life.

My STEP project became a personal project to me that I am so thankful I have been given the opportunity to engage it. This experience has been valuable to me because it allowed me to develop in ways that would not have been possible if I had remained within my comfort bubble on campus. I am now more eager and prepared to engage in opportunities that seem daunting as first, especially as a woman of color. I am no longer scared of failure because it is an opportunity to become a better version of myself and learn. I know I am capable of being independent and executing my goals. These are all qualities that will build me to become a strong student and professional candidate.