The idea of comfort zones is perhaps the most confining idea that exists in our society. As humans, we constantly search for reasons to stay inside the boxes we have created for ourselves and live in fear of those walls breaking down. I love my comfort zones, and the idea of stepping outside of them is typically the furthest thought from my mind. When I was deciding where to study abroad, I yet again chose to stay inside my comfort zone and pick a GW program where I would be surrounded by other English speaking students and a support staff that would take me easily through the semester. Fortunately, the tiny box I had built for myself was shattered, and every day in Madrid is full of endless hurdles, struggles, adventure, and indescribable joy.
Upon my arrival in Madrid, I spent three days with the group of students I would be taking classes and traveling with for the next semester. Those three days were pure bliss. And then, the bliss and simplicity was torn away from me when I met Angela, my host mom. Although I have been studying Spanish on and off for the past eight years, after “Hola,” I was lucky if I understood every seventh word that came spilling out of her mouth. She is a true Madrileña and speaks approximately four words of English; my world had just caved in on itself. Immediately, I regretted the decision to come to Spain and my mind was racing to find a way out. The next two weeks were one continuous struggle, but throughout that time Angela transformed from my host mom to my mom. My Spanish began to improve; I met her entire family, and in turn, became part of her family.
When I depart Madrid in December, my life will be changed for many reasons, but Angela will most certainly remain the most important part of my time abroad. Every day, we eat lunch and dinner together at 2:00 and 9:00 p.m., respectively. During these times I experience the true way Spanish families live throughout the country through the best food and drink I have ever consumed in my life and the lively discussion that comes about during these extended meals. As the European Union sits at a crossroads of issues ranging from the refugee crisis to failing economies, and Spain deals with the looming secession desires of Catalonia, the opportunity to spend hours discussing with Angela and her family is the greatest education I could ask for.
Of course, as much as I crave my time with my host family, my desire to travel has already pulled me in many directions. As this is my first time in Europe, literally everything is amazing, and my travels through Lisbon and Sintra, Portugal, Barcelona, Córdoba, Segovia, and Seville have been the best of my life. Throughout these trips, I am constantly reminded of the differences between here and home, and the importance of speaking multiple languages has become increasingly apparent.
As I continue to spend time in Madrid and travel through Europe over the next few months, I am confident that I will continue to break out of my comfort zones and make discoveries about the world and myself I didn’t know would be possible. I am beyond grateful for what is becoming the greatest experience of my life. I will leave you with Angela’s most important lesson: there is always room for “más comida.”
Seth Kwiecien is a Junior in GWSB pursuing a BBA in Marketing and Business, Economics and Public Policy. He is currently studying abroad through GW’s Madrid Program. To read more about it click here.