My name is Phoebe Hamilton. I am a senior studying Communication and Spanish at Southwestern University and am beginning to explore my future after college. I transferred to SU during my sophomore year after spending a year at The University of Alabama. Once I came to SU I immediately fell in love with the campus and beautiful community Southwestern has to offer, and each second here has been defining. At home, in Georgetown, I am the head captain of the Pirate Cheer squad and am very involved in the Southwestern Community. The best gift Southwestern has given me, however, was the gift of self-discovery and exploration through study abroad.

Growing up my family was always traveling to different places and we had many different cultures within our menagerie. My father travels around Europe for work, my step-father is an immigrant from the Czech Republic, and my brother lives in Valencia, Spain. Experiencing the global world has simply always been on my agenda as a human and more recently as a student. However, time- as it often does- ran away from me and as a junior finishing their fall semester I realized my dream of studying abroad, though consistent, was broad and directionless, and I was running out of time. Unsure of anything I ran to attend a group advising meeting for prospective study abroad students and stumbled into an API program to Spain for the spring semester. There wasn’t much thought put into the program, the process, or the future as time encroached on me. I was a Spanish minor and my brother lives in Spain so it seemed as good a choice as any to me. The SU faculty guided me through the process, and before I knew it I was on a plane to Spain.

In my study abroad experience I spent the majority of my time in Salamanca, Spain which is about 2 hours from Madrid. I lived with a host family who did not speak any English and I had a roommate from The University of Texas who I had never met before. It was like nothing I had ever experienced- both undeniably terrifying and irrevocably changing. Spending 5 months alone in Spain was by far one of the scariest things I have ever done. I was challenged in ways I never have been before and forced to grow through that struggle. However, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I wish I could explain the extent of wonder I felt getting the opportunity to study in such a beautiful, culture-rich area of the world and the awe that followed me through every unreal moment. Now, as I return to normalcy and prepare to graduate in May, it is as if every unbelievable moment was a dream.

Although the monuments were stunning, the food amazing, and the academic experience awakening, I don’t think I could summarize the true benefits of my time abroad in a simple statement of appreciation. I came back a brighter and better version of myself not because of any superficial picturesque moment that can be seen on my Instagram- but because of the impact of the atmosphere itself and the struggles I had to overcome, along with the pure joy I have been gifted. It took me a while to adjust to my new surroundings in Salamanca and even longer to make friends- so the first few weeks were a little lonely. At my lowest, I didn’t leave my host mom’s house for almost a week because I knew once I did I would inevitably be forced to stumble my way through a conversation in Spanish and I couldn’t shake my debilitating embarrassment. Ultimately I forced myself to break out of my own shame. I gathered every ounce of courage I possessed and began to explore everything at my disposal. First, I started small by going to a coffee shop by myself, and then I graduated to reaching out to other students in my classes. By the end of my journey, I had made so many wonderful memories and countless friends that I will never forget.

I was able to transform my Spanish skills while furthering my degree at the University of Salamanca and was granted the gift of seeing the world from a whole new perspective. Obtaining the opportunity to participate in the API program helped me to open my horizons and realize my true skill set as a student and embolden my confidence as a person. I plan to save each and every moment of my adventure close to my heart and can safely say that studying abroad has been an extraordinary, life-changing, piece of my Southwestern University journey.