At SPI, we’re lucky to facilitate great study abroad experiences for amazing high school students who, no doubt, are going to leave their mark on the world. Gaby Wheatley, a high school junior from Austin, can count herself among those amazing students.
This year will be Gaby’s 2nd time studying abroad with us, so we asked her to write a blog post about what she loved most and how the experience influenced her! Gaby enthusiastically said, “Sure, I could do that!” and sent us this gem of a post. Without further delay, here is what it’s like to study abroad with SPI, as written by one of our alumni. Thanks, Gaby!
My name is Gaby Wheatley and I studied abroad with SPI. I smile every time I say that. Every time I even hear about Spain I am filled with nostalgia and a craving to do it all over again. I am 17 years old and I spent my past summer in San Sebastián immersing myself into the Spanish culture. Fortunately, my parents are big travelers so I have been able to accompany them and see a lot of the world. I had a lot of practice being in different cultures, but I didn’t really appreciate my blessings until I did it on my own. When I say “on my own,” I just mean without my parents (I went with my best friend Caroline). Going to a foreign country without my mom and dad caused me to look at traveling in a different way. In fact, it caused me to look at life in a different way.
I remember taking my first steps into the Spanish culture (the Madrid airport). I felt different. In a good way. I felt so big, so confident, and so happy. I mean, of course I felt pretty cool. I had just taken a 7 hour flight across the Atlantic without the help of my parents. In that moment I realized I am a beast, no question about it.
My best friend, Caroline, and I went on the Madrid extension and explored the beautiful cathedrals, palaces, and ancient sights of the romantic city. Such a big city. It required lots of walking, energy, and of course Spanish speaking. The truth is, I started the trip without even knowing how to order something in Spanish! When I realized this I wondered how I was supposed to eat paella and the delicious pastries I had been dreaming about for months. This lead me to having to step out of my comfort zone for the first time. I may have felt confident getting off the plane but as soon as I started craving Spanish cuisine I got a little anxious thinking about interacting in a different language. I knew I needed to leave my fears behind so I observed what looked like a native Spaniard order a cup of ice cream. He said, “Quisiera un helado de chocolate.”
Phew. A hungry American like me was relieved to have learned how to order ice cream.
At the beginning, it was a little scary, but after that awkward first time, I became a pro ice cream orderer. And trust me, once you arrive in Spain you need to be a pro because their ice cream is to die for.
On top of stepping outside of the box and learning to speak Spanish with confidence, I discovered the true feeling of peace (high schoolers sometimes forget what that feels like during a busy school year). The Spanish culture is so laid back and welcoming. Everyone, from my home stay parents to the surfing instructors, was so kind and I surprisingly felt more at home in San Sebastián than I do in Austin. During this trip, I found my home away from home and I also started to realize I love traveling.
I felt like I really grew up on this trip. Not physically (I’ve been 5’2 for the past 6 years) but mentally. I found my identity and I got to watch a lot of other teens experience the same. In addition to this, I was being myself and so was everyone else studying with SPI. All of us were already stepping outside of our comfort zones by leaving the country that it made it easier to be who we truly are. Since I’ve been back in Austin, I have continued being myself and I am so much happier.
Although I can’t travel during the school year, I can still dream of it. The closest way I could mentally travel was by starting a Study Abroad Club at my school and start my own blog. It doesn’t stop there; I wanted to encourage other teens to travel so I have created a travel blog renaming myself Global Gaby. After having a life changing experience in San Sebastián, I felt it was my duty to show teens how immersing yourself into a different country can create a positive change in your life.
After my return to Austin I felt deprived of fun but extremely blessed for being able to study abroad. It got me thinking how a lot of teens are missing out, not because they choose to miss out but because they can’t. There are teens around the world who want to explore places outside of their city but don’t have the financial support to do so. By this point, I was actually getting a little angry. Every teenager deserves a life changing experience like this one. It’s eye opening and brings pure joy and it’s not fair that people who can afford it get the experience this while others can’t. I then got together with Caroline and created a non-profit organization named Over the Seas Foundation. We hope to keep this organization growing so every teen with a desire to step outside their comfort zone can!
We can’t wait for Gaby to study with us in Spain again! After reading this post, we think you’d understand why. She is just one of the many great SPI students who choose to use their summer not only improve their proficiency in another language, but also have a ton of fun! Thanks again, Gaby, for the great student perspective!
If you’re an SPI student traveling this summer (or an alumni) and want to share your experience or what you’re looking forward to, send a quick email to Justine, [email protected], with your post or idea. We’d love to hear what you have to say!