Letters from Abroad: Natalia Oliveira

Nat takes on the challenge of studying abroad…for the second time. Photo from Natalia Oliveira.

By Natalia Oliveira, Guest Writer

As some might know, I am a Brazilian studying in the U.S. They were not kidding about the “best years of your life” being in college.  I have had so much fun, had so many different experiences, met unforgettable people and learned a lot inside and outside of the classroom.

But sometimes a life time opportunity within another life time opportunity just knocks on your door, and you definitely do not say no to those. Somehow I was blessed to study abroad again, this time to even further lands, into a language I was less acquainted with than English. Honestly it was not real to me until the very day of my flight to Spain.

The driving towards the airport was excruciating; I realized that I wouldn’t be spending my last semester with my friends, there would be no more volleyball team to rely on, and all the cultural knowledge I fought so hard to adapt during my four years in America were just not going to work in Europe. I was a freshman all over again.

Needless to say that my family noticed the panic in my face right away. My sister dealt especially well with it; she laughed as hard as she could of my obvious fear. The sudden contrast between my tears and her laugh brought me to reality, and I realized how silly I was being. I was presented with a blessing; a big one! How many people get to have their stressful senior year with half of the load they are used to? I was no longer a student athlete that tried to work a few hours as possibilities allowed. I became a student, a student in Spain, a student in Spain who had infinite possibilities of time use.

As I arrived in the country and my nerves start settling down, I found myself among at least 70 more “outcasts” as lost as I was, anxiously waiting for the beginning of our adventure, and willing to put their guards down in order to find friends to rely on. From there on, everything just started developing naturally as the ISA program had already schedule excursions in Madrid, Málaga and Toledo on our way to our final destination: Seville. Honestly, those places were so full of beauty and history that the last thing we had to worry about was to come up with small talks.

When we arrived in Seville the real deal started: meeting the host families, start of classes, walking around a city that has no regional sense (you never know if the streets will suddenly curve around and take you to the completely opposite direction you originally intended to).

Personally, I’ve had a great experience with my Señora. She is a sweetheart that pays attention to every detail in our tastes and lives. Once I didn’t eat the lettuce in the plates, and now I always get extra tomatoes. I don’t have time to come back home to have lunch, and she will make me a take out. I leave the house in a hurry because I overslept and forget to make my bed; I come back to a perfectly tidy room.

The biggest struggles here are the classes. Only one is actually held in Spanish, which I am doing surprisingly well in. All the others are held in English; however, the grading and testing systems are different.  They are a lot more critical thinking than I am used to in the U.S., plus there is no such thing as an “outline”. If you have been through 150 pages during class time until test date, you better study each one of those, because questions are very broad to the point that to get full points they request specific answers and relationships between the various subjects studied. In other words, if you get above an 80, you have excelled, and a 50 is considered average (yes, very strange).

And the language? My Spanish is coming up decently well, thank you very much.

As for my extra time in hands?  It really was not that hard to fill in.

I have found a great group of friends that loves to walk around and get to know new monuments and spots. I signed up for the intercambio program that provides the students with a Spaniard that wants to improve his/her English in exchange for helping us with our Spanish. I get to run along a huge and marvelous river that is 5 minutes away from my home stay.

I am volunteering for Asociación para el Progreso y Desarrollo del Pueblo Gitano, which helps with the economic integration of gypsies into the Spaniard society. I am assisting with English as a Second Language classes for 6, 8 and 13 years old of a private school (ironic, no?). Furthermore, have I mentioned I have been to France, Portugal, Morocco and planning to visit England and Germany as well?

I was provided with an opportunity that was very scary at first, but as soon as I opened my mind and my heart to it the most incredible things have been happening. I am living a dream I have not dreamed of.  A dream that was only provided to me with the help of many other people who did everything within their power to make it happen: my coaches, Veritas workers, my parents, and many others. And as always, the emotional and prayer support of my friends and family cannot be ignored, nor can my sister’s hysterical laugh at the right moment.

God gave me an early graduation gift, and I love it!