Global Correspondents, Semester Abroad Finding Comfort in Discomfort
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February 15, 2023
Deepak Kejariwal, Wharton '24
Pompeu Fabra University, Spain
Deepak is one of the Semester Abroad Global Correspondents writing and sharing his experience abroad during the Spring 2023 semester. Follow along with the group of correspondents on our blog and look out for their images on the @pennabroad Instagram feed.
As I look back on my first month in Spain, I could not be more nostalgic. Life abroad has been emphatically better than I ever could have imagined. My morning walks to campus where I soak in the beautiful views of Sagrada Familia and greet Judie, the owner of my block’s panaderia who provides me with my morning cortado and bocadillo de jamón, are a welcomed 30 minutes to reset before what is always a busy day filled with new experiences.
In the weeks leading up to my study abroad experience, I always imagined myself enjoying all the romanticized parts of study abroad, such as backpacking through Europe, watching the sunset over Playa de la Barceloneta, becoming friends with students from all around the world, enjoying a tapas crawl in El Born (where I currently am sitting in a coffee shop writing this blog), or creating unforgettable memories with my classmates in the discoteca. While I have undoubtedly cherished these experiences, I’ve found that it was actually the unexpected
moments of discomfort that I have appreciated the most.
As a Hispanic Studies minor, the reason I chose to study abroad in Barcelona was to become immersed in the Spanish language and culture, and leave this abroad experience with a better understanding of how Spanish can fit into the larger context of another region of the world, besides the Americas. So, I signed up for a class called European Economy in Spanish... at 9am.
While I have taken multiple Spanish and Economics classes throughout my time at Penn, nothing could prepare me for the pace, rigor, complexity, and comfort that my professor and rest of the class so quickly expressed towards the subject. As an American, not only did I have no background knowledge of the way the European Economic system worked, but in my first few classes, I probably understood a 3rd of what my professor and classmates were saying. Compared to the classes I had taken previously, it seemed like everyone was talking at 2x speed. Each 1.5-hour lecture mentally felt like an entire day had passed and I frantically typed down any words I could piece together, creating a rudimentary document you could only generously qualify as “class notes”. I felt extremely unqualified to sit in that class and it took all my willpower to not email my course advisor to switch into the English section (which also so conveniently met at 2pm, instead).
However, it turned out that being thrown into the deep end was exactly what I needed. In the next few weeks, I suddenly could understand much more in class. I began to tentatively raise my hand to propose questions to the professor, and began responding to my classmates' points during discussion. My “notes” began to look like notes. While today I still experience strong moments of frustration during class, I can physically feel the progress I have made and am extremely grateful for the challenge that European Economics has presented.
While I always had the expectation to learn about Europe and the Spanish language while abroad, I always discounted the amount of discomfort it would take to get there. In my first month, I’ve come to appreciate and actively look forward to new experiences I otherwise would feel uncomfortable doing. As I look towards the next 3 months of my abroad experience — and even beyond to the rest of my time at Penn — I know that I will approach each day with the intention to try new things, step out of my comfort zone, and pursue avenues that bring me discomfort, because it is these moments that I know I’ve developed the most.
The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.