Ohio University

Maggie Riley’s homestay in Spain offers opportunity to hone Spanish language skills and travel across Europe

I’ve been seeing a post appear in my Facebook feed a lot lately, one that has resonated with me greatly.

New York is 3 hours ahead of California, /
But that doesn’t make California Slow. /
Someone graduated at the age of 22, /
But waited 5 years before securing a good job. /
Someone became a CEO at 25, /
And died at 50. /
While another became a CEO at 50, /
And lived to 90 years. /
Someone is still single, / 
While someone else got married. /
Obama retired at 55, /
While Trump started at 70. /
Everyone in this world works based on their time zone. /
People around you might seem to be ahead of you, /
And some might seem behind you. /
But everyone is running their own race, in their own time. /
Do not envy them and do not mock them. /
They are in their time zone, and you are in yours. /
Life is about waiting for the right time to act. /
So relax. /
You’re not late. / 
You’re not early. /
You are very much on time. /

Admittedly, I had quite an unhealthy habit of comparing my “timeline” to others. Although I was never envious of anyone, I would quietly tell myself things like, “Everyone else is there. You should be there too”. I cannot pinpoint what it originally stemmed from, but I know I was always a little self-conscious of being one of the older kids, growing up. You know how if you have a summer birthday, you’re either awkwardly old or young? I was one of those who was awkwardly old. While it was fun to be the first one to drive, and one of the first to turn 21, it was definitely strange to be turning 19 shortly after graduating high school when I had classmates who were still 17. 

Then, you get to college. There is pressure to figure out what you want to do and graduate in four years. This is the expectation regardless of whether you loved every subject in high school or struggled to find even one you could tolerate. Universities tailor programs to perfectly fit that timeline and it’s what parents expect. Perhaps, the most daunting is that most scholarships cannot be renewed after eight semesters. 

I came undecided to the College of Engineering at Ohio University. After a semester, I chose Chemical Engineering due to my love of chemistry, and well, the fact that I had to pick a specialization at that moment to graduate on time with an engineering degree. Luckily, despite the frustration, extremely late nights, and sometimes tears, I still think I made the right decision. I passed my classes and was, in the traditional sense, perfectly on track to graduate in 8 semesters. 

I started looking for internships for the summer after my junior year. After countless applications to lots of companies, I was offered a two-semester-long co-op with Valero Renewables. It was an amazing opportunity, but accepting it meant that I would be missing the fall semester of my fourth year, pushing my graduation date back a calendar year. It also meant that I would have to move away from the town I had begun to call a second home during one of the last times that a lot of my friends would still be living in the same city.  However, I ended up pursuing the opportunity, and that was the first decision that began to shape the past year of my life. 

I really enjoyed my co-op. I got exposure to so many different parts of being a “real” engineer, and my coworkers were great. I also got to explore some cool things around Columbus because that was not where I grew up. However, it was emotional for me towards the end of summer when I saw my classmates and friends filter back into Athens knowing I would not be joining them. During the summer, I lived with a friend from Ohio University, and went either to my parents’ home or to Athens almost every weekend. During the fall semester, I moved in with a girl I never met before who ended up becoming a great friend and introducing me to more people and great things in Columbus. 

Early fall, I began thinking about coming back to Ohio University in January and what courses I would be taking. Missing the fall semester meant that I could not catch up with my classes until the next fall, so I was going back to campus to start working on my business minor. One day, I had the crazy idea to not go back to school quite yet because I would be struggling to pick up a full course load during my final few semesters even with the business minor. I started looking for other internships, but nothing came through. I eventually started considering going abroad after a casual discussion with my roommate one evening when she told me about spending her summer in New Zealand. I started researching study abroad programs in English-speaking countries but was not drawn to any of them. When I was in high school, I was taking Spanish as my foreign language option, but hadn’t taken it since. I did remember enjoying and being decent at it, though. I bought a workbook for twenty dollars at Barnes and Noble to refresh my memory, started saving money from work, and began looking into programs in Madrid and Barcelona.

I eventually decided on a program in Madrid. I am writing this from my bedroom there, where I am participating in a homestay with a Spanish family. I live with a nice woman and her grandson. Living with them allows me to learn about various aspects of the culture as well as improves my speaking skills. I have met students at my university from all around the United States and the world through my program. I have had the opportunity to travel around Spain and to other countries in Europe like Ireland, Austria, and Poland, and plan to go to others in the future. I have also made friends here who I believe I will stay in touch with for my whole life. I have also learned more about myself, what I want in the future, and the world around me.

I think when I return to the United States I will be more patient. Although I never saw myself as an intolerant person, I had never been in the language minority before. I now know, first-hand, how frustrating it can be when you feel like you cannot communicate well. I know what I am saying, but because of my accent, sometimes people cannot understand what I am trying to say unless I speak slowly. For example, I cannot pronounce my rrs correctly in Spanish which has led to some confusion from my host mom.  It can also be frustrating when you knew you did know a word in the past, but during the time you need it you cannot remember. I think those experiences will help me emphasize with those in the United States whose first language is not English.

A year ago, I would have never seen myself do the things I have pursued. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone allowed me to have a great experience in my first “real world” role, explore what life is outside of the mid-western United States, and become proficient in another language. I have learned to not be afraid to say yes to opportunities, and to worry less, focusing more on the present. If I would have stayed in my old mindset, this would not have been the most positively life-changing year in my life so far.