During college, I studied abroad and for a year lived in Florence, Italy. There, I attended International Pastry School and fell in love—and not just with the pastries I frequently stuffed my face with. Living in Europe meant I could travel to places I had never even known existed and create friendships with people from people all over the world. These new discoveries lead me on a further quest to figure out what exactly made the concept of “study abroad” so wonderful.
Upon returning home to the University of South Carolina as a junior I was still on my study abroad high and told anyone willing to listen all about my ten months in Italy. I volunteered at every study abroad opportunity I could get my hands on and relied heavily on my mentor from SAI Programs provider. It was then; over halfway through my undergraduate degree that I realized I no longer had any interest in continuing with my current major. I began to channel all my passion into pursuing a career in international education. While it was unfortunately too late to change my major, I could still prepare for my new life calling by looking for opportunities and experiences that would enhance my knowledge of international education.
To gain further insight in the field, I shadowed the University of South Carolina Study Abroad Office and picked the brains of advisors, asking how they got their positions. It was my time in the office that planted the seed of teaching abroad in my mind. I sifted through the available resources and found myself thinking of a life on every other continent besides North America. My older sister taught abroad through the Ministry of Education program in Spain five years prior and I remembered going to visit her while I was still in high school.
In visiting my sister I had loved seeing a new country and meeting her students and friends, though it was not until after I myself had studied abroad that I considered following in her footsteps. In order to allow for the most personal growth and get the most out of an experience, it is necessary to have the individual passion and drive to do so. After living in a country by myself for ten months, the possibility of doing it again certainly sparked my interest. You can only tell someone about your experiences so many times before going out in search of more. I am a strong advocate that in order to understand, you have to experience things for yourself, without anyone else.
It was there I found myself, a college graduate, trying desperately to travel instead of starting a career in the industry of my studies. My sister brought up the Ministry of Education program again and I looked into it. The government of Spain hires native English speakers to teach English in the public school system throughout Spain, but the only teaching I’ve ever done was fitness classes in college. This lack of experience along with my less-than-wonderful Spanish skills made me kick myself in the shin for not studying “International Education” or having a language minor. If I wanted to pursue a career in higher education, I was going to have to find alternate routes.
On a whim, I applied and got accepted. However, I knew that my passion for travel alone was not enough to prepare me for a life teaching in Spain. After being accepted I quickly enrolled in Spanish classes in Washington State, trying to recover any of the Spanish I learned in high school. Soon after I planned a solo-backpacking trip through Costa Rica. Though I told myself “it was solely for my education,” I was also honestly itching to travel after moving back home after college.
Upon moving to Spain that September, I found myself full of questions—I had no idea what to expect. I was not sure if moving to another country after college was “study abroad round two” or something much larger. For example, instead of taking classes, I was now teaching them and responsible for children’s educations. Being set on pursuing a career in this field, I found myself having anxieties I’d always previously pushed from mind while traveling. I was worrying, felt lost, and worst of all, I was not letting my travels lead me. A few weeks into my move to Spain, though I realized that adventures could not be so regimentally planned.
With a new attitude I opened and readied myself for new challenges. Finding myself in charge of two hundred and forty high school students ranging in age from twelve to seventeen, I diligently prepared lessons and took advantage of the opportunity to help the students learn English. It’s true, traveling always has a way of changing you, but you too, can also change others along the way. Instead of focusing solely on my own personal growth and success, I had the ability to challenge others to grow and find their own journey. For reasons such as this, travel is both a success and a necessity.
In this time around, my “study abroad round two,” I have now found myself capable of more than ever before. I have signed up for Spanish classes to improve my communication with my students, coworkers, and neighbors. I am constantly looking for ways to improve myself and get the most of out living abroad. I want to expand my knowledge of the immensely large field of higher education. Above all, I have found the best ways to travel and experience things are to trust in the unknown.
Annie Tollefson is a native of Washington States. In her free time she enjoys bottomless cups of coffee, traveling to new places, spending time with her two dogs, and hiking. Earning a Bachelor of Science from the University of South Carolina in Hospitality Management, she loves to educate and inspire others to travel abroad. Annie has been to more countries than the number of birthday candles on her cake. She studied abroad at international pastry school in Florence, Italy during her undergraduate years and earned an “Italian Baking and Pastry Certificate”. Now calling Santiago de Compostela her home, Annie currently lives in Spain teaching English. She has her goals set on working for a study abroad provider when she returns to the States and eventually return to school to earn a Masters in higher education.