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By makenadingwell

I never thought the Scottish and the Spanish had much in common. Maybe blood sausages and a fondness for sports, but even that was a stretch. Nevertheless, the past week has been filled with conversations about Scottish independence and the potential influence on the issue of Cataluña in Spain.

To be fair, they warned us before we met our homestay mothers, “There are three things you shouldn't talk about: religion, politics, or football.” However, after only two weeks, religion had already come up a few times. The second topic of politics arose naturally over paella on Thursday afternoon, the day of the referendum. Reports about the upcoming vote in Scotland, or Escocia, were continuously broadcast on the television or radio every night that week, but I tried to tread lightly in conversation. The Scottish referendum was watched and reported on in great detail in Spain due to the notable influence on the possibility for Catalonian independence, and it seemed like everyone had an opinion in Madrid.

As Pilar, my host mom, took her time ornately preparing the salad and paella, since lunch is a multi-course meal here, the radio played various interviews of opinionated individuals in Cataluña and their view of “Escothia,” as they said in their Spanish accents. After we sat down and I complimented her on her renowned paella, she asked my about my morning classes. I delicately referenced my Political Science class and the debate we had about Scottish Independence. My professor was an expert on the Cataluña case, but I didn't know which side she supported so I spent some time in class trying to gauge her reactions.

She smiled and explained the complexity of the topic, particularly because it seems like everyone has a connection to Cataluña. She also avowed that everyone in Spain had an opinion because the Spanish are equally passionate and stubborn. She assured that we would all learn the next weekend especially on our program excursion to Barcelona. I nodded in response and referenced the lack of similar independence movements within the United States and she agreed. She looked up from her paella, smirked, and said in Spanish, “Seems like your country is better in both politics and football, hmm?”

By billienkatz

Before embarking on the study abroad journey, I was bombarded by people (both friends, family and professors) who said it would be a major lesson in independence. This was almost insulting at times because I view myself as an independent person to begin with. Over the course of the past few weeks, especially since I really started jet setting around Europe, I've started o understand what everyone was talking about.

There is a sense of adaptability, resiliency, and go-with-the-flow attitude that is necessary while studying abroad, and in turn this manifests itself into a new form of independence. For the first time in my life I've been navigating myself around foreign cities where I don't speak the language and have limited access to WiFi and can only occasionally rely on google maps. For example, this past weekend I took advantage of having a Thursday off of school and took a five day trip to Rome and Florence. I was flying round trip in and out of Rome, and faced with taking the train from Rome to Florence and back again. I had already taken the train in Spain and had expected the process to be flawless and easy; however, as you can probably assume it was not.

First, I speak no Italian and despite what I thought before arriving, it really isn't recognizably similar to Spanish. Then, once I couldn't figure out the lines at the ticket office and weird number calling system (I had number A312 and they were called N4 and R109) I decided to give it a go at the ticket kiosk, which didn't work either. I don't have the chip in my debit card that all the European machines read, so my transaction was unable to be completed.

I should also mention that it was now approximately 2:23 and I had to get on the  2:31 train that was the last one going from Rome to Florence until the next morning. Low and behold, and only after  being forced to tip the man who helped me figure it out,  I was en-route to Florence. While this obviously isn't my most applicable example, its what has happened the most recently.

Overall, what I'm trying to get across is that everyone was right, being abroad does teach you an entirely new sense of independence that Ive never had to utilize before. In addition, in the process I have learned a lot about myself and how I approach and react to certain situations. For example, I have learned that I really value traveling with my parents and utilizing curbside check in, and that the world doesn't stop turning if I have to wear the pants and sweater multiple times in a row because my trip destination was colder than expected and I can only fit so much in a RyanAir approved carry on bag. Finally, I have learned that there is always room to grow as a person and learn more about yourself, and for me this has been my most powerful realization.