This month’s Sycamore Spotlight is on student worker Elinor Balensuela. She has traveled twice through the Study Abroad Office, once on a study abroad semester in England and a second time on a faculty-led trip to China.
I’m Elinor Balensuela. I’m a Senior English Major who has worked in the Study Abroad Office for the past three years. Most of the blog posts that you see are ones that I have written; in fact, most of the time you’ll see something I’ve written, meet with me, email me, or basically see me in the office every day of the week. I began my work at the Study Abroad Office in the fall of 2013, after I returned from my first Study Abroad experience. I studied at Edge Hill University in England for five months during my sophomore year. I studied English, Creative Writing, and Communication while I was at EHU, and also won a poetry contest that was taking place at school. My second trip was to China for 14 days; it was primarily a cultural exchange trip, where my group performed for different colleges and embassies.
One of the biggest struggles that I overcame was homesickness. I wasn’t a well-seasoned traveler before I left for my study abroad trip. I had left the country before, once for thirty days on an exchange program, but nothing like this. The prospect of being gone for several months was daunting to say the least. The first weekend that I was in England, I was gut-wrenchingly homesick. I missed home so much, I almost thought about cutting my program short. However, that thought was soon quickly reversed. The next few months were some of the best that I have ever had. I managed to get over my homesickness by throwing myself into every opportunity I had. I traveled frequently out to Liverpool by train, and spent time walking around and exploring the city.
The craziest thing I ate actually was something that I ate in China. While we were touring around and giving concerts, it wasn’t uncommon for us to have a meal with some of the people we performed for. After one of these concerts, we were taken to a Korean Barbecue restaurant. The upstairs room could easily fit all 16 of us singers, so we all got together and were brought our food. Korean Barbecue is unique in the way that you are the one cooking the food. There is a massive hot plate that is embedded in the table and you can put the meat you choose onto the plate yourself. I was adventurous and decided that I wanted to try a little bit of everything. Only later was I informed that I had eaten Beef Tongue and Beef Skin. If I had known that going into the meal, I probably wouldn’t have been as adventurous, but that was what the whole trip was about!
The most breathtaking thing that I saw had to occur in England. On Valentine’s Day, I decided that I needed a break from the Campus and to get out to Liverpool for a bit. I essentially grabbed my jacket, my purse, and left. Little did I know, I barely had any money in wallet. I had enough money to buy the train ticket to and from Liverpool, but only had £3 to my name. And then, I got lost. I thought I knew my way around, but Liverpool is much bigger than I could’ve ever realized. I was lost, going in circles for at least an hour, until I turned a corner and before me, was Liverpool Cathedral (this is the point where you can insert a joke about being lost, then found). As soon as I rounded the corner, the clouds broke and the blue sky shone down upon it. It was one of the first blue skies I remember. I spent another two hours there, and ended up donating the £3 in my wallet to the organ fund. It was, undoubtedly, the most moving and breathtaking thing that I could have ever seen and have seen since.
The most memorable moment actually comes in as a tie between two separate moments: The first occurred while I was on Easter Vacation in England. I have wanted to go to see Rome since I was young and this was the chance to take it. I was so excited to see the Colosseum and to learn so much about Ancient Rome and Latin culture. However, the morning we were set to go see the Colosseum, it began to pour down rain. Instead of running back to our Hostel, we decided that we would brave the rain and go see the sights anyway. There are not many people who can say they saw one of the Great Wonders of the World; even less can say that they saw it in the pouring rain. It was one of the most memorable moments of the trip, wet socks and all. The second was in China; not only did I get a chance to see another of the Great Wonders of the World, I also got to climb it. It was one of the craziest experiences that I have ever been a part of. My group of friends decided that we wanted to brave the more perilous and steep section of the Wall and make the trek up towards the top (or as near as they would allow us). It was tiring, but oh so worth it.
I can honestly say that another one of the most memorable moments from Study Abroad Trips are the friends that I have made. When I arrived at Edge Hill, I knew one person on campus. From there I had to make my own friends. About a month into the journey, I met Jessica. It was inevitable that we became the best of friends. We traveled Europe together and spent practically every day together. Now, she lives in South Carolina and I live in Indiana. We (attempt) to Skype once a week and at least Snapchat or text each other everyday. She’s one of the only people that I am constantly in contact with; this past summer, she got married and it was the first time that we reunited since we had departed England in 2013. It was definitely a reunion that was 2 years in the making.
Now that I am back from two study abroad trips, I can easily say that the thing I miss the most is the adventure. When you wake up in a foreign country, every day is a new adventure. You’re never quite sure of what to expect that day, even if you do have a plan. The best laid plans usually end up changing last minute. But that is one of the best parts. I never expected to see the Colosseum in the rain, or wander through a street market in Shenyang, or go swimming in the Mediterranean Sea.
Every minute in a new country is a chance for something new, something better, and something that you will never forget. You can never know who you will meet, what streets you will find yourself on, or what you could stumble upon just by accident. When I got lost when I studied abroad, it was only then that I found myself. Studying abroad changed my life forever and I can’t wait to see where the next adventure will take me.