Hello everyone, this is Michael, and I want to introduce you to a new contributor on Camera & Carry On, Courtney Benjamin. Courtney is a budding writer, traveler, and my little cousin! She spent this past summer studying abroad in Spain, and when she told Shannon and me about it, we saw that spark in her eye. Call it the travel bug, wanderlust, or whatever you like, but we knew she had amazing experiences to share. Follow us (links in the side bar) to stay up to date on her journey! Now, from Courtney…
If your friends jumped off a cliff, should you jump too?
Of course not! Well… Maybe there’s an exception? Like when gorgeous Italian men are jumping off the cliff? Then honey you better get your little American ass off those rocks faster than they can say “bella”.
This is the first lesson I learned last summer while jumping into the sparkling Mediterranean waters off the Amalfi Coast. The second lesson I learned? Don’t jump 50 feet into the water while wearing a strapless two-piece.
Wardrobe malfunctions aside, studying abroad last summer was hands-down one of the most memorable, terrifying, thrilling, and liberating experiences I’ve had in my 20 years on this earth.
“I didn’t want to just be a tourist”
As students, we spend hours on end learning about the history and the art and the languages of different countries, but do you know what authentic tapas taste like washed down with sangria? Do you know what the hooves of stampeding bulls sound like in Pamplona? Do you know what it feels like to stand inside the Prado? These are things you can’t read in a book, and I wanted to find them out for myself. Furthermore, I didn’t want to just be a tourist in a foreign country, but to have enough time to create bonds with the people around me and to truly immerse myself in European culture. I decided that living as a student in Madrid was the best way for me to do that.
“I was terrified”
I went to a few informational meetings, booked my ticket, packed my bags, and was ready to go. But as I sat with my knees jammed into the back of seat 7J, sandwiched between a wheezing man whose “lovely” scent engulfed my area and a giant mammoth of a woman who I unwillingly shared half my seat with, I contemplated why on earth I had decided to get on this 10-hour flight to Madrid in the first place. I knew no one. I spoke very little Spanish. I had no idea what the metro was – much less how to navigate it! What the hell was I doing? I was terrified.
The first night was hard; I won’t sugarcoat it. I was lonely, jet lagged, and scared. But in the following days, I began to explore the city, taste the foods, make friends. I even managed to take the metro! In days I felt more myself in this strange city than I had in years. The music of the street dancers in the Plaza del Sol, the sweetness of the sangria, the laughter of los Españoles… The city had replaced in me the fear of the unknown with a burning passion to explore and discover the world outside of my safe walls. From there I backpacked all over much of Europe and made memories and friendships that I will cherish forever.
Lesson number 3?
Sometimes you have to stop thinking, and just JUMP!
More About Courtney
Courtney’s an avid lover of food, nature, yoga, and puppies. You’ll often find her passing her days on the beach in her hometown of Fort Lauderdale, FL. An English major at the University of Florida, she also enjoys spending time hanging out with friends and family.
Favorite destinations: Spain, Italy, Switzerland
Dreams of: Writing novels while simultaneously eating her way through the most beautiful places in the world.
Last supper: Anything Italian, a side of Pad Thai with Tom Kha Kai soup, and something smothered in chocolate!
Recommended books + movies: Dead Poets Society, We Bought a Zoo, Game of Thrones, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, and Harry Potter.