Advantages of Living Abroad

Life Lessons I learned While Being Abroad

“PINC has definitely chiseled away some parts that I didn’t need and beautifully sculpt others.”


My name is Sarah Olivo, I’m 20 years old, and I’ve never kissed a boy. Embarrassing, right? I’ve grown up in a small Christian home, so I never really went out of my way to do anything wild, just your average gal. Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t let loose and become a rebel in Spain, there wasn’t enough time (Mom, if you’re reading, I’m TOTALLY kidding) but the experience was definitely a fun way to teach me important lessons that I will not soon forget, the advantages of living abroad are innumerable.

Lesson 1: Adult Crash Course

So, obviously you’re going to Spain by yourself. You can’t bring family in your luggage (if I could’ve, my mom would’ve joined me, trust me). The program allows girls as young as 18 years old to participate, technically, adults in the eyes of the legal system. At 20 years old I thought I was super independent. I have a job that I found all on my own, I’m in school full time, I’m from New York City! I got this! In reality? I didn’t have anything. I felt a sense of complete responsibility for myself that I had never felt before, I couldn’t rely own anyone to take accountability for me. My family was thousands of miles away. Lisette was my coordinator, my mentor, my older sister, but not my mom. If I did something wrong, if I didn’t hear my alarm, if I was late, if I missed my flight (which I will NEVER do again), it was all on me. And guess what? Only I could climb out after digging myself in. Spain was scary because I was forced to assume complete accountability for myself very abruptly. It was so necessary. It made me realize that I’m growing up, and one day I will be all by myself. My problems were no one else’s problems – people will lend a hand but ultimately, it’s on you. It sounds intimidating, and believe me, it was, but you know what? I would never trade any of my personal hardships for the world, they’re a part of me that I didn’t know I needed. They made me smart and taught me how strong I really am. It showed me the importance of thinking things through, not getting caught up in the moment, and how crucial it is to take a deep breath and have genuinely good people by your side. Independence in one of its purest forms was sour at first, but then sweet. And the most important thing? You’re parents are usually right, and don’t forget to call your mom.

Photo Aug 02, 9 09 39 PM

Lesson 2: Be yourself… No, really. 

It might sound cliché, but this was a huge lesson! I’ve always heard people say “be yourself” but it wasn’t until the very last week of PINC that it finally clicked. The last week of the program experience consisted of women empowerment workshops. The feminist movement has really picked up in the last few years in the USA and women have more of a voice now than they ever have before. Our workshops were held by women who have broken barriers and are killing it in their careers. I was so thankful that the workshops revolved around identifying ourselves, our skills, and how we are perceived in this world. As a 20-year-old college student I’ve felt very lost in direction. I’m ambitious and smart, I know that, what I didn’t know was what to do with it, where to apply it, what should I put my energy in. Am I preaching to anyone here? These workshops blew my mind because they made me realize why I’ve been so lost. I’ve been in a tug of war between who I am and who this society says I should be. Who am I? I’m outgoing, I love talking to people, public speaking doesn’t scare me, I hate math, I love to teach, I like fashion, I can’t stand vegetables, I love children, I like to eat out with friends, I find company enjoyable, I love to meet new people, I’m obsessed with art and its history, I hate wine, the list goes on. These workshops taught me that I am who I am and nothing will change that. I can’t be a mathematician because I’m just not built for it. I just don’t work that way. I can’t be a doctor because it’s just not who I am, I don’t enjoy It. No matter how hard I try, there are just some things that don’t fit with who you are, ultimately they won’t work out, and if you force it, you’re going to hate it. Should I go after something because it’s a good idea and struggle the entire way and hate it in the end? Or should I take what I’m good at and nurture it? Take it and make it grow, make it perfect, make it you. Be the best possible version of yourself. If it comes naturally don’t ignore it. Its there for a reason, no one can do it like you can. Don’t try to be someone else because what they’re doing is making the most out of who they are. Trying to be someone else is wasting the talent that you have. When you do things you like you do them with pleasure, it excites you, you don’t get nervous because it just comes to you. Others might look at you like you’re insane for doing what you do but it’s who you are!

Lesson 3: Think you know Spanish? Think again.

The first week of the immersion program consisted of Spanish classes at the LAE Madrid Spanish School. I thought I was a “Spanish-speaking rockstar” before starting classes since I’m a native Spanish speaker. Well, I became great friends with one of my classmates, Sara. One night, while hanging out in her apartment, I met her friends and roommates. “Sarah, this is my friend, Ander” she said. I extended my hand in order to shake his, a very normal American gesture, and everyone looked at me in a very perplexed manner. Umm.. have you never introduced yourself to someone before? I thought. Then I realized… I’M IN SPAIN! Besos! Besos! “Perdon, soy gringa!” (“Sorry, I’m American!”) I said, totally embarrassed. However, I must say that the highlight of the night was sitting around Sara’s coffee table with her friends and translating Spanish.  Yep, you heard that right. I’m from the Dominican Republic, Sara is from Argentina, her friend, Pati, is from Peru, and Pati’s friend is from Mexico. We were all speaking Spanish but we couldn’t understand each other! Words that were normal to me made no sense to them, I had to explain what I was talking about and so did they. I mentioned the word “Muchachas” which simply means a group of young ladies, to which my friend, Sara, said “Muchachas! I haven’t heard that word in such a long time!” In Spain, the more common to use “chicas”. They mean the EXACT SAME THING! Spanish translated to Spanish!


Lesson 4: It often happens when you’re not looking for it.

Like any tourist, you’re going to travel and want to see the museums, the landmarks, the parks, and of course, eat the food. But don’t underestimate the power of the little things. Sarah, what the heck are you talking about? Well, on a weekend trip to Barcelona, a fellow PINC intern and I decided to visit Parc Guëll, a public park famous for its mosaics, gardens, and quirky designs designed by Antoni Gaudí. The real fun part? Walking to get to the park through a mountainous community. We CLIMBED to get to this park, the landscape of the community was incredibly steep and exhausting – we were so tired! We hadn’t gotten to the park yet when, after walking on yet another hill, we looked to our left and saw all of Barcelona open up before our eyes. The space between two homes overlooked a part of Barcelona that was not glamorous at all. They were small homes, almost looked like shacks, there were so many of them! There wasn’t a fancy building or an iconic tower, it was truly Barcelona, the area you don’t see on the postcards or in the movies, and boy was it stunning. It was so overwhelming, we had been walking so high up without realizing it and now a section of Barcelona was beneath us. We had to keep walking to reach the park on time, but dare I say, for me, that was the best part of the entire weekend.

I will forever be thankful for the PINC Internship; I could have never learned any of these things back home or in a classroom. I can honestly say that throughout this thing called life we’re all trying to get through, PINC has definitely chiseled away some parts that I didn’t need and beautifully sculpt others. Experience is the best teacher, after all. And no, I unfortunately did not kiss a boy in Spain… maybe next time. 😉


Next Madrid Immersion Program:

July 16, 2016 – August 6, 2016

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