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The City That Changed My Life

During a recent work-related trip to France and Spain,  I managed to get 36 hours to myself to return to Valencia, where I studied abroad as an undergraduate, and where I later lived and taught for four additional years.

Of all the cities that have been the settings to various moments of my life, Valencia is the city that had the most profound effect on me as a person. Valencia represents the place where I discovered my independence, where I gradually stopped taking my mistakes so seriously, and where I began to draw my own connections between what I learned in school and what I experienced in real life.

As someone for whom academic success always came easily, it was also the place where I finally understood the saying that what you get out of an experience is what you put into it. I saw incredibly bright and advanced language students waste their study abroad experience because they surrounded themselves with only English speakers. I witnessed students with very low levels of comprehension make incredible strides after only a few months of sticking with their goal of staying in the target language. I taught students with poor attitudes have their entire mindset shift after having an “aha!” moment with their host family. I saw my own abilities grow the more I challenged myself to explore what lay beyond my comfort zone. The benefits of doing so were almost always immediate: a successful conversation here, a new word learned there, a feeling of accomplishment on a daily, even hourly basis when I would consciously realize, “I’m really doing this!”

, and the lessons that I learned there have served me in countless ways in the years since I first step foot in that gorgeous Mediterranean city.

And so—even though it was not my first time traveling or living outside the US, I have lived in other cities since then, and I’ve traveled to 15 countries since I first lived in Spain—Valencia is indeed the city that changed my life. The first time you leave home—your city, your state, your country—and allow yourself to really live there, is a formative experience like no other. I’m so grateful that I was able to have that experience, to allow it to inform my understanding of self, and to also be able to encourage and inspire others todo the same.

If you’ve traveled, studied, or lived abroad—what city changed your life?



Written by

Tammy Bjelland
Language lover, teacher & coach.

Recent comments

One response to “The City That Changed My Life”

  1. Valencia is one of my favourite Spanish cities! Love the part in the old river bed 🙂