Going above and abroad

Lara Khmelevsky, Spanish teacher, (right) poses in front of a bridge in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Submitted photo

Lara Khmelevsky, Spanish teacher, (right) poses in front of a bridge in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

With one decision, the course of a person’s entire life can change drastically. Every person’s unique set of circumstances creates chances for new experiences that build upon each other and can further self discovery.

This defining moment came to Lara Khmelevsky, Spanish teacher, in her junior year of high school when students taking Spanish class at Homestead were given the opportunity to travel across the globe to Spain.

After investing several hours into preparation for the class trip, she embarked on what would become the start of her journey in Spain and eventually all around Europe. The two week long excursion came and went, but its impact was monumental. The family that housed her during her short stay went on to invite her back after graduation.

“I went back for a month after I graduated from high school and lived with them, and I did not know this, but they had a home on the Mediterranean,” Khmelevsky said. “So we spent a month on the beach and I spoke Spanish 24/7.”

The unexpected and exciting time she spent in Spain stayed with her in college when she decided to join a study abroad program. As a junior at Madison University, she began her year-long endeavor in Spain to enhance her education as a Spanish major.

Khmelevsky (right) got to see a diverse selection of places on her travels such as Toledo, Spain. (Submitted photo)

“We had to go to the University of Madrid. The first month we were there, we stayed in the dorms near campus, and we got Wednesdays off in order to look for our own apartment to live in for the rest of the year which was very nerve racking,” Khmelevsky said.

Despite the blistering heat and distinctly pungent smell, she had a deep admiration for the city’s vibrant pace of life.

“There was this big afternoon break for lunch or for siesta, and then the night life kicked in and there was so much for young people to do. Here in the suburbs of Milwaukee, it’s really sleepy. It’s quiet, and there’s not much going on at night. There, it was loud. There’s life. There was always something to do. Even if it was just to go and meet with your friends in the middle of Madrid and just hang out and listen to music, get something to eat, get some tapas, listen to some live music; it was always moving,” Khmelevsky said.

The bustling nature of Madrid and its inconceivable size kept the student on her toes. Khmelevsky said, “I still remember just exploring Madrid. It was a big city, and there were so many little places and pockets I could explore and go to. It was amazing.”

Her adventures, however, were not limited to the backroads of Spain—Khmelevsky and other members of her school program toured through many different countries in Europe on the train system over winter and spring break.

Khmelevsky said, “We stayed in youth hostels, and we ate bread and cheese in Paris. And then when I was on spring break, we booked a trip and went to Morocco and crossed Gibraltar’s Strait, and that was phenomenal.”

The thrill of discovery that the side trips carried also brought a considerable amount of discomfort with the lack of familiarity.

Khmelevsky (right) visits a historical site in Tenochtitlán, Mexico. (Submitted photo)

Khmelevsky said, “I wish I had known that it gets lonely, and that’s part of it. I forced myself to become a part of something else and came out of my comfort zone. I wish somebody had said you need to be uncomfortable with yourself for a little bit, but when you get through that, you’ll benefit from it.”

Through Khmelevsky’s various encounters in different corners of the world, she was able to broaden her world view and experience life from a different perspective.

“We live in such a small fish bowl. And it’s good, but it’s also good to know that the world out there is so big and it exists and we are a part of that, and we are responsible to be a part of that…learning another language is amazing because it opens your world view. I think it’s really important to experience life abroad and to care about the bigger picture,” Khmelevsky said.