Before I left for Spain, I wondered how studying abroad would change me and what parts of my life would stay or feel the same. After being here for a little over a month, I know now that I feel completely different and completely the same all the time. I have moments where it feels like everything has changed and others where nothing really feels that different.
Living in a smaller Spanish city, I am constantly conflicted between wanting to immerse myself into the culture entirely and wanting to rebel against it by eating Doritos in my bed while watching an episode of Friends I’ve already seen 625 times. I’ve accepted that I’m going to crave an everything bagel with cream cheese every morning, but I am surviving without it.
Over the past two weeks, I have traveled to Italy and the Czech Republic, and both trips were absolutely surreal. I ate delicious food, had amazing wine and saw sights I never thought – in a million years – that I would be lucky enough to see.
Other than the language of Spanish and the culture of Valencia, there are a few other things I have learned so far from my study abroad experience:
- Traveling abroad by myself has taught me to be independent. Even though my elementary school teachers always told my parents I was a leader, I never truly felt that way until the day I arrived in Spain. Day-to-day occurrences have forced me to figure it out on my own – on my own… and in a foreign language. From getting medicine at the pharmacy to missing my train and getting stuck in Barcelona for a night, I’ve had no choice but to rely on myself. While it’s a relief to be able to do this, sometimes I do just want to call my mom and ask her to figure it out for me!
- It’s okay to be a little selfish. When you’re planning trips or traveling with other people, it’s okay to speak up and make decisions… Because when’s the next time I’m going to hop on a flight to Milan with absolutely no plans or legitimate destination? I’ve learned that if you want to see something, go to a particular museum or restaurant, you have to make it happen. And more often than not, if you’re proactive enough to plan something, people are going to hop on board.
- To not over-pack!!! This is something I have been trying to figure out for my entire life. The first week I was in Valencia, my program directors told our group about the European carry-on restrictions – the airlines are very strict. If you try to take a bag that is even slightly bigger than their required dimensions, they often charge you a lot of money to check it at the gate. My first time traveling by plane in Europe was two weeks ago when I went to Italy. One of my housemates, who is from Amsterdam, let me borrow her carry-on suitcase, which fit the dimensions perfectly. Not only was I relieved to make it onto the plane without being charged 70 euros, but it was also more fun to travel with fewer things because it wasn’t uncomfortable to walk around once we got to the city. I will definitely use these packing skills for the rest of my life, because those who know me know that I always bring way too much and then complain about how heavy my bag is. You only NEED the NECESSities.
- Sometimes strangers make the best friends, even if it’s only for a couple of hours. If you’re not open to it, you’re not going to meet people, and meeting all different kinds of people has been the best part of this experience. Some of the coolest and most interesting people I have met in my travels are a 22-year-old Romanian model who recently moved to Hong Kong for a job (though we never got to hang out, we promised to keep in touch and see each other again some day), an international businesswoman who has lived everywhere from Prague to middle-of-nowhere-Slovakia to Miami, and dozens of study abroad students, including one I had a two and a half hour conversation with on my flight from Barcelona to Prague. When we’re younger, we’re taught not to talk to strangers, but as I have gotten older, I’ve found that we all have more in common than you might think. You can be friends with anyone if you want to be.
Before I left for Spain, I was so nervous and refused to countdown to the day that I left. I was even HAPPY that my program was a short four months. Now I refuse to think about my time here ending or to know the countdown until the day I leave for the U.S. I miss my family, my dog :(((((, my friends and a lot of things very much, but I’m definitely glad that it is still February because the past six (six??) weeks have gone by way too quickly.