Are you ready yet?!
So, heads up – studying abroad will be the most time consuming, taxing thing you will do (although, so I hear, the best). For me, it has been amplified by the stress of my everyday life – between working as much as I can, moving into a new house, preparing to go home to Arizona, and trying to think about packing for Spain (do I have enough clothes? What if they lose my luggage?? What do people even do in Spain?? What if I can’t understand anything they say???), I have to admit that I feel like I’m about to walk off a cliff, too busy looking at the flowers on the ground in front of me to see where my next step will land. There is still so much to be done and, to be honest with you, I received my flight itinerary, opened it, read the first line and then promptly stuffed it in a folder to be dealt with later.
But I’m excited! As most people probably would be. I’ve never even been to Europe before and I feel so incredibly privileged to get to go for a whole semester. There’s so many things that I’m looking forward to and I know that I am about to experience something that will change who I am. I crave perspective and change, so I know that this is what I want to do – but that doesn’t make it easy. I feel a little like like a ping-pong ball, being wacked into happiness and excitement on one side and then smacked into anxiety and nerves on the other. I have fantasies of sipping coffee in the plaza, doodling in the margins of my notebook and feeling so at peace. Then I start to think about having a roommate that comes home loud and late and wipes her hairs on the bathroom sink. I suppose, ultimately, there’s going to be good and bad in Spain, just like anywhere else.
So, a little about the process itself and how I process the process:
When I first chose a program, the first thing on my mind was fitting in. How could I not be a rude American? I thought of the classic moves Americans abroad often utilize (“I’m from Canada, eh!”), but decided to be honest with myself and ask the internet for help. I spent time on youtube watching what other people had brought, what they missed, the weird things that Granada doesn’t have (not just peanut butter but also apparently toilet paper in public restrooms?), and the fact that everything is expensive (but free tapas so it’s okay, right?). I even spent some time watching livecams of the outside of cafes or parks to get a feel for how people dressed. Yet, the best source for me wasn’t creepy cams, it was just talking to people who had studied abroad. The excitement that everyone had for me and declarations of “It was the best time of my life!” have definitely raised my expectations but also helped me stay positive. It’s different to hear something in person as well – you can trust their experience more and, obviously, ask questions!
The one thing I’ve been avoiding talking to people about is homesickness. I know for me this will be the hardest part – I moved to Washington abruptly and alone for my Freshman year of college and the hardest part for me was feeling like I was in the wrong place. Perhaps this is a lingering feeling still, but two years ago it was crushing. I felt like I wasn’t connecting with people – like everyone else had climbed this monumental mountain of friendship and comfort and I was still scrabbling at pebbles at the bottom. This is what I fear most from Spain. I fear the loss of constant companionship from my partner, the time difference from my parents, the birthdays I will miss of my closest friends. But attitude is everything. I plan on exploring constantly, even if I have to do it alone – and remembering that it’s okay to have some space, too. It really will be what I make it, and I’m okay with being patient enough with myself to make sure I enjoy it.