I get a lot of emails regarding study abroad and applying to be an auxiliar de conversación. Understandably so, as I talk a lot about Spain and my experiences there and how I feel now that I’m back home. People ask for recommendations of places to eat, drink, and see the sights. I’m definitely happy to (try to) help them out, but I often wish I could give them a list of general advice …without sounding stuck up. My biggest piece of advice is to put yourself out there and go study abroad! It truly is an experience that every college student should experience. Even a student working on an online bachelor degree should pack their computer and experience another country. With the world as connected as it is today, we can often forget the value of experiencing places in person. I feel a bit sorry for all the people who attend college online through an online college program or students attending smaller schools that don’t offer study abroad opportunities. Beyond this obvious piece of advice, I had difficulty coming up with my own recommendations of what to see and experience. And then I realized what I…
First day in Spain. Ever.
would like to tell Kaley (age twenty-one).
- Life in Spain is just that: life. It may be life in Europe, but you still have to do your laundry, write papers, and go grocery shopping.
- You will walk. A lot. In the U.S., walking distances longer than to and from your car, especially in winter, is not common. This will change. You will walk everywhere—in the pouring rain, in dreadful heat, when you’re tired, when you’re not, when you are hung over, when you’ve got a withdrawl caffeine headache… you will walk.
- You will make embarrassing mistakes. You will make mistakes that are not embarrassing as well. Live; learn; deal with it.
- You will eat a lot of pork products. It’s really unavoidable.
- You will feel frustrated and realize your Spanish has a long way to go. This is okay. This is normal. Embrace it, and realize that the only place to go is up. A note: you will not be fluent by the end of your study abroad journey unless you left for Spain with an absurdly high level. This too is just fine.
- You will feel like a foreigner. Um, you area foreigner. Yes, you—all 5’11”, pale, freckled, American-faced you. You aren’t Spanish, and people might automatically switch to English when they hear your accent.
- You will be homesick at times. You might just be more homesick than other people. This does not make you weak or lame or any of those other negative words that haunt you as you try to fall asleep. You may struggle at times—with the language, with the culture, with the schedule—but you will come out stronger on the other end.
- You will feel disconnected from home. Life, like it or not, will go on without you. Your parents will buy new furniture. Your former roommate will bond with someone new. Your car may not be around when you get home. (Yes, this happened to me in 2009. Blame my brother.) You may get on Facebook and ask yourself, Who are these people?
- You will worry about money. Yes, some people will travel every weekend—London, Rome, Paris, Greece, Morocco, Lisbon. Save your money. Travel where you have always dreamed of going. Remember that there is value in staying home, visiting your bar, walking the streets of your new (albeit temporary) home.
- You will go home and feel nostalgic. When you return, whether or not you experience reverse culture shock, you will remember how you felt. You will remember the smell of incense in the cathedral, the taste of tinto de verano, the sight of Toledo across the river, the feel of your scratchy comforter as you fell asleep in a city older than your own country. You will listen to songs that make you cry, remembering what you had there, realizing you’ll never get that back. Be okay with this, this nostalgia of yours. It’s fine to miss it.
Life goes on, but you’ll remember.
Entry written because I’m totally nostalgic right now. Please forgive me.