I rarely get homesick. In fact, when I first moved out of my parents’ house to go to college, I was in paradise. Traveling to another country is pretty different, though, especially when you’re living there for several months (or even a year!). I’ve compiled a list of things I wish I’d known before I got here, because they might have made my adjustment to Granada, Spain a little easier. And I’ll try not to talk about the food or the obvious differences you’ll encounter, because you know about the basics. But knowing some of the other cultural differences – the ones your travel guide-book hasn’t told you – might make the adjustment a little smoother.
1. Being lost.
Even the most map-savvy travelers get lost. When my ISA directors handed out maps of the city to everyone in my group, I pocketed it thinking I wouldn’t have much of a problem. But despite the free map, I’ve asked a multitude of locals for directions since I got here – sometimes five or six people on the way home from school – and the language barrier can be very frustrating when you’re hot and need a siesta. But most people are more than willing to help you in the right direction. Just learn the basics: Next street over, Left, Right, Across, Near, Far.
And anyway… Sometimes, being lost has allowed me to come across places I never would have seen. Some of my favorite places in this city have been found by accident.
2. Some disappointments.
I ADORE living in Granada. I’m absolutely in love with the cobblestone streets, the enthusiasm and directness typical of Spanish culture, the free and diverse array of tapas served with every drink, and my hilarious, loving host parents that do everything they can to make me feel welcomed.
But not everything goes as planned. It’s important to be flexible and open-minded, yes, but I’ve learned to express my frustrations as well. Sometimes it’s little things, like your host mother doing the laundry every two weeks, or starving until your 2:30 lunch every day because you haven’t gotten used to the Spanish time schedule. And sometimes things really head in the wrong direction: last weekend my friend and I tried to take the bus to Nerja for a relaxing weekend on a beautiful beach, but we bought the wrong tickets and ended up in downtown Malaga. To make matters worse, our taxi driver promised to take us to the best beach in the city, but he drove around in circles before dropping us off at a rocky, deserted beach with a hefty fare. We learned a few lessons that day – plan your trip beforehand so you don’t get lost, don’t look like a tourist or you might be taken advantage of, and don’t blindly trust taxi drivers – and sometimes things simply don’t work out the way you planned. It happens to everyone… But mistakes are learning experiences, and if you try not to stress about the little things, you will have a much more positive experience abroad. And in the end, you won’t be able to help but appreciate where you are, despite what happens – just look at where you get to live!!
Speaking of excursions… Traveling within or outside of the country is a great experience, and you should definitely take advantage of the opportunity if you can afford it. Traveling by yourself is not easy, and I’ve definitely grown from and enjoyed my experiences abroad by myself or with a friend.
However, something I’ve also really enjoyed are the excursions I’ve taken with ISA. They’re spaced throughout the semester, in cities throughout Andalusia. And since everything is already planned out for you, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy and explore your destination.
4. Spanish Cuisine.
It’s up to you to really experience Spanish food! You’ll try authentic dishes in your homestay or residencia, but there are so many options when it comes to tapas bars and restaurants in the city. They can range from touristy to local, so when you’re choosing a place to eat or grab a drink, you should make it your goal to have the most authentic experience possible.
5. Remember: You’re not alone!
Studying abroad through ISA will automatically be an amazing experience, there’s no doubt about that. But relocating to another country by yourself can be a bit daunting. The currency’s different, the food’s different, the language is different… and when you’re sick or having a bad day, it’s easy to miss the comforts of home. But if you make it, ISA can be an awesome support group. You’ll meet a lot of people in your study group, and the directors are both hilarious and helpful.
When it comes down to it, I simply couldn’t have been prepared for every experience I’ve had while abroad. I’ve been surprised, occasionally disappointed, and I’ve definitely learned something new every day… But I have incredible memories of every day I’ve spent here so far, and couldn’t be more excited to be living here!