I could offer you a ton of clichés about how quickly the past three months went and how it was the best experience of my life. Both statements are true, but you’ve heard that before. Instead, I will give you some advice for studying abroad and share some of my favorite moments to reflect on my time in Spain.
I now have less than a week remaining in Málaga, but my situation is a bit unique. I will return to the United States for two weeks and then come back to Granada, just north of Málaga. While my first love is Málaga, I am incredibly excited to live in a new city and learn more about the rich history of Granada.
My best advice to anyone studying abroad, no matter where, is to be present. While three months may seem like a long time, think of it in the span of your lifetime–it’s only three months. Though I fell into a routine here with classes and traveling back and forth to school, I made sure to always pay attention to my surroundings and interpret them through a cultural lens. In one of my classes here we learned that the only way to recognize your own culture is by going outside of it. At home, I would never realize that not wearing shoes in my house is a cultural norm or that eating on the go would be frowned upon in other areas of the world. In Spain, I never see people eating in the street or in their cars–it does not happen. I am beginning to realize that reverse culture shock is going to hit me pretty hard when I return to America. All of a sudden, I have a description and full understanding of American culture that was invisible to me when it only existed in my daily routine. You will be surprised how the realization arrives subconsciously.
The past two weekends, I was in Amsterdam, Italy, and Belgium. Studying in Europe is wonderful because it really is easy to get around. Various other discount airlines make it simple and affordable to hop from country to country. Take advantage of this! Trains are the best way to travel, in my opinion, if you are not going too far. They are punctual, comfortable, quiet, and often have outlets to charge your phone! So, get out there and explore Europe!
My greatest regret this semester was that I did not journal about it. I made some really amazing friends and laughed more than I ever have, and I’m disappointed I did not keep a journal or quote book to remember the little things that brought us closer together. On top of that, it would have been really interesting to read back on my progressive discovery of Spain–its people and history, cuisine, landmarks, and global perspective. When you go abroad, KEEP A JOURNAL! Anytime you have free time between classes or on the bus, write down a few things you saw that day or where you went with your friends after school. It may seem mundane to read about daily life while you are here, but when you go home you will realize how special those common occurrences were. For me, I should have written about my walk to the bus stop at 7:50 every morning. The air was always cool, the road was wet from the street cleaners, and the sun was just appearing to the left of the port. My roommate always walked right beside me and was usually singing and dancing to her ipod, while I wished for another cup of coffee. Calle Larios would be empty, which was extremely rare, except for other students walking to school. I also love that our doorstep is a popular spot for street performers to put on their make-up and costumes before the crowds of people come. The city center is definitely the most entertaining and convenient location to live.
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” -Dr. Suess