I was very lucky to be able to go home and recharge before starting my second semester abroad. I was in Málaga last semester, and will be in Granada this spring. Taking what I learned from my first time abroad, I was able to pack much more appropriately. I feel more prepared overall, though there will always be things you wish you brought or left behind. Hopefully these tips will help prepare you to go abroad!
1. Bring warm clothes: Do not make the mistake I did! I am from the snowiest city in the U.S. and thought “Oh how frightening! Spain has 50-degree days in winter. We wear shorts on days like that!” How very naive of me. IT FEELS COLD. Especially since, in the south of Spain, there tends to not be heat and lots of cold tile in the flats. Sometimes, it actually feels colder inside than outside. Bring slippers! Bring a warm scarf! Bring boots! Be prepared! You don’t have to pack for the next Ice Age, but a warm jacket or coat would not hurt. It is not fun to buy all those things once you are already abroad. However, right now there are lots of “Rebajas,” after Christmas sales, so there are good prices on winter clothing if you want to wait and buy a few things when you arrive. Just keep in mind that the prices are in Euros, not dollars!
2. Do not over-pack: You hear this a lot. Try your best to narrow down your wardrobe as much as possible. Pack something for every occasion, and then fill in from there. Bring clothes that are easy to mix and match, neutral colors, scarves and light accessories. Remember, layers are a great idea!
3. Bring some older clothes: Pick a few things that you don’t mind leaving behind. You will have souvenirs to pack and will wish you had more room in your bags. I brought some clothes last semester that I was planning on donating anyway (which you will have a chance to do since the ISA office collects them at the end of the program to take to people in Morocco) and was very glad I did! Some things get worn out with all the washing too, so do not bring your most delicate sequined blouse or dry-clean-only dress.
4. Bring walking shoes: You are going to walk. A lot. Many people wore out their shoes the first semester. I suggest bringing one pair of sneakers, one pair of casual walking shoes, one pair of boots, one or two pairs of sandals, and one pair of going-out fancy shoes (but still comfortable, many streets are old cobblestone and uneven to walk on).
5. Lose the self-consciousness: The hardest thing for me was the feeling of vulnerability when communicating in a new language. It is pretty scary. My advice for you, and my plan for this semester, is to emerge myself as completely as possible. Study the vocabulary, go to intercambios (language exchanges), talk to the employees in cafes and the market and taxi drivers, have conversations with your host family, memorize new words on your own, and practice with other students. I did not come here to learn Spanish, I came to learn about the history of Spain. Yet, hardly anyone in Málaga spoke English. I do not respond well when I feel forced to do anything, but once I let go of the stress and frustration and self-consciousness, I found that it was fun to converse with people. They understand you are learning, and you can see that people who are trying to learn English are experiencing the exact same emotions. Your face may turn red and you may avert your eyes, or may recite verbs conjugations in your head for awhile, or realize there is a lot more to learn than you thought, but do not give up! Keep going and remember that it will get easier!
6. Keep an open mind: I was really scared right before I went abroad for the first time, and I am nervous this time too! I lived in a homestay and really enjoyed the experience, but this time I wanted a little more independence. I feel familiar enough with the lifestyle over here to rent my own apartment. I am a little anxious that it will be harder for me to meet people in the group and to keep track of utilities (electric and water are VERY expensive over here! Be prepared to take short showers and remember to turn out the lights when you leave!). It will be a new challenge, and I hate to be bored. So, go seek out something new every day and bring on the learning experiences!
There will be things you love here, and things you miss about home. Be accepting and respectful of the people and their culture. I have come to feel as much at home in Spain as I do in the United States, and I hope you will find a new home-away-from-home here as well! And if you are going somewhere other than Spain, I congratulate you on discovering a new culture and taking your learning from the classroom a step farther!
We must accept life for what it actually is–a challenge to our quality without which we would never know of what stuff we are made, or grow to our full stature. — Robert Louis Stevenson