Elizabeth Armbrecht is a student at Missouri State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Granada, Spain.
I would love to say that I arrived in Granada, Spain and fell in love with it immediately. I would enjoy telling you that getting around was easy and I stopped getting lost by the second week. I would kill to say that my language skills improved exponentially and I stopped misunderstanding my host mom by November. But the truth is, I was disappointed by my first impression of the city. I got lost in the winding, narrow streets of the old neighborhood the day before my plane was supposed to depart. And up until the last moment of saying goodbye, I still only understood about 85% of what my host mom was saying in her super cool (but super hard to understand) Andalusian accent.
The truth is, the moment in Granada when everything clicked, when I realized I would be homesick for it for the rest of my life, was the week before I was supposed to leave. And it wasn’t like I hadn’t realized how much I would miss the city, my friends, and the studying abroad experience before that; believe me, the panic started setting in about a month out—but I had just never guessed that a place I had only lived in and people I had only known for 92 days would ever become as near and dear to me as my own family and friends back home.
Of course, there were some quintessential moments moments that should have clued me in earlier to the heartbreak I was going to experience come December 19. Like the first weekend in Granada when my roommate and I decided to go on a walk to explore the city, took one wrong turn and ended up in the foothills of the mountains. Or the first night we hung out as a group with Spaniards and went home “early” according to them–which was at 3am! There were also the excursions with ISA: such as to Morocco when my best friends and I BECAME best friends for, if anything, survival purposes; or to Ronda when we asked our bus driver to take a picture with us because we wanted to remember him. Then there was the first excursion we made by ourselves to Cádiz and the triumphant feeling of booking a bus and hostel alone and everything working out splendidly. The day I changed my phone language to Spanish to help immerse myself in the new language and then instantly regretted it when I had to go through and change a setting for an app. Or the first time someone stopped me in the street to ask for directions and I was able to give them. Or when I ordered something at a restaurant and didn’t have to spend so long working up the courage to speak.
There was, of course, the moment when I made the conscious decision to stop carrying my city map around and left my pocket phrase book at home. But the moment when I realized my life would never be the same, that I would never be the same: that one wasn’t pinned down until around Day 85/92. That was when I realized that while I had missed my friends and family back in the States, I had never been homesick once. And the logical conclusion is that’s because Granada had felt like home from Day 1, thanks to the five incredible girls I met the first afternoon in Madrid, the love and care of my host mom, and the newest friends I left behind in Spain. Would I say that moment came too late? I never once felt like I hadn’t taken advantage of every opportunity or lived every day to the fullest.
I would say that it’s important to start self-reflecting before the last week of something as life-changing as studying abroad because if you save it all to the end, it’s going to crush you like a ton of bricks. But don’t be afraid to do anything during your study abroad adventure or make connections where you’re living even though it’s going to hurt to say goodbye. So my final piece of advice to you, as an alumnus of studying abroad and ISA, whether you are on an adventure overseas or simply going about daily life at home, is that if anyone ever asks you “Why?”: why drive a new route home from work, visit the Great Wall of China, or get chocolate con churros twice in one day, you just say: “Why not?”
Want to read more from our students in Spain? Check out “A Wonderful Welcome to Spain”