A Letter to Me from Madrid

Samantha Smith is a student at The Ohio State University and an ISA Spring 2015 Featured Photo Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Madrid, Spain.

Before you embark on this huge journey across the ocean to Europe, uncertainty, along with nearly every other emotion possible, will wash over you. You’ll be sad to leave behind all the friends and good times at college, you’ll be worried that you’ll get homesick, you’ll be scared that maybe the whole experience won’t be as great as you’d imagined. But it will. It will surpass all your expectations and provide you with some of your funniest, craziest, most treasured memories.

Once you finally arrive in Madrid (expect some travel delays) you’ll realize you are way less comfortable with Spanish than you ever thought possible. On your first day you’ll have an awkward elevator ride with your new host mom where you try to convince yourself you haven’t forgotten everything you ever learned in Spanish class, while simultaneously avoiding the urge to pass out from sheer exhaustion and jet lag. 

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At first you’re going to worry that you’ll get lost on the metro or not be able to find your way home, but you end up mastering that within the first week. You’re also going to be super irritated when you find out that you have an hour-long commute to school consisting of 3 metro lines and a long walk, but so is everyone else and eventually you all just get over it. 

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Spanish nightlife is so different, and when you’re used to hearing “last call” around 1:30 or 2a.m. in America, it’ll feel a little weird just heading out at this time. But you’ll surprise yourself with how late you can actually stay up, after your first night at Kapital when you hail a taxi at 6:30 a.m., or later on in the semester when you train home from a concert at Fabrik at 8 a.m. Getting 1 hour of sleep is probably the most un-ideal thing you’ll ever do, and you’ll do it a few times too many, but you’ll survive. 

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Pretty soon you’ll even get used to the little things that weirded you out at first, like people making direct eye contact for uncomfortable amounts of time, couples making out in public literally everywhere, and everyone still wearing coats and scarves when its 75 degrees outside. You become immune to all the things that shocked you at first. You learn, you adjust, and in some extra scary cases, you become.

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Despite your resistance, you’re going to learn to like Spanish music (at least some of it). You’ll subconsciously learn the lyrics to “El Taxi” and “El Perdón”, and you won’t be mad about it. You’ll catch yourself humming “te estaba buscando, por la calle gritando” on the metro or in the shower and wonder what the hell happened to you.

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Eventually you’ll meet a Spanish boy, and your first date will be one of the most awkward things you’ve ever endured. When his Spanish is too fast and full of slang, and your accent is too New Yorker, it’ll be a miracle when you can have a full conversation. Your brains will both hurt from how much effort it took to communicate and you’ll be sure that you’re never going to see him again. But you’ll be wrong. He’ll turn out to be really sweet and share your sense of humor, and you’ll get really good at understanding each other in both Spanish and English. You’ll spend a lot of time together, he’ll show you all around the city, teach you how to be a Real Madrid fan, and correct your Spanish grammar a little too often. It’ll be hard to say goodbye. 

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You’ll be surprised at how quickly new friendships can form, and how complete strangers can become your new best friends. All of your lives are brought together by chance, but you become connected from sharing this once-in-a-lifetime experience. People who you didn’t even know existed become the people you travel and see the world with, the ones you text during the week when something stupid happens to you, the ones you go out with on the weekends, the ones who show up in all your favorite photos, the ones who make studying abroad the best thing you ever did.

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There’s nothing that can prepare you for what is about to happen, the people you’ll meet, the places you’ll see, the memories you’ll make. But I wish I had someone to tell me all of this ahead of time, so that I wouldn’t forget to stop and appreciate every last moment. Because at the end it all goes slipping through your fingers like quicksand, and you wish you could stop time and hold onto it a little longer.

You won’t be ready to say goodbye, so you’ll probably stick to “hasta luego.” And although you’ll leave Madrid with a heavy heart, you’ll know that you’ll be back someday.

The World Awaits. Find out more where your next adventure will be here.