I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have many hobbies. I don’t play any sports or instruments. I hate crafting. I’m not outdoorsy. At my home university, I am often busy with school, clubs, work, etc. When I would have free time it was typically spent napping, knitting, and watching Netflix. I promised myself I would make the most of this trip and not sit on my butt all day. In a country that invented the siesta, it’s harder than you’d think. I have a surprising amount of free time here. I’m not taking any major-related courses, which are usually more difficult and time-consuming for me. I take two classes a day four days a week and then I have the rest of my time to myself.
Here are some tips on how to not waste your time abroad:
This is my favorite activity to do in Madrid. There are so many places to see here I feel like there is no way I could do it all. I’ll often Google “Things to do in Madrid” and see how many tourist locations I have been to and which ones I’m still missing. Many museums and attractions have free or reduced price admission for students. Find these and go to all of them. There was one rainy week in Madrid that I went to a museum almost every day- and paid for nothing.
If museums aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other ways to learn about and see the city you’re living in. Go for a walk and don’t come back for a few hours. You’ll be amazed what you can find by getting lost.
Find festivals or events in your area. I’ve encountered some fun events just by happening to walk past them. I attended a Chinese new year party and a Walking Dead cast meet and greet just because I happen to be walking by at the right moment.
2. Coffee Shops
Café sitting is one of my favorite rainy day pastime. Cafés provide opportunity to people watch, language learn, or get work done. If it weren’t for my coffee addiction, I wouldn’t have learned the term for “to-go” or “for here.” From sitting down and reading the menu signs in coffee shops I picked up more vocabulary like “skim milk” and “soy milk.”
Coffee shops are great for WiFi use too. I’ve always had a decent data plan so searching for WiFi was never an issue in the US. However now that I’m working with limited data, WiFi is very appreciated.
While this isn’t my favorite activity, exercising abroad is important. You should definitely be eating local foods and enjoying yourself, not counting calories. I don’t even know how to read the nutrition labels here. However, when you’re eating out a lot, or eating a loaf of bread a day because it’s so cheap and delicious, exercise becomes important. I don’t have a gym membership here, though there are gyms available in the area to join. I prefer to run. It gives me the opportunity to explore closer to home. I try to run a new route every time I go out so that I can find new places to check out later. The hills, cobblestones, and staircases everywhere make for a great calf workout. Once I finish my run, I don’t feel as guilty about the churros and chocolate I’ll probably eat that afternoon.
As much as I like to forget it, I’m still a student. I still go to class. If I find myself with too much time on my hands, I check my planner and see what homework I probably forgot to do. While being abroad it is so easy to get caught up with traveling and friends that it’s easy to forget you’re still a student with deadlines and papers. If you feel you have too much time on your hands, find the nearest library or coffee shop and get ahead in your work. You’ll thank yourself for it later when you’re out on a weekend excursion and don’t have to worry about school work.
5. Plan a trip
Wherever you chose to study abroad, you should travel while you’re there. Whether you stay in the country you’re studying in, or hopping continents, travel. You may never have this opportunity again. As fun as traveling is, it requires a lot of planning. If you have an afternoon free and you keep saying you’ll book that trip to _________ eventually, just book it. The price will probably just go up if you wait any longer. Sit down by yourself or with a friend and plan when your flights are, where you’ll stay, what you’ll do. It’ll get you excited for the trip itself and you’ll feel great for not procrastinating.
It is easy to get homesick or bored if you’re sitting in your room every day after school. That is when you will start looking at what your friends are doing on Facebook, thinking about the last time you had a Chipotle burrito, or remembering a time you didn’t have a language barrier. The best cure for homesickness is to go do something. Adventure is out there, mis amigos.
The world awaits…discover it.