Inside of a tiny, straw, Guatemalan hut, a young mother handed me her baby while she prepared the last of her coffee to give to her guest. As I held the sweet, sleeping newborn, and watched the exhausted mother boil water, I was overcome with gratitude for this woman’s hospitality and generosity. I looked at the translator who was with me, even though my heart was dying to tell her in my own words, and asked him to tell her just how grateful I was for her kindness. I sat and listened to the beautiful translation of languages take place. I watched the mother’s facial expression change from exhaustion to relief as she received the words of appreciation in her native tongue. At that exact moment, I realized the power and beauty that translating holds. Undoubtedly, I wanted to be able to do that. My heart and mind were in agreement. I was going to learn Spanish. Thus, my love for travel and exploring other cultures was born.
I choose to study abroad in Madrid, Spain, during the winter semester of 2021. I was there for about six months in total and I loved every last second of it. The first question people ask when they hear about my time abroad is “how did COVID-19 affect my time in Spain?” While there were many adjustments that took place due to COVID-19, it in no way tainted my experience and I would advise anyone considering studying abroad during these times to not let the pandemic deter you from this adventure! The number of students in my program was very small compared to previous groups due to the pandemic, but that ended up working in my favor because it forced a small group of us all to become friends really quickly. Our ISA site coordinator referred to us as “the brave eight who dared to travel during the pandemic”. The other major adjustment was that travel was limited to only within Spain. Originally, I had big plans for a back tripping trip through Europe at the end of my program, but that of course came to a halt due to travel restrictions. However, this adjustment was not so bad either. It forced my friends and I to take advantage of the country we were in and explore more of the Spanish region. The semester was filled with road trips to Toledo, Barcelona, Valencia, Granada, Seville, and many more cities with many sleepless nights, living life and taking in everything each city had to offer!
I loved my time in Madrid so much that I actually decided to return for another semester in January of 2022. I am counting down the days until I get to hug my sweet host family again! I can’t wait to show them how much my Spanish has improved since the last time I saw them. I am eager for late nights at my favorite restaurants, watching soccer games with new friends, and cheering on Real Madrid. I am eager for cold, early mornings, waiting for the metro as I clutch my cafe con Leche for warmth and appreciate the last few bites of my pastry. Madrid is my home, away from home and I’m ready to be back.
To the soul that stumbled across this post and is nervous about all the things that it means to study abroad, perhaps you are looking for a little extra push to make the commitment, just go for it. Go for it. Pursue your travels fearlessly and be curious about what the world has to offer you. You only get one life; may it be filled with knowledge, and crazy stories of travel, and lots of pastries.
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