If you’re comfortable, you’re doing it wrong. Immersing yourself and living in a new culture is all about embracing the good, the bad, and the ugly moments that help you grow as a person!
“Morcilla” is a very popular type of sausage in Spain, also known as “blood sausage”. This is on good account, given that this meat is formed from rice, meat, and pigs’ blood. I remember the first time I tried morcilla in the home of my Spanish family. Juan, my house dad, asked me about my week as he quickly whipped up a traditional lunch for his daughter, Maria, and me. Before serving the plates, he added that this was Maria’s favorite food. Assuring me that it was okay if I didn’t like it, he set a large plate of unknown meat in front of me. I looked at it dauntingly and thanked him for the food. After my first bite, I knew this was going to be more of a battle than an enjoyable meal. I tried so hard to like it, but I just didn’t. This was my first encounter with morcilla, and since being back in Spain I have done my best to avoid it. That is until a couple of weeks ago. I was out and about in the city, on a “tapas” date with a boy I was trying far too hard to impress with my Spanish. When he asked what I wanted to eat I told him he could choose, and of course, this boy orders a large plate of morcilla. I thought to myself, “oh here we go again”. I was determined once again to at least pretend I liked it, given that I was not the one paying for the food being ordered. Here it came, hot and ready. I looked at him with big eyes and took a pea size bite… I actually liked it. For real this time. This could not be the same food I had once tried. But it was, and as I sat there enjoying my newfound love for morcilla, I realized just how much good can come from giving uncomfortable things a second try.
One of the luxuries of studying abroad in Europe is the closeness and proximity of everything. Thus, weekend trips to new cities and countries with your friends are very normal. Last weekend I went to Venice, Italy with a group of other students from my program. The flights filled up fast, so while we all had the same departing flight but different return flights. After a well-lived weekend, it was time to come back to Madrid. I was the only one of my friends that had the 4:30 evening return flight. It didn’t bother me, as I was excited for some time alone and a chance to maybe get one last adventure before school the next day. And that I did. I finished my coffee, walked around, then decided to play it safe and arrive at the airport a few hours early since I was traveling back alone. I got to the airport and scanned my boarding pass when my blissful morning came to a halt. A red light went off at the gate. “Sorry ma’am, but your flight departs from a different airport in Venice, your boarding pass is not valid here.”
You’re probably wondering how I did this, which is valid because I have no clue how I made such a big mistake. In all of my days of travel, I have never departed from a different airport I flew into when I bought a round-trip. This was the first time for me, but I will most definitely be triple-checking next time. I told myself not to panic and quickly made my way out to the taxi line where I grabbed a cab to the next airport. On the way, I reviewed my flight details carefully this time and to my surprise, this was not the direct flight I thought I was getting on. Nope, I had a three-hour layover I had not planned for and I would later find out that I would not be arriving in Madrid until Midnight, which is no fun when I previously thought I would land around 6:00 pm. But this is life, and I still told myself not to pout as I watched the streets of Venice pass by from the taxi. We arrived at the correct airport, and I went to pay him my thirty euros to which he says I do not owe him thirty euros, but triple that. My jaw dropped, and I spent the better part of three minutes arguing with someone who only spoke Italian. In case you don’t know where this is going, I lost the argument. With an empty wallet and feeling defeated, I lugged my backpack through security and finally boarded my flight. I had a bad travel day: it was not comfortable, and despite my efforts, it was not fun. But this is part of traveling, some days are hit and some are very much miss. It’s best not to take it to heart, but laugh about it and move on.
I know the dark pit of anxiety that results in way too much time spent alone in your room if you allow the social strain of studying abroad to become overbearing. It can turn ugly really fast.
For most people, living abroad means not being around your usual best friends from home all the time. You really have to put yourself out there to try to make new friends abroad. This is much easier said than done in my opinion. When you haven’t had to do it in a while it’s easy to forget the mental battle that can be making new friends. What if they don’t like me? What if I say something stupid? What if I’m lonely the whole semester? Maybe there’s a language barrier so there is an added level of overthinking involved. One thing that has brought me comfort while making new friends abroad is to remember that most people are in the same boat as you and are also looking for a new friend. In the case where fear meets reality and people don’t choose you or they don’t like you, I try to remember the insignificance of being rejected. You will encounter a million new people while abroad. Naturally, there will be some people you don’t click with, but in the whole scope of life, who cares? I’ve found it helpful to simply let these encounters roll off my shoulder and move on.