Reflections from a Six-Day Layover

Xander Mitchell
May 19, 2016

When was the last time you heard somebody say, “I’m really looking forward to my upcoming layover”? As somebody who actually likes the interlude between flights, I’m considered a statistical outlier at best and absolutely insane at worst. Hear me out: layovers are great because they give you an opportunity to sit or walk around comfortably in between flights, exploring the familiar setting of the airport. With the week I get to spend at home before going to Madrid, I feel like I’m in a sort of layover between the business of college life and studying abroad. I like having the moment to sit and breathe in between periods of cruising at what seems like 600 miles per hour. Or 965 kilometers – it’s not too early to start going metric, is it?

I’m Xander, a traveler, amateur photographer, and humanities major preparing to spend the next six weeks studying in Madrid and beyond. After four years of learning Spanish in high school, I’ve come to Madrid to improve my Spanish, explore Spanish city life, and create lasting friendships. Also, the word order of Tapas y Mapas might clue you in to one of the things I’ll be looking out for most. While this blog will cover the highlights of my experience, I write my first post during my “layover” in Chicago. To me, these six days are a look into the past and a preview of the future: it’s a time for self-reflection but also intense preparation, and I’m glad that I have the opportunity to share it with you.

A quick note: I approach this blog post with a bit of foreknowledge, having had the opportunity to study abroad in Ankara, Turkey this past summer and following. I learned a few things in my time abroad, and I’ll reference how this experience among others informs my preparation this time around.

First off, let’s talk language. Coming off a yearlong break from Spanish classes, these days are going to feature quite a bit of brushing up on my language skills. There’s no doubt that this should have taken places weeks ago at the very least, though every college student knows that all bets are off during finals period. The truth is that, no matter how much of a language you think you know, you cannot avoid getting blindsided when you entire a new country. Speaking Turkish in Ankara last summer was a lesson in humility, and oddly enough I’m looking forward to learning how much I still have to learn. I’ll be taking my lessons seriously, and I’m also aware that the best learning is bound to take place outside of the classroom.

Having the opportunity to travel has also taught me a few lessons about one of the most important aspects of preparing: packing. I turn to last summer once again as a case study in what not to do. When I arrived at my study abroad facility, my host family greeted me with intense smiles and laughter, but I didn’t find out until the last day that it was due to my hauling around three bags. For the first time in my life, I’m packing light – as in, three pairs of pants, a few shirts, books, laptop and other essentials light. I’m also making room for a small package of American-made gifts for my host family: American flag coasters, TJ’s peanut butter cups (favorite American good), maple syrup (standard American good), and boxed water (remarkably abnormal American good). A 30L hiking pack and small carry-on fill up quickly, but the peace of mind that comes with having to lug around only a few possessions is totally worth it.

The other project for this week will be putting together a budget for my adventures this summer. Imposing constraints on yourself is never fun, but my past travels have helped me realize that it’s a necessary part of avoiding stress in the future. I’m looking at it as an opportunity for self-reflection. Quantitative as budgeting may be, putting together a budget requires that you take a realistic assessment of who you are and what you value: for example, it’s no secret to my friends that I’m a huge fan of coffee, but practicando mi español over a cortado several times a week leaves me with less cash to spend on experiences or evenings with friends. I spent a lot of time exploring by myself last summer, which definitely had it’s benefits, but I’m looking forward to experiencing this summer in the company of other people, even if that means I’ll be slightly less caffeinated in the process. Budgeting now will be dividends in the future, which is probably the most important point I can think of when it comes to studying abroad.

This post does come with a bit of knowledge, but I don’t mean to imply that I’ve got this entire summer planned to a tee. In reality, plans rarely work out, and I’m looking forward to my share of spontaneous adventures and even mishaps. But that’s what makes studying abroad great: you’re in an unfamiliar setting, you think you have everything under control, you realize you don’t, you take a lesson away from the experience, rinse and repeat. This is going to be a summer of enrichment – both academic and personal – and I can’t wait to get out of this layover and over to Madrid.

P.S. For the most up-to-date notes of my study abroad experience, follow me on Instagram @tarxander

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Xander Mitchell

<div>I&#39;m Xander&mdash;a photographer, amateur restauranteur, recreational runner and humanities major spending six weeks of&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">my summer in Spain. Traveling notebook-in-hand and iPhone-in-backpack (or maybe the other way around), I&#39;ll be&nbsp;</span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">showcasing the best of Madrid culture available to travelers and students on a budget. You can expect photographs of&nbsp;</span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">and musings on Madrid architecture, history, literature, food, music and the great people I find along the way. Oh, and&nbsp;</span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">there will be coffee, too &mdash;don&#39;t forget the coffee!</span></div>

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