My host mom’s house is in Gran Via, the most cosmopolitan place in Madrid, Spain’s vibrant capital. It’s somewhat like a boulevard in Paris center, but with the Time Square effects of business. The avenue reflects the extravagant taste of American jazz age, with numerous stores, luxury hotels, and endless streams of shoppers. Spain must have foreseen a globalized world when it brought Gran Via to life in 1910 because of this where you hear at least three different languages walking through just one block.
More than a century later, with all the luck I can imagine, I ended up living in the heart of this ambition. In another word, I wake up to the harmony of street musicians, gage at the sleek modernist architectures along the city’s bustling main avenue on my way to class and can’t help but notice the vicissitude of changes going on around me and inside my head.
Life here juxtaposes itself against the life I have lived before: it carries an immense sense of privilege. Being a first-generation college student, I constantly reflect on the odds of me ended up in Spain capital. It’s very surreal, and I didn’t know how to make sense of what I saw all at once.
The unprecedented sense of independence and solitude of being abroad gives me many ways to direct my time, budget, and thoughts. I still remember the first time I stopped on my way back to Gran Via to look up and admire the Metropolis building, I asked myself: How did I come to see such grandeur and what can I do with the image of it in my head? I can take a picture of it. I can enter the building. Or I can just simply put it in the corner of my memory.
Being abroad requires me to be constantly sorting decisions on my own, helping me acknowledge the luxury of time. Seeing all but seeing nothing is a form of privilege. To see and to do something about what you have seen, makes everything you have seen become an opportunity in the process. It becomes a habit for me to learn a little history of the places I travel to, to reflect about it while journaling, and to share my experience with my host mom and other students.
Being diverse abroad is the best part of all: I can always find students from different backgrounds who are willing to make plans to explore the hidden gems of the city, go to cafes for those much-needed-big-talks, or simply practice my Spanish. Gradually, I made clear the distinction between “privilege” and “opportunity,” which helps me embrace my most essential intuitions about what is right and how I can make the most out of my time abroad.
I don’t feel like a tourist anymore. I still look up to admire Gran Via buildings every morning as I walk along the avenue, yet I know by heart that I am not only here to see it, I am here to understand the changes it has been going through, and I am here to acknowledge the changes I have made for myself.
On a sunny Tuesday after class, I sat down with a student in my program, and for a long time, we talked about how surreal it feels to be in Spain. I realized that most of us feel the same way about our time abroad and how we have changed, and he told me that “You don’t even need to give me the how-to handbook, just give me the opportunity to go abroad, and that will change my life.”
To take advantage of your opportunity abroad is not impossible. It’s inevitable, no matter what your background is.
More Blogs From This Author
<p>Dan is the first year at Yale. There is something about the invisible forces control human behavior and make up their knowledge that pokes her curiosity. Don’t get her wrong; she isn’t learning how to mind-control others, but rather to combine knowledge about people’s product preferences and spending patterns to contribute to the field of behavioral economics. When she isn’t listening to podcasts and multitasking, Dan loves to run in her neighborhood and bake for her floormates. </p>