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A Few Words on Falling in Love Abroad

January 28, 2018

You guys have all seen that movie, right? The one where the young American girl goes to [insert romantic European city here] for the summer. She meets the man of her dreams, usually through some embarrassing encounter [ie. tripping in front of a famous monument and him swooping in to help her up]. They become inseparable, engaging in a montage of gelato dates, moped rides, and watching the sunset along the river. Summer ends and she returns home. They decide to break up, or a few letters are exchanged back and forth before they eventually move on with their lives.

This was the reality of my last summer in Sevilla. Kind of. I did not trip in front of any monuments [ok maybe, but no one was there to help me up]. I did, however, trip and spill my drink all over someone who instead of getting upset, invited me to his favorite tapas bar the next night. The summer unraveled from there. Strolls through the old neighborhood of Santa Cruz, photo shoots in the Alcazar castle, running dates along the river, trips to the beach. We fell in love with each other, and back in love with the beautiful city we shared.

Every moment felt precious and fragile. I arrived in Sevilla last summer with zero expectations. I left with a hundred memories and a connection we both promised each other we would keep.

We talked every day when I was back in the states. We planned all the things we would do when I returned to Spain [Sevilla is only a mere three hours from Granada]. I can tell myself that I did not base my whole year around him, but I was in love. What else can I say? When I finally got back to Spain, things had changed. We had drifted East and West. Literally. After a month of mutual frustration from trying to make it work, it came to an abrupt end. I was in shock, alone in a new city, with a deeply broken heart.

Love hurts, no matter where and when it falls apart. However, heartbreak in a foreign country brings its own set of challenges. As he readjusted to the steady beat of his old routine, I had lost part of my identify in Spain. I was starting from scratch. It felt like two big steps back.

My first few months in Granada were marked by many happy moments, including new friendships and an exciting professional opportunity. I also spent many afternoons wandering alone with my headphones in, listening to angsty music. I closed myself off from several people. I did not feel like my most confident, open, and sincere self. 

If there’s one thing falling in love and study abroad have in common it’s that the highs are high, and the lows are low. But if I could lend some advice to all my tías and tíos who decide to get involved abroad, it would be:

FEEL YOUR FEELINGS

There’s a myth that when you study abroad, you have to be happy all the time. But there’s beauty in feeling any emotion deeply, even heartbreak. I only have to pass by the yearning voice of a flamenco singer in the Albaicin to remind myself that I’m not the first person to have their heart broken in Andalucía. There's no need to slap on your emotional armor. Take the time to go to that place. Be sad. Be angry. Miss that person. But mostly be kind and patient with yourself.

USE YOUR FEELINGS

Express them. Verbally. Physically. Try new things. Sign up for a creative writing class. Run a half marathon. Take up latin dancing. Anything. It won’t make the pain go away, but it gives purpose and healing. Also be generous with your emotions. Reach out to friends, new and old. By giving your time and yourself to others, you start building a community that will be there for you when your feelings finally catch up.   

Sometimes you have to lose yourself completely to find yourself again. And while this post is more personal than what I had anticipated sharing so early in the semester, I’m hoping that by expressing my feelings here, I can finally move forward.

Relief hit me like a wave. I’ve gained some much needed perspective. I know now in my heart what I knew in my head all along. It wasn't fair to base my entire experience here on a single relationship. My priorities are back in check. I'm ready to take full advantage of everything this new semester brings.  

But despite this clarity, I still firmly believe that the connections and relationships you don't plan for are often the most dear. And it always hurts when that someone who mattered the most becomes the one you talk to the least. 

I suppose the biggest fear underlying both study abroad and falling in love is the uncertainty: What will you have to show for it when it ends? People have a funny way of entering and exiting your life. You can never predict which connections will last, which will break, and which will fade with time. But uncertainty is never an excuse to hold yourself back from something potentially wonderful.

Because one thing is certain. Nothing will alter the memories of the summer I shared, in a city that I love, with someone who I will always care about.

 

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