My program ends in a little less than a month and I have already said one of the toughest goodbyes I will probably ever say. My heart aches, and 30 minutes ago I was fighting back tears on the bus ride home after I said goodbye to some of the most amazing people I have had the privilege to meet in Spain.
During the months leading up to my departure for Spain, I was a bit disappointed that I did not have the option to do a home stay in Granada due to COVID-19 and would be living in a dorm instead. I had always desired to experience the culture of a family while abroad, and had pictured my time abroad in this context. Two weeks leading up to my departure to Spain, I was drinking coffee with a friend in my hometown and randomly discovered that they knew a family living in Granada. I was pretty shocked but pleasantly surprised. I got their WhatsApp information and we connected.
Two weeks later, I came into this family’s life in a whirlwind as they picked me up from the airport and dropped me off on a chaotic street in Granada. I still cannot believe they offered to pick me up considering we had never met before. They told me that they wanted to welcome me to Spain the right way by shouting “¡Bienvenida!” and having snacks waiting for me after my long travel day. Since then they have championed me, carried me, loved me, and reminded me of what it means to be a daughter. I never had to prove myself or fight for their attention. It was natural to be in their presence and seated around their table laughing, dining, drinking, speaking Spanish, and sharing stories. There were never boxes to fit into or pretenses to uphold. I always left their presence better than when I entered it.
I miss them so much already, and I am pretty sad that for the rest of my program they will be visiting their family in Brazil. But more than anything, I am undone with gratitude by how they immediately welcomed me into their family and life. It has been the greatest surprise and gift while in Spain to know them and I will forever cherish every moment spent with them. I have a deeper appreciation and love for my family and friends who become like family than when I arrived.
I hope this glimpse into my experience here encourages you that you can find family anywhere and family is worth fighting for, especially while studying abroad. While being independent is a great thing, there is immense value in cultivating deep relationships when you have the chance. Just because you cannot do a home stay or you are surrounded by people your age in your program does not mean that you cannot experience meaningful familial relationships during your program also. It is soooooo worth it to put yourself out there, let yourself be cared for, and be willing to care for others in return.
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<p>Hi! My name is Hannah Dean Smith and I am from Summerfield, North Carolina. I am currently a senior at UNC Chapel Hill and am majoring in Hispanic Literatures and Cultures. I have a passion for authentically connecting with people from different cultures and backgrounds, which led me to study abroad in Granada, Spain. A fun fact about me is that I share a name with the legendary UNC Basketball Coach, Dean Smith -- go Tar Heels! In my free time, I love to read, play soccer, and search for vintage books, furniture, household items, and postcards in local antique stores.</p>