“How many days left until May 13th?” “114 days.” During the first night while I was in Madrid, I googled that question over and over, hoping for a different answer. Wishing for the number to go down. That first night was one of the loneliest nights I had felt in a while and the only thing that I could find solace in was seeing the end date. Amidst the travel planning, organizing of classes, and figuring out housing placements, I was not prepared for how lonely I would be during the first week.
For anyone who is reading this and is starting to get concerned about studying abroad, please don’t be. My first-week experience was very different from many others and, even now, I am feeling tremendously better as I begin adapting to the city and start diving into the program. With that being said, my first-week in Madrid was difficult to say the least. Even though I consider myself an introvert, I came in with the expectation that it would be a great opportunity to meet more people and learn about myself while exploring a new city. While that was/is true, it turned out to be more difficult than I thought.
During orientation, I walked up to at least 15 different people, repeating the robotic introduction of “Hi! I’m Jacob! What’s your name?” While I was meeting different people, it seemed like I wasn’t really clicking with anyone. There were certainly people that I enjoyed talking to, and I even tried to join a small group of people. The problem was that they all went to the same school and weren’t interested in meeting new people. It felt like I was a freshman again, awkwardly introducing myself again and again. It was, for better or worse, a restart.
On the first day, I noticed that a lot of people already had established friend groups while I was recuperating from my flight that landed not even 8 hours ago. It felt too closed off: like I was too late. Thankfully, I did find a bunch of people who I definitely felt closer to than others, and I even exchanged numbers with some of them. Nevertheless, I didn’t expect the beginning to be so isolating.
As the week went on, I noticed a similar pattern. Many people were establishing friend groups while I was drifting between different people. As the days went on, I kept thinking more and more, “Is it too late for me to make friends? Am I going to be in Madrid alone?” The good news was, things got better. Although I wasn’t prepared for the isolation, I found ways to combat it.
My biggest tip for anyone who is starting a study abroad program and is having a similar experience: reach out to as many people as possible. For my fellow introverts with social anxiety, I don’t love that tip either. However, I will say that the hardest step is the first step. I kept reminding myself of 2 things: most people on a study abroad program are willing to make new friends, and, if it all goes poorly, I won’t have to see them again in 4 months. Eventually, I found a bunch of people with similar interests and people who were willing to explore the new city together.
For anyone who has gotten this far and is thinking, “Is it worth it to take that leap of faith?,” I can promise you that you will find your way. I won’t lie and say everyone will be your friend right away, but I can promise that you will learn a lot about yourself. Remember that the beginning is only one part of the journey :)
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My name is Jacob and I am a current junior at Haverford College. I love all things related to learning about different cultures whether it be food, language, customs, etc. In my free time, you can typically find me playing video games, listening to music, or just spending time with friends!