Lessons Learned: Reflecting on Pre-Departure Worries

Kyla Hunter
December 31, 2021

Before leaving for study abroad, I made a list of four of my biggest worries about the experience ahead of me. Now, after returning home, I’m returning to these thoughts. With my time studying in Madrid behind me, I’m taking the time to revisit my pre-departure concerns, and reflect on each of them. 

1. Saying goodbyes to all the friends and family I want to see before I leave

Pre-departure: Summer 2021 was the longest and busiest summer break of my life, yet it still didn’t feel like quite enough time to say goodbye. At the stage of life where my friends and I are all busy adults with complicated lives, no promises could be made for the next time we’ll all be together. I worried about missing my friends and family while being away so far from home.

Upon reflection: Being apart from friends and family was undoubtedly one of the hardest parts of my semester abroad. However, I was overwhelmed by the quality of friendships I made in Madrid, and how quickly new bonds formed. From the first day, I met people that became some of my closest friends for the remainder of the program. We had classes together, went on trips together, and lived right next door to each other in our student housing. Keeping in touch with people back home can be difficult with time zone differences and expensive phone plans, but it’s very feasible. My hometown friends and I kept in touch via an email thread where we took turns sending letters and pictures about our lives. And, ultimately, the program goes by before you know it. Soon enough, you will be back home with your friends and family, missing the friends you made while abroad. 

2. An ode to Duke basketball and New Jersey pizza

Pre-departure: As the fall semester began, I couldn’t help but be reminded about all that I was missing on campus: orientation week, pictures in front of Duke chapel, rush events, FDOC (First Day of Classes), picnics in the gardens, Nugget the campus dog. Similarly, a wave of nostalgia quickly kicked in upon leaving New Jersey: longings for boardwalks, bus rides into the city, NY pizza, quality bagels. 

Upon reflection: In going to Spain, I traded both homes I know and love for a new one that at the time felt completely unknown. However, it really wasn’t long before Madrid itself felt like another home. It’s such a warm, friendly, exciting city – both in the people and the general atmosphere. I made a point while abroad to spend quality time in Madrid (rather than spending every weekend traveling) to really get to know the city where I lived. I walked everywhere, stalked Madrid tourist websites, and slowly crossed off every site I wanted to see. I know that I made the most of my time in my host city, and can’t wait to someday return.

3. People love to give advice about packing

Pre-departure: The prospect of fitting all of my belongings in a single suitcase and carry-on was an intimidating one. I felt a high likelihood the process of packing would pan out to be a battle between the two opposing sides of my personality: my inner minimalist who wants to ditch all my earthly belongings and start a new life with nothing more than the bare essentials, and my inner romantic who assigns deep personal value to materialistic items and treasures all belongings for their nostalgic value. 

Upon reflection: Packing is the worst part about traveling, in my opinion. Not just packing itself, but all the logistics that accompany transporting a large number of belongings from one place to another—it’s difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. It’s also difficult to predict exactly what items you will actually use/wear. The best advice I can give is to remember that if you don’t wear something at home, you’re not going to wear it abroad. And try to leave room in your suitcase (I know it’s hard). But most of all, don’t stress too much about it. Less is more, and you can buy or replace anything you forget or need in the future. 

4. Maybe I should have picked London or Belfast...

Pre-departure: I took Spanish for three years in high school and I was absolutely enamored with it. Unfortunately, three years have (somehow) passed since my junior year of high school and my last experience with Spanish in a formal classroom environment. I knew that overcoming the language barrier would undoubtedly be one of the difficult parts of my study abroad experience.

Upon reflection: The fear of speaking in another language was a difficult one to overcome, and never wore off completely. But Spanish people are very kind and understanding about the language barrier with foreigners and it never proved to be any issue (thanks in part to modern technology, and friends who speak Spanish better than I do). But most importantly, it’s certainly true that immersing yourself in another culture is the best way to practice, and my speaking skills improved greatly over the course of the program.

Overall, I’m incredibly grateful for my experience studying abroad in Madrid. I’m thankful for all of the people that made it possible, and all the people that made my experience as memorable as it was. I learned and grew in ways I hoped for and in ways I couldn't have predicted. I look forward to returning someday. Hasta la próxima!

Kyla Hunter

<p>Hello! My name is Kyla Hunter and I am a rising junior at Duke University studying Mechanical Engineering, with a focus on Energy &amp; Environment. Although I was born in Princeton, New Jersey, bouncing around between different states as a child was the beginning of my interest in exploring new settings and meeting new people. I have long dreamed of studying abroad and am thrilled to be participating in the IES - Engineering, Math &amp; Science Program in Madrid this fall. On campus, I am a Residential Assistant for first-year students and a tour guide for the School of Engineering. In my free time, I can often be found drawing in my sketchbook or playing the piano in the common room. I look forward to sharing some of my experiences as I navigate new cultural, social, and academic endeavors in Spain!</p>

2021 Fall
Home University:
Duke University
Princeton, NJ
Engineering - General
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