I’ve been thinking about it since the 10th grade. I was so sure of it and it was in fact one of the only things I did know at the time, so it drove my college search. Though my parents went to college, it was something they had never known and will never know. I took the opportunity for granted; I had just assumed it would happen. Well, it did. Abroad happened, and almost 15 weeks ago I found myself pacing around a hotel in Madrid, frantically dialing my mom’s cell because I’m in Madrid and I’m here for the next three months and I’m never going to last that long and it’s only the first day and I’m freaking out and and and…
Well, pretty soon it was the second day. And the second week, and the second month. My second trip out of the country, my second hostel, my second time getting lost, my second trip to Retiro Park. As time would have it, pretty soon it was the second hour of my plane ride home. It’s been a week since I left Madrid. Abroad happened, past tense, pasó, ya está. And as life would have it, it went on. I came back to the same house, same couch, the same fridge with the usual food selection. Unfortunately, I also came back to the national tragedy in Newtown, CT, which is my hometown. To put it lightly, my homecoming was sobered. If everything abroad taught me about appreciating life hadn’t already sunk in, it certainly has now.
It’s been a slow adjustment into my “normal” life in the states. I’m not sure that cultural adjustment chart that abroad programs seem to think is so spot-on has really applied to me, but I still double-take when I hear English on the street, and now that I have four monetary denominations in my wallet I am totally confused every time I buy a coffee. Even as I write this, I’m still not sure I could streamline my experience into a neat set of metaphors to slap on this blog. I think abroad counselors and student ambassadors are misleading in this way. Yes, going abroad can change your life, but not in the same way for everyone and certainly not in a way that can always be succinctly articulated in 500 words or less.
So future abroad goers, hear me out: You will read these blogs and you will hear many stories from past travelers. You’ll go abroad, and you too may have epiphanies and moments that might impact your life in a big way. You might discover a passion you never knew you had. Or it might not be so obvious. Don’t expect your experience to be like mine, even if you study in Madrid. Oh, you can expect to stuff your face with paella from Mercado de San Miguel and slurp down a glass of wine with not-yet-familiar faces and friends. You can expect to travel and dine in one huge, unsustainable group for the first week or two before you branch off into smaller chunks. Don’t be too cool to be “those loud Americans,” because you are a loud American—you’ll be a loud Spaniard soon enough.
Live every moment abroad by the saying “you can sleep on the plane ride home.” You will never remember how tired you were when you stayed out till dawn, but you sure will remember singing Spanish anthems on top of the metro station, feeling infinite like Charlie from Perks of Being a Wallflower. But don’t take my word for it. Discover it for yourself.