I was laying there on a bright orange comforter in a tiny room. It must’ve been 90 degrees because all I could do was sweat. Sweat and sweat and sweat until I soaked through my comforter in my tiny un-airconditioned room. I had only been in Granada, Spain for about 2 weeks, but I was already starting to worry that everyone was wrong.
When you ask people about studying abroad, there’s a ridiculously large chance that they will tell you it was the best experience of their life. Hands down. And so that’s all you expect. And then suddenly your imagination gets the best of you and in your mind you’re clinking beers in an Irish pub and eating gelato by some breathtaking river and speaking fluently with the natives all while “finding yourself” and falling in love and never experiencing a moment of self doubt. And it all seems so close and so obtainable and so beautiful.
But then you’re there. And two weeks have passed and the shimmer of it all has worn off. And so your imagination sets off again…this time with frustration. “Why do the Spaniards not apologize when they bump into me? Why do I keep getting lost? Why haven’t my friends tried to Skype me yet? Why haven’t I made true friends here yet? Why are there no free refills?” And it’s hard. That’s what no one tells you about studying abroad.
That it can be really really hard.
That sometimes you’ll want to just go home. Sometimes you’ll feel like your friends don’t actually miss you. Sometimes you’ll worry that maybe you shouldn’t be majoring in Spanish because that random old man (after many failed attempts at conversation) just says “ahhh no hablas Español” in the elevator. Or that sometimes…you’re just not going to like certain things about your host country. Plain and simple. Because sometimes driving to the supermercado sounds a little better than walking the 3 miles.
But what I will say is this. Here I am 5 months later, laying in my marshmallow soft bed. The AC is on and I’m comfortable and content and I know I won’t be dreaming in Spanish tonight. I’m back. I’m home.
But right before I fall asleep, I will remind myself of the difficult moments of studying abroad. Because it was those difficult moments that made studying in Granada the best experience of my life. Not the chupiterías and paella and traveling and funny stories of new friends in London. Those were all great. They were. And I’ll remember them.
But it was the difficult and ugly of it all that showed me just how strong I am. Just how resilient and resourceful I can be. It was every corrected word and reminder that I’m not 100% fluent that pushed me to work for a higher level of the language. It was in the bad interactions and good ones that taught me how there is room to appreciate the differences in cultures, but also remember how similar we all are. It was in every moment that pushed me out of my comfort zone and into the unfamiliar that helped me grow. That helped me become someone I’m really proud of.
The nights of dancing and laughing at the discotecas. The days of long walks around the Río Genil. The trains and planes and trips with new friends who became family. They all are forever embedded in those streets and that school and that town. But those lessons and how they altered me will stay. That’s mine. No matter where I am.
And that’s why studying abroad was the best experience of my life.