I signed up to study abroad during my junior year of college. An entire semester in Spain designed to immerse students into the culture, learn about the history, and live with a host family who spoke zero English.
Literally, zero. No habla. Just a Madre and a padre who discussed current affairs every night at the dinner table (I’m guessing, I actually had very little idea what they were talking about. Like I said, everything was in Spanish, and they talked so fast!), and a host brother who was super into Shakira. My roommate and I heard the song Rabiosa through the thin walls of our piso AT LEAST once a day.
Spending a semester in Spain sounded like a great opportunity. I mean, yea, my Spanish skills sucked – even after two semesters of the basics, my ability to string a sentence together usually went like this: “Hola. Como estas? Chaqueta, biblioteca, gracias, tienes un pluma?” Which Google Translate will tell you means: “Hi. How are you? Jacket, library, thank you, do you have a pen?” Clearly, I was ready to navigate a foreign country.
But who doesn’t want to live in Spain for a summer? I thought, JUST THINK of the Facebook photos! (It was 2011, ya’ll – Instagram wasn’t a thing yet.) I went back and forth imagining myself getting lost and struggling to ask for directions (in my nightmares, the person just kept handing me pens), and THEN I imagined myself having dinner in Madrid and posting about it all over Facebook. (#Europe!!!)
At the forefront of all this – none of it mattered anyway, because I was one hundred percent absolutely CERTAIN that my parents were going to say no. N-O. Their daughter who had never even been on a plane before? You think they’re going to be cool with her leaving the country? By herself? Their only daughter? Yea, right. What kind of parents would they be?
As it turns out, the supportive kind who want to give their daughter the best opportunities. Even if that means doing something scary like living in a foreign country for three months.
I know. I was surprised too.
Of course the idea sounded whimsical – Spain and siestas and weekend trips to Barcelona, but the real meat and bones, down-and-dirty of it sounded like a nightmare. Not being able to drive? Not being able to comprehend asking someone for directions? A six hour time difference from my home in Ohio? What about ordering food in a restaurant? What kind of food did they even have in Spain? Tacos? (Note – Spain is not Mexico.)
It was a cold day in February, just a few days after my 21st birthday, when I sat them down (AKA – had dinner with them at the Olive Garden in my college town, because that was our “spot”) and said, “I’m thinking about studying abroad this summer. In Spain. Doesn’t that sound cool?”
They had a lot of questions. Questions about how I was planning to pay for it, how the program works, how comfortable I felt navigating a country where I didn’t speak the language.
“Mom. I took three years of Spanish in high school, plus two semesters in college.”
“What if you get lost and need to ask someone for directions? What if you need to ask someone where the bathroom is?”
“I’ll figure it out.”
My parents have never taken “I’ll figure it out” as a valid answer before. It’s the answer I gave when they asked me about ‘plans after college’ or ‘getting a summer job’ or “how do you think you’re going to graduate from high school when you’re getting a D in Algebra?”
They’ve NEVER been satisfied with “I’ll figure it out.” But this time, they must have had more confidence in me, because I ended up going to Spain.
(But also, they had a laundry list of questions that I needed to answer and legitimate plans that needed to be in place before they would actually “let” me go. So, they didn’t have THAT much confidence in me.)
I sat on the bedroom floor of my college apartment the night before I was supposed to leave, surrounded by piles of clothes and a suitcase packed with haircare products and… well, clothes. I studied the “Travel Checklist” on the TSA.gov website. I bought special travel sized bottles for my liquids and put them into clear, plastic bags. I Googled “Where to buy Maybelline foundation in Madrid?” (The answer is El Corte Ingles, by the way. This is basically the Spanish version of Target or Walmart.)
I was ready. (Like, “nerd” ready. I bought CLEAR, PLASTIC BAGS to impress TSA.) But I was also freaked. Panicked. Holy-crap-I’m-going-to-Spain-TOMORROW.
“This is crazy. What am I doing? Going to SPAIN? For THREE MONTHS? What if I hate it? What if I don’t make any friends? What if I forget to pack something? What if I can’t find any food to eat over there? I’m such a picky eater. What if they make me eat something gross, like fish? What if my luggage gets lost? What if my outlet converters don’t work and I fry my hair straightener? What if I run out of make-up and they don’t have Maybelline foundation there?! Will I have to walk around without make-up?!”
You can see that my concerns were in all of the right places.
Judging by the pictures, you can also see that I made it across the pond and everything turned out okay. I’ll be starting a series of posts on this blog about my time spent in Europe and the study abroad experience. (In short – it was amazing. If you get the chance, do it.) If you’re thinking about studying abroad – leave me any questions you have in the comment section and I’ll be sure to answer them in the upcoming posts!