We are now nearing the close of my first semester back from Spain, and the end is coming alarmingly quickly. Facebook gave me my “year in review” video today, so apparently we are wrapping it up (we still have SEVERAL weeks left in the year, Facebook, but thank you for the reminder). 2016 has been a year for the books, certainly, and it’s hard for me to believe how quickly it passed by.
On the Wednesday of dead week last year, I was in the ER in extreme pain (it ended up being appendicitis. I had an emergency appendectomy, it went poorly, I stayed in the hospital for five days, I had to push back all my finals, and I ended up being in too fragile a state to travel for Christmas like my family had planned. It was not the jolliest Christmas season, but it was memorable). Thank goodness this dead week is going smoother and the pain I’m in is only mental! (Just kidding. Sort of – finals are rough, guys).
After my surgery and my delayed finals, I recuperated at home until pretty much the minute I hopped on my plane to Madrid (the day I boarded the plane was actually the first day I was cleared by the doctor to lift things over 20 pounds again). It was a little bit of a triumph for me – in 30 days, I’d gone from struggling to sit up or walk without extreme pain to starting a life for myself in Spain that I will never forget.
One blessing of having emergency surgery right before I went to Madrid was that it took my mind off the hugeness of the leap that I was about to take in going abroad. Everyone talks about how amazing studying abroad is, and how it’s an experience you’ll never forget, and they are not wrong – going to Spain is quite possibly my favorite thing that I have ever done. As soon as I stepped back onto American soil in April, I was itching to return to Alcalá.
However. What no one talks about (and maybe this is because no one worries quite like I do, but I find that hard to believe) is how scary it is to embark on a journey that long. I have dreamt of studying abroad in Spain for YEARS, but as I got closer to actually doing it, I got more and more terrified. I started to wonder if maybe I didn’t really want to do it, and that it would just be a huge mistake. Many upsetting thoughts like this swirled around in my brain for much of the fall semester.
You already know this, but it was NOT a huge mistake. It was, arguably, my best decision to date. And my experience reminds me of a quote I love – “If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.” I’ve talked about this a bit in a previous blog post, but to me, it merits repeating: just because you are afraid of something does not mean you should not do it.
I wish, before I’d gone abroad, someone had told me that it is very okay to be scared out of your wits about leaving the country for four months, and that this fear is BY NO MEANS an indication that you should not go. This time last year, I was feeling MOSTLY fear and VERY LITTLE actual excitement about going abroad. The dream had seemed so rosy from far away, and up close it seemed so formidable. But I took the leap anyway and I will be eternally grateful that I did.
Now, I find myself getting caught up daydreaming about sipping café con leche and eating delicious pastries while I chatted in cafés with my friends. I miss roaming the streets of Madrid by myself, wandering through the parks, stopping in museums, and browsing any shops that caught my eye. I miss hearing Spanish around me always, and feeling powerful every time I interacted with a stranger and got to use my Spanish in casual conversation. I miss my classes, learning about Spanish history and art and medicine, and having debates about the European Union (all in Spanish, of course) with my wicked smart professors. I REALLY miss the friends I made – some, blessedly, go to OU, and I get to see them from time to time, but many are scattered across the country and we can only text. I miss my host mom and sister, sitting at our little kitchen table and discussing current events and Spanish vs. American culture, or sitting in our living room watching Gran Hermano. I miss all of the trains and busses and metro cars. I miss the weekend trips to new and exciting places, with adventure around every corner. I miss feeling the history in every building I passed and every cobblestone I walked on. I miss the trivia and karaoke nights, the tapas, and the laughter.
I miss quite a few things, but mostly, I am grateful. Grateful for SUCH an incredible experience. Grateful that I attend a university that encourages study abroad as much as it does. Grateful to be a Global Engagement fellow, an opportunity that has added so much richness to my time at OU. Eternally grateful that I did not let my fear win out and that I completed my spring semester at la Universidad de Alcalá. At the end, 4 months didn’t feel nearly long enough.
Part of my heart will always reside in Alcalá de Henares. And I would not have it any other way.
If by any chance someone happens to read this blog who is currently apprehensive about studying abroad, I hope that you will take my words to heart. If it scares you, there is a distinct possibility that it would be an excellent thing to try. Please never let fear talk you out of something incredible.