I have been imagining myself in Spain since the fall of my first semester at the University of Dayton, ever since I decided to apply for a month-long study abroad trip with the UD Core program. All year leading up to this summer, I have been buying clothes, making lists and booking flights for Spain. And now, I'm here and I can't really believe I only have twelve days left.
Being here in Spain has been a journey in more ways than one -- challenging me to communicate with community members who only speak Spanish (when I speak none) and encouraging me to engage with Spain in unique ways by looking at its history, social inequality and gender through fiction. The sightseeing, food consumption and learning experiences have been incredible and life-changing, but it has also been difficult. I have struggled with homesickness and stress while being in Spain, and I am so excited to share some of my strategies for addressing these issues in a healthy and constructive way!
1. Make friends... like it's your first semester of college.
Touring the Glass Palace in Madrid with some of my study abroad gal pals!
One aspect about study abroad that really struck me was how similarly the first couple of weeks felt to the beginning of my freshman year of college. I felt like I was starting from scratch -- every interaction with one of the students was a chance to build a friendship. And it seemed like everyone was doing just fine and coping with the time away from home really well. But for me, each day was a little like a roller coaster, characterized by contrasting highs and lows. Sometimes I felt like I was making so many friends, and other times I felt like I had none. And when those lows hit, I would get homesick -- just like my first semester at UD.
I remember distinctly one afternoon I was holed up in my dorm room, convinced I was the only one in our student group dealing with homesickness. Everyone was kind of doing their own thing that afternoon, no one seemed to be struggling like me. I was so worried I wasn't making any friends, while also craving the social interaction. Then something clicked. I thought to myself, if I want to be around other people, why shouldn't I initiate that? So I texted one of the girls in our group I had become pretty close with and we got together, chatting about shared homesickness and anxieties while being abroad. It was just so helpful to hear from someone else that they were also experiencing what I was -- that I wasn't alone.
Whether or not they express it, others on your trip are going through something very similar to you -- and it really helps to talk about it. So even though it might feel uncomfortable at first, I recommend initiating those conversations about homesickness and social pressures with others -- and actually those conversations help to build long-lasting friendships too.
2. Build a home away from home.
This was one of my favorite meals Antonio served us while in Granada... so yummy.
Something that really helped me to feel at home while in Granada was to unpack all of my belongings into my dorm room and develop daily routines. The first couple weeks of being abroad in Spain were a little overwhelming, since I was fairly incapable of communicating in Spanish, I was thrown off by the time difference, and I felt significantly displaced living in a new city, a new country. I was a whole ocean away from my home. However, even just developing small routines like going to meals at around the same time with the same people helped me feel like I was living in a home with a family.
Living in a residence hall style has been really helpful in establishing these routines. Meals are always at the same time, bringing students together -- because homemade food is always a draw. We are getting the same kinds of preparations from one chef, Antonio, the love of our lives here in Granada. He has been spoiling us with delicious food since day one. I've included a picture of my favorite meal he's prepared thus far above -- a fried egg, pesto and garlic pork, and his famous peppers and potatoes. I think I will definitely develop cravings for his meals when I'm back in the United States.
In addition to food orienting our daily schedules, it has also been nice to use the same bathroom, develop shower routines and consistently hang out with other students in our dorm rooms. Performing these routines together, I think, has helped us to quickly develop a small community -- one that supports its members and encourages our growth on this study abroad experience.
3. Be present to the space and moment you're in.
View of the Alhambra and the city of Granada from the Albaicin
Sometimes, my concerns about travel logistics, speaking Spanish and homesickness would get in the way of me fully appreciating this rare opportunity I have to experience Spain -- by taking classes with UD professors and students. It was often helpful for me to just regularly remind myself to be present to the moment.
For instance, on our daily trips out into the city, I would sometimes get distracted worrying about the next thing on our agenda -- I would become absent from the current moment. One time during our walk up the Albaicin -- a region of Granada overlooking the city and the Alhambra from a hillside -- I found myself trying to iron out my argument for my next writing assignment due that evening.
In an attempt to be more present, I re-focused my attention to the climb up the Albaicin, and the finale view of Granada at the top -- a view I have captured in the picture above. In this moment, I was able to just stop and relish in the blue sky and the impressive grandeur of the Alhambra. Being up there, I could see the bigger picture: I am in Spain for perhaps the only time in my life. I get to be here, so I should be present to it.
Having this perspective throughout the trip helped me to immerse myself more in each experience, and helped the time to pass slower. Rather than always thinking about the next thing, I have been working really hard to focus on the beautiful moment right in front of me.
All of this is to say that there are challenges to face when studying abroad -- whether it's homesickness, stress or just being overwhelmed with the culture shock. Hopefully, the tips I have shared can help you on your next trip abroad.