As my time abroad came to an end I spent some time reflecting on my experience in Madrid. I remember just a few weeks before my flight I had second thoughts about my decision to study abroad. Staying in Charlottesville would’ve been the easy way out. I already have a group of friends, I’ll only be two hours away from home, and I’m already familiar with with how things work around campus. Deciding to go abroad was a huge leap of faith for me. Countless people it would be the time of my life but I still had some concerns. I had never been away from my family for this long, I didn’t know anyone going in, and Madrid seemed so foreign to me. I remember even a week or so before leaving talking with my parents about bailing and just staying at UVA for the semester. Looking back I totally get where I was coming from but I’m also so glad I made the choice to step out of my comfort zone and try something that made me nervous. Although every day abroad wasn’t the coolest thing ever, as a whole my experience was completely amazing. I saw some amazing places, met some awesome people and lived in a city all on my own. I don’t want to get too philosophical and pretend like my trip completely changed me, but there are a few lessons that I learned through my experience that will stick with me long after leaving Madrid.
The first is the importance of allowing for spontaneity in life cause those random uncomfortable times are some of the most memorable and meaningful moments of my trip. Going into my trip I think I had a perception that I needed to plan every trip out far in advance to get the most out of my time in Europe. This way of thinking about the experience was very economical and took away some of the enjoyment about just taking things in as they come. One of my favorite parts of my trip was my impromptu hike with a women I met hitchhiking that I wrote about in an earlier post. Something like this was such a pleasant surprise and came completely out of the blue. The fact that I had no idea what to expect, although at times it was a little unnerving, made the experience all the more exciting. At times at school I get caught up in planning my whole week and maybe even month out going from activity to activity but I hope to take this lesson back with me to the states and allow from some spontaneity in my daily life.
Another take away from my time abroad deals with the importance of getting connected to the community. Going into my trip I worried about being just another fish in a massive pond. How was I going to connect with a city so big when I knew no locals coming in? On a random Tuesday night early in the semester a friend asked me if i wanted to help teach their english class and I accepted, not thinking much of it. By the end of the semester this became one of my favorite activities and really looked forward to it each week. The class was filled with middle to older aged men and women eager to learn english with barely any background knowledge. It was so awesome to be able to connect with real locals who had lived in the city for years. They told me about good restaurants and cool events going on around the city. I became very close with a few of them and almost thought of them as my Madrid grandparents. These relationships made the city feel much smaller and really made me feel apart of something. Thinking ahead to next semester at UVA, I hope to take this with me and look for ways to get involved in the Charlottesville community.