After four and a half months abroad, I have finally returned home. Of course, I spent my last day in Madrid going to all my favorite places and eating at my favorite restaurants. I wanted to get more souvenirs but I honestly don’t think that I could have fit any more things in my suitcase. Though I was feeling ready to get home to the US after classes at IE finished, I discovered that I wasn’t truly ready to leave Madrid. Getting on the plane in and of itself was a bit of culture shock. Obviously in Madrid I was used to hearing Spanish spoken all around me. Even at IE, though many of my friends were American, there were still dozens of languages and accents to be heard. But getting on the plane back to New York, I was shocked to hear so many American accents from the strangers around me. I was also so thankful to get free water on the airplane back to New York, something that I will never take for granted again, as many of the budget airlines in Europe will make you pay for it on the plane. Touching down, I excitedly turned on my cellular roaming, reveling in the fact that I could send a message without needing to connect to wifi. And then I went home, back to my suburban town, returning right in the middle of my siblings prepping for AP Exams and finals and prom. After a semester of traveling around Europe and learning alongside people from all over the world, I forgot how consistent life in my little town is. But slowly, as the days passed and I began to go to my favorite places here at home, I began to realize that small things had changed, with new construction and stores opening and closing while I had been away. It is easy to believe that everything freezes while you are gone, and you expect everything to be the same when you get back, but that is never the case.
While my town has changed during my time abroad, so have I. I still love my neighborhood, but I see it through a fresh perspective. When going into the New York City, I found myself comparing it to Madrid, noting how much cleaner and more efficient things seem to be abroad (it really made me appreciate the Madrid Metro). In Madrid, I walked everywhere or took public transportation. Back at home, the fastest way to get anywhere is by car and no one even knows about public transportation options. I do have to admit, however, that I really did miss driving.
What I am most struck by, however, is the difference in the pace of life. In the US, especially in my area, everything is done hurriedly, with purpose and maximum efficiency. Events like lunches and dinners are enjoyed but have a definite end. People here have other places to be and errands to run, they can’t spend all day relaxing with friends or stopping to talk to people on the street. And while I am appreciative that it is now acceptable to eat dinner at 6:30, I am taken aback when the waiter walks up and hands us our check as people waiting for a table stare us down, waiting for us to leave. Don’t get me wrong, life in Madrid was not the most efficient, and I had a hard time being patient enough to adapt to the Spanish timetable. However, seeing the Spanish way of life, even the European lifestyle in general, makes you wonder if we have our priorities straight here in the US. No, I do not think that dinner should last three hours every night, but I do believe that we spend too much of our days with one eye watching the clock, waiting to move onto the next item on our to-do list. I realize that that was exactly how I lived during high school and during my time at UVA. Moving forward though, I hope to be able to live in the moment and enjoy my days with a more Spanish mindset. I hope in the future I blend my need for efficiency with a willingness to stop and enjoy my day, and maybe take a little extra time to stop and talk to a friend or enjoy a more leisurely commute to my next errand, instead of the usual rushed one.
I have used all of these posts to talk about my experiences abroad, but if there is one thing you take away from them, I hope it is this: go abroad. I have known that I wanted to go abroad since I was little. There was never a question as to whether I was going to spend part of my junior year abroad, only where I was going to be. But I know that there are people who are apprehensive about going abroad. Some are worried they won’t feel comfortable living in a foreign country; some don’t want to spend an entire semester away from UVA. In response to both of those worries I still say: go abroad. I was very nervous before I left, and though adjusting to my new city was difficult at first, it was so rewarding once I had. And to all those who worry about leaving UVA, almost no one who has gone abroad has ever regretted it, but people who pass up on this opportunity do regret it. I have had five incredible semesters in Charlottesville, and I am very much looking forward to 4th year, but my semester abroad will be something I will never forget. It has helped push me out of my comfort zone and shown me that I can handle situations that I never would have thought I could overcome on my own. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to study abroad, and having lived and studied in such a warm and welcoming city as Madrid just made the experience that much more incredible. I am already plotting ways to go back as soon as possible and I am so happy that I was able to call Madrid home, at least for the spring of my 3rd year.