I’ve travelled a lot. Ever since I was little, my parents have always brought me along on excursions both in and out of the country. They ranged from a family week in Arizona, a luxurious vacation in Aruba to a business trip in Rome, but nonetheless, my parents were constantly by my side when we explored all of these new places. I was able to just aimlessly follow them around and really didn’t have to put that much thought into getting from point A to point B. All the taxis, hotels, and activities were planned by them—I was just there to happily tag along. It was so easy.
So, when the opportunity to spend the summer in Madrid came along, my clouded judgement kept telling me “Psh, this will be a piece of cake for you. You’ve travelled so many times.” While the travelling part is true, the other point about being perfectly equipped for the summer was a tad bit off.
Yes, I took Spanish in high school. Yes, I followed the packing list. And yes, I read up on all the culture differences that I was going to face. I still wasn’t prepared. You could study and research a new place for hours, but until you get there, you can’t fully understand what it’s going to be like. And that’s okay.
The beauty about living abroad for two months is that you’re put in a totally new environment and challenged to figure it out. There’s no perfect guidebook that tells you what to do when you can’t find your office on your first day, or what to do when your Spanish SIM card stops working on you (it’ll happen), but if there was such a book accessible to us, you wouldn’t get anything out of living in Europe.
At first, the culture shock is a lot. The language barrier, new modes of transportation, and unfamiliar places can make you wish you were back in America. Trust me though, it didn’t take long until I felt as if I was starting to overcome those obstacles to the point where I developed a work routine, had a special coffee shop I visited every day, and knew the metro pretty darn well.
This new sense of confidence allowed me to broaden my horizons and travel outside of Madrid. I was able to go to Segovia, Barcelona, Ibiza, Paris, and Morocco knowing that I didn’t need my parent’s full assistance to plan trips for me. Travelling on the weekends with my friends furthered my growth as an individual, and now I can’t stop thinking about what place I want to visit next!
My biggest piece of advice is to not go into the trip thinking you know everything, and to not be afraid of not being fully prepared. There’s enough stores to get whatever you need, and enough nice people to help you along the way. You’re there to be challenged in a way that you probably never have before, and you’ll grow so much from learning how to problem solve in a foreign country. If I can do a total 180 in terms of being self-sufficient when travelling, you can do it too.