Are you homesick yet?

Although Spain is a wonderful adventure, Nikki Matz also recognizes the difference from the U.S. She shares the things that she misses from the U.S. from her experience on the Student Exchange Program.

As a student studying abroad, one of the most-asked questions aside from “where are you from” or “what are you studying” is “are you homesick yet?” I have never been someone that gets homesick easily, I didn’t even get homesick when I went to college my freshman year. I wondered if the case would be the same when I moved across the world to live in a foreign country. After living in Madrid for 3 months I have decided that I may just miss a few things about home. I’ve compiled a list of a few things that I miss the most about America and home. I found it best to schedule a time to talk to people and if you can’t call texting can be just as useful.

  1. The people- At first I was very good about keeping in contact with friends and family at home, a 6 hour time difference meant I usually called people around 11 or 12 at night. As my friends and I got more busy with school and other things, I have found it harder to spend an hour on Facetime a couple times a week. Weekend trips will take ALL of your energy and the weeks have to be dedicated to all the schoolwork I don’t do on the weekends. 6 hours isn’t a lot, but it makes communication much more difficult than being in the same time zone. I found it worked best to set a time when you will try to call people, and it helps a lot to know other peoples schedules. For example, my parents would not get home from work until almost midnight in Spain, so I remember that when I wanted to call them.

2.The culture- Spain is not what I would consider a stereo typically cold culture, the people are generally nice and always willing to help, but I miss the friendly good mornings of American strangers when you are walking down the street or striking up conversations with people in the grocery store. I never realized that Americans were stereotyped as overtly friendly until I talked to people from other countries and they told me they thought this, and then I began to realize that it is very true. People generally consider Americans to be friendly people.

3. Free water/American service industry- I will be very relieved to order water with my first meal back in the States and to not see a charge for it on my bill. Europeans pay for all beverages on the menu and I have sadly eaten many meals without a drink because I am too stubborn to pay for water. In addition to the water dilemma, service in Europe is very different from the service in America. Waiters and waitresses in Europe are salaried and paid fairly well, so they do not have the motivation to give you excellent service because tipping is for the most part non-existent. You must get the waiters attention if you want anything, and sometimes they may still take 20 minutes to come to your table. In Europe it is rude to keep checking on a table because you may be interrupting conversations and it seems like you want to hurry people along. I found that I would spend over 2 hours at restaurants almost every time just because no one is checking on you and you don’t feel rushed.

I never appreciated the things that I love about America until I left and realized that I missed them. I am so happy that I have the chance to live in a culture so different from my own, and I really enjoy being able to see the differences in cultures across Europe. The truth is almost everyone abroad will eventually succumb to some kind of homesickness, missing a restaurant in your hometown or friends from college, but homesickness can easily turn into a good thing, because it makes you appreciate the things you miss even more than you already did. Keeping in touch with people helps a lot with homesickness and it helps you still feel connected to home. I also have found that a lot of the things you might miss (especially food) are available if you search hard enough. For example Bagels and many cereals that I like are not typical in Madrid, but I have found special stores such as Made in America or even cereal and bagel shops that serve some of my favorites. It won’t be something you get everyday, but every once in a while it is nice to have a bagel to remind me of home.

Some of the food I have enjoyed in Europe (without water)

Pizza on Foccacia with pesto (Cinque Terre, Italy)
Fresh pasta with pomodoro and pesto (Florence, Italy)
Pizza Margharita (Naples,Italy)

P.S. Of the 10 countries in Europe I have visited, Italy had the best food!

Advice on Traveling While Abroad

Nikki Matz, studying in Spain on the Student Exchange Program, shares her advice and tips on how to go about traveling while abroad for a semester. Check out her list of helpful Apps and webpages, as well as ways to get discounts!

One of the most exciting parts of studying abroad is the ability to travel around the area you are in and see a different part of the world. Being in Europe makes it quite convenient to visit a lot of countries very inexpensively. One of the best things to do when booking weekend trips is to do it early. I was able to get several flights under 100 USD just because I booked them early, and when I booked trips later I had to pay much more. For my school, I didn’t schedule my classes until December, so I wasn’t able to book very many trips early. It is important to think of other costs associated with booking trips, sometimes a flight may be cheaper but you may have to pay more for other things. For example, my monthly metro pass takes me to the airport for free, but the metro is closed from 2-6am, so if I have a flight early in the morning, I have to pay for a taxi. The cost savings on flights sometimes aren’t worth the hassle.

Some helpful tools and websites to use when booking trips:

  • Google flights: Make sure to open an incognito window, but it lets you see many cities at once and their prices, and you can track prices for different flights. Sometimes I would open two tabs to purchase 2 one way tickets.
  • Rome2Rio: once you are in a country, you need to get from the airport to your accommodation, and you also may want to move around the country. Rome2rio shows you all the ways you can get from point a to point b, with prices include. It is very useful to see the time it will take for different methods of transportation and their costs.
  • Bookings.com: I used this many times to book accommodations, they list hostels, B&Bs, and hotels at very discounted prices. It is always worth checking because you can find steeply discounted prices for very nice accommodations.
  • Hostelworld: Hostels are a staple for youth travelers, and if your goal is to save money you’ve got to use them. Hostelworld shows you how far places are from the city center, ratings, pictures, and other information. It makes comparing hostels very easy and is very easy to book through it. (Bring a padlock with you for hostels just in case they don’t have them, and I would also recommend a quick-drying towel and refillable toiletry bottles.)
  • Skyscanner: Skyscanner is another flight search engine, a lot of students utilize this to find the cheapest flights. I personally have used google flights more, but Skyscanner is very popular as well.

These are a few of the tools I found most useful, there are also often discounts for students such as the European youth card or ISIC that give you discounts on airlines such as RyanAir. It is good to be aware early that you can purchase a youth card for a few euros and get discounts on travel.  Traveling on the weekends is an integral part of studying abroad, it is exciting and exhausting at the same time. Being prepared makes everything more enjoyable and less stressful.

Pro tip: Try not to schedule classes at 8 am on Monday mornings (speaking from experience) best case scenario is ending class early on Thursday, no class Friday, and late class Monday.

Tétouan, Morocco

Copenhagen, Denmark

Initial Observations of Spain

Read some observations from Nikki Matz, who is studying in Madrid, Spain for a semester on the Student Exchange Program. She describes the difference between U.S. and Spain on eye contact, greetings, grocery stores, and more.

I have now been living in Madrid for about 3 weeks, and I have found many differences between this city and any place I have lived in the U.S. One thing that is very interesting is how much people stare in Spain. In the US, if you catch a person staring at you they will quickly look away knowing that they have been caught; however, here people do not look away. In my first few days, I was on edge because of this cultural difference, but I soon realized that it was not something to be scared of.

View from my balcony, Calle Mayor

Another interesting concept that I have discovered is the greeting of 2 kisses. I knew it existed but I wasn’t quite sure how often it was used. I was recently at a Spanish person’s house where there was a large group of Spanish people, and upon introduction, I indeed kissed 15 people’s cheeks. It is difficult to get used to because my natural inclination is to shake hands with someone. There is also additional confusion when I meet other international students from around Europe or South America because they also have different greeting norms. In Chile for example, a greeting of one kiss on the cheek is staple; however, in Italy they also do two kisses, but they begin on the opposite cheek of Spaniards. I am hoping that by the end of the semester I will be able to catch on greet anyone like a pro!

Palacio Real
Sabatini Gardens

My final observations come from the grocery stores or “supermercados”. I live on Calle Mayor, which is right in the center of Madrid. The options for groceries around me are mostly express shops, very tiny grocery stores with the essentials. If I want anything more I have to go to a different neighborhood of Madrid. A very surprising discovery that I made was that Spanish supermarkets do not refrigerate their eggs or their milk. I’m still not quite sure how that works, but it is nice to be able to stock up on those things without worrying about them spoiling.

Palacio de Cristal
Templo de Debod

I look forward to spending more time as a Madrileño and getting the opportunity to practice Spanish daily. Madrid has a lot to offer as well as the rest of Spain, and I can’t wait to explore!