Let me take you through the story of my study abroad experience in Spain so far. Nearly four months have passed since I took the flight from Alberta to Madrid, Spain and to say it’s been a whirlwind is an understatement.
One: “I can’t believe they’re actually letting me into the country.”
I’m not a criminal or anything, but I feel like I’ve pulled a heist every time I step foot in a new country. While Canada has a pretty good global reputation, I know that people tend to judge me by more than my Canadian passport. Unfortunately, I’m judged by my race and my gender as I move through the world. As a black woman, I’ve learned to be wary when navigating the world, and as a result, I was extra cautious when entering the country.
Two: “This has been a grave mistake.”
This thought popped into my mind right after I finished speaking with my mom on the phone in my hotel room. After she hung up the phone, it struck me that I was truly alone and half the world away from my family, the friends I’d developed in university and the comfort of the home I’d created in Alberta. It took many weeks for me to feel enough familiarity with the new residence and the new university for me to settle down mentally.
Three: “He speaks really fast, but I’ve already asked him to repeat himself too many times so I’ll just nod and pretend to understand what he’s saying.”
The common assumption is that if you can speak a language really well, that you can understand it perfectly as well. This is not the case for me. I speak Spanish infinitely better than I can understand it. This means that I’ll start off a conversation with a Spanish person and then get lost in the middle of it. I imagined that by the end of my fourth month in Spain, that I’d have a better time understanding people, but nope. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are some conversations that non-native speakers will never be able to follow.
Four: “I could live here forever!”
Spanish weather is exponentially better than Canadian weather, and I’m willing to fight on it. Spain is also obviously closer to other incredible European countries. It’s completely possible and not at all unheard of to be able to fly out to Portugal, Italy or Belgium for under 100 euros on the weekend, and “belens” (Spanish nativity scenes) and happy smiling families. What more could I want?
Five: “I wish my teachers weren’t so obsessed with class presentations.”
The professors at my university don’t consider a course done until you’ve given multiple class presentations. It’s not enough to go to class and complete the course work. You must also work over the course of the semester to create a presentation with your classmates. This, however, has also meant that I’ve developed close friendships with my peers thanks to the time we’ve spent together.
Republished: 23 February 2020