Excited. Anxious. Happy. Scared. Free. The mixed emotions kept coming and going as I prepared to embark on my semester abroad in Barcelona. I remember going to the study abroad fair last September and always knowing that Spain was the destination at which I so desperately wanted to spend a semester away from Boston College. Students who spend a semester in a different country end up saying how life changing their experiences had been, and I was ready to leave and be transformed.
Imagine, then, my surprise when I step foot in the Barcelona airport and then head to my dorm to be engulfed by an immense feeling of loneliness and anxiety. It may have been the jetlag or the fact that I had been traveling for over 20 hours, but suddenly I just wanted to be back at BC with my friends. My roommate and I have called it the two-week grace period. We knew our deadline for arriving had expired, but were waiving any penalties that presented themselves as negative feelings toward our experience until we acclimated to life here.
We always hear the great aspects of studying in a different country, but we don’t talk about those moments when we feel helpless and alone. I remember my first night here when my roommate and I decided to take a walk along the beach around midnight because it was just a five-minute walk away from our dorm.
That is one of the great aspects of being abroad: the spontaneity. We sat on the sand and watched the “Catalanes” swim in the Mediterranean or people having dinner along the beach because Europeans don’t believe in early dining. We kept walking and passing people and were awed by the beautiful architecture and vibrant life-style. I remember stating how this was the perfect city, and I could easily see myself falling in love with its majestic feel.
Suddenly, we were lost with no phone, no map, no money, and no idea how to get back to our dorm. In that moment I felt helplessness take over again, walking aimlessly in pajamas for over two hours playing a guessing game as to where we were. As I think back on that first day, I can say that it was a test of not only our physical, but also emotional strength. To be lost on our first day in the middle of the night in a place we’ve never been definitely challenged us to be independent and rely on each other in a way we’d never done before.
That first night wasn’t the only time we got lost, and the more we got lost, the more impatient I became. Not only was my lack of patience evident in how I never knew where I was, but also in how everything was in Catalan. We joked that it was mixture of Spanish, Italian, and a hint of French. The one thing I thought I would have no problem with, the language, frustrated me most when I had to order from a menu in a language I’d never heard. These things wouldn’t have bothered me normally if I were a tourist for two weeks. I am not a tourist, however—I am a temporary resident of this country, and by becoming this I have to change my mindset, be more flexible, and adapt to the unexpected. I have to accept that people here aren’t as structured and organized as the people I’m normally surrounded by at BC.
My two-week grace period is almost up. I found a place to do my weekly groceries, know where the nearest metro station is, found that small quaint spot in the city where I feel at peace, but nevertheless still feel very much alone in a foreign country. At my host university the other day, however, they presented us with the following quote by Wendell Berry: “Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.”
It got me thinking, and maybe this might not be the transformative experience I initially thought of, but it will definitely bring me back to BC with bright shining eyes to view my place in the world in a different manner. All I have to do is fail fast and fail often, but most importantly be comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable.
Featured Image by Andres Kudacki / Associated Press