It’s hard to believe I’m just a few days short of one month here. I’m absolutely in love with the city and my life abroad. But let’s take a few steps back and talk about those first few days.
Not Pictured: My spacious desk, cute decorations, and view from the window. In other words: my room is awesome, and most definitely better than my dorm room. (Sorry UW Housing—you’re still great too).
I’ll always remember the first meal I had with my host mom and my sister. It was formal—we sat in the living room with a plastic-y table cloth, everything set out on table, even a napkin at each spot. It was one of those uncomfortable get-to-know-you meals where you feel like you can’t eat because every time you put food in your mouth, someone asks you a question. It was like a first date, ya know? You want to be yourself, but you still want to impress them. You’re worried about what to say (*ahem* I am living in a Spanish-speaking household, and I learned quite quickly that my classroom Spanish is very different). My host sister also liked to direct all her sentences at my host mom, who would then translate it into simple, slow Spanish that I could (sort of) understand.
Café, heart shaped cookies, and croissants filled with gooey chocolate to get-to-know the students in our neighborhoods on our first night of orientation.
Making friends was daunting. I was the last one to arrive at orientation. I felt like a kid on their first day of school, and my host mom was my rock. (Please just hold my hand and don’t let go.) I didn’t know anyone, and it looked like all the girls in my group had already met one another. “Don’t speak English! If you talk to the other U.S. students in English, your Spanish won’t improve!” The advice I received before coming was like a broken record in my mind. My advice? If you want to be friends with the other exchange students (and you do), don’t panic about the English. Just get to know them first, and you can always practice Spanish together later with your close friends. When you’re in a Spanish-immersion program like mine with classes, guided tours from the exchange program, and a homestay in your second language, you’d have to seriously try to not learn the language.
Don’t mind me, just trying to not get lost as I navigate the dark and winding European alleyways.
Everything was so isolating. I missed my family, I lost my grandma a few weeks prior, I didn’t have friends, I couldn’t understand anyone, and I never knew where I was. I barely slept for the first few nights. In a city of roughly 700,000 people, I was alone, in a place with Population: Me. And then something changed…