This trip has been something that I have been looking forward to for months, basically since I found out about it. Travel has always been something I’ve been passionate about, and excited about doing and this trip is one of the biggest trips I have ever embarked on. I do not think that I prepared enough.
When it comes to planning, I normally over-plan and map everything out, as I did with packing for Spain. I had my spreadsheet, and a picture of each item attached. With the trip itself though, I decided to just let things happen on their own. Anyway, my study abroad program is mostly figured out for me: 18 days, each day mapped out within the syllabus my teacher had posted. That gave me a false sense of comfort that everything was ready for me to arrive and experience all that Spain has to offer.
I forgot to account for arriving three days early in Barcelona with two fellow classmates. Thankfully, one of them had done some research and I was able to just ride on her coattails, tagging along on the various tours. Day one was a bit hard, but I tried to stay optimistic. Traveling itself is just extremely exhausting. I spent the whole day packing and getting ready to leave, and left the house around 9 PM to get on a five-hour plane ride at 12:50 AM. We arrived in Spain at 10:30 local time, completely exhausted. Navigating public transport, we got lost for about an hour in Barcelona, trying to locate our Airbnb. It was hard not to get frustrated with my friends, my brain wanted to take things out on someone for being so tired, and so hot, and just completely exhausted.
Day two was really the first day in Barcelona, and it was honestly a bit of a low for me at first. I had been taking antibiotics since before I had left home, and they were making me extremely nauseous and wound up, spending the first half of the day in bed trying to cope with how it was making me feel. Taking a nap in the middle of the day really did not help my jet lag. My friends explored the old town of Barcelona as I stayed in bed until about 6 PM when I felt good enough to go out. It was hard not to get upset at myself for staying in bed. There was a cycle of thoughts, about how I’d come so far only to stay in bed feeling ill, wasting time.
The afternoon made up for it though. We went to the beach and I swam in the ocean. It was one of the most amazing feelings I’ve had in my entire life. The taste of salt on my lips after I emerged from the water for the first time, was something I hadn’t tasted in years. After spending all day in bed, the ocean was so comforting and honestly just fun.
The rest of Barcelona was a similar roller coaster for me. Not so much a roller coaster as a turbulent airplane ride, like the one I had taken into Spain. It’s hard being somewhere you have never been before, and it is scary when you’re surrounded by people that don’t speak your language. I took four years of German back in high school, which is absolutely nothing like Spanish, so teaching myself the basics of Spanish has been a challenge. The first thing I asked in Spanish was where the trash can was, and I was really proud of myself. It was a moment of victory, the fact that someone understood my terrible pronunciation of the word ‘basura’.
I think the hardest thing has just been exhaustion. My body just is not used to moving this much, carrying so much. The day I had to travel to my homestay, we took a train from Barcelona to Madrid, arriving at 11:10, with another train for me leaving at 20:00 from Madrid to Segovia. I had this gap in time so I could explore Madrid for a few hours, which I don’t regret because of how beautiful and unique Madrid is. Dragging around a suitcase and a full camera bag, laptop included, through the country for hours on end was hard, though. Around 5 PM I felt completely exhausted. We had left our Airbnb a little before 6 AM, my feet and shoulders were killing me. We had spent about 5 hours in trains and the metro and I just wanted to go to bed. So I went to the train station early and waited two hours for my train. From my train, I got on a bus and my host mother picked me up around 9:15 PM. It was an incredibly long day.
The other hard part was needing to overcome a language barrier, because my host mother does not speak English, and I barely speak Spanish. When I say barely, I mean I don’t speak Spanish. I was trying to comprehend her fast-paced sentences. She spoke in a way that seemed so quick, as I was picking up on small words I knew and trying to get the big picture of her meaning. Thankfully Google Translate exists, and I had brought a small Spanish phrase book and dictionary. Even with those tools though, it was still difficult at first. I was mostly just exhausted, ready to sleep, and my brain power was close to 10% after the long day. I stayed up for another hour or two getting to know my host family, and telling them a few things about my life back home and my journey getting there.
There have been a lot of ups and downs of the trip so far, and it has been a little hard on me emotionally if I’m honest with myself, but I feel good right now about where I am. I’m incredibly excited to get to know more about my host family, this country, and of course photography – the thing I’m here to study to begin with. I’m glad I took the few extra days before my class officially started to really see some of the country on my own with a few friends. I can’t wait to see how much I grow and learn over the next few weeks.