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5 Things I Have Learned from Studying Abroad So Far

Well, long story short, I LOVE Madrid. This city is so vibrant, beautiful, interesting, and yet manageable at the same time. I feel so incredibly lucky to be here.

However, I'm not going to sugarcoat anything and say this has been a 100% easy transition. Adjusting to a completely different country and culture is never easy, and has led to some pretty weird/awkward/scary/embarrassing moments here. Get excited, y'all, because here are 5 things that I didn't know about studying abroad that I now know.

1) The culture may have very different foods/meal times then what you are used to.

This was honestly probably one of the most difficult things for me to adjust to. Spaniards usually eat very small breakfasts, huge lunches mid-afternoon, and small dinners late at night, and they don't really snack a whole lot in between. As someone who prefers smaller meals with snacks throughout the day, this was very difficult for me to adjust to. I would be starving within an hour after breakfast, and after lunch I often felt sluggish after eating a big meal right in the middle of the day. My host mother is now beginning to adjust my meals, so they are more proportionate throughout the day, which has been working well for me, but the eating times still throw me off from time to time.

Spanish food is fabulous. They eat lots of delicious thinly sliced ham, manchego cheese, and fresh seafood (paella!), to name a few things. It is all very good, but I do miss having some variety from time to time, and some things that I would eat at home are not really a custom here (for instance, no one here really eats a salad as a main meal; its more of a side dish). I also have not been able to find some of my favorite American snacks (I am still on the hunt for my beloved Luna bars).

2) Public transportation can be a PAIN to figure out.

I am a city girl, so I assumed that taking the metro in Madrid would be a piece of cake... WRONG! There are a million different routes, all with different letters and numbers that all go in a million ways. There has been a few times where I have gotten on the seemingly-correct train with the corresponding number... But going the wrong direction. After two weeks here, I am beginning to figure it out, but there are still times where I find myself completely lost and confused.

3) Euros and dollars aren’t the same, and Europe is EXPENSIVE.

This may seem like a big “duh,” but it can be a very rude awakening to check your bank account after two weeks abroad. The current exchange rate for the Euro to dollar is currently $1.34 to $1.00, and it can be easy to forget this in our American minds. When you live in a city with charming cafes and stores with pretty things, your first instinct isn't exactly to calculate the exchange rate (especially if you are the consumer world’s dream like me and want to buy everything). Going out can also be really expensive, since drinks can cost over €10, and club cover charges can often be as high as €20. My advice is to download a free currency converter app to help you figure out how much you are really spending, and keep a note on your smart phone of your purchases to help you stay on track. And, for goodness sake, stay out of all the beautiful European stores, which have this astounding way of magically depleting your bank account (the Spanish brand Zara basically owns me by now).

4) None of your electronics work.

After nearly electrocuting myself with a hair straightener last week, I can now securely attest that converters for European outlets don’t always work with American products. European outlets have a much stronger electric charge than American outlets, and sometimes even with a converter the electric charges aren’t compatible. Most Apple products work well with converters, but things like blow dryers, straighteners, curling irons, and other hair appliances are notorious for not being converter-friendly. If you are desperate, I would just go and buy an inexpensive European version to hold you out while you are here. Many appliances also say what kind of voltage they use on them, so I would definitely check and see if you can find that out before you risk frying your hair or your host family's socket. If the item says that it can handle up to 220 volts or says that it is "dual voltage," you should be good to go. 

5) Living abroad isn’t always glamorous.

Studying abroad is definitely an incredible experience, but it’s not always fabulous. You aren’t always partying and jet-setting-- in fact, most days here are probably spent doing what you would normally be doing at Sewanee (like studying, chugging coffee, going to class, Facebook stalking, etc). While it is an amazing opportunity to study abroad, it is definitely not an extended vacation.

Studying abroad can also be extremely difficult sometimes. The first week I was here was especially hard. I was in an unfamiliar country where I could barely understand anyone, and I missed my friends, family, and boyfriend. I definitely cried a few times, but everyday I find myself getting lost less, adjusting more to the culture, and breaking down the language barrier bit by bit. I still miss Sewanee and everyone, but I now realize I wouldn’t give up this opportunity for anything else in the world.

Now that I have finished sharing these tidbits (in Starbucks, ladies! Yes, they have Starbucks in Europe, and it's 10x better than Starbucks in America), I am off to go walk around the city and explore a little bit. One more thing I love about being in Europe is that I feel like I never run out of things to see. Madrid has so many interesting places and such a rich culture, I feel like I could live here for years and never get bored of things to do.  

Hasta luego chicas! Later this week I'll continue the series by educating y'all on a very important topic: Sewanee Fratting vs. European Clubbing. Get excited, y'all.


Kate is a junior International and Global Studies major and Spanish minor. She is an avid runner, travel aficionado, wine addict, and Kappa Delta from Alexandria, Virginia. She will be traveling abroad this semester in Madrid, Spain. 
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