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What They Won't Tell You About Study Abroad

About three months after my return from a semester in the beautiful city of Bilbao, Spain, I am just beginning to be able to process my time abroad. To my dismay, the first emotion that usually presents itself when I begin to reflect is confusion. This conflicted feeling may not have surprised me a few months ago, but I thought by now I would have it all figured out.

    If you had asked me mid-November how I felt about my study-abroad experience, I probably would have given some sort of angry, sarcastic retort. You see, my three months away were far from the dreamland that is sold to us when we sign up to go away. With only nine people in my program, we were no match for the quadrillas of the Basque Country. Quadrillas were groups of ten-twenty people that had been friends since birth and would stay that way until they died. They also were absolutely, definitely not looking to gain an American for a couple of months. I lived in a homestay with two people so elderly most days I did not see them get out of bed. They spoke no English, which was a challenge I requested, but they considered me unintelligent when I struggled with new vocabulary. I spent as much time out of the house as possible. These problems made normal culture-shock and adjustment feel like a very isolating process, and it took me and my friends almost the entire time we were there to begin to feel at home in our small ways.

    How did we manage to feel at home in a place so very opposite of what we were used to- and so very unwilling to welcome us? We leaned into each other. I spent almost every moment of every day with my three other friends, people that I know to consider to be some of my best friends. Together we traveled all over, almost missed a few flights, and met like five different cute old(and one young) men named Frederick in the many places we traveled to.  On normal days we uber-eatsed mcflurries to our office, on long days we ate tortilla from Cafe Zubialde, and on really bad days, we hid so far into the back of Five Guys that we could almost pretend we were back in the States. Instead of doing our research, we made tik-toks and screamed at the people at the Guggenheim from our office balcony. We shared every moment of our time abroad, there are not many memories worth remembering without them involved. 

    I guess this is where my confusion comes in. My study abroad experience was so hard. It was so wonderful, it was so bad and at the same time, it was the best time of my life. However, throughout the many emotions I experienced in Bilbao, I had my friends by my side to help. Without them here, I have no one to back me up when I get weird looks every time I tell someone new that study abroad was hard. No one to tell me to channel my inner Mary Queen of Scots when times get tough. I am confused and still figuring out how I feel about my time in Spain, but I do know one thing. I made the best friends of my life, and plan on keeping them no matter where we are in the world.