Getting ready to depart for Spain was a rollercoaster in and of itself. A lot of study abroad programs start before UMass Dartmouth is back in session, but I had a unique opportunity to visit campus before I departed because of the short duration of my program. Going back to campus, as amazing as it was to see everyone, was also very difficult because it made me realize how strong the community that I have built at UMass Dartmouth was and knowing that I won’t be able to experience that same atmosphere of people for 86 days was not easy. I am grateful to have such a community to come back to when I return, but it was difficult for me to wrap my head around the idea that I might have a similar community that opens its arms to me in a new country very soon.
Being the procrastinator that I am, I waited until the very last second to do almost everything- and yes this includes my application to study abroad and my application to renew my passport… but it also includes packing. I wouldn’t recommend this strategy for everyone, but if you can make it work follow Tim Gunn’s law. I started packing less than 24 hours before my departure time, but had a strategy in mind and I had finished all the laundry I needed to do in preparation. Part of my strategy included a plan to put anything I would need for the first four days in my carry on just in case my luggage got lost. (When I eventually settled in Madrid I learned that only one student out of about 70 of us had lost her luggage). I also tried to keep things as organized as I could by keeping any electronics together because like the Gen Z that I am- I need my electronics close by at all times. My parents seemed worried that I would forget something, so I had to keep reminding them that most of the things I might forget I could always get in Spain or order online. Overall, my packing strategy worked out and I was able to rummage through my big suitcase when I needed to.
I think a major reason I waited so long to pack was because I knew it wouldn’t feel real until everything was ready to go next to my door. As soon as I started weighing my suitcase and moving things towards the front door things really started to hit. I realized that the next few months in front of me were going to be some of the most difficult and culturally different experiences I had experienced and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that. I had been looking forward to this moment since my junior year of high school when my friends came back from the exchange program in Spain and talked about their incredible experiences. All of a sudden I realized that I would soon be that person coming home sharing stories of my time abroad and it was incredibly intimidating. Not knowing what the future would hold for me was scary, but I know I wouldn’t change this opportunity to expand my comfort zone for anything in the world. The only way to grow as a human being is to do things that petrify and surprise you and as I stepped onto the plane in Boston confidently I certainly experienced that shock.
The beginning of my adventure started with two different flights which went surprisingly well. My arm didn’t have trouble falling asleep on my six hour flight to Amsterdam, but I sure did. Luckily, I was able to talk to the woman next to me whose son had studied abroad in Barcelona last year and who was headed to Italy on vacation with her husband. The flight to Madrid was super fast and the egg and cheese sandwich made me second guess the stereotypes around airplane food. Finding my group in the Madrid airport took me at least half an hour, multiple circles around a single staircase/escalator, and at least one person laughing at me for passing them so many times, but alas, I eventually found them. That initial introduction to everyone felt really promising for me. I met some people I really clicked with and it gave me hope that maybe I could create a new community here- even if we were all jet lagged and really just trying to hold it together. Even with all the nerves, sleep deprivation, and time zone difference, I felt excited for the new beginning I was fortunate enough to have in front of me and the opportunity to experience life in a new way with a new group of characters.
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