Madrid: Emily

Every year around mid-August, right when people start going abroad, memes and videos arise to make fun of the “basic study abroad girls.” I have a hard time talking about my study abroad experience for fear of sounding exactly like one of those girls. But instead of trying to avoid the clichés, I have simply decided to embrace them. Yes, I am a girl who studied in Spain, traveled around Europe, made new friends, tried new foods, and posted too many Instagram photos. Here are a few of my favorite things from the semester that changed my life:

The Group Project 

I took all of my classes in Spanish, almost all with other American students studying abroad. However, one of my classes was filled with students who attended the university full-time and who had actually grown up in Spain; I was the only American in the entire class. At the end of the semester, we were assigned a group project where I had to work on a team with three other girls. None of them spoke English, so we had to communicate, as well as present the project, in Spanish. I was so nervous to speak in front of a whole room of native speakers for an extended period of time, but I did it! Everyone in the class was so supportive, and it was an especially proud moment for me. I gained so much confidence in my Spanish-speaking abilities as well as my public speaking skills. 

The Bookstore and Café 

Less than a block from my host family’s house was a little local bookstore and café called La Lumbra. It was one of my favorite places to do work after school or on the weekends- they also had the BEST chocolate chip cookies. I would sit down with a cafe con leche and a cookie and settle in to study Cervantes and Spanish art history for hours. It was a little haven close to home that I grew to know and love very much—so much so that they even knew my coffee order! 

The Trip to Ireland 

A long-awaited reunion with my cousin included highlights such as stumbling upon a free walking tour of Dublin, visiting a centuries’ old castle, and getting stuck at the Cliffs of Moher, terribly unprepared for the biting cold that comes to the coast in November. We stayed in a hostel in a single room with twenty other people, and I met some of the friendliest and funniest people I have ever come across. The sights of Ireland were some of my favorite, and it was even more special to be able to do it with my cousin; someone so dear to me. 

The Wild Night 

With no classes on Fridays, Thursday nights were the ones for end-of-week celebrations. We started with a pitcher of sangria and a Spanish classic before heading to the Maluma concert. Going to any big concert is exciting, but a wildly popular reggaetón artist in a huge stadium was unbelievable. We were way up in the nosebleeds, yet there is little that rivals the experience of that concert. Afterwards, we danced the night away in the famous seven story nightclub, Kapital. My first authentic Spanish experience of staying out until four in the morning ended with a romantic walk home and several street corner kisses under the city lights.

The Mishap in Paris 

We learned the hard way that just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s the best option when we rented an Airbnb for one night in Paris. The trip was already a bit of a disaster because the city was in the midst of large-scale protests. It was in a sketchy area, and it was a mess! So we mapped ourselves to the nearest hostel where they happened to have one open room, feeling lucky that someone else had canceled last minute. We spent the rest of the afternoon going around town to different markets, buying fresh cheese, bread, grapes, macarons, and, of course, a bottle of French wine. Back at the hostel we enjoyed our feast in our tiny room, exhausted and purely happy we made it through the crazy day; it is still one of my favorite meals of all time! 

The Tiny Town 

While visiting Geneva, we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit a tiny French town a couple of hours away. We struggled with the public transportation and made it to the bus with one minute to spare. It was the most beautiful, quaint town I have ever visited. It was such a memorable experience — and it almost didn’t happen! 

The Strangers on the Bus 

As a tall, blonde American, I don’t exactly scream, “I speak Spanish!” So I had many experiences in which people tried to speak to me in English, assuming I couldn’t understand them otherwise. One particularly funny occasion was on a bus in Barcelona with my mom. Two men were commenting on our blue eyes and non-local appearances, simultaneously trying to figure out our relationship—friends, cousins? As they conversed, I was giggling to myself because I knew everything they were saying. My parents and I had a good laugh at the afterwards, and my mom loved that they didn’t think she looked old enough to be my mom! 

The Crazy Coincidences 

The world is so much smaller than you think it is. While studying abroad, I ran into a friend from seventh grade; he was visiting his college roommate in Madrid, who happened to be going to the same university as us. I also met and befriended someone who lives less than an hour away from me in Maryland, and we still keep in touch—he’s even come up to visit Hopkins since!

I look back on my time in Spain through rose-colored glasses, because it was such a wonderful experience and it changed me so much as a person. However, going abroad was also one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was hard to live with a family that didn’t speak any English, it was hard to take 18 credits all in Spanish, and it was hard navigating a new city. But through all of this, I learned that it is okay to try new things, to let loose and make snap decisions, and to form new friendships. And as #basic as the experience was, I honestly would not be who I am today without the experiences and friends that I gained through study abroad. So tag me in the memes and say what you want, but I am forever grateful for my time being a “study abroad” girl.