I originally wanted to call this first post “There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale,” because I am currently “there” and the door of my apartment looks like a hobbit door. Two problems with the title; its plagiarizing, and my family would have way too much fun referencing me as a hobbit for the remainder of my life, but it makes sense because I’m a short explorer so I might as well be a hobbit for a year.

A wooden door with a Snapchat caption describing it as a "hobbit door"

My “Hobbit” door

I’ve never written a blog before but I imagine it as lying with my feet on the couch talking to a shrink about the stuff that led me to this point in life. It sounds more personal and feels more like telling my story to whoever wants to hear it, opposed to me writing about my day for school. I chose to write to help the people after me who are going to go on this whirlwind of an adventure and maybe ease their stress to know a few helpful tips before they go. I also write for my family and my friends so they can share in my adventure and know that I am safe, happy and missing them so much. It has definitely been a group effort getting me here so this is for them too. If you picture me telling you this as opposed to reading it, it may help to see it as I do.

I don’t want to get into too much backstory, but I think it’s important for you to know that I chose International Business at Carleton University specifically for this year abroad. I came running into the living room after visiting the campus with my cousin (who ended up choosing Carleton for engineering) to tell my mom the good news that I was going to Carleton. She asked what I was going for and I shouted back, “I don’t know but I want to go there!” After flipping through countless pamphlets, I saw Sprott School of Business and I was sold.

Fast forward to three years later, I’m now sitting on my bed in my apartment in Madrid minutes away from the social hub of the city missing my family, friends, bestie, and my boyfriend. But this is what I chose for myself, right? This is what I chose Carleton for. It’s hard to believe that I made that decision three years ago but it feels like yesterday, but also so long ago. Who gives an 18 year old decisions like that?

Anyway, the next big decision was choosing what language I would be studying. Ideally, I wanted to pick a language that would get me far in life. Living in Canada, the best decision would have been to study French but I had a high school french teacher that made me want to just do what I needed to do to be done with it. Spanish seemed the most appealing to me because I could choose from six countries to go to whereas the other languages had one or two.

The amount of countries to choose from later came to bite me in the butt. I kept bouncing back and forth between Argentina, Chile, Peru and Spain. They all had their pros and cons but it came down to safety and what I really wanted, despite how hard communication would be with the six hour time difference. I chose Spain and I regret nothing except arriving in the middle of the hottest month. This hobbit has been sweating her entire body content of water everyday for the past nine days (if I had to know, you had to know).

After that, many other choices had to be made: when will I leave, where will I stay, what do I pack, what do I leave behind. I decided to go a few weeks before school started to get settled in and become more familiar with my surroundings.

I’m living in La Latina which is southwest of Puerta del Sol (heart of Madrid) and it’s really close to grocery stores and Metro stops (the Metro is like Toronto subway but cleaner, better, and doesn’t smell).

Alessandra and her mother in Spain

The streets of Madrid

A cathedral in Spain

As I was packing, my goal was to fit everything I needed in two large suitcases, one medium, my carry-on and backpack. I was pretty close too- just substitute the medium for another large. Deciding what to bring and what to leave behind was sometimes easy and other times the worst decision-making process I ever had to sit through. It sucked. On the bright side, it was super easy with a lot of the clothing because last year in Spain, they only had 1cm of snow…ALL YEAR. For those of you who don’t know, I spent most of my falls, winters, and springs in Ottawa. Knowing that, it was easy to leave behind the big winter jacket, a few pairs of boots, and other winter apparel. I was told by students that sweatpants were hardly worn in public, so I had to suffer through choosing only two pairs of sweats to take with me (I gave in and have four with me). More research told me how ridiculously hot it is here-42 degrees Celsius hot! So all the shorts, dresses, skirts and light shirts came. My recommendation for future students is to research the weather trends on where you are going. No sense bringing a bikini to the North Pole!

Other important things to note were what the school trends were. THAT is a question for the people before you because Google doesn’t tell you everything. I was told to use a purse instead of a backpack and dress to impress. I’ll let you know my discoveries when school starts.

Another super important thing to keep in mind when packing is to not panic if you think you’ve forgotten something. What I did when I was feeling stressed out about it was make a list of what I have/need and make sure I have the things that are absolutely irreplaceable to me. You can buy toothpaste and hair products there but you cannot buy the pictures of your family you forgot on your bed or the stuffed giraffe you got on Valentine’s day.

A helpful suggestion from my dad; make sure you bring stuff to entertain yourself, just in case. The flight could be delayed, there could be a massive storm outside when you planned to go to the city or, like me, you could be the first of your flatmates to arrive and have a lot of alone time for three days (potentially more if the first girl doesn’t like me…), so I ended up bringing nail polish (which was a heartbreak to narrow down my collection of 100+ to 10), headphones, a deck of cards and my favourite item so far, my ukulele. Great advice from daddio because today in particular, it is way too hot to venture further than the bus stop.

So I think all the decisions that had to be made along the way have been discussed and this blog is getting really long so to wrap it up, I want everyone to know that I am safe in my boiling apartment, I’ve mastered the art of opening the weird shutter/blinds thing that every Spanish building has, I made way too much pasta on my first night but leftovers are good, and that I miss my friends, family, boyfriend, and my dogs, but I remain happy with myself.

To future BIB explorers, the first month is always the hardest so tell the people that keep you motivated and strong that you love them and without them, you wouldn’t be the person you are today. They have your back and always will!

 

-The Hobbit Chica

One thought on “The First Big Step”

  1. Candice Goodmurphy-Colussi says:

    You are so courageous Ali. Sometimes I regret not being brave, because I would love to have the adventure you are on. I actually wanted to be an exchange student when I was In high school. I think I actually chose to go to Laurentian because they had a campus in Nice, France. I could have spent a year at the campus in France, but I didn’t and I regret it. At least you will never have said in hindsight… “I wish I had done that” because you are doing it! Even if you have some difficulties during this year, this is literally a learning experience for you. Enjoy!

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