At the end of September, I remember being astonished at how long one month on the other side of the world felt. I was experiencing culture shock, jet lag, and homesickness all at once: a combination which there unfortunately, is no real cure for. Applying for a Spanish identity card, trying to find a house and enrolling in classes was no help either, especially when the only way to get these done was by speaking Spanish, a language that I had nearly no confidence in at that time. And the cherry on top: I had nine more months ahead of me before I could see Canada again.
As I write this, I’m facing three weeks left in my host country. Saying I’m out of here at the end of May doesn’t sound too bad. But saying “three weeks” sounds terrifying.
I visited 16 new countries, made two semesters worth of new friends (many who now feel like family), watched the northern lights in the arctic circle, walked the path of the running of the bulls, skied in the Pyrenees, and even faced my biggest fear and spoke to Spanish grandmothers about world politics on the bus – in Spanish!
However, I’ve also missed flights, spent several nights on 10-hour long buses, made a few trips to the emergency room, cried because I missed home, and honestly paid $10 for just one bag of Jolly Ranchers because I missed them so much!
At certain points, I really wasn’t having fun. I had periods where all I did was search for flights home and spend the rest of the time calling home. At these lower points, I was stressed with not being able to easily communicate with strangers, I had lost two months rent because of bad roommates and cried because the grocery stores didn’t have any of my favourite foods (again). The month between semesters was particularly difficult, as my friends from the first semester went home and I was exhausted after five weeks of being on the road, going back to a city where I knew almost no one – again.
That’s where my support systems came in. My friends from home who picked up every time I called and let me talk as much as I wanted because I finally enjoyed speaking English again. My family who helped me keep my life organized, sent cards with messages of encouragement and brought me my favourite foods when they came to visit. My new friends in Spain who had the patience to practice Spanish with me and showed me the culture from their perspective, helped me feel comfortable in a place completely different than home. Of course, I’m grateful for everyone else I’ve chatted with this past year, from every part of the world, who supported and understood the bad times and celebrated the good. You’re the reason I’m so thankful for this experience.
I’ve come to enjoy spending Sundays at the park, when every business in town is closed. I now love many Spanish foods, and practicing Spanish is a fun activity I like to do with my close friends. I’ve learned the value of keeping family close and appreciated the way families in Spain love and care for each other. I’ve gained patience and understanding while taking the time to manage a conversation, handle an unfortunate circumstance, or navigate an “English” class that wasn’t actually taught in English. Now I don’t mind occasionally being a bit late if I find I need the extra time to slow down and appreciate the good things in life (if you know me, is a really big new thing). Most importantly, I’ve appreciated the time I’ve had by myself in new situations and environments to reflect on how I’ve grown and how much better I understand who I am and which direction I’d like my life to take.
Now nine months later, with three weeks left to go, I’m facing the same whirlwind of emotions that I did when I left Canada last August. Every day I spend some time enjoying life here, and some time planning the upcoming year. I’m so sad to leave behind what I have now, but so keen to see what’s coming ahead!
In the end, moving to another country was an amazing growth experience, filled with many memories to treasure. Behind all the fun pictures online, it definitely presented many challenges for me. I know other students who seemed to have easier transitions and better overall experiences but this is not to say that I had a bad experience. I am so thankful for every part or it, for having an opportunity that challenged me, that gave me first-hand insight into the life of a new culture and in the end, finally gave me a feeling of home. Today, I can say that I am content with all that I have done in my year of study abroad and am grateful for every person, place and encounter that I’ve crossed along the way.
The best roller coaster ride of my life – to date!
Alexandria Hewko is a third-year Bachelor of International Business student who is studying abroad in Spain.
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