The study abroad experience is loaded with expectation and promise – much similar to foreign travel. Most pack their ideas and desires into a suitcase and wonder about the adventure they are to soon embark on. I surprised myself by also romanticizing the to-be experience. My long flight from Australia was filled with images of Spain – the food, the smells and the fiestas. Would the city be similar to my beloved Melbourne?
Would I learn the language quickly? Where would I live… Who would I live with? The beauty of a 24 hour flight to Europe is the ability it affords you to conjure up almost every answer and scenario possible, before landing. There is something particular about foreign places; it is true that they evoke a curiosity and element of mystique which entices us and fuels our imagination…
As I have now completed my studies abroad, I believe it is important to note the common misconception that ‘exchange will change you.’ I am unsure of its origins, however this notion was seen rather distinctly in the psyche of exchange students at Pontificia Comillas. It seemed to be in the forefront of almost everyone’s mind – orientation day for example, the overwhelming angst radiating from the exchange students in their bid to establish friendships must have been blinding for the permanent students. I recall laughing at the egg and spoon race I participated in – much to my dismay – in an effort to ‘bond’ with my fellow cohort. Insult to my adulthood aside, the egg and spoon race made for common ground amongst us all and the mutual disdain for child-like activities gave us something to talk about… Achieving its primary intention. Friendships were formed and they flourished throughout the semester.
For me exchange has not been a series of self revelations that changed who I am and how I think, but instead it has been a change of scenery and pace to that of humble Melbourne. I’ve learnt that we are diverse, versatile and social creatures who have a great ability to change when presented with a context outside of our perceived comfort zones. Perhaps it’s the adaptability of human nature that kicks into gear and very quickly makes the foreign lifestyle our ‘norm…’ I found Madrid to be extremely livable; the diverse city and population have an equally diverse and interesting history. Pockets of old Spanish enclaves exist amongst trendy, though gentrified, areas inhabited by young people. The food is as multicultural as its population – with my regular eat out gem being a Japanese bar in the city’s north. Day by day, my pre constructed ideas of Madrid faded. My most enjoyable moments of studying abroad is certainly not singular, but rather a series of small collective memories, too precious to share on a public blog.
But to allow some insight, it is the small coffee meetups you have with new friends, or travelling to a Spanish town for a long weekend, or my favourite, holding a conversation in Spanish with a local.
Things that seem to have little importance at the time; but grow in significance through reflections like this.