Deciding to leave everything you know and move to another country for five months is one the most thrilling, nerve-wracking things you can ever do. And before you leave, everyone will be telling you how excited they are for you, how you’re going to have the time of your life, how jealous they are of you. And yes, of course you have the same desires for the new journey you’re about to embark on, but at the same time you’re scared out of your mind.
At least I was. I have been living and studying abroad in Granada for over a month now and arriving here was an adventure that I will remember for the rest of my life. I had never been out of the United States before coming to Europe, and I hadn’t been on a plane since I was 14 with my middle school. So, to say the least, I had no idea what I was doing when my parents dropped me off at O’Hare International Airport at 6 a.m. on January 6, 2020. Thankfully the signs were still in English so I was able to get through OK, until security came. Apparently the sweater I was wearing had “sparkles” that I still have yet to find, so I had to get patted down at every airport (thankfully, I started thinking by the second layover and changed shirts). So, my advice on travel clothes: dress comfortably and don’t wear anything that you think might have “sparkles.”
Traveling with someone also makes this process a lot less stressful. This isn’t always a possibility, but if you know one person you’re travelling with it can make the whole situation less stressful. I was fortunate to have booked my flight with a friend and ended up meeting more people from my home university at each layover. Together we got through the five-hour layover in Boston and running through the Madrid airport, praying we made it through customs in time. My other piece of advice is to sleep. Yes, you will be super nervous, and yes, you will probably wait last minute to finish packing so you’ll have to stay up super late the night before, but in all reality being sleep deprived will only make the long journey even more hectic. So, the night before, sleep as much as you can and try to sleep on the longer flights (take some melatonin, buy a neck pillow, whatever you have to do)! I regrettably was unable to follow my own advice and I ended up staying awake for more than 40 hours during my travel and arrival process. By the time I reached my last flight from Madrid to Granada, my body shut down; I was nauseous, exhausted, dirty from the airports, and overall not what I wanted my first impression for my host family to be like.
So, first impressions. You probably rehearsed exactly what you wanted to say once you met your host family, stalked them on social media, and are praying your five years of Spanish will come through so you can at least understand a bit of what they’re saying. It probably won’t, and let me be the first to tell you that is OKAY. But I will say taking a quick dry shower with some wipes in the airport bathroom and brushing your teeth does help you feel a bit more prepared. (Yes, you go straight from the airport to your host house!) From there, you’re going to be greeted by the bright-orange vests of the CEA coordinators, who will thankfully speak in English and help calm your nerves. And then, like a painfully long wait in the doctor’s office, you’ll all get in a taxi and take turns dropping off each person to their new host home.
I remember being absolutely terrified taking the elevator up to my apartment floor with the coordinator, and I was convinced I had never learned Spanish in my life (which may have been a little true, because once I met my host family, they had to ask the coordinator if I even spoke Spanish). Also, remember that Spainards greet with besos on each cheek so you’re not confused when your host mom starts kissing your cheeks! Needless to say, it’s okay if your first introduction is a total disaster -- because that has no indication of what the rest of your semester will be like. After I was able to put my stuff away in my room and take some much-needed deep breaths, I was able to redo my introductions and begin to know my host family. Unfortunately, you will have to stay up all day and you will learn quickly that Spaniards eat late, but staying up will make it so much easier to adjust to the new time zone. So, if you end up getting to Granada earlier in the day, as I did, I would recommend walking around the city; even if it is walking around your block or going to a store to get some essentials you swear you packed, it will help you begin the adjustment process and start to make Granada your home.
Looking back, the first weeks were definitely one of the most difficult experiences of my life. Your body and mind are going through so many changes that it is difficult to remember that this will be one of the best experiences of your life. Just remember that everyone is there to help you -- your family back home, your new host family, and your new CEA family. So take some deep breaths of the new Spanish air, and remember that you are brave and will get through this!
Breanna Horvath is a CEA MOJO Lite Content Contributor studying abroad during the Spring 2020 semester in Granada, Spain. She is currently a student at Illinois State University.
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