A Stint in Slovakia

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The amazing thing about going somewhere you know next to nothing about, somewhere you have done little to no research on, a place where nobody you know has been, is that you have absolutely no idea what to expect; everything has the potential to surprise and awe you.

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My brief stint in Slovakia has so far been just that. Knowing so little about this place has made every little thing surprise and amaze me.

At first glance, Bratislava, where I’ll have stayed for only two nights, seems to be not much more than a grimy, grungy, and gritty capital city. The two Slovaks I’ve met at my hostel, both from Slovakia’s second largest and supposedly much prettier and more charming city, Kosice, both told me with some disdain that all there is to Bratislava is its old town and city center.

Well, I managed to explore both yesterday, along with the area between the city center and the main train station today, and, pleasantly enough, Bratislava has continued to surprise me.
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First of all, the city center, essentially the area surrounding and almost blending in to the once-walled old town, is quite nice and refreshingly charming compared to the more gritty industrial streets that appear on its periphery . This dynamic of charming versus modern and industrial reminds me a lot of Bern, as if Bratislava were the more rugged, less pristine and uniform cousin of the Swiss capital.

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There is also a lovely foliage-lined promenade just outside the old town, flanked by pedestrian streets lined with cafes and bars, a quieter area I really enjoyed exploring and photographing.

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It also displays one of the weirdest and most eclectic collections of street art I’ve probably ever seen.

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The eclecticism then is mixed with some grime and grit and, my favorite Instagram subject as of late, colors and colors galore, on the sides of the main bridge leading into the city.

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All in all, I feel my choice to come to Bratislava, despite the fact that it doesn’t have the most favorable reputation and is described by Lonely Planet as “lacking charm” and home to “no unmissable sites,” I’d venture to say that Bratislava is a unique and interesting place worth a stop on a trip to Slovakia.

I also managed to go to the nearby town of Trenčín (pronounced Tren-CHEEN) today. The only thing I’d read on Lonely Planet, which was corroborated by my Slovak hostelmates, was that the town is small, relatively charming, and has a medieval castle on a hill. Castle on a hill…well, that was enough for me, I guess.

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Once again, I was pleasantly surprised. After popping into the tourist office, I headed up to the castle, and the student price for the so-called “grand tour” was a mere €3.10; dirt cheap compared to other museums and other historical edifices I’ve visited.

Then, as it turns out, I was the only one to show up for the grand tour offered in English; for €3.10, I got a private and most interesting and entertaining tour of the Trenčín castle. My tour guide, a very friendly young woman with a Bachelor’s degree in politics, and a wealth of interesting information about the castle, wouldn’t even let me tip her at the end.

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She told me a ton of intriguing and several hilarious facts about the castle’s history, details about the various elite families who owned it and lived there, as well as information on where to view the second-century AD (or as we Classical Studies are accustomed to designating as CE, i.e. the Common Era) ROMAN INSCRIPTION, commissioned by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius to commemorate a Roman victory in Trenčínover hostile Germanic tribes. You go to this random hotel and you can view it from a second-story window engraved into the old castle wall.

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As a prospective Classical Studies major, I was delighted to learn about the role of Trenčín castle in Roman history, as small as it might have been.

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Just like I’m pleased I came to Bratislava, I was really happy with my decision to take a short day-trip to Trenčín today.

As I’ve said, Slovakia has been all the more interesting because I knew nothing about it in advance, and had no preconceived notions about what it would be like based on what I’d heard from friends. And I guess, this is how I’d rationalize my visiting less famous or iconic places, especially in the last week, and most likely in the upcoming weeks as well.

I’ve heard so many wonderful things about so many places here on this fabulous European continent, but after much deliberation, I’m now feeling not at all stressed about or hell-bent on visiting “as much of Europe as I can,” as I’ve tended to assert as the purpose of this two-month trip of mine. The fact that I have the time and resources and support-system to be here at all is gratifying enough.

So, from here on out, as I plan the rest of my European sojourn on the go, I’m not interested necessarily in visiting “the BEST of Europe” or that place that everyone tells me I have to go to. I’ll go where I go, when I go there.

And if my upcoming experiences are anything like the ones I’ve had here in Bratislava and Trenčín, Slovakia, then I have all the optimism in the world that things will turn out alright.

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A Day in the Swiss Capital

I didn’t feel or really realize I was alone on this trip until I set off for Bern, the capital of Switzerland.

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I’m currently in the middle of a two-month, mostly solo backpacking venture around Europe. I say mostly because, as you may have read in my previous post, I have met up with and plan on meeting up with a couple more good friends along the way.

But after parting ways with my friend in Zermatt (she headed to Florence while I headed in the direction of the Swiss capital), I found myself feeling lonely for the first time since leaving Granada on June 24th.

After dropping my backpack off at the exceedingly stylish and clean Bern Backpackers’ Hostel and Glocke (I can’t help but stress the awesomeness and accuracy of Hostelworld on my trip so far), I started to wander through the Aldstadt (Old Town) of Bern.

I’m not sure if it was because I was feeling tired and lonely, or because it was a bit of a shock to my system to be out of the Alps and quaint and tiny Bavarian-esque towns and back in a metropolitan, tram-, bus-, and taxi-packed city, but it took a good while for Bern to impress me.

The bear garden, the number one touristy site set up in honor of the city’s mascot, was an interesting start to my understanding and exploration of Bern.

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I couldn’t help but feel somewhat sad for the bears, even though the enclosure seemed spacious and comfortable enough. Needless to say I enjoyed reading the various signs talking about the exhibit and the bears kept there, along with watching kids’ reactions to the bears’ behavior, especially when one of them chose to go for a swim.

After saying goodbye to the bears I went back over the Nydeggbrücke bridge (a place I would keep returning to in my 24 hours or so in Bern) and another more modern one and took in different views of the city. I was and still am in disbelief at just how gorgeous the turquoise Aare river is.

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My overall impression of the city kept improving as the afternoon went by. Moreover, thankfully, the sense of loneliness gradually faded as well.

After stopping for some delectable truffles, I wandered the main drag of the Aldstadt up and down, fascinated by the arcades and the striking mix of old and new, in the buildings and cobblestoned street with the busses and cars and retail stores.

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And later that evening I returned on a whim to the Nydeggbrücke right before sunset, and did my best to capture how beautiful the Aldstadt looked in that light.

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But perhaps my favorite part of the evening was stumbling upon some wonderful street music; a larger group of street musicians than I’ve seen before, including three guitarists, a cellist, a violinist, and a guy playing lightly in a single drum. I liked it so much I crossed the street so I could get a better view and leaned up against a fountain and just listened.

It was one of those moments so priceless where you forget or simply choose not to take a picture.

However, in the end I felt inclined enough to drop them a franc at the end of their set and even tell them I really liked their sound. Apparently they’ve been touring around small music festivals for months, and while they’ve mostly been in Germany and Heidelberg they happened to be visiting Bern for a couple of days.

They were a really nice group from Australia, called Worldfly; I found them on Facebook and they’ve got some stuff on YouTube so who knows, maybe I will run into them again in the event I head for Germany (still in the works!).

Anyways, the following morning I only had time for an hour or so meander through the Aldstadt once more, but I did manage to stop by the Rose Garden for some more views and the Münster cathedral because, well, I really have a thing for religious buildings.

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In the end, as I departed for Florence a couple hours later, I felt very satisfied with my short but sweet visit to Bern. It gave me the reassurance that even though at times I will be lonely and missing company on this trip, I’ll never be far from fascinating cities and cultures to immerse myself in, and making acquaintances or even friends from far off places won’t be so far-fetched.

Blown Away in Switzerland

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Oh, Switzerland. The tiny little country that treated us so well and exceeded our every expectation.

I spent five days exploring this magnificent country with one of my dearest friends from UBC, and from its breathtaking natural beauty, the stellar hospitality of its people, to its unmatched skill in the art of perfecting cheese and chocolate, I think we’re in agreement that Switzerland blew us away.

We spent the first leg of our jaunt in the wee town of Fiesch, a quiet, Bavarian-esque place with this cable car that takes you up to the gargantuan, UNESCO-certified Aletsch Glacier, which we found out about during a random Skype session while I flipped through the Suiza (Switzerland, in Spanish) Lonely Planet I’d acquired earlier while school textbook-shopping.

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But the story of Fiesch, Aletsch, cable cars, and frolicking through the Alps (I’ll get to that in a bit) would not be complete without an account of our almost disastrous arrival. So buckle up, ladies and gentlemen, this is no short anecdote. But it is a perfect example of just how incredibly lucky we were and just how amazing Switzerland is.

Despite touching base before meeting up in Geneva last week, neither of us thought to look up directions to our hostel (something that I have never neglected to do since I’ve been in Europe this year). So by the time it was nearing 2330 (that’s 11:30pm, friends, five-plus months in Europe and I’m almost fully on the 24-hour clock), the Matterhorn express train we’re on tells us there are two different Fiesch stops, and suddenly it strikes us we don’t know which one is ours.

We get off at the first stop, get somewhat spooked in the darkness and decide to ask the conductor if he knows where the hostel is (luckily, I had the address on a note in my iPhone). Lo and behold, he says it’s the next stop, tells us to hop back on the train (despite our tickets only being good for this stop and not the next (the last) one), and less than a minute later we hop off at a train stop resembling a sketchy bus stop rather than a legitimate train station. It’s dark. It’s chilly. It’s almost midnight now. And we still have no idea where our hostel is.

Luckily there’s a large, fully-lit map just up the road. We see we’ve arrived at the Fiesch Sport Ferien Resort. One of us recalls our hostel being associated with said resort. And oh my goodness, there’s a Jugendherberge (which my friend by calling upon her expert-but-actually-basic German deciphers as YOUTH HOSTEL!) on the map, so we head there.

Lights are out, all is silent and we are literally the only two people out on the street in this entire compound, and reception is that way. Reception is dark and clearly closed, but the automatic door opens and what so we find but an envelope taped to the inner door to the reception desk with my friend’s name scrawled on it in Sharpie. In it is our key and a map with the location of our room circled and suddenly all is right with the world.

Our brief moment of worry is over, and we thank the travel gods and commend the beneficence of the Swiss for the conductor who let us back on the train and pointed us in the right direction, and whichever godly person left us that envelope of joy. We sleep well in our comfortable and otherwise unoccupied room and pay a bright, bubbly, and blonde German receptionist the next morning for our stay. Thank you, Suiza.

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Oh right, so the next day there were cable cars. You take two to get up to the Aletsch glacier, one from wee little Fiesch to the even tinier Fiescheralp, and a second to Eggishorn, supposedly the best of the three principal viewpoints. We spent a good hour perched on some rocks, taking in the sheer size of it all, and also getting rather excited about the fact that we were indeed, in the Alps.

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Our hike that day essentially consisted of an aimless wandering through the Alps (no big deal). There were dozens of trails and everything was extremely well-signed, so despite having devised a hypothetical route plan on our map, we ended up just following the signs and heading for trails where views looked promising and where the hills looked most alive (yes, that song came up a lot of times, but never in jest and always in full-on, 100% authentic childlike excitement and wonder).

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Perhaps the most thrilling part of our day (other than seeing nuns viewing the Aletsch glacier from a bench at the Bettmeralp glacier viewpoint, thus putting a cherry on top if the idyllic but hilarious Sound of Music fantasy we felt we were living out) was scaling the questionable, erratic, zigzagged, stone-and-snow, and sometimes creaky wooden- and ladder-stepped pathway up the Bettmerhorn, bringing us to another amazing view of Aletsch, a 360-degree panorama of all those majestic Alpine peaks around us, and to what would end up being the highest altitude we would reach during our time in the Swiss Alps.

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All in all, it was a fantastic first full day of wanderlust in Switzerland. All capped off with a pleasant meal of hearty Swiss bread, delectable Swiss (or rather Appenzeller, the best ever) cheese, gorgeous dark Swiss chocolate with a hazelnut and almond filling, and dyed hard boiled Swiss eggs (yes, these exist in Swiss supermarkets. Genius).

The next day we made our way to Zermatt, home of the peak of all Swiss peaks, the famous Matterhorn. And let me tell you, it is so much better in person than the Disney knockoff ride.

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It’s probably best, though, when you serendipitously ascend a couple hundred meters more than your originally-planned route entailed, and find yourself nearly looking it in the eye (an over-exaggeration, yes, but a wow-moment, heck yes).

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The hills were alive once again, and this time they even invited us for a swim later in one of their lakes, Schwarzsee. After debating it for a little whilst wading in the freezing water, as tiny little fish bit and prodded at our tired feet, we stripped down to our underwear and plunged right in, receiving an unexpected applause from the various groups clustered around Schwarzsee’s edges.

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Our dip was brief, as the alpine waters were bone-chillingly cold, but as we were basking in the sun waiting for ourselves to dry, we heard a violin start to play. And what so you know, an entire (albeit very small) wedding party made its way out of the tiny chapel on the other side of the lake, hugging, taking pictures of the bride and groom, even doing the bouquet toss right then and there.

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We couldn’t believe our luck and timing that day.

The hike down didn’t fail to disappoint either. Again, we were very lucky in our choice of hike route. Everywhere you look are Alps, Alps, glaciers, and more Alps. And of course a great perspective of just how tiny Zermatt is.

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That second fine day of Switzerland wanderlust was capped off with another delicious hodgepodge dinner of cheese (more Appenzeller), chocolate, and bread, but this time with some red peppers and cherries to balance out the otherwise (almost) exclusively carbs and dairy diet we’d been following in an attempt to eat cheap in Switzerland (which is extremely hard to do in a place as unfortunately expensive as Switzerland). But at least we had our own bench under a sweet-smelling tree along a river with yet another marvelous view of the Matterhorn.

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All in all, I can’t imagine a better first-time in Switzerland. Everything about it exceeded my expectations and absolutely blew me away. A brief but surprisingly fulfilling trip in the Swiss Alps in the company of a true friend. What more could I have asked for?

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A Unique Experience in Segovia

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My short time in Segovia has been just lovely.

Just like the experiences I had in Toledo and Salamanca (posts I will hopefully get to at some point!), when I got off the bus and started making my way towards the historical center of the town where my hostel was, I instantly felt comfortable and at ease, despite the heat of the afternoon and the weight of my backpacks (yep, that’s plural…I made a conscious effort to pack light, but I ended up with my large backpack on my back and a day pack in front, but luckily neither is 100% full).

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And while I have thoroughly enjoyed wandering the cobblestone streets (which seems to be a favorite activity of mine), and exploring the cathedral and Disney-esque Alcázar with my travel companion, Barbara (who I met in Toledo and who then chose to a day trip out to Segovia today), a few things have really stuck out as the unique and unexpected experiences of this part of my trip.

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For one thing, the welcome I received on my arrival at the quirky and friendly Duermevela Hostel was the most wonderful I’ve had from any hostel I’ve stayed at in my entire time in Europe so far. Guillermo made my transition into Segovia easy and fun, and this little place he runs is without a doubt one of the most charming and cozy hostels I’ve ever stayed at. The beds are comfortable, there are full BATHS and showers in the bathrooms, and the hostel is located in a quiet and convenient area just outside the old city walls.

To top it off, just as I was settling in, Guillermo invited me to eat lunch with him, his friends, and a musical group that had been hanging out and practicing in the hostel that afternoon prior to their performance later that night (I’ll get to that in a bit). In wonder and amazement at this random and above-and-beyond act of hospitality, I munched on some brown rice, chicken and vegetable stir fry and hearty wheat and poppyseed bread (something other than white bread, for once!) and listened to Guillermo, his amiable friends, and the zany band chat away.

My stay here essentially has only further strengthened my faith in Hostelworld as a reliable hostel-booking site. I can honestly say that, in all of the places I’ve stayed at on independent trips (from Tenerife, Lisbon, and Paris, to these past three in Toledo, Salamanca, and Segovia), I have yet to be disappointed.

The other unexpected yet surely serendipitous experience I’ve had here occurred last night. Guille had informed me that I had arrived in Segovia right in the middle of one of their biggest festivals. Both he and the band that was hanging out here at the hostel encouraged to check out in particular the brass band concert showcase that was being held in a square a couple blocks down from the Cathedral and Plaza Mayor.

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After a solid four hours of exploring, instead of calling it a night I chose to take their advice, and I’m so glad I did.

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For what did I find on the way to the concert but a dance performance (labeled a “master class” in the festival pamphlet), on a stage in front of the hundreds-of-years-old Roman aqueduct, with a large crowd of spectators watching and doing their best to follow the hip hop and Latin moves to upbeat and catchy Spanish pop and reggaetón beats. I couldn’t help but laugh, take some pictures and video, and dance along a bit as well.

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And then I came to the brass band concert. Four brass bands played in succession, and oh my goodness were they entertaining. The Dutch band, pictured above, entertained with the likes of Guns & Roses and other American classics, all whilst barefoot and sipping beers from plastic cups between songs.

But the last group to go, from El Espinar (a tiny town just three kilometers from Segovia), and the group that had organized this concert, definitely put on the biggest show, dressed in silly costumes, and by ending their set with a raucous march through the streets, with a jubilant crowd accompanying, dancing along, and snapping pictures.

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As if my parading down a cobblestone street with a Spanish brass band in a UNESCO World Heritage site-deemed city wasn’t random and hilarious enough, we ran into another concert taking place when we reached the plaza in front of the aqueduct.

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And what was this orchestra playing but the Superman theme…and so the brass band cut the music, as was appropriate, and got the rest of the accompanying crowd to pipe down. What a ridiculous evening.

I’ve had such a pleasant stay in Segovia, and thanks to Guille, Duermevela Hostel, and the wacky brass band of El Espinar, it was a particularly fun-filled and memorable one.

Things I Learned From Studying Abroad In Spain

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None of the pre-departure sessions given by my university’s study abroad organization could have prepared me for the experience I’ve had while on exchange for four months.

Most people assume that a study abroad or international exchange will be the experience of a lifetime, full of new and exciting adventures that will forever be looked nostalgically upon as some of the best days of our lives.

But nobody can prepare you for the amount of curveballs that will be thrown at you, the unexpected challenges you’ll encounter, nor the countless lessons you’ll have to learn.

I’ve learned a ton of things in this indubitably exciting but at times overwhelming chapter in my life, and so I thought I’d share the top ten things (from the obvious, the difficult, the random, the philosophical, or otherwise) I’ve learned from studying in Spain this year.

1) The experience of studying abroad is different for everyone.

For some people, six months to a year living in another country isn’t the hugest transition for them; perhaps they traveled to a number of places during their childhood and early adult life, or moved out of state or out of country for university.

For others, their exchange might be the first time they’ve left their parents’ home, or even be the first time they’ve gone somewhere other than their home country.

No matter what your preconceptions are about studying abroad, no matter the things you hear, both spectacular and horrific, from other students or friends who have studied abroad, everybody experiences studying abroad differently.

No one study abroad experience is the same, but neither is a particular study abroad experience better than somebody else’s. There isn’t one way a study abroad experience is supposed to be. The best thing you can do is take advantage of the time you have while you’re abroad and make the most of it, no matter the ups and downs, challenges, or hardships that you face.

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2) You have more free time than you can shake a stick at.

Whether you’re taking just one class or a full course load (five classes), you will most likely find yourself with more free time than you have back home. And in Spain, especially, the university environment is pretty lax. There are no classes on Fridays, and there are constantly festivals and holidays and strikes that result in a day off from school, and many a day where professors just don’t show up.

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There will be plenty of days where you literally have nothing you have to do, which can lend itself to a number of things; an impromptu trip on your own or with friends to a new area of the city or a new site you haven’t been to yet; a tapas or ice cream run; or an afternoon or evening or sometimes even a full day inside, doing just about nothing.

So while some of your free days may end up being spent lounging for far too long in your room exploring social media or catching up on TV shows and movies, luckily, in a place like Granada, there are always things to do

3) Homesickness happens

Anyone who’s packed up their lives and moved into a student residence or an apartment in another city, state, or, in my case, country, will have experienced the phenomenon that is homesickness. Usually, after a brief honeymoon period of being in a new environment surrounded by new people just as scared and as hell-bent on making friends as you are, the euphoria fades, reality sets in, and you find yourself missing home. Missing your parents, missing your friends, missing your home, missing the familiar, the comfortable.

And when you’re abroad, like internationally abroad, somehow homesickness feels worse. Whether it be because you’re farther away, because you’re in a place where the language spoken is not your first language, or because you’re in a place that isn’t your home, and one that you’ve only had a couple weeks or months to adjust to, when homesickness hits it can be really tough. Even to the point where you feel down or low or even depressed and you’re not entirely sure why.

But what I’ve been told, and what I continue to tell myself whenever I find myself nostalgic, is that this is normal. Plus, I find that there are few things more special than being abroad and realizing just how wonderful your home is.

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4) Getting sick sucks.

Even regular colds can seem that much more debilitating when you’re abroad. Both physically and psychologically. Just like going off to college and getting sick for the first time away from home, getting sick when your family’s nowhere near you can be hard. And of course even the most benign of sicknesses often result in bouts of homesickness. See 2).

Also, sometimes, as happened to both me and one of my closest friends Lisa, you catch a bug or a virus that you’ve never had before and you have absolutely NO IDEA what it is, and you’re bedridden for a number of days. So not only are you incapacitated for goodness-knows how many days, there’s really not much you can do other than wait it out. Without family. Without the friends around who would normally come to your aid in a time like this. And yeah, it sucks.

But, just like all adversity in life, you get through it, and you get better. And life goes on.

5) No matter how careful you are, you end up spending more money than you intend to.

Food costs money. Lodging costs money, whether it be with a homestay family, in a shared student apartment, in student residence, or in a hostel. Transportation costs money. Cell phone plans cost money. International calling and postcard-sending cost money.

And when you’re going on day or weekend trips, unexpected expenses always arise. You were really tired that morning so you ordered that coffee at that train station. You forgot your water bottle, and the water here isn’t potable, so you had to spend that 1-2 euro on a liter of water. And then there’s the ever-so-occasional (or perhaps frequent) morning where you wake up and think to yourself, where the heck did that 30 euro go…and then you remember you were at a tapas bar or regular bar or discoteca (or a combination of these) the night before.

Long story short, whether you’re studying or traveling abroad, just like in real life, stuff costs money. And it’s all about budgeting, learning how to budget, and continuing to distinguish between a worth-it versus not-worth-it purchase. A cheap flight to the Canary Islands for a weekend? Worth it.

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A 30+ euro night out at a discoteca, buying shots for you and your friends and dancin’ it up like fools? YOLO, right? Maybe once or twice, sure, why not. But every other night? Probably not.

6) You sometimes lose almost if not all motivation to study and go to class.

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Here in Granada, we exchange students already have the luxury of three day weekends, with there being no classes on Fridays (at least in most faculties at UGR). Those three-day weekends are also so very easily extendable into four or even five-day weekends, if a trip seems timely at that point in time. Hence your four-day school week sometimes becomes a two to three day school week, and suddenly you’ve lost all focus as you find yourself in class flight-, hostel-, bus-, Lonely Planet- and blog- (in my case) searching, and then you look up and the prof’s done talking and your class is over and OH MY GOSH WHERE DID THE TIME GO?

(Note: I am not suggesting in any way that this is the scenario for every international exchange student studying here, I’ve just found this has been the case for me…on several occasions).

And then of course there are countless Erasmus events going on NIGHTLY, with enticing prices at popular places, and as you’re in Spain, these parties rage till the wee hours of the morning and then who the heck would want to go to a 9am or even 10am class when you don’t even get home from a night out until 6 in the morning?

While we are here for the purpose of studying, there is so much other stuff going on, so many opportunities to travel and sightsee and meet new people that at least for me, the actual “studying” and “going to school” hasn’t been at the top of my priorities list (for the first time in my life, I might add.)

7) The concept of being on time does not exist everywhere.

The concept of time in Spain is drastically different than what I’m used to in Vancouver and Seattle. Busses are often late. Class doesn’t really start right on the hour. Students show up late. Professors show up late. Actually, professors showing up 15-30 minutes late to lecture is normal…and it’s just as normal for them to carry on well past the class end time to make up for their being late.

Being on time for a social outing, whether it be for tapas, at a house party, or meeting up at a bar or discoteca, usually means arriving between a forty-five minutes to three hours late. There is a wide time frame during which it is acceptable to show up for things. And I’m the girl who’s always on time (in first year university they called me a keener…), so this whole “show up whenever” thing and “hope the party’s still going and hasn’t moved somewhere else” thing is new to me.

So let’s just say I’ve gotten used to the plans I make not actually happening or starting until a good deal later than the originally agreed upon time. And so it goes.

8) Keeping in touch with people back home can be difficult, and not always desirable.

Some friends will want to keep in touch with you regularly while you’re abroad, others won’t. You’ll want to keep in touch with certain people regularly, and you won’t want to with others. Whether it’s iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, SnapChat, Skype, or email, there certainly are easy and convenient ways to communicate with friends and family while you’re abroad. But the reality is we all have lives and sometimes someone’s first priority isn’t responding to that witty text, that long-drawn-out, dramatic Facebook message, or that supposedly hilarious SnapChat.

Furthermore, I have found that taking break from all methods of phone or online communication with people back home can be liberating. While updating your family or close friends on upcoming travels or new, exciting experiences can be gratifying, sometimes it’s nice to unplug and just live without the constant nag of technology.

When it comes down to it, if you’re on a study abroad, you won’t be gone forever. You will at one point in time return to your home, to your family and to those friends you wish you had stayed in better contact with. Nevertheless, more often than not, from that first hug after months apart, a lot of relationships revert comfortably to where they were, as if it had only been yesterday that you’d seen them last.

9) Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.

Yes, that’s a quote from the Seattle rapper Macklemore. But it has indubitably been the most important lesson I’ve learned over and over during the course of this trip.

My experience with the University of Granada, for example, was nothing like I expected it would be. With its massive size, its integral role in the city, and its illustrious history, I thought for sure my chance to study in its hallowed halls would be a momentous, irreplaceable one.

However, from the clerical problems I encountered in applying here, to the frustratingly slow registration process and dysfunctional bureaucratic system, to the sometimes lackadaisical classroom atmosphere, for me, UGR did not live up to its favorable reputation. And I’ve spent far too much time letting myself be disappointed about this. If I take a step back and realize at least I ended up in one class I thoroughly enjoy, from the lectures to the required reading to (surprisingly enough) re-reading the material and composing an open-ended essay on it for my final exam, then the unmet expectation I had of the supposedly stellar experience I’d have at UGR doesn’t result in as much as a resentment or disappointment.

An example of an instance where I benefited from this lesson learned would be my trip to Paris. I idealistically assumed that the second I got there I would instantly fall in love with the iconic French city. And you know what? I didn’t. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy myself there, but it took me until my last day there to realize just how dynamic of a city Paris is, to realize that I did indeed want to spend more time there to see if the city would charm me more. I kept an open mind, gave the city a chance, made the most of my experience there, and everything turned out alright.

The Louvre

Which brings me to the last and sort of all-encompassing lesson I learned from four months studying abroad in Europe:

10) One of the best things you can do to make the most of your study abroad experience is to keep an open mind.

One of my dear friends Mika, who studied abroad this past semester in Florence, mentioned this in one of her blog posts, and I agree 100%. Being open, keeping an open mind, is the best thing to do in almost every situation. Whether it comes to meeting new people, visiting new places, trying out new tapas restaurants in new neighborhoods, checking out a new bar or discoteca, or figuring out where to go on your next trip, the single best thing I’ve done for myself in these situations has been keeping an open mind.

When it comes to people, no matter where they’re from, what their beliefs are, or what their cultural background is, more often than not they will surprise you, and you will surprise yourself with the diversity of people you end up meeting, getting to know, and even making long-lasting friendships with.

When it comes to seeing new things, you’ll never truly know how dynamic or interesting a sight is until you get there. And with an open mind, you’ll be surprised just what you take from each an every new sight you visit.

When it comes to seeking out new food and drink, well, that’s sort of a no-brainer. The more places you try, the more likely you’ll find the tastiest tapas and most refreshing and tipsiness-inducing drinks. From croquetas to berenjenas con miel and from the classic tinto de verano, the various Alhambra brand-drafts, to my new favorite, the tinto version of beer, clara con limón, Granada in particular has so much to offer in terms of food and drink, and some of the best things I’ve had in the past four months have been when I open-mindedly sought out new places or was brought somewhere new by a friend (stay tuned on a post all about FOOD!).

And last but not least, when it comes to traveling to a new place or a new country, no matter how much Lonely Planet researching you do or how many blog posts or new articles you read on things to do or can’t-miss spots in that new place or country, you’ll do yourself a great favor if you keep an open mind and rid yourself of any expectations prior to taking the trip. You’ll enjoy everything that much more, or experience less (or no) disappointment in the event that you aren’t blown away by or in love with everywhere you go (which will certainly be the case). 

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Photo cred Meghan Nolt

Granada was unlike any other experience I’ve had. I am endlessly grateful for every person I’ve met and every friend I’ve made, every place I got to see and new country I got to visit, and for the lessons I’ve learned and changes and improvements I’ve made for myself and my own life.

But I’m ready for a new adventure, a new journey to experience fully, live and learn openly, and embrace without any expectation, prejudice, or preconception. I hope at the very least to take these lessons with me, and always remember, when in a new country, a new continent, or a new environment, one in which you don’t always have control over how things will go:

when you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life

– Eckhart Tolle

With this thought in mind, along with all my other favorite quotes about life and happiness, I can’t help but add a number 11) to the list.

When an opportunity comes, seize it. Live in the moment and make the most of the moment you’re in. Life is short but sweet for certain, so live every day like it’s your last and reach for the sky because tomorrow may never come. The time is now. Chulla vida.