Madre mía, Madrid!

There’s something rather special about being the first person out and about in a city like Madrid on a Saturday morning. 

IMG_5789The sidestreets are virtually empty, other than workers getting ready to open shop, and the occasional madrileño out for a solitary stroll, sometimes in the company of a partner or a perro.

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This was the first part of my walk to the Biblioteca Nacional this morning. What a difference from even just the morning before.

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I couldn’t help myself; I smiled stupidly at a couple shop-owners, the leaf-blower guy just before the plaza that intersects with the tree-lined Paseo del Prado. I can’t even begin to express just how much I enjoy feeling like I have a city to myself, if only for a moment.

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And then of course once I actually hit the Paseo del Prado, that sense of solitude slowly gave way to the increasingly tangible energy of Madrid’s museum hub.

Suffice it to say, I felt much more sophisticated entering the BNE this morning, seeing as I knew how the whole process of entry, desk assignment, and book request went. Technically you aren’t to take pictures inside, but if that didn’t stop me in the Sistine Chapel six years ago, it certainly wouldn’t stop me now.

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IMG_5797Of course, a shot of one Spain’s many literary legends out front is most certainly acceptable.

IMG_5798I had originally planned to go back to the Museo del Prado that afternoon, but by the time I got there after the BNE closed, it was looking mighty busy. I chose instead to go for a paseo in el Parque de Retiro, one of my favorite public parks in the world.
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It’s such a great escape from the noise and sensory overload of the city. I just love how green it is.

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On this particular visit to the Retiro I decided to make my way to the Palacio de Cristal, inspired by a recent post by one of my favorite travel bloggers.

There was a free, seasonal exhibition going on inside as well, so I’m glad I was able to check it out.

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Much like yesterday afternoon, I continued in a haphazard loop through the busy centro of Madrid, this time making my way down Gran Vía, whose architecture after multiple visits I just can’t get enough of.

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To round out another full day in Spain’s capital, I’m going out to watch the Champions League final (viva Barça!).

And tomorrow, I’m setting off to Alcalá de Henares for the day, which will be a major nerding-out moment…after all, it is the author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s birthplace.

As I’m here first and foremost to work on my thesis (which is on his magnum opus, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha), I’m considering this a most-worthy field trip. 

And So We Meet Again, Madrid

Just over two years ago, I visited Madrid for the first time and was quick to declare it one of my favorite cities in Europe.

Not only did I thereafter see myself one day living in Spain’s lively capital city, I also came to find I liked it even better than Barcelona, much to my surprise. To be fair, I can’t say I spent enough time in either city to the point where I could navigate on my own and feel consistently safe and confident (like I managed to do in Granada and Sevilla, for example). But needless to say, I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to stay in Madrid for a longer period of time.

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Meet la Biblioteca Nacional de España (the National Library of Spain, or BNE), my home for the next week. It is here, in these hallowed halls, that I’ll be undertaking the preliminary stages of research for my Master’s thesis in Hispanic Studies through the University of British Columbia.

I’ll admit, I was fairly anxious approaching these majestic steps this morning. Although my thesis supervisor had given me all the instructions I needed to get into the building, get myself a temporary ID, and access the various wings I’d need, I still found myself a little apprehensive. After all, this is what I based my entire trip on: getting a leg up on my thesis research, and doing it in the city where there would be so many resources available to me under one roof.

After all, as I’ve told myself again and again, if I couldn’t find the motivation to research in Madrid, how could I possibly hope to do so back in BC?

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Thankfully, everything went as smoothly as it possibly could have. After checking my passport, driver’s license, and the letter my thesis supervisor had written me back in Vancouver requesting that the BNE grant me access to all wings of the library (especially the Sala Cervantina, or the Cervantes wing, home to a huge archive of resources on the author of Spain’s first modern novel, which coincidentally is the focus of my thesis), they issued me a rather official-looking ID, which will provide me access to the BNE and its resources for the entirety of my time here in Madrid.

And maybe it’s just me, but there was something so motivating about studying silently in a GIANT hall with dozens of other students and researchers of all ages, with names like Garcilaso and Lope and Fernando de Rojas plastered in gold on the high walls; it was as if the greats of Spanish literature were cheering me on, just like I’d so naïvely hoped they might 😉

FullSizeRenderAfter a decent number of hours in the BNE, getting myself oriented with the help of a colleague of my thesis supervisor, and starting up a list of all the sources I hope to consult in the upcoming days, it seemed only fair to appease my growling stomach with one of Spain’s most iconic plates: churros con chocolate.

It was just as good (if not better) than I remembered, even on a sweltering 32 C/90 F afternoon in Madrid’s bustling centro.

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A stroll through Puerta del SolPlaza Mayor, and probably one of my top favorite spots in Madrid, the Mercado de San Miguel, rounded out my first full day here in Spain. It’s crazy how much you can do in just one day in a city like this; a great deal of the major sites are within walking distance (the Museo del Prado and the Parque del Retiro for example, are only fifteen minutes away from the room I’m renting through Airbnb).

And I’m stoked to report that I feel just as comfortable here in Madrid as I felt last time, if not more so, and full of unbridled excitement for what this next week has in store!

 

Once Upon A Dream: Highlights of 2013

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Photo cred Sarah Capdeville

What a crazy year this has been.

From Barcelona to Berlin, Cesky Krumlov to Chester, Lisbon to Ljubljana, Marrakech to Mount Rainier, San Francisco to Sintra, and Venice to Vancouver, I’ve quite literally been all over the place these past twelve months.

My second-to-last semester of my undergraduate has come and gone, and now I find myself precipice of a new year, full with possibilities and uncertainties, and the prospects of many other exciting opportunities on the horizon. But, as it stands, there is nothing decisive yet about my future. And I’m not quite sure if I’m thrilled or scared out of my mind.

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Photo cred Brenda Seymour

But, seeing as it’s New Year’s Eve, the time of year when I tend to get overly intro- and retro-spective, I figured it’d be appropriate to enumerate (in no particular order) some of my favorite experiences of 2013, both abroad and otherwise. Some are singular moments, some are more all-encompassing experiences, but they all are experiences I shall never forget, ones I shall carry with me forever.

1) Sensory overload in Marrakech

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I have never before in my life seen or experienced anything like the Jemaa-el-Fnaa square at night in Marrakech, Morocco.

I couldn’t help raving about this experience in a blog post soon after my trip in late March. The energy of the square is electrifying, once the sun goes down, the food stands open, and street performers begin their various entertainments.

Just recollecting this sole evening we spent in Marrakech’s spectacular square excites me and quickens my heartbeat. I can hardly believe I had the opportunity to have an experience so extraordinary, especially one in the company of family.

2) Frolicking in the Swiss Alps

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The hills were truly alive, and I had the amazing opportunity to frolick and adventure about through them with a dear friend back in June.

Switzerland had been at the top of my list of countries to visit during my trip around Europe, and it still baffles me to say that it exceeded my expectations in every way.

We spent just two days in those “hills,” one on a ridge along a UNESCO-certified glacier, the other, in constant view of one of the world’s most iconic peaks, and it was easily one of the coolest adventures of my life, one I also detailed with great deserved enthusiasm in another blog post.

3) Standing on the Slopes of Teide

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We cable-car’ed up a volcano and stood and walked around at 11,000+ feet for an hour.

It may sound not that impressive, but this short, last-minute venture of ours was perhaps the highlight of our weekend trip to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. It was so surreal to stand on the rocky slopes and see nothing but a vastness of blue skies and dense cloud engulfing the tiny island below.

Even more than that, it was an incredible experience to share with two of my dearest friends from my study abroad experience in Granada. It was an unforgettable weekend, and hanging out at 11,000 feet nearly at the summit of the beloved Teide volcano was simply unreal.

4) Living with a host family

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I did it twice in Ecuador, and I knew from the moment I started contacting my Granada host family that I’d made the right choice to choose living in a homestay again.

I have never met more caring and loving people than my Argentinean host family in Granada. Those three were so good to me during my four and a half month stay, and from the minute I entered their home I felt welcome, loved, and safe.

Without them, my experience studying abroad in Granada would not have been the same. They treated me as their own daughter, as their true family, and I could not be more grateful.

Muchísimas gracias, Vero, Fer, y Alejo; les deseo un buenísimo año nuevo 🙂

5) Falling in love in Venice

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Venice is one of the most romantic cities I’ve ever been to, and I feel like I literally fell in love with that city. There was nothing I didn’t absolutely love about the tight, maze-like cobblestone roads running between crumbling buildings and alongside thin, scenic canals, the bustle of people in the patio restaurants and in flocks scattered about the Piazza San Marco and along the Grand Canal, and the beautiful colors of the fading old houses, especially those on the island of Burano.

And near the end of my very first evening in Venice, as I was trying to capture the picturesque sunset descending over the triumphant Grand Canal, I saw a little Italian girl who was strolling by with her grandparents, and asked her (in a jumble of rudimentary Italian and some English) to take my picture. She nodded, and like a pro, took several shots of me with a childish grin with the sunset behind me, including the one above.

I don’t believe I have ever felt such unbridled joy and infatuation for a city, as I did for Venice in those brief two and a half days. I cannot wait to go back.

6) Blueberry picking in Michelsneukirchen

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Of the three days I spent staying with a German friend of mine I’d met in Granada, perhaps my favorite experience was picking blueberries at sunset near her home in Bavaria.

I’d always enjoyed blackberry picking with my family as a child, so when her kind parents suggested we went blueberry picking my last night there, I jumped at the opportunity. It was such a relaxing evening, and made me realize even more just how lucky I was to have been able to stay and spend time with my friend and her family in their wonderful home.

It was a simple evening, but a fun and most memorable one, and I will forever be grateful for the hospitality and warmth of her family. And, of course, how yummy those blueberries tasted warmed over ice cream 🙂

7) High tea with family in London

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I loved everything about London. I would absolutely, 100%, live there one day. But, perhaps surprisingly, my favorite London moment was going for tea and lunch with my adorable British great aunts at the Goring Hotel right near Buckingham Palace.

In the two and a half days I spent exploring London, I felt like I saw everything; I walked by Westminster Abbey and Whitehall, saw Buckingham Palace, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, the Tower and the Tower Bridge, and I spent ample time gawking at artwork and other things at several of London’s prestigious museums. But the memory that I hold most dear to my heart was spending those few hours catching up with relatives I hadn’t seen in over ten years.

There was nothing quite so precious on my entire trip abroad than chatting and dining with those two, and I am beyond grateful and honored that they made the time to see their grand niece.

8) Seeing Firenze the right way

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My friends mean the world to me, and to have one of my dearest show me around her Florence for several days was such an incredible gesture.

I wasn’t even supposed to spend five whole days in Florence, but due to some necessary changes to my itinerary, I found myself on minute one in Florence, completely out of sorts, and in a hostel that ended up being the only poor one I would stay at in the entirety of my trip to Europe. But luckily my friend then got back to me that she would still be in Florence for another week or so at the tail end of her own study abroad venture there, and offered to show me around as much as she could during the time I was there!

I can’t imagine having a better experience in that city. It was the first city on my trip that I had arrived at feeling unmotivated and perhaps a little lonely and homesick for the first time, but thankfully my friend was there for me and we enjoyed an amazing few days together as she showed me around the best sites and the best local food joints, as well as a surprise trip to the beach on the coast at Cecina that I never would have been able to experience had it not been for her.

Grazie mille, bella 🙂

9) Hiking in the Mount Rainier wilderness

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Never forget the beauty and wonder you can find within your own home. Well, Mount Rainier isn’t exactly in Seattle, the place where I was raised, but it is the iconic and beloved peak of Washington state, and I had the opportunity to go on a brief hiking trip there with one of my best friends at the end of August.

The weather conditions weren’t exactly in our favor, and we were both struggling with the impeding stress of transitions from the summer back to real life at our respective universities, but in the end we persevered and were able to explore some of the gorgeous wilderness that the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier has to offer.

It was a wonderful bonding experience for the both of us, and it both challenged and excited us throughout its ups and downs.

10) Running the Color Run in Vancouver

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While my commitment to running has fluctuated between all-out obsessed and barely there at all, partaking in this event with some of my closest friends at the beginning of the school year was a great experience.

It was just one of those innocent, random, but exceedingly fun experiences realized in truly wonderful company that was a great way to kick off my fourth and final year of undergrad. It was simply a real good time (a rollicking good one, if you ask me), during which I had absolutely no inhibition nor qualms about being absolutely ridiculous and getting totally dirty (that is, covered in dyed powder).

In my 2013, there were plenty of ups and downs, unbelievable adventures, and difficult personal and family struggles, but in the end, when it came down to it, there was always somebody I could lean on, always somebody I could count on, always somebody I could share or celebrate my experiences with.

While I very much valued traveling for two months basically on my own, and while I’m very much a fan of alone time, there’s nothing quite like the company and comfort of loved ones, in any capacity. My favorite moments of 2013, many of which are not on this list but I still hold near and dear to my heart, were those which I spent and shared with others. 

So as these fireworks start to die out, as 2013 fades away and 2014 begins with a surge, let me just say: Happy New Year’s to all, and to all a good night.

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.