I have perfected the technique of sleeping in an airport: big bag under your knees with the zippers down, purse under your head as a sort of lumpy pillow, jacket on, but use scarf as a blanket. This kind of perfect technique only comes from practice – lots of it, none of it very pleasant. But traveling is not all glamour and fun – in fact, it’s the exact opposite. Adventuring, traveling, studying abroad – it’s all about what goes wrong, what lessons you learn, and the stories of how you learn them.
I have to remind myself that people doing the same thing as me, whether that’s studying abroad, or being at A&M, are posting pictures that are picture perfect. Their posts although totally justified, leave out the realities of the woes and struggles of studying abroad. I have to remind myself that no study abroad is without its problems – nor is staying at home. I’m very aware that had I stayed in College Station, I would be knee-deep in finance classes, drowning in homework, and kicking myself every time I stepped foot in the library because I could have been doing this. But I also appreciate that I traded one set of hurdles for a very different, yet very real set. This is not a vacation, and it’s not meant to be. I think people get caught up in seeing pictures of the “perfect” study abroad and convince themselves that it’s a prolonged vacation when it isn’t.
Everyday I come home exhausted – mentally, physically, and more than often emotionally. Just going to class is a workout: the hike to get there, the pain of stretching my brain to reach another language is the metal equivalent of trying to do the splits, and simply talking to people and making friends is both terrifying and draining all at once. I could sleep for days, but feel guilty when I sleep in because I’m here. I have accomplished a goal that was two years in the making and know that I should want to learn all day, party all night, and travel every single weekend, but I’m missing down time. I’m missing the mundane things that filled the gaps between my adventures back home. I miss being in a place where I knew the layout of the grocery store and where the cheap coffee was. This surprises me every time I think it, because it was one of the things spurring me into this, but I want something to be mundane. I want to make something familiar and a source of comfort rather than something mysterious in a city that I don’t really know.
Traveling, study abroad, adventuring – they are not meant to be perfect. The best stories, the most indelible memories, and the lessons that stay with you forever all come out of the misadventures you have on the way.
Madrid hasn’t been perfect – sometimes I feel like I’m suffocating in it. And I haven’t really been handing my feelings about it the way I should. I’ve been running around trying to do as much as possible in as little time as possible – it feels like freshman year all over again, just trying to apply to as many organizations as possible and hoping one will stick. I haven’t been dealing with the change the way that is best for me: alone time, reflection, and writing. I’ve been too scared to be alone to do that, until this weekend.
In contrast to last weekend where I slept on the floor of an airport next to a hoard of armed guards, this weekend I slept late, I baked, I did my laundry, went for a run, and hiked in the mountains. It was a good mix of taking time for myself and also putting myself out there. It left me feeling fulfilled, with 3 dozen cookies, a new group of friends, and clean clothes. It wasn’t a weekend to post about, not the traditional adventure, but it was the adventure I needed.