As I sit here at my desk, I can’t help but think about how nervous I was about coming here to study for five months. I’d never been overseas before now, and though I was excited, I was afraid that something would happen: I’d be robbed while abroad, I’d get lost, or I’d forget something important back in the United States. I enrolled in a short 1/2 credit class at my university to prepare myself for going abroad, and I tried my best to remember everything they’d told me regarding what to pack and what to leave behind.
I packed light, as my adviser had suggested. A few t-shirts, a couple sweaters, jeans, and a formal outfit, along with my jacket. My host family is really good about doing laundry, so there was no need to over pack. If you find you need an extra shirt or something, you can easily buy them once you get to your destination. Packing light also avoids going over the weight limit in airport security. Space bags are also a great useful to help fit everything in one suitcase (with my airport, I was only allowed 1 suitcase and 2 carry-on bags without paying an extra fee). Make sure you pack any sort of necessary adapters and cords for electronics. I’m a huge fan of my iPod and laptop, so I purchased two plug adapters (European wall plugs are different from the US) really cheap from Amazon. I would advise that you make sure your adapter functions with voltage up to 220 as well. If it only works up to 110 (like some US chargers do), you’ll need to buy a voltage converter.
When I first arrived in Spain, my initial thought was, “Oh my god, they speak really fast!” Honestly, after being here for two weeks, you get used to it. To them, it’s not fast at all; it’s just normal, casual speech. Most Spaniards can tell when they’re not talking to a native Spanish speaker. They are really friendly and willing to slow down, or repeat themselves so that you can understand them. My host family is really good about speaking slowly, and whenever they start to speed up, I just ask them to repeat. They know that I’m here to learn and are here to help me do that. Another one of my fears was that I wouldn’t know how to say something, and therefore would not be understood. Well, it happened. Being able to circumlocution(using words you know to get to words you don’t) becomes your best friend. There are times in conversation, however, where even that doesn’t work. I remember once I was trying to figure out how to get to “marshmallow” using circumlocution with my host mom for 20 minutes. Eventually, we gave up. Fun fact: There is no exact word for marshmallow in the Spanish language.
The Spanish schedule is very different from my US schedule. For example, at home, I ate breakfast around 9am, lunch around 1pm, then dinner at 6pm. Here, breakfast is served promptly at 9:30 am, lunch is at 2:30 pm with an afternoon nap right after, where literally everything will close until around 5 pm! Then, dinner is around 9-10 pm! It’s definitely taken some getting used to, but snacking is also okay here, so that does help a lot.
In almost everything as well, the Spanish are almost always fashionably late. My class here is scheduled for 9 am, however, every day it has started closer to 9:15 am, which works in my favor, as I’m not the fastest person in the mornings. A major difference for me as well is the schedule of classes. At my home university, my schedule varied based on the day, and I would go to several different rooms for different classes. In Zaragoza, Spain at the Centro de Español como Lengua Extranjera, classes start everyday at 9am Monday through Friday with grammar. Then you have a half an hour break at 11am if you need a snack or something. Then you go back to the same classroom until 1:30pm for a cultural class with the same professor. It’s nice being done with most of the day left to see the city, do homework, or just relax.
I wouldn’t say that I’m homesick yet, but I do miss the familiar faces of my friends and family back at home. My host mom also doesn’t have any pets, so I also miss seeing my two dogs everyday back home. Skype and Facebook are really good ways to keep in touch with everyone though, as well as a personal blog to let everyone know what I’m up to while abroad! I’m certainly enjoying my time here, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store!