Nothing can fully prepare you to move abroad. I had made countless lists, read various articles, and practiced my Spanish beforehand. But nothing even remotely compares to the real thing. My adjustment to Madrid was surprisingly a lot smoother than I had anticipated. My main concern was making friends who I would be spending the majority of my time with and making travel plans with. Within the first week, I found myself completely comfortable with my roommates and even some other classmates as well. Thinking back to all the time I spent stressing over companions seems quite comical now. But in my particular situation, it makes sense that friends would come easy. Every student abroad is in the same boat, allowing us to maintain an open mind and connect on a level that we may not have otherwise in a different situation.
It took me a long time for it to fully sink in that I was moving away for five months. It was one of those things that I just kept waiting to hit me but it never did coming up to this point. I had assumed it would while packing, then saying goodbye to my loved ones, and then sitting on a plane by myself- but it still never came. The first few weeks just felt like a really long vacation, once school had started to pick up was when everything began to feel real. My official “abroad moment” hit when I was running through Retiro park one morning before class. I had stopped to stretch right by the pond- which is a relatively touristy area. A couple approached me asking for directions while speaking fluent Spanish. After responding and sending the two on their way, it hit me that they had assumed I was a local. And while this, of course, was not entirely true- I was actually living in Madrid.
Much like the built anticipation of waiting for my “abroad moment”, I was also under the impression that I was going to encounter an extreme amount of culture shock. In Madrid, it turns out that this didn’t end up being the case. I was proficient enough in Spanish to hold my own and was also already accustomed to the lifestyle of living alone from college. The first time I fully experienced a drastic culture shock was this past weekend in Africa. With my program, we traveled to Morocco for five days- two of which were spent camping out in the Sahara desert. I didn’t know what to expect, as this was my first time traveling to a third world country. The moment that the culture shock hit was while walking through the markets of Fez surrounded by poverty. Here I was, browsing different jewelry shops while passing by children begging to sell me packs of tissues. Overall from this experience, it was extremely eye-opening. I obviously knew somewhat of what I was about to walk into but seeing it in person really altered my perspective.