Although it is unfortunate I had to return to the United States early due to the effects of coronavirus, I still had the most incredible five weeks in Madrid. I am very grateful that I had a chance to experience this and hope to return to Europe again sometime in the future.
Apart from the issues regarding COVID-19, I think the biggest challenge I faced during my time abroad was establishing a routine. In the US, I am so used to being very busy and always having a full schedule in terms of classes, time for studying and homework, extracurricular activities, exercise, and social time. Having a full schedule allowed me to break apart each day in order to accomplish all of my goals. Once arriving in Spain, I realized how much free time during the day I actually had, which is not really a challenge if you think about it. At first I found myself thinking, “So, what am I supposed to do?” Schoolwork and classes did not take up as much time out of my day as it had at Pitt, and I did not have any other commitments per se, so I quickly had to seize this opportunity as a blessing in order to make the most out of each and every day.
In my roughly five weeks abroad, I was able to use my free time to see so much of Madrid and its surrounding neighborhoods. From the quaint streets of Malasana to the bustling atmosphere of Puerta del Sol, I was just beginning to feel like an expert in my area. I was able to try so many different restaurants with my friends and shop at the greatest vintage stores. I realized that I did not need to plan my days down to the minute, as that is not how the people in Madrid function, and rather live life at a more relaxed pace. I would tell future abroad students to do the same in order to make the most out of what time they have studying abroad.
Something that I have been able to take away from this whole experience is adaptability, especially in the final days when I was overwhelmed with packing my things, booking a flight home, saying bye to friends, and trying to see as much as possible before returning home. Along with just adapting to sudden changes, I have also learned resilience. Although how extremely disappointing this situation was in the beginning stages, I have now come to terms with the fact that it was for the safety of the students and I will return to Europe one day. It will also take great resilience for our country and our globe to come back even stronger once the pandemic subsides.
Aside from this, I believe the most important skill I have learned from all of this is self-sufficiency. When I reflect back on my time, I knew very little Spanish coming into my program. I think about how much I have learned in such a short time and am impressed with my ability to pick up on a skill like this. I also learned how to navigate unfamiliar environments on my own throughout my own travels, and I believe that it is important to have the ability to problem solve and react to situations with calmness and ease. Even though this situation had to occur, I will never take my time abroad for granted and appreciate all the challenges that came along the way.