In 2013, during my spring semester of junior year of college, I left my comfortable home and familiar faces to study abroad in Salamanca, Spain, through API, Academic Programs International. Other than Montreal when I was 5 years old, I had never been out of the country before. The idea of crossing the Atlantic Ocean and traveling to places I had only seen in books and movies, seemed incredible. And I had lived with my parents for my entire life (still do, whoot whoot! #poormillenial #studentloans). So the days leading up to my departure, I read every article I could find about studying abroad and leaving home. I remember asking myself, What will Salamanca be like? Will I like it? Will I get use to waking up in another place every morning? Will I make friends?
After the initial shock of being 3,000 miles away from home, I fell in love with the city. I loved the warm beiges and earth tones of the Plaza Mayor. I loved the easy-going pace of everyday life. I loved the 800 year old university that I took classes in. Oh, and you know that 20 year old Monika loved the nightlife (shots were a euro at Daniel’s Chupiteria, sue me). Over time, I got used to waking up in my host mother’s house. And, eventually, I made some really good friends. I even keep in contact with some of them to this day.
That semester forever changed me. It molded me to who I am now, all because I stepped out of my bubble. I learned to embrace the wonderful moments, and to confront the unfavorable ones. I became a stronger person after that semester. When I went home to Massachusetts, my parents and siblings noticed that I had become a lot more confident. This experience also fueled my decision to teach in Madrid last year. While living in Madrid last year, some friends and I decided to go to Salamanca. They had never been and I hadn’t been back in 4 years, so off we went! These were the 4 thoughts I had when I returned back to my second home:
1. It’s so small!
Last year, when my friends and I got to the Plaza Mayor and walked around the main city center I was so surprised at how much smaller Salamanca seemed. This isn’t a slight to the city at all, it was just a change in perspective. At 20 years old, when I got off the bus from Madrid and met my host mother I was scared, nervous, and anxious. It felt like the city was towering over me. But 4 years later, I had traveled more and experienced more. Salamanca went from a big and unfamiliar city to my small and quaint home.
2. I was so lucky
Seeing Salamanca through slightly older eyes gave me a better understanding of cherishing moments while I’m still in them. There were times that I would cry and get upset because I missed my family, or because I felt self-conscious and out of place. Looking back, I can now recognize those lows points as all temporary. They were just droplets in the metaphorical bucket that holds my wide span of emotions (Damn, I’m so poetic, right?). But back then, all of those moments felt like the end of the world. When I was feeling low, I didn’t always appreciate how lucky I was to be there. I was in another country, traveling and studying with other students from all over the world. As an adult, it’s still difficult at times to feel gratitude when I’m struggling but I’m still trying.
3. How did I ever finish a whole Agua de Valencia?
Paniagua is a cool, punk rock style bar that makes Agua de Valencias so big that you could drown in one if you missed a step. And for 5 Euros a piece? Oh my Godddddd, baby Monika couldn’t resist! I use to start my night with one…and maybe even try to split another with a friend later in the evening… I would even get extra straws to assist in the debauchery. Of course when I went back to Salamanca, I had to get one. My first sip, OH. SHIT. This tastes like 50 lifesavers soaked in vodka. I drank a whole one by myself? After the initial sip, it got better. It tasted like nostalgia, and impulsive decisions. To answer your question, no, I couldn’t finish it.
4. I’ve grown so much
Socially, I was a bit of a late bloomer. So along with the challenges of being far from home, I also had to meet new people and make friends. I’ve never struggled to meet and introduce myself to new people, but when in a large social setting, I sometimes second guess myself, put my foot in my mouth, talk too much, all of the above. Being on my own meant that I had to face my social flaws head on, work on them, and move forward. I’ve made big strides over the past 5 years and I’d like to think that I’m no longer as much of a social dweeb (okay, maybe just a dash of dweeb).
If you ask me whether or not to study or work abroad I will always say, YES YES YES! And when you go back to visit, 5, 10, whatever amount of years later, it’ll feel like a physical representation of your growth as a person. Having a beautiful city, like Salamanca, be that representation will forever connect you to that place and will give you another piece of this world to call home.
Have you created a second home for yourself? Where have you studied or work abroad? Did you go back? What was it like? Share and comment below 🙂