If you caught my last column, you might recall that I’m studying abroad in Southern Spain this semester. Now that I’ve been here for a couple weeks, I thought I’d give you an update.
I had a month of free time between the end of fall semester and my departure date, which I used to bank some spending money for my trip. I worked about 30 hours a week at my internship and took on a couple side hustles, including a couple weeks of farm-sitting. I built three-day weekends into my schedule to spend time with family and friends.
My last week at home was quite overwhelming. I was running back and forth between work, school and home to get everything in order. Shoutout to my parents for hitting the pause button on all of their responsibilities to help me. I was able to board my flight on time and somehow didn’t forget to pack anything.
After a full day of travel, I made it to my new apartment in Málaga, Spain. I had gotten about two hours of sleep in the past 48 hours, but I needed to eat before hitting the hay. Going to the city center for food was quite the effort.
On the way out of the apartment lobby, I took a wrong turn and ended up in the courtyard. The concierge kindly directed me to the exit, but I ended up trying to walk through the window instead of the glass door beside it. I was ready to give up, but I was too embarrassed to go back inside.
I finally made it to the bus stop, after battling Google Maps. My card was declined on the bus, even though my bank assured me that it would work abroad, so I had to hold up the line to fish out some cash. After I paid, the bus driver started yelling at me to put on a mask, which I didn’t know was required. Luckily, I had one in my hand because I was planning on wearing one anyways. I was doing my best not to get sick my first week in a new country.
I got off on the right stop and successfully navigated to a small grocery store, where I bought some chocolate croissants and pears to enjoy in the town square, called Plaza de la Constitución. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve been. I set up camp on a bench beneath some palm trees and people-watched for a bit.
I wanted to explore, but I thought it best to charge my phone first. I figured a fast food restaurant would be a safe bet. After ordering an Impossible Whopper at Burger King, I asked where I could charge my phone. Turns out, that’s an American thing. I like to joke about the fact that my first Spanish meal was Burger King, but with so much newness to take in, it honestly was nice to have something that tasted like home. Plus, I can’t complain about the oceanfront patio.
Once I got some sleep, things got a lot easier. I went from not knowing how to exit my apartment building to being able to confidently navigate the city on my own. I’m still adjusting to the Spanish dialect of this region, Andaluz, which is different from anything I’ve heard before. It has a faster and more varied rhythm, preserves some archaic uses of verbs, and uses different pronouns than those I’ve learned in Spanish class. I’ve been studying Spanish for eight years and still have to ask people to repeat things sometimes.
I’m just a weekend away from the start of the semester here. A good portion of my time lately has been spent getting my ducks in a row, but I’ve also had plenty of time for fun with friends.
Last weekend, I went on my first Spanish hike guided by locals. I’ve been nicknamed “Peanut Butter” because the PB&J sandwich I packed in a Ziploc bag was comically American. This sparked fun conversations about school in the states. Is it true that parents leave notes in your lunchbox? Is high school really the best time of your life?
Taking advantage of student discounts, I’ve visited two art museums so far, Museo Picasso (free entrance) and the Centre Pompidou (free entrance on Sunday afternoons). I’ve done a bit of shopping, since clothing is generally less expensive here, and I’ve tried lots of new foods. A recent highlight for me was taste-testing desserts beside a castle.
So far, this experience has proven to me that hard work pays off. I’m a firm believer that the views are prettier and the food is tastier when you’ve earned it. I’m really grateful for the people who helped me get here. I expect my classes to be quite challenging, but I can’t think of a better opportunity to hone my Spanish language skills.