Emily in Spain: Two Months In

Today marks two months in Málaga, Spain—the longest I’ve been away from home in my life. The crazy thing is, I’m not homesick.

I miss my family and friends, of course, but I’m really happy to be here. I feel more capable. I moved to a new country alone, and I’ve managed to make a home of it. 

As I reflect on this, I thought I’d share some of the things that have helped me settle in.

  1. I befriended English speakers.

I came to Spain to improve my Spanish speaking skills, and it’s been going great so far. But after a long day of speaking in my second language, I just need to decompress. 

The great weather in Málaga attracts aspiring pilots from all over the world, and my apartment happens to be partnered with the flight school. I worked up the courage to introduce myself one of my first nights here, and found out that they all speak English.

The student pilots have become some of my best friends here. We wrap up each school night with a few rounds of pool in the common area, exchanging stories about our days.

With all the expressions the Brits have introduced me to, you could say I’m learning a bit of English, too. “You spoon!” is my new favorite insult. Coming in at a close second is, “Have you lost the plot?” 

  1. I continue to pursue my hobbies.

Shared interests are great for building community. At least, that’s been true for me.

I climbed competitively in high school and have been able to keep the hobby alive in college as a Mountain Challenge staff member. I was really excited when I found out that there’s a climbing gym just a 20-minute walk from my Spanish apartment.

You could say things got off to a “rocky” start because I didn’t know Spanish climbing lingo, but it wasn’t too difficult to pick up. Now, I look forward to going every Wednesday after class. I get to meet new people, listen to Spanish music and move my body.

Another passion of mine is bees. Five years ago, I started a nonprofit for bee conservation called Build for Bees, which I’ve continued to manage abroad. When I got to Spain, I introduced myself to the local beekeeping museum and kept an eye out for bee-related events to attend. 

That little bit of initiative has led to some pretty cool opportunities. I recently watched a film downtown called “20.000 especies de abejas” (“20,000 Bee Species”) would be the English translation). Seeing hundreds of people gather to celebrate something I care so deeply about made me feel right at home.

  1. I made a realistic routine.

It could be really easy for me to lose my grip on reality while abroad. I mean, it takes just about the same amount of time to get to the beach as it does to get to class.

Some people are just here to party, and that’s totally understandable. This is the place to be for that. But for me, in order to achieve my career goals, it’s important that I take this semester just as seriously as any other.

To balance work and play, I’ve roughly mapped out my day-to-day schedule. I use the awkward chunks of time between classes to study, so I have less to get done in the evenings. Bus rides are for catching up on emails. I leave weekends open for spontaneous adventures (or rest).

Google Calendar has been my best friend. It helps me visualize my week and reminds me when to go to class. It also allows me to schedule Zoom calls in different time zones, without having to do the math (At 20, I’m still counting on my fingers). 

  1. I keep in touch with my friends and family.

This one isn’t revolutionary, but it’s important. I call my people and tell them I love them.

One of the hardest parts of being away is missing out on special occasions. Technology has helped a bit. Knowing I’d miss my best friend’s birthday, I got her present together before I left, and she opened it with me on FaceTime a few days ago. I ordered my dad’s birthday present online and had it delivered to the house.

Nothing beats quality time together, but there’s only so much you can do from another continent. I’m trying my best to prioritize my relationships at home, while enjoying this opportunity to meet new people.

  1. I take time alone.

With my time here quickly slipping away, alone time can be hard for me to justify. FOMO is so much more real when there’s an opportunity to go to a new country every weekend.

But I’m an introvert, and there’s only so much socializing I can do before I want to crawl into a cave. When I take a little bit of time for myself, I’m able to be so much more present.

My new favorite solo activity is going on “color walks.” I pick a color, and I only change the direction I’m walking when I spot something of that color, whether that be a sign, a flower, a building; you name it. It’s a cool way for me to dial in to my surroundings and to explore parts of the city I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

I also really like journaling. I’m not a loyal journaler. Sometimes, I abandon my journal for weeks at a time. But I still like to use it to process and document big life events.

Two months down; three to go. Before I left for Spain, I really thought I’d be counting down the days until I could finally go home. To my surprise, I’m already comparing holidays next year with the cost of plane tickets back to Málaga.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is that I’m capable of making an entirely unfamiliar place my home, at least for a little while. Whether it’s befriending English speakers or discovering a climbing gym, it’s just a matter of finding ways to keep being me.

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