Overcoming Challenges When Studying Abroad
Studying abroad can be an amazing opportunity but also daunting when you go to alone to live in a foreign country. You will need to adapt to a new culture, language, people, etiquette whilst you might also have to deal with issues like homesickness.
Emma Watkins spent a year studying abroad in Spain and used her free time to explore more of the country. Sometimes though the experience of living in a different country was challenging and Emma encountered some common problems she luckily managed to overcome.
Here she shares one of her most difficult experiences and how even with setbacks, you should embrace the experience of studying abroad and say yes to everything…
Studying in Salamanca
Let me set the scene: it was May, close to June, and I was living abroad in the very beautiful Salamanca, Spain (Google it for some serious wanderlust/travel inspo/Instagram goals). Beautiful it certainly is but, my goodness, Salamanca is small, and if you throw in a pretty major heartbreak and piling exam stress, I just needed to get out.
Luckily for me, Salamanca is only 2.5 hours away from my favourite city in the entire world: Madrid. So, after one crying session too many, my equally triste amiguita and I decided to book a spontaneous weekend away to Madrid. My friend went online to organise accommodation and I was on transport. Sorted. Two hours later we were boarding the Avanza bus to our weekend of freedom.
The air stung with an electric hope. “This is going to be exactly what we need!”, we giggled to each other, blasting Motivational Music (an actual playlist on Spotify) and looking up the best places to brunch and sip cocktails in Spain’s sunny capital.
Setting Off For Madrid
It all started going a bit wrong about halfway into that journey. Our accommodation cancelled last minute, (well, to be fair, to cancel they would have had to confirm it in the first place) and we arrived in Madrid effectively homeless. The stress was real and would not be advisable.
Other countries don’t always work in the same way as we’re used to and desperately trying to organise getting somewhere to stay at ten o’clock at night, stood outside Madrid bus station is not fun. After a desperate call to a native who explained that Spain “es así”, and that weeks of planning are often more advisable when travelling anywhere, we used what remaining credit we both had on our phones to beg, borrow and duress a well-known travel company into offering these “poor English girls” a place to stay for the night (but only in the locations that suited us).
Finding Accommodation Last Minute
We didn’t sleep on the streets that night, in fact we ended up in a little flat in La Latina, just outside of central Madrid with potentially the coolest host ever, but I’d be lying if I said that was due to anything other than luck. We entertained our rescuer’s small talk for a few hours upon arriving at the apartment, conscious of the fact that he had helped us out massively, and it turned out he was a bit of a big-wig around town.
He gave us recommendation after recommendation of things to do, places to eat, and things not to miss whilst in Madrid, promising that he could sort it all out for us. I looked at my friend with a cautious look that only a Brit trying not to appear rude could understand and to my relief her face mirrored my own.
We took a deep breath and smiled. “Yes,” we said. “To everything.”
And what a decision that was. It turns out that us doubting Thomas’s were wrong and Carlos did in fact have all the goods that he said he had. He sorted dinner for us in Madrid’s exclusive Florida Retiro and free entry to Madrid’s Kapital club, with some drinks thrown in for good measure. You see the thing about saying yes, letting go and following local recommendations is it gets you to the heart of a city. You see it through the eyes of those who live and breathe that place, and that can be incredible.
The Trip to Madrid Turned Out Amazing
Whether it was the head space we were in, or a sixth sense that this was the right thing to do, we had the best weekend of our lives and learnt that sometimes opening yourself up to people and offers can really reap rewards. Whilst I wouldn’t encourage you to frequent dark alleys alone under invitation, stepping out of your comfort zone and trusting people in a safe way can really expand your horizons and get you access to things that you might miss as a usual tourist.
If you are looking to travel, take a gap year, work, volunteer or study abroad there are good people out there and with the right amount of research and insurance behind you, it can be an amazing experience. So, I challenge you, scramble your (in-date) passport and go on a city break. Listen to local advice and try and tell me that it’s not the best you’ve ever visited. After all, we all know which bars we wouldn’t be caught dead in in our cities.
By Emma Watkins