When people talk about their study abroad experience, they often describe it as the absolute best time ever - but it’s important to remember that studying abroad is not all glamorous. Travelling is often awkward and hard, but it’s empowering to embrace these moments and realize that they make your experience all the more real. I distinctly remember one moment from the night before my flight to Spain, squatting next to my overweight suitcase and staring at its one broken wheel. “This will be fine,” I thought to myself.
It was not fine. It turns out, luggage feels a lot heavier when you’re dragging it instead of rolling it - especially when the other wheels break in the airport. Fast-forward to an indistinct number of hours later, and there I was - Madrid! Spain’s capital city, known for its sunshine and blue skies… only to be pouring rain when I arrive.
I took a bus from the airport and ended up having to drag my broken suitcase almost a mile to where I would be staying, at this point walking backwards and dragging it with both hands through the cobblestone streets. The entrance to my Residencia was located right next to Edificio Espana, a beautiful 25-story historical landmark… which was sheathed in a 25-story advertisement for Netflix and a whole lot of construction.
I happened to arrive on Three Kings Day, a Christian holiday widely celebrated in Spain - meaning most stores were closed in observation. Having expected to buy all my toiletries upon arrival, I turned my shower on the hottest setting in attempt to just burn all of the dirt and airplane germs off of myself.
The first thing that I ate when I was in Madrid was a red bell pepper. I sat in my bed, played some music from my laptop, and just ate a bell pepper. Raw. Like an apple. I really don’t know why I didn’t pick something else - the grocery store was foreign and overwhelming, I didn’t know where to go out to eat, and I was tired.
Remembering all of this about my first day in Spain makes me laugh. Like, a ton. It’s my absolute favorite kind of story to tell. While moving to Madrid was an overwhelming process and definitely an adjustment, the uncomfortable nature of travel is part of its charm. Remembering how rough some of my early moments were makes me realize just how incredible the rest of my time in Madrid was, and I wouldn’t change any of it.
Hailey Wattman is a senior at Pitt, double majoring in Communication and Spanish with a certificate in Global Studies. She studied abroad in Havana, Cuba, in Summer 2016 and Madrid, Spain, in Spring 2018, and is interning at the Study Abroad Office for Fall 2018.