I’m sitting here completely dumbfounded. 102 days down, just 6 more to go. I can’t believe that this will be my last blog post in Spain. I don’t even know where to begin. How can I summarize such a huge experience in just a few words? Whatever I say here will definitely not do justice to the last three and a half months I have spent in Madrid. This has been an incredible journey of self-reflection, spiritual growth, and intellectual development. I don’t think I’ll be able to fully reap the benefits of my study abroad experience until I am home and I can see the contrasts, because right now, I still feel like a Spaniard. The fact that that’s all about to change is both exciting and terrifying. I miss home SO much and I can’t wait to see my family and friends (and my dogs!), but I also have built an incredible life here that I will certainly miss as well. I love my host mom and her family so much and I can’t even fathom saying goodbye to them. Though we will definitely keep in touch, I don’t know if I will ever see them again, it all depends on where life takes me. So the welcome home to America will be bittersweet – I’ll be back where I belong but sorely missing what I now know I am leaving behind.
Fear of missing out: The first world problem that almost all college students will admit to dealing with at some point in their four years at school. More affectionately known as “FOMO,” this disease is a culprit of the social media craze we now live in, causing twenty-somethings to stay up late at night looking at all the “fun” everyone else is having on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and more. It’s almost impossible to see a picture of all your friends smiling at a club or a bar somewhere and looking like they’re having a grand old time without feeling left out and sad for missing the fun. News flash: They’re probably not having as much fun as it looks. And while you’re wasting your time scrutinizing everyone else’s lives, you’re missing out on living your own. But clearly, and I am as guilty of this as anyone else, this is much easier said than done.
I was just browsing through my calendar tonight, looking at the next week and figuring out what I need to get done, when I realized that I only have three weeks left in Spain. My time in Madrid is really coming to an end, and so, so quickly. It’s mind blowing to think about how much I have learned and accomplished here. I got home from Paris, my final trip of my study abroad experience, just a few hours ago, which was the icing on the cake of a wonderful three months of travel. I will be staying in Madrid now until the end of the program because I want to give myself enough time to spend with my host mom, study for my exams, and get everything done that I wanted to do here.
It’s been quite an emotionally difficult week for all of us here in Madrid. As we struggle to make sense of all that happened in Paris a week ago, we have had countless decisions to make regarding our study abroad experience. Europe does not feel like a safe place right now. We all watch our phones vigilantly for breaking news notifications almost as if we expect another terrible thing to happen. I am supposed to go to Paris this Thursday, and I still haven’t decided if I should go or not. It would be a significant financial loss if I don’t, but then again, is money worth risking your safety? No one has answers right now and it’s been frustrating beyond belief. As much as you can talk to others and ask their opinions, in the end, the decision has to be your own for how you decide to move forward in this dark era of uncertainty in Europe right now.
I struggle to write this blog post today. In the past 48 hours, hundreds of innocent people have lost their lives at the hands of terrorists around the world. It is impossible to share my true feelings on these horrific occurrences because I can hardly understand them myself. I have been seeing countless Facebook and Twitter posts telling me how I should feel. The majority of them sympathize with the victims of the killings and their families and express condolences. Others politicize the events, claiming that the refugees coming into Europe are the cause (which I cannot understand how this could possibly true, given the fact that the refugees are running FROM the same people who caused these attacks). Still others shame those who are putting an emphasis on the attacks in Paris, saying we don’t care about the Arab world since hardly anyone is talking about the killings in Beirut and Baghdad. That we only care when white people are killed. I am extremely offended by these posts, telling me and my peers how I am supposed to feel and who I am supposed to sympathize with. Let the grief be felt, wherever it may be felt.
Though I have mentioned my host mom in several anecdotes since I started blogging, I really want to dedicate this post to the host families of GW Madrid (and especially my own host mom).
Staying with a host family is one of, if not THE most important cultural aspects of studying abroad. I chose the GW Madrid program largely because of the homestay experience because I wanted to fully immerse myself in the lifestyle of my new country. I have met people in Madrid studying abroad here from other universities in the United States and Europe who stay in apartments in the city by themselves or with roommates instead of staying with host families. I may be biased, but I don’t think those people are getting the real, authentic Madrid experience (and they’re certainly not as well taken care of as we are!).
This week was extremely special for me. On Wednesday, my parents arrived in Madrid to spend some time in Spain with me. My brother is currently at basic training to become a U.S. Marine at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, so I was sad he was unable to come too, but I know he would’ve if he could. Having my family here to witness my study abroad experience alongside me was really incredible. I’ve been in a constant state of “go, go, go” for the past two months that I haven’t really had time to stop and reflect on how far I’ve come since I first got here, and this weekend I was finally able to do that.
Since I was busy taking my midterm exams this past week, I thought it would be an appropriate time to discuss the school aspect of studying abroad, which is something important that I surprisingly haven’t touched on much yet. In the GW Madrid program, we take classes at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM), which is about a forty-five minute commute from the center of the city (about thirty-five minutes from where I live). What’s unique about the GW Madrid program is that we take classes specifically with GW Madrid students, rather than regular university classes. This aspect of the program allows us to have very small class sizes and ample time to establish relationships with our professors and gain a more individualized understanding of the material we need to learn. Also, if a student desires to do so, he or she can enroll in classes directly through the university (UAM) and take courses alongside native Spanish students. The GW Madrid program also offers a few courses in English, too, such as International Economics and Comparative Politics of Western Europe.
Now that it’s almost midterms (yikes, where did this semester go?!), and I’ve really started to get into a routine here, I want to reflect on a topic that has become considerably more apparent for me each week that I’ve spent in Spain. I want to talk about my identity, and how studying abroad has immensely impacted my understanding of my uniqueness. To sum it up, I am a blonde-haired, green-eyed Jewish adoptee. Obviously, I am much more than that, but those three things (my looks, my background, and my religion) are what tie together to make me really stand out in this country.
It’s been yet another eventful week in Spain, full of endless discoveries and adventures. I just got home from a three-day weekend trip to the beautiful southern cities of Córdoba and Seville, two places filled with interesting history and charm. I could talk about all the enchanting things I saw, recommend places to go, etc., but I actually want to discuss something on a deeper level that I have discovered about myself this week.