I have been in Spain now for about 10 months, and things are finally beginning to wind down as the end of my study abroad draws nearer. Exams are over (phew!) and most of the other international students are leaving sunny Málaga to return to their home countries and continue with their normal lives. I, however, have extended my stay until the middle of August, which leaves me with a fair amount of time on my own, as most of the people I have come to know are already gone. The thought of returning home is bittersweet for me…I love it here. This year has been a whirlwind adventure of travel, new people, new experiences, etc. Not all of it has been great, of course. But these are the things you learn from the most. But I also long for the mountains, nature, and the freedom of Montana. What they say is true–you never really know what you have until it’s gone.
I really feel like I have changed as a person over the course of my study abroad here. Arriving as one of the only Americans studying at the University of Málaga, I was forced so far out of my comfort zone. I consider myself an introvert and I have never been extremely outgoing nor exceedingly social. But being thrust into an entirely new society and culture surrounded by people I didn’t know really doesn’t give you the option of sticking to old habits. And I am so thankful for this. I made lifelong friends with people from all over the world, learned new languages, and truly gained a more broadened and global perspective on things. Not to mention the level of independence I feel I have acquired here. I came to Spain 19 years old and a little intimidated as I didn’t know anybody studying in the same city as me! The longest I had gone without seeing my family was about 5 months in high school when I participated in an exchange program in Argentina, but even then I was living with a host family. This was something entirely different. I found myself a flat with a few other international students, opened a bank account, and got myself a phone contract. These things may seem insignificant, but they are things I never had to do on my own before. I was truly living on my own and supporting myself for the first time (not counting the dorms) and in a foreign country! Not having a car was rough for the first couple of weeks, but I soon worked out how to navigate the bus and metro system. I think the thing that really made me feel like I was becoming my own person, though, was the travel I did. I took trips all over Europe (and technically Africa) on my own or with friends. I visited Gibraltar, Morocco, Sweden, Portugal, England, Scotland, and countless cities all over Spain. My favorite, however, had to be the England and Scotland trip, as I went completely alone. I was a little scared to travel alone, but I am so glad I did. It was so liberating! I planned my trip according to my interests, I could do things at my own pace, eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and it gave me the opportunity to meet new people and do things that I would not likely have done had I been traveling with others. My favorite memory has to be of the night I met a Scottish guy staying in my hostel in the highlands and we ended up going to hear some traditional Scottish music. It turned out to be one of the best nights of the whole trip, and it was spent with complete strangers! I definitely recommend solo travel to anyone and I will be going again for sure! I think it is incredibly beneficial and everyone should try it at least once in their lives.
Over the next month and a half I will be mostly alone, something that made me a little uneasy before, but now I know that I can make the most of my short time left here in this wonderful country! Ya falta poco.