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Post-Abroad

Early last week I was looking at my calendar and in disbelief I realized that my last fall semester was starting in less than a month. In even more shock, I began to think about how I left almost a year ago for my semester abroad in Madrid, Spain. I could not, and still cannot, believe that a year has passed by since I embarked on, one of the most life changing, unexpected, (definitely unprepared), journeys of my life.

There is SO much that people are going to tell someone before studying abroad: packing, culture shock, language barriers, homesickness, how to handle school, the best places to travel, whether to live in a homestay or live an apartment, who to live with, how long to go, and so, so much more. And honestly, all of those things can and will be figured out on one’s own while their time abroad. But the thing about studying abroad, that I think is so special, is figuring all of that out on your own is part of the journey and part of appreciating the journey. People can give advice as much as they want, but in the end someone has to figure it out on their own, and it is so much more rewarding that way.

Now that I have rambled about that, the main reason I wanted to write a blog so long after I returned is so that people who are studying abroad, thinking about studying abroad, or just now returning from abroad can have a better understanding of what it is like coming home and how still, not a day goes by that I do not think about my four months in another country and not get chills and get nostalgic. The hardest part: no one understands other than yourself, and the people you go abroad with what you just experienced for such a large chunk of time. I was lucky enough to travel and live with my best friend from high school (but went to a different college) in Madrid. I am so blessed I had the opportunity to travel with someone I still talk to almost everyday, and a lot of time about how much we miss being abroad, because it helps coping with being home, around people who do not understand or have the same appreciation that you have for going through everything you just went through and experiencing everything you just experienced; the amount of different cultures, languages, food, living situations (basically everything I listed in the beginning).

When first arriving to your new country and going through orientation, they mention “reverse culture shock” but, for me, that was the only time I really ever heard that expression and wiped it away because the thought of going home when I had just arrived was not relevant in the slightest. Reverse culture shock, in its simplest definition, is returning home after a long period of time in a different country. Let me tell you, first hand, reverse culture shock is real. And, again, something no one can really prepare you for, and hits some people harder than others. It hit me hard and still hits me hard even today.

I get anxiety about never being able to experience something like I did for those four months. The good, the bad, the scary, and the unknown. I think about how I will never live in my small apartment with my Spanish family on the 7th floor in downtown Madrid. I will never be able to travel the way I did to 8 different countries while being in school like I did. I will never be exposed to so many different, new, people in such a short period of time. I will never live in the unknown like I did for those four months. But, that being said I have learned that that is okay.

My experience would not be as beneficial and such a learning experience if I did get to do those things again. I would not appreciate it in the same way as I do. I would not get the chills everytime I think about those months abroad – not knowing what I was doing until it was time to leave. I take the life skills I learned abroad everywhere I go and in everything I do. I know I will be a better employee, daughter, student etc. because of my time abroad. I learned life lessons that one cannot teach you in the comfort of your own culture and home. I made friends I still keep in touch with almost everyday and that I value so much. And though a year has almost past, I still think about it everyday and how changed I am for the better, and I am sure 10 or even 20 years down the road, my feelings will only have grown for the appreciation of my time abroad.


Madison Ropp is a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying Communications. Madison spent the fall semester abroad at the University of  Antonio de Nebrejia with the ISA Madrid, Spain program. 

Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

Morocco

Last week I was given an opportunity of a life time that was an experience of a life time I will never forget. Saturday, October 9th, 40 ISA students from allover Spain began our journey to Morocco. Not having a lot of expectations to begin with, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We all met at the Madrid airport and flew into Fes, one of the major cities in Morocco. We all went through customs, which seemed a little more intense than other countries had been thus far, loaded a bus, and were on our way to our first (four star) hotel. Our directors reitd America, and boyerated reiterated the fact that four star hotels in Morocco are different than four star hotels in Spain an were they right. We arrived, got our room keys, unpacked and got settled. We were greeted with a dinner from the hotel which was made up of couscous, chicken, carrots, and other various vegetables (a very common meal in Morocco). After dinner we all went in for the night knowing we had to get up early the next day.

The following day we went to the Medina, which is a world famous market that is made up of more than 300 districts and 9,000 alleys with different kinds of vendors. Some selling carpets, others selling different kinds of spices and foods. It was a surreal experience to say the least. Our group visited different vendors of silver, leather, carpets, and ceramics. It was a complete culture shock trying to communicate with the language barrier when wanting to buy different things, while also trying to talk the price down with the different vendors. We spent all day and into the evening at the Medina and when we returned went to bed, awaiting our journey to the Sahara Desert the next morning.

Monday morning we all woke up, packed our things, loaded the bus, and were on our way to the desert. Only 11 hours later, we had made it. The bus could only take us so far before we had to spilt up into groups of 6 and take 4X4 into the desert. When they told us we were staying in tents in the desert, that is exactly what they meant. There was nothing around us, just the sky, the sand, and our tents. It was beautiful. We arrived when it was already night out, so the next morning was when the true shock hit us all. We woke up at 5am the night we arrived to see the stars. When I opened my tent and saw the night sky, it brought chills to my skin. There is no other place in the world the stars were this vibrant and visual. The night was much colder than we had all anticipated. The next morning we woke up, had breakfast, and got to ride camels through the desert. We all got to pick our own camel and name them as we wanted. It was something that words cannot justify riding through the desert with nothing but the camel and you. We stopped at the bottom of the tallest dune we were near, got off of our camels, and without any warning started climbing the dune. It was not easy, I might add, walking in sand is one thing, but climbing sand is another. But, once we made it to the top of the dune, the walk up did not matter anymore. It was hands down one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen in my life. Once we made our way back down the dune we got back on our camels and rode into the nearest town. Once we arrived we were led to this beautiful pool where we all jumped in to cool off and relax.

One of my favorite experiences of the whole trip was that night, when a group of 4-5 of us, ISA Spain students, became friends with some of the men that owned the camels. They were considered Nomads. They lived in the desert and lived a completely different way than any of us had ever experiences. That being said, they were some of the nicest people I have ever met, and had a love for life that I wish I had. They played music for us, and we had some of the deepest conversations I have ever shared with complete strangers.

The following morning we woke up early and watched the sunrise, which looked like it was straight out of The Lion King. Then we loaded up the 4X4’s and made our way back to Madrid (20 hours later). Although the travel was a lot, it was most definitely worth every second. I was able to really take a step back and realize how blessed and thankful I am for everything in life, but more so the small things.

Getting to Madrid

Waking up at 5am after not being able to call asleep until about 2am because of everything going through my head, was not the most pleasant way to start a 17 hour travel day, but there was no looking back, it was time. When I arrived to the airport I weighed my bag, and it was exactly the 50 pound weight limit you could not surpass. Saying goodbye to my family and friends is never easy, but it means I am about to embark on something new and unknown. While going through security, Tori and I (Tori is my best friend who I will be living with in Madrid for the next three months) noticed that the famous rapper 50 cent was right in front of us because he had, had a show in Kansas City the night before.. One way to start a trip.

We flew from Kansas City to Charolette, North Caroline, which was an easy flight in comparison to the following one from Charolette to Madrid, and had a 6 hour lay over. The lay over was a roller coaster of emotions, after all we were just sitting there with our thoughts of what had to come. Some thoughts were anxious and others were exciting, all I knew was that I was ready to get on the flight and arrive in Madrid so that I would be busy and not have time for any anxious feelings or thoughts. So, after 6 hours of waiting it was time to embark on our 8 hour flight to Madrid. Tori and I both ended up sleeping for almost 5 hours of the flight so it was not nearly as bad as we thought it was going to be.

Then we landed in Madrid.

I would like to add that Tori and I scheduled our flight wrong and we were set to arrive a day earlier than everyone else in and were required to get our own transportation to our host families home. Once we arrived all we had was an address, so we called our host mom, Catalina, in hopes of directions. As we should have expected she spoke little to no English, so she put her 11 year old son, Mateo on the phone who gave us as much information in English as he could. (We ended up giving our address to the information desk for the Metro, which is exactly like a SubWay). There were 4-5 different stops and different trains we had to get on with our 50 pound bags and not an idea in the world of where we were. There was not even enough time to take in the account that we were half way across the world in a completely different country with a completely different culture.

Somehow, we got off on the last stop we were told to, and made it all in one piece with all of our luggage. Now we were in a city with no cell phone service to help us get to our host families house. We walked up and down the streets of Madrid, while taking everything in, still not even aware of where the street signs were. After walking for about 45 minuets we arrive to the apartment building and call Catalina. She did not understand when we were telling her we had arrived and were on the first floor of her building. After talking back and forth, she understood and came rushing down, greeting us with hugs and kisses.

After this long day of little sleep and poor navigation we were ready to put our bags down and take a nap (despite the fact it was 10am in Madrid). But, there was no elevator, and Catalina lives on the 5th floor (6 stories), so we had to carry our 50 pound bags, along with our backpacks, up 6 flights of stairs in a building that was well over 100 years old with very small steps all the way up. Once we made it up, we talked for a short time, and Catalina told us to take a nap and she would wake us up at 3pm.

Once she woke us up, we met her son Mateo, who spoke a lot of English and helped us all communicate with one another. He is a delight to be around when he is not at school. We also met their dog, Tata, which is a white lap dog who is very sweet and cuddly. Catalina prepared us lunch and we all ate together. They went off to the opera while Tori and I began to unpack and then Tori and I called it an early night being able to fall asleep easily, even after the long nap we had taken earlier!

Definitely one way to start a trip, with many more experiences to come!