Studying abroad was never in the cards for me. Semester after semester, I’d see that my friends from other universities were having the time of their lives as they traveled through Europe, Australia and Asia.
As a transfer student coming to NYU last year as a junior and a double major, I didn’t think studying abroad would be possible. I talked to my advisor early in my NYU career, and we fit it into my schedule, which led me to study abroad this summer in Madrid, Spain.
Before enrolling at NYU Madrid this May, I had never been to Europe. Then, suddenly, I was 21 years old and moving to Europe alone for six weeks. I always said that if I were lucky enough to go abroad, I’d go to London or Sydney — two cities that wouldn’t require me to learn another language.
But, because of CAS’s foreign language requirements, I ended up in Spain for an intensive intermediate Spanish course that met four hours a day, four days a week. Despite having learned Spanish as a kid and having spoken a bit of Spanish at home, I was in no way prepared to live in a country where I felt I didn’t really know the language.
I was scared, I was alone and I didn’t know my roommates or my classmates. Six weeks is much longer than it seems, especially when you truthfully cannot talk to anyone but your classmates because no one understands you. There were moments when I longed for home, like the time I didn’t know how to say exactly what I wanted at a restaurant or the time our apartment’s electricity went out for three days and my roommates and I sweltered in the 95-degree Spanish heat before I was finally able to communicate it to our building’s concierge (who ended up fixing it in two minutes).
But there were also times I’ll never forget. Drinking sangria in our apartment in the center of the city, walking on the beaches of Mediterranean islands late at night, hiking a famous pilgrimage on the north coast with 60 of my classmates, exploring castles in Lisbon, Portugal and going on a canal tour in Amsterdam after visiting the Anne Frank House were a few highlights.
More than anything, I discovered cultures I never knew existed while in Madrid. I shared stories with people from Australia and South Africa in a hostel in Portugal. I accidentally spoke Portuguese to a man in a train station in Holland.
I honestly hadn’t thought of Madrid much since the program ended. But during my first class this semester, I spotted a familiar face across the room: a girl with whom I spent four hours a day, four days a week this summer. We hugged, then she said, “Don’t you miss Madrid every day? I do.” “I do, too,” I told her.
As a senior set to graduate next spring, I already know one of the highlights of my time at NYU will be being fortunate enough to spend a few weeks living in another country, where I learned of cultures so different from my own.
Email Jessica Martinez at [email protected]