Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What we don't talk about when we talk about travel

Spain withdrawal is very real you guys. And while this may not come as a surprise to many of you, I was foolish enough to think that coming back wouldn't be too hard, not after seeing all my friends and moving into my new apartment. But classes have started, nearly all my boxes have been unpacked, and yet all I can think of is the bus ride from the metro stop to my host family's house. Or the sun burning you in Puerta de Sol. Or patatas bravas and meeting up with friends for a quick drink at our favorite places in the city. And instead of just saying vale and accepting that my life in Madrid is no longer my present, that it's my past, I'm going to point out a few things you should know if you're going to travel abroad like me. If anything, let this serve as a warning: if you go abroad, don't ever come back.

1. Reverse culture shock is real. What do you mean I have to wait another year to drink? What do you mean my meal is going to cost $12 for a measly salad? And why is this metro so dirty and smelly?

2. Let me be painfully blunt: Americans are rude. They (we?) will not all hold every door open for you and greet you with a smile and warm hello and you can just say goodbye to cheek kisses because that won't happen. Because Spaniards are so open, making friends in Madrid is as easy as breathing, whereas the chances of you befriending that stranger sitting next to you on the Metro in D.C. are about the same as Barack asking you to play with Bo and Sunny. Ain't gonna happen, bud.

3. Some people will want to know all about your three months abroad. And it will be so cool to be able to share your stories and maybe advise them on their study abroad or travel plans as well. But ultimately no one is going to remember that time you explained the concept of veggie burgers to a new friend or saw a man in his 60s smiling at a butterfly in the most endearing way possible or whatever because they weren't there. All you've got is months and months of memories that you value more than anything and no one to share them with because...

4. Chances are, no one cares. Sure, people will ask you how Spain was. But at one point, you're just going to be that kid that went abroad and is still ranting about things that the rest of your friends can't relate to. So you'll just have to shut up and accept that it's just you, your postcards, and the little snow globe you paid too much for because you knew you'd miss Madrid, that you'd feel alone about it, and that when you did, you'd want to stare at fake snow swirling around the statue of el Oso y el MadroƱo and pretend you were back there.

5. You'll lose a part of who you were abroad, even if just for a minute. You'll get sucked back into your routine of being stressed and focused on to-do lists and you'll try to pinpoint what about your life abroad made you so damn happy. You'll remember to take time for yourself, to create for yourself the moments of peace and clarity your time away gifted you. You'll learn to implement changes into your "D.C. life" that are inspired by your time abroad and in doing so, you'll realize you have the wisdom that comes from losing one part of yourself and gaining another.

6. You will connect with people based solely on the fact that they know your old city just as well as they do your current one. Today I spoke to a professor who had spent a month in Madrid this summer and who asked me what barrio I lived in. Just being able to use the same vocabulary, to meet someone who knew which McDonald's on Gran Via smelled weirdly good and which smelled just weird, who knew where Chueca was and how much ZARA should always costall of that, it reminds you that you are part of a bigger world and that you're not alone. There are people who love your home and know it and miss it just as you do.

7. And for the same reason, you will find even more ways to connect with old friends. Friends who know exactly how it feels to have a city change you, once while you're there, and again when you're forced to leave. And together you can get teary over holding old Abono Transport cards and looking at city maps and other incredibly unsentimental souvenirs. And again, you will remember that you are not alone.

The best three months of my life (thus far) are over and I'm still not over it, #sorrynotsorry. Any tips for coping with the post-Spain blues? Help yr girl out in the comments below.

Hasta luego!
~ V