Author: Garrett Gilmartin
Location: Granada, Spain
Studying abroad is no doubt one of the most rewarding and amazing experiences I have had the pleasure of living out, however, I feel that some people, including myself, go abroad expecting pure magic and no hardship which just is not realistic. I one hundred percent encourage everyone who has the means to study abroad, but I just want to clear some things up so that students have the right expectations and can therefore get the most of the experience.
The first expectation I had going abroad was that the people would likely be closed off to tourists/foreigners. I think I had this preconception because I have seen so many “cold” interactions in the U.S. between citizens and foreigners, meaning the U.S. citizens were the ones who didn’t stop to help with directions or care to share a conversation. Now I do not believe all U.S. citizens are not willing to help, this is just a little of what I have noticed. The reality, here in Granada, is that most people, from Spain or other European countries, would gladly help with directions or start up a conversation. One of my favorite cafes is a small place across from my school where any time of the day I could sit down and have someone to talk to in english or spanish. It could be the cashier or it could be customers, people here are just so warm and welcoming. Obviously, this was a pleasant surprise and I was glad that my expectation was disproven.
Another expectation I had arriving in Granada was that my program group would be my best friends and that we would all hang out and travel together. Unfortunately, I was wrong about this one too. Don’t get me wrong, I hold nothing against anyone in my program group. The reality is that not everyone was in love with the idea of all of us sticking together all of the time. Some people were occasionally left out of activities and travel plans. This isn’t something to get down about if it happens because personally I used the disconnect within my group to grow and explore individually. I ended up meeting a guy from England who came to Granada to take a few classes in spanish and explore the South of Spain. That is just what we did. I ended up going on hikes, walks through Granada, and talking about some interesting worldly topics with my new friend that I likely would have never experienced without trying to meet people outside of my program and school.
I was also able to grow personally by improving my spanish and my understanding of the culture here thanks to my host family. Before arriving I did not know what to expect of my host family. I had heard about great experiences but I had also heard of some horror stories. I’ve learned that it is luck of the draw. I was lucky enough to be placed with a caring excited family who are always happy to talk, take me out for food, and even bring me to their small town home in the mountains. Many others in my program say they too feel lucky whether they just have a host mother, which seems to be the norm, or they have both parents and a sibling like me. Not everyone had such luck this time though. There was a member of my program who was living with a host mom who would insult them on the phone with her friends and feed them as little food as possible. No worries, my group member ended up talking to our lovely director who helped transfer them immediately into a new placement. I gave examples of really great families and a really bad one but the lesson is that host families can be amazing, terrible, or in between so it is important to be open to new experiences and to try to get along to start. If things seem to be getting worse there are always people to help.
I could go on forever about the infinite expectations that one could have going abroad but I think overall there is a universal lesson here. It’s important to have realistic expectations when planning to go abroad, however, it is ok to dream a little because some of those experiences will be that pure magic I mentioned.