Reflections on First Term
Maggie John reflects on her last few months in Spain and discusses what she’s learnt from it so far.
I always knew I wanted to do a year abroad, before I even knew I wanted to study Modern Languages. Of course, when I first thought about doing a year abroad, I didn’t think it would be amongst Brexit and a global pandemic, but c’est la vie. This time last year, I was convinced my year was going to go differently. I had huge plans to gain as much experience in journalism as I could. My CVs were ready, and I’d started emailing newspapers and magazines, to no avail. By April, I’d somewhat given up. I decided I’d work as an au pair for the summer and then I’d study in Spain instead. At the time, it all seemed so unfair; why hadn’t anyone replied to my emails? Why did everyone else have their year abroad sorted out? (Of course, I know now, they didn’t). But now, as I write this from my bedroom at home, I’m thrilled it worked out the way it did. Everything really does happen for a reason.
I can’t quite believe the term is over already. Where have three months gone, already? Yet, at the same time, I feel as though I’ve been in Alcalá forever and my ‘real’ life, in Wales and in Exeter, is a strange sort of fever dream
After spending an incredible two months in Paris, I was more nervous to move to Spain, than I had been a few months prior. I thought after experiencing living abroad, the second time would be easier. I was wrong. I’d forgotten how difficult my first couple of weeks in France were and how exhausted I was. I’d finally achieved what I wanted, I could speak French and I was settled and nowhere near ready to come home. All summer, Spain had felt like a faraway concept and before I knew it, I was waving goodbye to my mum and my sisters in Bristol airport.
The first few weeks are and they are mostly defined by a glass of tinto de veranos and The Green
My first weekend in Spain is a complete blur. The first few weeks are and they are mostly defined by a glass of tinto de veranos and The Green. Everything felt so different to what I knew, and in many ways it was. On my first night in Alcalá, my flatmate showed me around and we met some other Erasmus students for drinks. I couldn’t even order a rum and coke. Any Spanish I thought I knew, completely escaped me and that’s how it felt for the first few weeks.
Determined to improve, I signed up to Alcalingua, a Spanish course offered to international students. I managed to get into the B2 class (I still have no idea how) and the first few weeks were unbearable. I had no confidence; I was terrified to answer a question and most of what we were learning went over my head. I left my teacher in a state of confusion when I couldn’t tell him the word for ears in Spanish, but I could tell him every host city of the Olympics since 1980. To put it simply, I wasn’t at ease in any of my classes. And of course, not only is it somewhat expected but it’s what I was there for.
Looking back after just three months, I realise how unproductive it is to think like that and also how far my Spanish has come since then
Looking back after just three months, I realise how unproductive it is to think like that and also how far my Spanish has come since then. It’s all about perspective; how would my Spanish have been as good as someone who’s been studying it since they were 11?
Last week, my friend Tara and I went to Portugal for a few days. Of course, I spoke to people in English, but I also managed to speak to people in Spanish and in French. Being able to chat to a Brazilian guy, in a hostel in Oporto, in French, felt like an achievement.
It’s very strange being abroad, and it was particularly strange at the beginning of term when we were walking to class in 30*C sunshine, while my mates at home were sending me photos of them wrapped up in their scarves, because in some ways it does feel like a holiday. But it’s not a holiday. It’s real-life and so, the inevitable homesickness kicks in and reality bites. I think there is a pressure to be having the best time of your life every day and to make the most of every waking hour, but it’s not sustainable. Some days are really difficult and it’s completely fine to have a day off, watching Netflix in bed instead.
And yet, despite the blips of homesickness, the lack of confidence and the general overload to your senses, it has been the best and most defining semester or as we say in Spain cuatrimestre, of my life. How lucky am I to sit here and think about my friends from all over the place; Ireland, Italy, Germany, whom I would never have met without studying abroad.
I had to stop myself saying gracias in the Co-op yesterday, which made me smile.
Our bubbles are great and sometimes at the beginning, I wish I never burst mine. But it’s so important and imperative to push yourself out of your comfort zone, because the rewards are huge. There’s so much to be learnt and it’s exciting. Especially, as we muddle our way through these unprecedented times, it’s vital to grab every opportunity that comes your way.
Phrases such as please and thank you are cemented in your brain as a small child and beyond that, you never think about them. I had to stop myself saying gracias in the Co-op yesterday, which made me smile.
I know I’m not the same person I was this last time last year. My eyes have been opened to new people, to different music and food, to new cultures. And I’m so excited to see what next semester brings.
Editor: Ryan Gerrett