Fitting In Abroad: Do You Really Live There or Are You Just Another Tourist?
Maggie John covers how she feels after her year abroad and the processes of readjusting to life in the UK and acknowledging the struggle many students face to learn a language from near scratch.
For many people, myself included, it’s very difficult to imagine living away from home until you go to university. Before I turned 18, I hadn’t spent a significant time apart from my family, excluding a week here and there for school trips. The summer before I went to University, my sister and I went inter-railing for five weeks. It was the longest time I’d spent away from home and in many ways, it was the first time I actually had to fend for myself. Before I knew it, my Dad’s car was full to the brim and we were hurtling down the M5 towards Exeter. This thing that I’d been aiming towards for most of my childhood was finally here and after a few weeks of living in Exeter, it was reality. My goalposts had been moved. And it’s the same situation in Spain. This time last year, I had no idea where I’d be or what I’d be doing, but now I can’t imagine being anywhere else. When I first arrived, I couldn’t fathom that I was living here and that I was going to be here for a year. But everything which was so new and different is now normal and familiar.
Most of the time, when I’m walking to a class or meeting a friend for a tinto, I’m not constantly thinking ‘fuck, I’m living in Spain’ or ‘can everyone tell I’m not Spanish?’.
In a recent article for The Times, Dolly Alderton talks about how it feels when you finally get something you’ve been working towards. Alderton explains how “a burden of yearning lifts and you don’t really think about it anymore”. It’s completely true. Most of the time, when I’m walking to a class or meeting a friend for a tinto, I’m not constantly thinking ‘fuck, I’m living in Spain’ or ‘can everyone tell I’m not Spanish?’. I mean, I’d argue the latter is obvious, but I don’t feel like a tourist (and after an arduous, soul-destroying process, I have my tarjeta de residencia to prove for it). Alcalá is where I live, where I will have spent most of my year and that’s a very different experience to being a tourist.
I think it’s very easy to brush a year abroad off as a year-long holiday. But I feel that, in most cases, it couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re too quick to through judgement around. Of course, people on their year abroad aren’t spending every day writing their dissertations in the library, but it doesn’t mean everything is easy.
When I arrived in Spain, my Spanish was almost non-existent. My head was full off French and I struggled to string together the simplest of sentences. But quickly, you pick up the vocabularly you need, and I think that helps you feel less like a tourist. Also, as the old saying goes, fake it until you make it. Nodding along and smiling goes a long way and before you know it, you’re not just nodding along, you understand what they’re saying. That being said, do you remember those people in school, who would tell everyone how they’d done no revision and then miraculously they came out with 12 A* at GCSE? Do you remember how infuriating it was? That’s how it feels when someone tells you how bad they are at Spanish, before answering a question in class with perfect Spanish and even more perfect accent. In the beginning, that made me feel like I didn’t fit in, but that’s why we’re here.
And at the end of it, I will be able to say: I lived in Spain for a year.
Editor: Ryan Gerrett