As independent and courageous studying abroad can make you feel, there’s a flip side to that, in which you find your moments of childish nature coming to play. Just before your turn to order a meal in a language in which you only grasp basics, those outgrown emotions of fear, helplessness, and anxiety come to play. Of course these are feelings that are natural in growth and help push us to adulthood and help us live and learn in cultural society and significance. It might sound like gibberish, but I mean to say that our acts and moments of insecurity lead us from concerned tourists to well-lived/experienced travelers. We are a society and culture, whether we stay in those moments of fear or gravitate towards independence.
We are nurtured by the school and our host families. For the first time since I was 9, I don’t have to do my own laundry. Someone is cooking my meals every night. I don’t get a choice in what I want to eat for dinner. There is a cleaning lady every Wednesday. I don’t even wash my own dishes when I finish a meal. It’s a lifestyle of luxury and–although a little strange that I don’t get to pitch in at all– admittedly satisfying.
I’m trying to pick up on things as a culture, trying to absorb and understand or differentiate social cues. Part of me thinks that Spain isn’t really too different after all. And another part of me notes the contrasts as a little tally in my mind. I honestly feel like a childish adult, constantly looking around me to see and pick up norms. The only part of me that makes me feel like an adult is the actual loneliness (not used in a negative or bitter sense though) in taking the metro to class…
I originally had a comma after the word “class,” but I honestly came up with nothing. I’m not working here in Spain, so there’s no sense of adulthood in spending my saved money from previous hours of work in the US. Any side trips or excursions thus far have been completely planned by someone else. And yeah, I’m not necessarily doing any work myself.
I went to see Paul McCartney by myself and even then, I felt myself people watching and tip-toeing throughout the show, because my section never stood up for any songs, hardly sang along, and not to mention, the ruptured ear drum and hearing loss in one ear made singing by myself at a very large concert VERY uncomfortable.
These moments in which you feel helpless or lost though doesn’t mean that you are. I think it just means that you’re learning as long as you’re aware of your surroundings. It might sound obvious, but when you sink into a new culture–even if its one that’s not terribly different from your own*–I think those feelings of confusion and social excitement, and perhaps a tad bit of anxiety, only means that you’re doing things differently and it’s like growing up all over again. Rarely do we get those moments once you’re on your own, because you’re forced to just thrust yourself into whatever routine you need to do in your home country, even if you like that routine and lifestyle. And no matter how good at adapting you are, such as myself, I believe this struggle is bound to happen–as it should. And this isn’t to negate your home life nor to say “TRAVEL MORE TO BROADEN YOUR MINDS.”
It’s purely observational that these fresh-minded, clean-slated, child-like ignorant moments only come in a fashion of memory and nostalgia. Unless you’re studying abroad and doing the best you can. Typically a 23-year-old usually learns by building blocks on top of a city you/he/she have/has already created. Because you’re building on top of social norms, politics, cultural rules, routines, etc. that you’ve already come to understand and experience. Studying abroad is a new city, literally and figuratively. You have to start nearly completely fresh. Sure you might know how to communicate, plus there’s body language, and universal signs and cues in which most can dictate and decipher and get through easily.
But that first day of meeting your host parents for the next 6 weeks (or in some cases 4 months or longer) is just one of those moments where you take a breath and crawl.
*Although I will say that the requirement to wear shoes around the house AND to only eat food in JUST the kitchen still weirds me out.