My group was told from the start about culture shock, a lot. I knew about it from being a Resident Assistant and I had experienced a rough case of it moving to IU my freshman year. I thought I was pretty well versed on culture shock. At the very least, I thought I’d be able to recognize it and use that to help me overcome the symptoms while in a new country.
I was wrong. I experienced a roller-coaster of emotions during my first month in Madrid. I know that saying is used entirely too often, but it is very fitting. I started out definitely excited, but scared out of my wits. I won’t lie to you; there were many tears before my departure. I didn’t know Spanish, so how in the world was I going to do this?
Well, I did it. I met some of the students in my program at the airport and stepped on that plane for the eight-hour plane ride, mind you. I arrived in Madrid as a very tired, lost, emotional, but excited young lady. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, but I was welcomed with open arms by my directors. There was also a lot of help and a sense of “we’re all in this together and we’ll tackle Spain as a group” with the students in my program.
After that initial fear of the climb leading up to this adventure, my roller-coaster ride began. It’s hard to explain my cycle of my first month of culture shock. I’m still in the midst of it, but I’ll do my best to paint a picture for you. Think of waking up in the woods after a night of camping.
I woke up too early, before the sun had even risen. It was dark and all I wanted to do was sleep (Adjusting to the new schedule). After I stumbled a bit in the dark, my eyes adjusted and it was a beautiful day (The initial excitement). Next, I walked into the most beautiful field of flowers and hung out for a while (That was the honeymoon stage where I loved Spain, the people in my program, and learning Spanish). After that, I started to climb a hill and it was a little bit of work (Getting used to the language and getting a little frustrated). Finally, I came to a path with a lot of brush and tree trunks. It was really hard to walk and I began to stumble and fall (I had a week or two of hating/loving Spain, looking for apartments, not understanding grocery stores, crying on sidewalks and in front of my directors, and wanting to just go back home). Then I had some friends come along and help me up. They brought me to a better part to explore and now we’re walking in the woods together. We still want to climb a lot of trees and see the beautiful scenery, but we’re getting used to this new atmosphere, this new place together.
That may seem like a silly way to explain it, but it works. All I can say is that it is hard for me, yes, but I’m working through the challenges. I’ve stumbled and I definitely landed face first a few times, but this program and the people who have helped me are amazing. Yes, I recognized that I was going through the bad stages of culture shock, but it was still hard to overcome. I may still have more bad days, but now I’m working through that. This is an amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity and I will not let it slip through my fingers. I’ve been in Madrid for one month and it has felt both like a year and a blink of an eye. It was a hard adjustment for me, but one that is well worth it and will get better every time I travel. I’ve already seen a complete change in my lifestyle here. After I overcame that big hurdle, I’ve been enjoying my life here so much more. I’m starting to notice the Spanish things I love and Madrid is becoming home for me.
So I have a small piece of advice to anyone studying abroad or just adjusting to a new lifestyle: Let the people who care for you help you. If you recognize that you’re having a hard time getting acclimated, tell someone. Get out, learn, and enjoy the place you’re in. Try not to hole up in your room and waste the time you have. It’s hard and it’s a bumpy ride, but you can do it.
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