I’ve recently returned from the UK, my very first time travelling solo. I started in London then took the train up to Retford to stay with a friend, who promised to show me the “real” England. We did day trips around Yorkshire, including the charming cities of York, Leeds and Sheffield. I then went off on my own and spent a weekend in Birmingham, where a crazy trick of fate had me sharing a hostel room with a girl my age who was from the same suburb as me in Sydney and even worked in the same place I did, yet we never met once. From there I headed to Cardiff which, contrary to what every English person told me, contains much more than just sheep. I finished the trip with a second visit to London, now my third favourite city in the world after Sydney and Melbourne.
I had the time of my life. I met wonderful people, stocked up on my go-to cleanser that is unavailable in Spain, ate international food I had been missing for months and most importantly, felt right at home surrounded by English speakers once more. It was an experience I will not soon forget.
However, since returning to my life in Logroño, Spain, I’ve hit a rut and I’ve been feeling the pressure more than ever. Pressure is a big part of the studying abroad experience: the pressure to get assignments done on time, the pressure to turn up to your obligatory local classes even though you have no idea what’s going on, the pressure to save your money. Recently, I have discovered a new pressure: the pressure to have a good time.
I have probably had the following conversation 100 times:
Person: How is Spain?! Are you loving it!?
Me: Well it’s good but I feel really homesick at times –
Person: What?! You’re in SPAIN! You’re living the dream! What could you possibly miss?
Me: Yeah but –
Person: YOU’RE IN SPAIN!!!
Lately, I can’t help but feel whenever people rave about how good Spain is, they’ve only seen it through the lens of a tourist and they are more likely than not visiting cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and Valencia that accommodate and welcome people from all over the world. Because the fact is – while I am loving being in Europe and having the freedom to travel for the first time in my life – a lot of the time when uni is in session and I have to stay put in Logroño, I am not enjoying myself. And I feel horribly guilty for that.
I can’t quite put my finger on it. Is it because I’ve been stuck in a very cold winter for the past four months and my mood reflects the climate? Is it the smallness of the city and the resulting lack of foreign food options? Is it my annoyance at myself that my Spanish still isn’t up to scratch and I can barely communicate with anyone? Is it because I am missing home terribly?
It would be easy to blame it all on the city. Truthfully, I don’t think one briefing session is enough to make up your mind about where you want to live and study for an entire year. I don’t regret my decision to forego the bigger cities, but after visiting cities that are roughly the same size of Logroño such as Santander and Pamplona and talking to the UTS students there, I started to get an awful feeling that I had made a mistake.
Logroño definitely has its perks. I have never felt safer in my life – there is no need to clutch my belongings for dear life as I did in Barcelona and I have no problem with walking home alone at night. The wine is to die for, the pinchos are still the best I’ve ever had and the cost of living is affordable, making it a great base for a year that’s really all about travel anyway. However, the main problem is that the host universities in Santander and Pamplona constantly organise activities for their international students, of which there are many from all around the world. Here, however, once we finished our intensive Spanish course, there was nothing left for us to do. And from this newfound boredom and emptiness, doubts and dissatisfaction have surfaced.
I chose Logroño because I was under the impression that hardly anybody speaks English here and I did not go through two long years of learning Spanish at UTS to not use it. I believed I would be practising every day and would be conversing easily in no time. However, this has not been the case. Besides five second interactions with the checkout ladies at the supermarket and the guy who sells my favourite mushroom pincho, the only time I get to practise Spanish is in class with the local students. Yet every time I start a conversation in Spanish, they switch to the little English they know and we end up speaking Spanglish. I understand they’re trying to help me, but it is really disheartening to know that after four whole months, my Spanish is still not close to being up to conversational standard. Eventually, I became so demoralised that I stopped trying, knowing perfectly well the only way to learn Spanish is to keep trying. I feel bitterly envious of people who were taught to speak a second language from birth, because this is easily the most difficult and frustrating thing I have ever tried to take on.
What my loss of faith in my city and in my Spanish ability has all amounted to is that I spend the majority of my time in my apartment watching movies and reading books, only leaving my apartment for dinners with the girls, zumba classes, grocery shopping and uni. I used to look forward to going out on Saturday nights, but after a few too many dancefloor assaults, I have given up on the nightlife scene here completely. So I basically have nothing to occupy my time. Yes, I know I should be trying to find things to do that will allow me to meet new people and practise my Spanish – I’ve heard it all before when I whinge to my mum about my situation. However, I can’t bring myself to do any of these things, because – regardless of the city and my subpar Spanish – I think the main reason I feel unsatisfied is because I miss home so much, sometimes I think my heart might explode.
I’m completely aware that I am lucky to have the opportunity to study abroad and I will never experience anything like this ever again in my life. I was so excited to be leaving and the people close to me were excited for me. I knew there were going to be ups and downs but I didn’t expect to still be counting down the days until it’s time to go home four months into the year. The little things I was so accustomed to back home have all combined to leave a gaping hole in my heart that I cannot fill with anything. I miss having brunch with my mum on a Saturday morning in a sunny Sydney café, I miss watching my Wests Tigers lose in the comfort of my own home with my dad’s commentary, I miss having my pick of cuisines, I miss driving, I miss having my friends close to me, I miss UTS and I miss being able to work for my money and treat myself whenever I want.
I know it sounds like I’m spending every moment of my time here wallowing in self-pity, but I’m not about to give up any time soon. In fact, if I was asked to describe the experience as a whole in one word, I would say “amazing.” If I could go back in time maybe I would choose a different city, but the best thing about this year is how unbelievably lucky I got with the UTS girls in Logroño who are experiencing every bit of this with me.
We have become so close and there is no way I would still be here if I didn’t have them here to laugh with, cry with and vent with. Our girls’ pizza and movie nights, our pinchos adventures and being clueless in class together makes all the moments of sadness bearable. Because of them and my own hatred of failure, I will not be jumping on a plane back to Sydney until 2.25pm on Tuesday 2nd January 2018, but who’s counting.
I’m getting out of bed every morning knowing there is plenty to look forward to before that wonderful day arrives. I have four huge months of summer travel planned which will commence in less than a month as well as visits from family and friends and I’m shaking in my seat with excitement. Every sad day I’ve experienced in Logroño has been cancelled out by the unforgettable experiences I’ve had during my travels to Barcelona (with the exception of the police chase and 12 hour nap incident), Pamplona, Santander and my aforementioned UK adventure. I have a feeling I’m about to have the best summer of my life and once that’s over it will be less than three months before I’ll be home, no doubt writing a blog post complaining about my menial routine in Sydney and wishing I was back here again.
I really didn’t want to make my less glamorous feelings about this year public – for a long time I was happy deceiving everyone with photos and Snapchats that it was a thrill a minute and every day was a good one. But I guess I just wanted to reassure anyone who may be feeling even a fraction of what I do that they are not alone and it’s okay to not be enjoying every second of the “greatest adventure of your life.” Though I can’t help but feel guilty for not seizing every moment here, there really is no shame in missing home. It is where the heart is, after all.