Lessons learnt

It’s a strange feeling to be 11 months into my year abroad. The warm embrace of home is so close that I’ve become extremely impatient and just want to sink my teeth into a Sydney burger already. After I spent an hour on FaceTime with my parents running them through my homecoming plans – everything from what I plan to wear on the plane to where we’re having our first brunch – I thought I should probably take a moment to remember why I left in the first place by thinking ~positively~ and writing about some of the valuable things I’ve learnt. Hopefully I’ll be coming back to Sydney a better person, but if not, well, I’ll have Sydney burgers.

Ditch expectations

This time last year, I definitely had fantasies of my community accepting me with open arms, nailing Spanish in a few short months, frolicking barefoot in freshly crushed grape juice and having a whirlwind romance with a guy called Javier/Pablo/Enrique etc. It didn’t take me long after arriving here to realise that’s not the way it was going to go at all. Leaving the place you’ve called home for 21 years, saying goodbye to the people you love and settling in a completely foreign environment on the other side of the world is no easy feat. While there have been the highest of highs, there have been the lowest of lows. There’s summer holidays, wild nights out and new friends, but there’s also Spanish bureaucracy, cultural isolation and homesickness. I would have done myself a favour if I didn’t spend most nights last year convincing myself that this year was going to be perfect.

I’m not made for small towns, but everyone is different

I chose Logroño because I’ve grown up in enormous, cosmopolitan Sydney my whole life and I wanted to experience something completely new. I’ve learnt that while small towns are endearing, I personally prefer the chaos of the concrete jungle, surrounded by diverse people and diverse cuisine (honestly, why is my happiness so dependent on food?) But of course, that’s just me. It wouldn’t be fair to call the town rubbish, because it isn’t. Logroño is a gorgeous town and it felt great to return to after months on the road during summer. I’ve loved everything being walking distance, feeling safe all the time and of course the wine and pinchos. Small-town life has suited some of the girls I came here with wonderfully – they’ve thrived and grown in a new culture, put themselves out there and are getting sick of me counting down the days, because they don’t want to leave at all. Unfortunately, I can’t help but to think “what if?” when I remember the other options I had for In-Country Study. At least this year has removed any shadow of doubt that big city life is the life for me.

Learning a language is extremely bloody hard, and anyone who makes fun of people for making mistakes or having an accent is a dick

I completely believe my Spanish has benefited from being in a small town and using it every day, but it’s still nowhere near where I hoped it would be. This is a combination of my own laziness and also just how hard it is. Half of Spanish is anglicisms so it’s quite hard to escape the English, especially when the locals get frustrated with your embarrassing babble and switch to English. But at least I can fall back on that option – I can’t imagine what it must be like to learn English in Australia when nobody will be able to help you out by having a little of your native tongue in their repertoire. After many a humiliating everyday interaction and many a class where I had no idea what on earth was going on, I can confidently say I now have the utmost sympathy for UTS international students, and so should everybody else.

How to take care of self

Cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, fixing household appliances, dealing with landlords – you name it, I can do it all. And I only gave myself food poisoning once. I’d say “wife me up”, but I’m not about gender norms.

I shall not be moving out until I can afford to live alone, sorry

Despite learning how to adult, I definitely prefer being babied by my parents in our two storey house in the lower North Shore over living with 4 other girls in a one bathroom apartment in the middle of the city centre. I’m very lucky to have been blessed with perfectly lovely roommates this semester, but I definitely miss when I was the only one who would stumble in drunk at 4 in the morning and wake the rest of the house. Also, sneezing in my room with the window open and hearing someone in another apartment say “bless you” gets really old.

Buying clothes and makeup online is not as fun as being able to afford to travel

This year was NOT CHEAP. Not a day has gone by where I haven’t regretted spending the past 3 years going on almost weekly online shopping sprees, instead of saving for this year like I was damn well supposed to. There was about 4 weeks of summer holidays that I spent totally alone in Logroño because I couldn’t afford to travel any more. Thanks to Afterpay, I missed out on a lot of potentially amazing holidays. At least during those deathly boring weeks I was really made to appreciate the value of saving. At the end of the day, experiences are much better than possessions – the spoils of a 20% off Beginning Boutique sale cannot dry your tears when you miss out on seeing Germany.

Making friends is not as difficult as I thought 

I blame being educated in Sydney’s most insular neighbourhood on this, but since high school, I’ve found it difficult to make new friends. I’d always heard people go on about the ~amazing~ people they met when they travelled and I accepted that I wouldn’t be able to relate given how socially awkward and annoying I am, but I was wrong. I’ve already planned a trip to Melbourne to meet up with the fabulous girls I met on Topdeck in Greece. Most importantly, it’s hard to believe that a year ago, the four girls I came to Logroño with were strangers. Right now, we are no less than family. It still remains to be seen whether they’ll want to put up with me once we’re not all forced to spend time together in a tiny foreign city, but I’m optimistic. Hopefully I can carry what I’ve learnt back home with me and put myself out there more during my last year at UTS.

 Apparently exercise is good for you

Who would have thought, right? Out of boredom and the convenience of the gym being just across the road, I started going to Zumba, Boxing, Pilates, ABT and TBC classes and felt great afterwards, with the bonus of watching my body change. Of course after 2 weeks of Sydney food that will all be undone, but it was fun while it was lasted. I may even try it again sometime.

There’s no shame in asking for help

A few weeks ago, I met up with two of my best friends from Sydney in San Sebastián. The next weekend, I went to London (yes, again) with a friend I met on Topdeck. When I was waiting to board to plane to Madrid, I found myself holding back tears, and not just because the Stansted staff confiscated my very expensive face cream that you can only get in Australia. I’ve known for a while that I was not in good mental health, but that day marked the last of my little excursions around Europe, so everything hit me very hard. I decided to do something I hadn’t yet considered, but in that moment it felt like such an obvious solution, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t done it yet. I emailed my exchange coordinator and told him the truth: I needed help to get through the last leg of the adventure because I couldn’t do it alone anymore. Now I’ve been set up with remote counselling and I’m confident that it’ll make the next few weeks easier to get through. I know now that I had no reason to feel guilty about not loving every moment here and there’s no shame in asking for support. Hopefully I can start enjoying the time I have left instead of wishing it away.

There’s no place like home

Clearly I’ve made that obvious in this blog and all my other blogs. Before I left for Spain, one of my best friends said: “You’re going to love it, but even if you absolutely hate it, you’re going to appreciate home so much more.” And she was right. I certainly didn’t hate the year, but the dark days I had made me so grateful for the family I’ll be coming back to in a month’s time and the friends whose company I have sorely missed. I absolutely cannot wait to return to my over-priced, beloved Sydney and everything in it. As one of the greatest minds of our generation said:

“You can change your hair, and you can change your clothes. You can change your mind, that’s just the way it goes. You can say goodbye, and you can say hello, but you’ll always find your way back home.” – Hannah Montana, 2009