ACCENT Madrid: Being Present

This week, University of California student Delcia Orona discusses her unique experience as a study abroad veteran among her classmates in UCEAP’s Language & Culture program in Madrid. Having already experienced the initial excitement of landing in a new country, Delcia at first found herself too focused on her previous adventures to appreciate Madrid. But eventually, she began to open herself up to all of the fantastic experiences the city of Madrid offered her.

My last study abroad adventure took place in Madrid. It was an experience that I didn’t truly appreciate until I was saying my goodbyes and moving my things out of our student apartments. But it was a small piece of a much larger journey to discover who I am and where I want to go in life, and find closure with my past.

Before I had gone to Madrid, I was in the Netherlands. I had done a year abroad at University College – Utrecht, and knew I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Europe or my travels. Doing back-to-back programs was a lot of work and preparation, but ended up giving me two entirely different and wonderful experiences.

The strange mixture of culture shock, reverse culture shock, and re-culture shock made Madrid feel like a blip; my summer escape from home, an opportunity to continue my adventures in Europe, and a chance to work on my Spanish—but it was very different from the Dutch atmosphere I had just left.

It wasn’t until I was walking the streets of Madrid alone, all my friends already on their flights home or taveling through other parts of Europe, that I realized I had spent so much time in my head, rather than truly taking in my experience in Madrid. I was so often comparing my experiences abroad that Madrid to me felt like a rush, one big blur. I was so critical. Madrid to me felt more like a goodbye and a closure to my time in Europe, a chance to maybe visit Holland again, rather than an experience in itself.

One aspect that significantly impacted my view of Madrid was seeing the experience of my friends, completely new to Europe and with a fresh desire to travel and see as much as they could. Their excitement and newness to the entire experience was something I always looked on with too much critique, something that was always impacting my attitude towards Madrid. It was an appreciation I was lacking.

Moments when friends and I would spend our evenings at Retiro Park, or run across the city at night, finding ourselves on rooftop bars telling our life stories, speaking Spanish to each other for hours, hoping we’d be fluent by morning, getting lost in the metros – my mind was always somewhere else. All as a result of still being so absorbed in and overwhelmed by my past experiences: by the urge to get away from home for the summer, by the mixed feelings about returning to Santa Barbara after so long, of craving the week of travel I had after the program to go see my friends in Utrecht. I was never in the moment, never fully understanding the same excitement and intrigue of all my friends.

I think because of this, my experience wasn’t all sunshine and roses. It was me trying to overcome what felt like being stuck in the past. To come to terms with the things I never truly got to say goodbye to. But it ended up being so much more than that, and it took me a long time to see it.

If I could give my best advice to prospective study abroad students, it would be this: be present. Whether you are abroad for a summer or an entire year, take in every little moment of it. The broken Spanish ordering café con leche para llevar every day before class, the late nights you know you didn’t get enough sleep, stuffing your suitcase so full you don’t know if you’re going to make it to the airport let alone through check-in. Weekend travel, early flights, Galician cheese, endless amounts of croissants, late-night runs to El Tigre for tapa after tapa. And most importantly, the beautiful and amazing people you will meet along the away.

It is such a phenomenal experience, and it is so difficult to put those emotions into words. While the experience is limited, the memories you make and relationships you create will last. And as cliché as it sounds, those are the things you will always look back on.

~Delcia Orona, University of California – Santa Barbara

To see more photos Delcia took during her travels abroad, click here!

Did this post inspire you to take your time getting to know Madrid for yourself? Research your study abroad options at http://accentintl.com/find-a-program/.