NATHANIEL TRAN- Studying abroad has been such a liberating experience for me. I came here trying to get over a breakup, to immerse myself in the Spanish language, and to embark on culinary adventures. Since I was a child, I’ve always been one to have lots of expectations. I expected to find a new best friend abroad to replace the friend I had just lost with my breakup and I expected even more vehemently to enjoy four months of picturesque moments in Madrid. Throughout most of the first month, I was so attached to my preconceptions that every disappointment seemed like I would never recover from it. Everything was so similar yet so different, like a twisted scene from a parallel universe. At some point, I was so overwhelmed that I tried to escape Madrid and fly back to Tufts. I thought that if I ran away, everything would get better. Fortunately, I took a step back to reevaluate and stayed.
I spent the month of October exploring every corner of Spain I could get myself to. I went to Cataluña to experience Barcelona, to the coast of Valencia and swam in the Mediterranean, and to the Moorish south. I found favorite restaurants, bakeries, bars, and Kodak picture moments. I was fascinated with exploration and discovery, thriving off the novelty of Spain and suddenly the month passed by. Most of the month was blurred because I was in such a rush to see more, do more for the sake of mileage. I rarely took the time to savor the moments and let the cities linger in my mind. I eventually visited Dublin, Ireland and Bremen, Germany at the beginning of November, but when I came back to Madrid I felt exhausted. I grew comfortable and settled back into a routine. I stopped trying new foods and settled for salads at the local bakery everyday. I hit a fifteen-day slump where I dragged myself to class and back home without appreciating the city I was so blessed to be visiting. And with a sudden burst of energy, I started writing about anything and everything. I was reinvigorated when my best friend came to visit. She encouraged me to dare to try new things. We ate a Chinese restaurant underground in a parking lot. Together we ate ceviche plated by a handsome Spanish man and washed it down with strawberry jam and cava. We also ended up eating 6 dinners in one night between 4PM and midnight. And in our 4 days together, we spent 2 nights at a little tavern serving cocktails with quirky fruits like kumquat. As eclectic as our experiences were, I was inspired to write about feminism, the immigrant experience, gay marriage, break up advice, forming my own identity, food reviews, etc. Being abroad started off as an escape, but has metamorphosed into a dreamlike realm. I let Madrid change me for the better and it taught me how to be savor solitude. It taught me how to be totally, unequivocally free.
Study abroad comes with so many expectations. But my experience has been dynamic and I’ve enjoyed it most when I let the city change me. Someone told me this when I first came here, and somewhere along the way I forgot this piece of advice, but can’t just live in a city you have to live the city. Breathe in the culture, exhale expectations and push yourself to be uncomfortable without routine. Pablo Neruda once wrote: He who becomes the slave of habit / who follows the same routes every day / who never changes pace / who does not risk and change the color of his clothes / who does not speak and does not experience / dies slowly. Don’t let your soul die slowly.