The first emotion I felt as I hugged my family as I embarked on my overseas journey was fear. Months of anticipation, planning, and saving all led to this moment, but honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing. I thought, for sure, something was going to go wrong; I even started to have doubts.
However, it was too late to turn back now. I paid for the trip. I’ve been planning this trip for months. “I have to finish my Spanish minor and I’m going to have fun doing it,” I thought to myself. The bag was successfully checked in, I pushed forward, boarding my first plane. I was heading to Atlanta for a brief layover before hopping on my plane to Spain, a short 9-hour flight overnight.
Sadly enough for me, I can’t sleep for anything while traveling, apparently not even overnight. The Delta staff served us a late airplane dinner, which held me up to a point. The rest of the 9 hour flight was spent tossing and turning, staring at the Legally Blonde seat back, and continually wiggling my neighbor so I could use the restroom (I was nervous, okay? ).
The tolls of my first sleepless night dissipated when I got off the plane and set foot in Madrid. It was incredibly surreal and my nerves turned to excitement. I’ll spare you the specifics of going through customs – I was embarrassed to speak Spanish to the workers, of course, but this experience was largely uneventful.
Finding my group was relatively easy. After collecting our luggage, about 15 students from our program met with Worldstrides staff, who loaded us onto a charter bus and headed to the hotel. There was just a problem: we were 3 hours ahead of our arrival time.
What’s the most important thing when you’re free to wander for three hours? Phone service.
My phone plan didn’t have international roaming which meant I needed to buy a prepaid SIM card. After teaming up with a few girls from my program, we headed out to El Corte Inglés, one of Europe’s largest department store groups. This was the first of many humiliating experiences for me upon arriving in Spain: trying to communicate with the Vodafone representative.
After spending an hour there, most queuing, I got my map and we set out to explore the surrounding area on foot. It was around this time that we first tasted the Spanish warmth as the afternoon sun beat down on us. It didn’t matter though; we were too distracted by the vibrant scenery around every corner.
After all the activity, we were exhausted and hungry, so we settled into a little restaurant called Café Pinchos, a quaint but lively environment that served tapas and copas. Right away, we were greeted with another humbling experience: sitting down and ordering. We sat at a table and waited for someone to come. After about 10 minutes we realized the protocol was different and we had to look for someone so we ventured to the bar to ask a bartender if we could order.
I didn’t know yet what a tapas was. To my knowledge, a tapa was a plate, so I ordered a few cheaper items off the menu for my lunch. I received two small tapas, basically small dishes meant to be nibbled on while drinking. We weren’t in a state yet, but the food we had was excellent.
Finally around 4:00am we were able to get into the hotel and relax for a minute. I met my awesome roommate who I would be staying with for the program and we both tried to take a nap for an hour before attending a welcome meeting with Worldstrides, the staff running our program. We reviewed the cultural differences to be aware of, public transport and the timeline of our stay in Madrid.
We were then released for the night and given multiple recommendations on where to go and what to do. The rest of the night included lots of great food and sightseeing worth posting about, so I’ll do a second part of my first day abroad in another post.
Stay tuned for more about our experiences in downtown Madrid on Night 1!
Leave a Reply