Getting Started

Setting up a study abroad trip is not easy. After deciding I wanted to go, I had to track prices for and buy plane tickets, apply for scholarships, submit a VISA application in Chicago (which is a Pandora’s box of paperwork itself), find a bank card that would offer me Euros at a fair exchange rate, buy electricity converters for all of my electronics, meet with academic counselors from both of my majors, and set up housing in Madison for the alternate semester.

When my mom brought home a European electricity converter from target, I actually laughed out loud. The clumsy electric box seemed like a perfect metaphor for how my life in the US might translate to Spain. English? Nah. You’ll need a converter for that. How about dollars? Nah. Try euros. Fine. Can I at least charge my phone? Nope. Your chord doesn’t have those fun round parts on the end. Apparently, Europe doesn’t have peanut butter either. What’s the European equivalent of a peanut butter jelly sandwich?

Now that my bags are packed, Spain is beginning to seem like more of a reality. A lot of people have asked me about where I’d like to travel once I get there, but I’m intentionally leaving things pretty open-ended. I’d like to spend most of my time in Spain getting to know what’s really there. My best experiences traveling so far have been in off-the-beaten-path cities and farm roads. For example, when I went to Colombia for New Years, my uncle would drive us through long stretches of Colombian mountains and stop every 40 minutes or so to say hello to a farmer or buy an Arepa from a food stand. We spent entire days in the car. At the time, I was pretty frustrated with him for stopping so often and wasting time getting places. When I got home, I realized that we hadn’t wasted any time at all. Instead of hurrying through the whole countryside to get from one place to the next, we experienced more of Colombia in our short time there than most visitors probably see in several months.

When I talked with my uncle about this a month ago, he laughed and said he understood how I felt. He agreed with my observation of the trip and gave me some additional advice for Spain: to see what I want to see, not necessarily what everyone else wants to see. The Louvre is magnificent, but if you’re not into art, why go just to say you did? This isn’t a great example because I would actually love to see the Louvre, but I think I made the point. My goal is to come home saying that I made the experience my own with more journeys to write about than destinations.

As for the peanut butter issue, I brought a jar of my own. We’ll see how long it lasts 🙂