Sure you’re probably thinking, living overseas is exactly what it sounds like…the opportunity of a lifetime. I mean sit and picture all the things you’d want to do on a vacation. Drink til your kidney falls out, Party in foreign night clubs, bikinis and shopping on the weekends, sleeping in til noon? Let’s just say it’s basically an extended-stay vacation with a little homework sprinkled in for kicks.
Buttttttt (there’s always a but right?) Were there’s sunshine, rain always finds its way. Despite what most people actually believe, study abroad does truly have some trying experiences that come along with it. No really it does. Let me explain my piece…
I was in what was supposed to be my last year of undergrad, majoring in International Business. (Sounds cool, I know.) After months of back and forth with myself, I’d decided to go for it. Now more than ever, I was ready to study abroad.
I applied for my program, which was a tedious process to say the least. But all in all, I was accepted, did all necessary paper work, applied for my Visa and off I was to the foreign lands of Barcelona, Spain for 6 months.
Now I’m in no way saying that study abroad is bad. I probably couldn’t say that even if I wanted to. (Which I don’t btw.) However, I will have you consider what it would feel like for you to move half-way across the globe with only 3 full bags to a place where you can barely communicate, don’t understand any signage, don’t know a soul or know how to get even get to where you will be living.
I mean 45 minutes into being in my new country, I was scammed out of 50 euros on my taxi ride from the airport. I was immediately overwhelmed that I couldn’t call home since my phone was out of service and I couldn’t access decent wifi to FaceTime my mom.
Culture Shock can be intense.
I want to introduce to you a term you may or may not have heard of: it’s called culture shock. Webster defines it as: [the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.] It’s what most foreigners experience soon after that stepping off their plane into their new life. Reality actually begins to hit you.
Good thing about it though, as time goes on, one begins to gradually adjust to their surroundings. It could take a few days, possibly even weeks, but the comfort does set in. The people, the food, your new atmosphere begin to feel familiar, enjoyment sets in. That’s when you start meeting and making friends with cool people from other countries, going out til 7 am the next morning and learning how to grocery shop for the 2nd time in your life.
This is the kinda stuff that made Barcelona truly the best experience I’ve had. It’s been the most eventful period of my life. If we’re being honest here, I think I learned more about who I was in that 6 months than I had in several years of living in my hometown!
But, the story doesn’t end here. It most certainly wasn’t all smiles and Hallmark cards from then on out. It actually got ugly (hence the title of this post :/). And when I say ugly, I mean the kind of ugly where there’s foreign police in your residence at 2 am kinda ugly!
Gotta take the good with the bad..
Before I dive into that particular dark hole of ugliness, I want to touch on the subtle moments on overwhelm that I experienced.
There were times, usually late at night where I’d sink into an ocean of mild depression. I truly missed home, missed my best friends and my family that had always been so close by. I missed what used to be “normal”. Now I had to walk 30 minutes and catch a train across town all for a Subway sandwich. Cooking tuna fish and trying my hand at new recipes were getting old quick.
I also experienced the feeling of disconnection. I felt like an outsider sometimes, getting stares from people for being a fairer skin Africana. People knew I was from some other place and I won’t lie I did feel uncomfortable catching looks from natives.
Another hurdle that I had to jump was the time-zone! I was literally 7 hours ahead of everyone back home. Meaning after my long day at University and being out, showering, doing homework, I’d want to come home at talk to my friends/family. While it would be a normal 6-7p back home. It’s already midnight where I was. I didn’t have an issue staying up past midnight to talk to people back home. I consider myself a night owl anyway. However, this didn’t sit too well with my roommate.
And so it begins…
Before I arrived to Spain, I had been added to a Facebook group for my host university, where we could introduce ourselves and get acquainted with other students in the program who we’d soon be meeting.
I found a girl who was attending my uni that happened to be looking for a roommate. She posted pictures of the apartment, the pricing and so I messaged her. We ended up getting on a video chat and talking for a bit. After about an hour or so of talking, we’d agreed to room together for the semester. (Cool for me, now I didn’t have to stress myself about living arrangements, thank God!)
After signing the lease and getting settled in, we went out that night like any new roomies would and for about the first week or so we did a lot of stuff together. We’d walk to school, find grocery stores and explore near by shops, take the train to the city center and just kick it getting to know one another. Things were cool.
Or so I thought…
Little did I know, I was in for the ride of my life.
Have you ever noticed how you & a another person can seem so compatible. You have a good time while out and can enjoy each other’s company up until you’re actually around said person every single day? Well I pretty much threw myself into that scenario. I had no idea I signed a lease with the the roommate from Hell.
During the first 3 ½ months of living with one another we learned how truly different we were and our how much our personalities did not mesh. I’m not here to bash poor girl but she was definitely not one I would have agreed to spend 6 months of my life with had I known how nit-picky, rude and spoiled she was. She unapologetically insulted a friend of mine that had been nothing but nice to her (all three of us went to the same host uni), she got an attitude when I used the open hand soap on the bathroom sink, she complained about everything under the sun. (Keep in mind, anybody that knows me, can tell you that Im a pretty well kept person and well mannered, so for me to have bumped heads with this chick is even a surprise to me.)
Several of the other students in the study abroad program, she rubbed the wrong way as well. So after a few weeks of getting to know who she really was, I stopped inviting her out with us because no one really enjoyed her company. This is where things began taking a turn. We were always pretty short with one another when speaking (which was only when we had to).
The tension had gotten so thick that one night, it all finally came out and we got into a full blown exchange of words at 1 am in the morning. The argument consisted of her calling me a crazy American, he crying to her dad on Facetime and her calling the Spanish police on me because I wouldn’t get off the phone which apparently is what started the whole thing.
I never in a million years, pictured myself 5000 miles from home arguing with a girl in Spanglish, trying to plead my case in front of the police. And consider yourself special because not too many people have actually heard this story, well I guess the cat is out of the bag now huh?
Of course, I had to edit out a few specific details in that verbal altercation but I’m hoping my point has actually been made. haha Where there is beauty and glitz, there also lies pain and agony. Living abroad is one of the absolute best experiences one could have. ESPECIALLY when you’re young, growing and excited to see what this huge world has to offer. Just keep in mind there are times that you will get homesick, that will make you question why you even bothered to leave everything you once knew. Friends, family, fashion, food, gas prices!
However, the good will always manage to out way the bad and your journey will come full circle.