By Ana Barrett for The Daily Iowan
I have never felt as though I belonged in Iowa — there was always a part of me that felt I needed to be elsewhere, be someone else. Last month, my dream of studying abroad came true in Madrid, Spain. Sangria, siestas, and sunshine were on the horizon.
When I landed in Madrid with my roommate, our luggage had not arrived with us. Not a great way to start the trip, but nevertheless, I was in Spain and nothing was going to rain on my parade.
Everything was a challenge; a “figure it out yourself” sort of attitude would be the name of the game. I stuck out with my blonde hair and permanent lost expression and, I’ll be honest, I cherished every second of it.
After the luggage fiasco, I rushed to the Hotel Paseo del Arte in the Atocha neighborhood for overnight orientation with other University Studies Abroad Consortium students.
Walking through Madrid the first night was utterly amazing. Our tour guide, Paloma, told us about every restaurant, every street, every statue, every monument. We went to the oldest restaurant in the world, which was at one time frequented by Ernest Hemingway. Following that, we drank sangria in the famous Plaza Mayor and walked past museums featuring work by Picasso, Dali, and so many more. Extravagant, historical, and beautiful — Madrid was everything I wanted it to be plus some.
Soon enough, classes started at the Universidad de Rey Juan Carlos. The university may have been small and quaint, but was full of knowledge and eager students. My photojournalism professor also happened to be a huge deal in the photography world; he nonchalantly showed us his blog with portraits of royalty and famous people all throughout Europe.
My time spent in Spain included witnessing history being made. King Juan Carlos stepped down and handed the crown to son Felipe VI. There was a parade down Gran Via, and I was able to see the freshly crowned king smiling and waving to everyone in the streets. Meanwhile, there were riots breaking out in opposition to the monarchy. Between the World Cup and Felipe’s ascension, there was a lot of excitement in Madrid during my monthlong stay.
Although I learned a lot in the classroom in Spain, I learned even more by being immersed in a different culture and grew as a person in so many ways. For the first time in my life, I navigated the metro in a big city, in a foreign county, mind you. I quit seeing things as “weird” and opened my mind to different experiences, food, and people. Initiating conversations in Spanish became habit, and my vocabulary grew as a result. Most importantly, I was able to see the world, and no one was there to hold my hand.
Because I studied abroad, I was able to completely let go of everything I knew in the States and fully become someone else in a different place, even if it was for a short time. It was liberating to pack up and chase my dream of going abroad. I will never forget my experiences in Spain — I left my heart in Madrid.