When asked to write this blog, there was only ever one word that really came to my mind: home. Home is a strange concept when you think about it. It means something different to every person and if you asked any stranger on the street to draw “home,” from a 5-year-old to a 50-year-old, not only could they draw something but I guarantee every single person would draw something different.
I didn’t expect to like Salamanca, the small provincial city in Spain that I chose as my Erasmus destination. Being a Spanish undergraduate, a year abroad was always part of UEA’s plan, but it was never quite part of mine. I didn’t want to leave Norwich. I loved Norwich. I loved my life in Norwich. I loved knowing which bars to go to, where to meet my friends, having friends… I was comfortable in Norwich. But alas, at some point my 16 year old self decided she wanted to be fluent in Spanish so off I went.
I arrived at the Universidad de Salamanca disengaged. I was never the person in the kick-off meetings desperately taking notes nor was I the eager class mate, absorbing and relishing every lecture on Spanish culture. Salamanca was pretty, sure, but it just wasn’t home. Still I went through all the motions that I had to do upon my arrival in Spain. I sent back my paperwork to the Erasmus office (yes there’s a lot, yes it’s important you do it all), found a house, registered at university, I even met some people with whom I could hold a conversation. But somehow it all still felt artificial. I wasn’t at home here. And that made me uneasy. I suppose the root of the problem was that I like to be in control. It’s not something I particularly like about myself, but it’s the truth. I am a meticulous planner and with that the Study Abroad Office’s dream student. I don’t miss deadlines, I’m never late, I plan every conversation in my head like a monologue and then get disorientated when my conversation partner inevitably doesn’t follow the script I’d mentally written for them. The truth is, Salamanca didn’t afford me this luxury. And maybe that’s why I felt uneasy. There were many times in the first few weeks where I was riddled with anxiety at the thought of asking for a coffee at a local café for fear that the waiter might dare to ask me something I don’t know and I’d feel stupid.
But I can remember the moment it all changed. I was out with one of my friends who I’d met on a group chat compiled by one of the very useful, and not at-all annoying, promotional Erasmus companies in Salamanca. He brought along his friend, who brought along her two housemates, who knew some people sat in the square and before you knew it we were all at dinner. We chatted and we laughed and we just had fun. That first dinner was a turning point for me. I was conversing, in Spanish, with Italians, Austrians, French and even Brits and I was completely at ease. I didn’t cry when I didn’t understand some slang the Italian used (side note: they WILL be better than you at Spanish) and the world didn’t end when I mispronounced something and had to repeat myself. These people liked me, and I liked them.
So what advice would I give to people going to Salamanca, Spain or anywhere else for that matter? Patience. Don’t expect to love every single moment. Be kind to yourself and your new life and embrace what makes you different. But also be adaptable, be open to change and keep your eyes open for opportunities. Because if you do, you may find yourself being invited to the country with Spaniards to stay in their second home, having coffee with an Ecuadorian in the beautiful Plaza Mayor, being coaxed into eating Mexico’s hottest hot sauce by Mexicans, being taught how to dance bachata by a Colombian, having picnics in the park with Italians, downing shots at La Chupiteria (google it) with Germans, and you never know, you may just learn to not only love yourself and your new city, but also, to call it home.
Emma Watkins studies BA Modern Language – Spanish at UEA