Many college students are quick to measure the success of their study-abroad experience in quantitative terms: in the number of stamps on their passport, the souvenir shot glasses from cities en route, or quantities of Instagram photos or albums uploaded to Facebook. Although these are superficial reflections of what we gain from studying in another country, students are susceptible to the trap of what I like to call “wanderlust overdose”. By cramming in as many cities as you possibly can rather than really getting to understand the city you’ve chosen, you end up gaining a one-dimensional understanding of your intended study-abroad destination. Your city becomes a home base, but you are never at home.
“If I was expecting to fall in love with Madrid,
there was no way I could just be a part-time lover.”
This past fall semester, I studied in Madrid. Being the meticulous planner that I am, I had spent the latter part of the summer scheduling weekend travel with friends who would be scattered all around Europe. Before embarking for Madrid, I had settled on traveling to six different countries as well as three cities in Spain. With sixteen weeks of study, this would have left me with only seven weekends in Madrid. Ridiculous! After spending a month in Madrid, I realized jet-setting every other weekend to a new destination wouldn’t allow me to fully understand or feel some kind ownership of my new home. If I was expecting to fall in love with Madrid, there was no way I could just be a part-time lover.
My intended Eurotrip suddenly took a sharp turn. I cut out four of my planned trips. I was able to experience the city for more than its sights and attractions. I discovered hidden cafes, community centers, restaurants, and bars that will never be listed in Frommer’s or Lonely Planet.
“I found a great source of accomplishment in feeling
like I crossed the threshold from tourist to resident of Madrid”
This is not to say you absolutely have to stay in one place. By all mean, explore cities you’ve never visited. Studying abroad allows makes traveling ultra convenient, and it would be silly not to take advantage of that. But seeing as much as you can might also mean just scratching the surface of all your destinations, including your “home base”.
I found a great sense of accomplishment in crossing the threshold from tourist to resident of Madrid. It’s a very gratifying transition from feeling you are on a four-month vacation in Europe to belonging to the city you now call home. There’s a sense of pride in mastering such a complex city as Madrid.
I had grown accustomed to spending each week exploring different barrios in Madrid, and during one of my final weeks of the semester, I decided to venture out to one neighborhood I hadn’t yet visited. What started as a typical walk turned into a three-hour, five-mile trek around Madrid. I stopped every ten minutes to find a city map at a bus stop or metro station to get my bearings straight until streets and buildings started looking familiar. My little adventure took me through the university neighborhood of Moncloa, past a really cool athletic park by the Guzman El Bueno metro, along the promenade Calle Pintor Rosales, and through el Templo Debod by Parque Oeste. After four months of really investing time into Madrid, I felt with all the confidence in the world that Madrid had become one of my homes. As I watched the sun set behind El Palacio Real, I couldn’t help but find the moment to be a very fitting, maybe even perfect, culmination of a beautiful and intense affair with Madrid.