For us over in here in Spain, Christmas is well and truly in full swing! Well, when I say us, I think it is more accurate to say myself and Indra. We have watched our first and one of the most beloved Christmas films in history; Elf. However we wouldn’t be doing our year abroad right if we didn’t swap the language into Spanish and laugh at the horrendous attempt of the voice overs of our favourite characters. It didn’t have quite the same affect, but it is fair to say that we learnt some crucial Christmas vocabulary. The lights are up in town, advent calendars have made their debut in the supermarkets, Mariah Carey’s one hit wonder seems to be at the top of my suggestions on youtube and we’ve spent a great deal of time learning Rudolf the reindeer lyrics in Spanish, because what else could ever be more constructive?
Christmas for me is one of the most special times of year, and although I am grateful to have my equally crazy housemate and best friend Indra to get excited with and spend all evening recording ourselves singing, I do find myself longing for home more than ever. A year abroad can be one of the most challenging things you can sign yourself up for, and for many of my closest friends I have made here their journey is almost over and my mind runs away gleefully with the concept of coming home, blissfully forgetting that I am not even half way through this adventure yet. I have never been away from home for so long, even whilst studying at University my family couldn’t keep me away for more than a couple of weeks and so for me, this was a challenge that would be way way out of my comfort zone. It is true that you never know what you are capable of until you are thrown into the deep end. The journey so far has surprisingly been a lot easier than anticipated, and I think I have really shown myself what I am capable of.
I wanted to dedicate this post to some of my advice and reflections over the last 3 months for anyone considering to participate in the future, it will challenge you, it will be hard but my God is it worth it and I promise it will be the best decision you will ever make.
When people say ‘throw yourself into it’ I always asked myself what that really meant, because everyone deals with situations differently and I think that is what so many people forget. Not everyone wants to enjoy or experience their year abroad the same way, and so you have to just do what you want to do and whatever will make you happy. Experiencing a new culture and a way of life is probably one of the most important gifts you could ever give yourself, but you will discover it how you want to. There are secrets and experiences around every corner and as long as you allow yourself to be curious and open-minded then you will find them. Curiosity is one of the best qualities to have, it allows you to open your mind, be accepting, challenged, and you will find yourself quietly growing as a person without even realising it.
Every now and then, it is important to do things that normally give you fear. Say yes to the trips, invitations, new experiences and don’t be scared to get it wrong. My biggest fear is embarrassing myself with my language, and I am still overcoming that fear because I know that no advice can help how with you feel inside. All I can say is that it is true that practise is the only way it will improve, unfortunately putting yourself in those unknown situations is the only way you will learn from it. And look at it this way, you will have some great stories to tell on how your translation skills really failed you. Whenever I was overwhelmed and struggling my Dad used to always say that looking back now, if someone told you exactly what you would go through each day of last year, you would have crawled up, cried and said it would be impossible, but now here you are through it all, smiling, stronger and ready for the next year. Nothing is ever as bad as it seems, there is always a way through it and the best way to live is to take each day as it comes, challenge yourself and be open to what the future is bringing because you are stronger than you think.
Whilst you are away, go travelling and make your own experiences. The best way to use your time is outside. Erasmus is a lot of work, and I have been overwhelmed with the amount of work load I have sat waiting on my desk and it is way too easy to let that pile cloud your thoughts and take over your weekends. I know this sounds very ‘live in the moment’ and I am not saying that your work is not important, but I am saying that the more days that fly by here the more I realise how little architectural structures of eastern Europe will matter to me in the long run. You do not want to be stuck in the library wasting away your days wherever you are just because you want that extra percentage in your final grade. The best way to learn is always outside the classroom, so do the minimum and get yourself out there.
I have found that my biggest lifeline for missing home is the friends I have found here. I am someone who always needs my loved ones near me and my emotions always take a front seat in my head, that is why for me this experience is so challenging, but the friendships I have made here are one in a lifetime and have helped me achieve the most independence I have ever had in my life. I would be absolutely lost without my flat mate Indra, who has accompanied me in some of my weirdest moments. The girls I have met here have felt like lifetime friends and I already know that there will be many nights of Skype calls and holidays to visit one another! International relationships with people from all over the globe is such a precious thing, which leads me onto my next point.

One of the best things about Erasmus, as I have waffled on about many times before, is the culture experience it can give you. To learn so much about the way the world turns for each person, the way of life and everything else makes me so curious yet has already given me a wider understanding of this world.

With this thought, I wanted to give something back to the community that has accepted me, so a few of my close friends and I are currently volunteering with Syrian children refugees. We teach them Spanish and help them with their homework and it gives me such joy to see such young children, who have lost their entire life, so keen to learn and be accepted into a new one. With the Syrian war in every corner of the news nowadays, it has been so important to me to see this side. So powerful and eye opening. These people genuinely have lost everything apart from their family, and even that doesn’t apply to all. Even so, the room is filled with friendly faces so keen to learn! The biggest way to help the situation is education, in order to fit in and understand society and it is even more important that we understand we have ourselves to blame for this crisis just as much as the opposition we deem as so evil. It has made me realise how crucial language and understanding can be in this day and age; so to be able to communicate with people from a completely different world and way of life outside our Europe through education and language is just something I cannot explain but am so grateful for.
Overall, living abroad is a great opportunity to grasp with both hands. It is hard, having your family, boyfriend and life back home is difficult but I honestly can say it only tightens those bonds. A long distance relationship is frustrating, difficult and challenging to the both of you but trust me, getting through it together will be worth it for the rest of your life so hold on. As for family, they will always be there for you! Any mother would be on the next plane flying out within 5 minutes if you ever needed her. Just keep hold of that image of seeing your dog or cat for the first time again, and remember it is not in any way, shape or form a bad thing to miss home!

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