After a semester of living with an amazing host family, taking only Spanish classes, meeting new friends, trying different foods, and exploring Oviedo, I returned home last week to a familiar bed and very happy parents. The homecoming was more bittersweet for me, because as excited as I was to get back to the people I missed, I found it really difficult to leave Spain without knowing when (not if) I’d be back.When I booked my flights last fall, I decided to take some extra time after the program ended to travel through parts of Italy and France with friends, and by the end of the semester a part of me was wishing I had planned to stay in Asturias for just a few more days. Unfortunately, I knew I had to leave at some point, and although I may have underestimated the challenge of hauling a semester’s worth of luggage around Europe, I was so glad I decided not to head home immediately. The final leg of my study abroad adventure meant I got to visit a few more beautiful cities, but it also gave me some time to wrap my head around the incredible semester I’d just completed.
I hoped I would be so busy sightseeing in some of Europe’s most famous destinations that I would forget to be sad about leaving Oviedo. My plan worked for about 36 hours, then on my second day in Rome I made the mistake of going to see the Spanish Steps, which get their name from their proximity to the Spanish Embassy. When I saw the Spanish flag waving from the government building across the Piazza di Spagna, the sadness I felt as I left my homestay in Spain came flooding back. There I was on vacation in Rome, getting ready to fly home to Houston, and yet feeling homesick for somewhere totally different. I glared at the flag for a few minutes, as if it were the Embassy’s fault that I couldn’t both stay in Spain forever and go home to my family, friends, and school in the U.S.
I eventually peeled myself away and continued with my week of sightseeing, but reminders of my recently completed semester kept popping up. I walked by a bus promoting tourism in Asturias, heard tourist families speaking Spanish, met other students who were just beginning their study abroad program, and felt the same nostalgia every time I thought about the fact that mine had ended. After joking that I felt like Oviedo was following me, I had to remember that was the point. I hadn’t decided to study abroad with the goal of having a great time and then forgetting about it—I had learned a lot, and hopefully some of those things would stick with me, even if it meant feeling a little sad when I saw the Spanish flag.
Since I got home, I’ve been meeting with family and friends, showing off pictures from my semester, and of course answering lots of questions. One of the most common ones has been, “What was your favorite part?” and I’ve had a lot of trouble answering it. How do you choose your favorite thing about a five-month period? I’ve come up with a few go-to answers (feel free to use them when you return from your semester abroad!):
- Food. Not just the fabada or the jamón, but the role that food plays in people’s everyday lives. I loved being able to buy local produce and freshly baked bread at an affordable price, and I think my time abroad has made me think more about the quality of my food, not just the convenience.
- Language. In addition to improving my grammar and accent, I gained confidence in my ability to communicate in Spanish. I love that I can express my thoughts in two different languages, and I’m on the lookout for opportunities to practice now that I’m back in the U.S.
- Outlook. I don’t know if it was because I was outside of my normal environment, or if the people I met in Spain were exceptionally easygoing, but during my semester in Oviedo I felt noticeably less stressed than I generally did before. If I am able to maintain one habit that I picked up while abroad, I hope it’s the ability to learn from and enjoy my experiences as they’re happening, rather than worrying about what might come next.
Those are just a few of the things I enjoyed about studying abroad, but the whole semester was filled with individual experiences that added up to a perfect semester. As I’m settling into my life back in the U.S., I look forward to continued reminders of everything I did and learned throughout my time in Oviedo.