In spring 2018, I studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain, to improve my Spanish and to get to know the country’s culture first hand. I had heard so much about the country’s traditions, history, and geography in my lectures and classes at university, that I did not hesitate when it was time to decide on the country. But I was not so sure about which university to study at. While I had heard about Salamanca before, seeing as the university is the oldest in the country, I was much more interested in exploring Andalucía and the South. One of the advisers asked me to consider whether I really wanted to go to the University of Granada with thousands of other exchange students and only speak English with them. Because of her advice, I ended up choosing Salamanca, for it was smaller in size and also located in a part of the country where proper Spanish is spoken.
While I had lived abroad before and also really planned for my stay, it felt like I jumped into a very dark lake headfirst. I had no idea what to expect, whether I would hit the ground. I packed my whole life into two bags in the matter of one night, hopped on a train very early in the morning to get to Vienna’s airport. After a three hour flight, a few very confusing conversations in very broken Spanish in my attempt to find the right train station and another train ride, I finally arrived in Salamanca. Luckily I had already found an apartment on Facebook beforehand, so I only needed to find the right street and ring the bell. The owner was very friendly and explained everything to me again, very slowly so I could follow.
The first few days were exciting. My Spanish roommate showed me around town, explained some of their customs. I met my ESN buddy (thank God for ESN buddies!), who invited me along to several activities. It was through him that I met the friends I would spend the rest of the semester with, friends I would see time and again – even after it was time to leave for home.
I am not going to lie; the following weeks passed excruciatingly slowly. After I settled into my day to day routine – going to university, having lunch, heading back to university, do homework, have dinner (sometimes alone, sometimes with friends), go to bed – the homesickness started to kick in. It was cold outside, very dark still. I missed the natural conversations with my friends back home, being able to understand what others were saying. I missed Mannerschnitten, cocktail night with the girls, skiing. I missed my family, having dinner with them. Even though I met, oh, so many people during the first few days and weeks, I felt alone. I did not really know any of them.
We bonded. Slowly, but we did. It was our newly developed love for tapas and tinto de verano, small Spanish towns, and the music. We made memories together that would remain in our minds for the rest of our lives. We traveled to Zamora and Toledo. I saw Cádiz, Sevilla, and Córdoba. We left for Porto and Barcelona, embarked on day-trips to Segovia, León, and Ciudad Rodrigo, took a road trip to Galicia and Asturias. It is this part of Erasmus that people tell you about later on. Not the loneliness, not the fear of having made the wrong decision.
They also do not tell you about the pain you experience when it is time to leave. Because you know, even when you come back in the future, the town will have changed. The majority of the people you knew will no longer be there. The few who remain? It was indeed a regular semester in their lives, even though it meant so much to you.