Heating Up and Cooling Down
My last blog post feels like so long ago that I barely remember writing it. It has only been a month or so since then, but big things have happened here: my mom came to visit me, I went on three trips (including one by myself), I competed in a swim meet, Thanksgiving happened, I realized I’ve been dehydrated the entire semester, my favorite ice cream shop closed for the winter, I bought new boots, I took my first final exam, there was a weird rash spreading on my arm, I’ve started taking siestas once or twice a week. Okay, so some big things and some small things.
One of the more surprising things that has changed recently is the weather. I remind myself that I shouldn’t complain by looking at the Amherst forecast on my phone…but seriously, it is actually COLD here! This is my first time experiencing winter in a beach town, and it is a completely different type of chilly. Some people explain that it’s the humidity of the water nearby, others insist that gaditanos are simply accustomed to a summer climate. Regardless of the explanations, everyone complains. These days, I don’t think a full hour goes by without me hearing someone on the street, or in my class, or at home say something along the lines of: “No te puedes imaginar el frío que tengo yo.” Sometimes, I feel like they’re overreacting. I got called out yesterday in the middle of class by my professor for wearing a short-sleeved shirt when my Spanish compañeros were wrapped tight in scarves and jackets (and were asking her to turn the heat up). Other times, though, I suffer just as much as they do. At home, I sleep in a t-shirt and shorts year-round, and last night I climbed into bed shivering in long-sleeves, sweatpants, and the thickest socks I brought.
But as the days continue to cool down, my schedule has been heating up. There isn’t as much schoolwork here as at Amherst, but everything that I do have to do for my classes is made exponentially more stressful because school, class, and assignments are so different here. For example, final exams carry much more weight. I have two finals back-to-back next Tuesday, and they are both worth around 70% of my grades in those two classes. Wish me luck! At the same time as schoolwork has begun to overwhelm me more than I anticipated (people always say semesters abroad are academically super easy????), I’ve had more to do than I thought I would outside of class as well. While I haven’t followed through with my plans to do more leisure reading and hang out with my host family all the time, I’m grateful for all the opportunities that have kept me so busy. The biggest time-suck is swimming. Since I’m returning to Amherst right in the middle of our season, I’ve been trying to keep myself reasonably in-shape while here by training a few times a week, when schoolwork and travel don’t conflict. On Fridays, I tutor three crazy seven-year-old boys in English. Once a week or so, I meet my on-site resident director and the six other students in my program for breakfast. In addition, I’ve been frantically trying to keep up with my U.S. life – which continues even while I’m living here – by trying to find times to FaceTime with my family in California despite the nine-hour time difference, attempting to start the summer internship hunt even though I have no idea what I want to do, and responding to emails about things that I completely forgot existed, like registration for classes.
I’ll be very honest: the past few weeks have been harder than I would’ve liked them to be. I think I saw too many Instagram profiles that portrayed study abroad as a semester of nothing but travel and food and parties and new clothes. And while I’ve experienced lots of all of those aspects of study abroad, I’ve also experienced complicated lectures, and difficult tests, and exhausting days. I kept looking at that “Stages of Culture Shock” graph they show everybody who goes abroad and feeling really guilty and lonely when I didn’t see any dip downwards towards the end. Where was the I’m-getting-anxious-to-return-home-because-I-don’t-want-to-take-my-finals-and-I’m-sick-of-eating-jamón-ibérico part of the curve? Was no one else feeling this way?
Now, with less than ten days left before I leave, I’m calmer. I do feel a little overwhelmed when I look at my two to-do lists (academic and other), which are both still very long. But I am also starting to experience the warm feelings of gratitude and contentment that come at the end of anything long, important, and/or difficult. By the time I leave, I think I’ll have reached a perfect equilibrium: ready to leave, but happy with every day I got to stay.