This post was contributed by Global Ambassador Sabrina LeBoeuf, a journalism and RTF student studying abroad in Madrid, Spain.
Honeymoon. Frustration. Adaptation. Acceptance.
On my first day of school at exchange student orientation, the mental health department taught us about the phases of culture shock.
“You will have a downfall,” they said.
“Some of you may never reach the acceptance stage during your time here.”
With that, everyone in the room started to talk amongst themselves with a sense of panic. Almost everyone in the room was worried about experiencing their first downfall in Madrid or their own version of the frustration phase. I, on the other hand, was worried about the honeymoon phase…because I felt like I had missed it.
When I arrived in Madrid, the place I’ve been preparing for and dreaming about since September, I wasn’t as excited as I thought I would be. I wasn’t taken aback by my new city because it felt pretty similar to New Orleans for me—home. It wasn’t that I was regretting that I came to study abroad. I did feel content, but at the same time I wasn’t feeling a sense of awe that I saw visible on the faces of tourists. And I was jealous of them for that. Where was my honeymoon phase?
I decided to give myself some time. After a week, not much had changed, so I decided to phone a friend. I reached out to Erienne, one of my dear friends who studied abroad in the past and encouraged me to apply to my own study abroad experience. She told me that when in a new place, it helps to find a spot that you like and make it your own. In doing so, you start to develop a relationship with your city.
For Erienne, that spot is a restaurant in Vienna that sells bratwurst and baguettes. She would visit the restaurant to eat her baguette on a bench and people watch. For her, it was a simple pleasure that made Vienna more enjoyable. Now that she’s back at home, it’s the place she misses most. With this piece of advice, I searched for my own version of Erienne’s Austrian restaurant.
By my 12th day in Madrid, I had found my place: Parque del Retiro. It’s a sizeable park filled with anything and everything. There is an artificial lake where friends and couples can rent row boats. There are museum exhibits and ornate fountains. Not to mention there are lots of trees, which made me, a native Louisianian, quite happy to see. Along the pathways are musicians adding to the ambience, and there are so many birds all around. The atmosphere felt refreshing and inviting, and after a few minutes of watching the ducks swim in the water, I already knew two things: I was feeling excited about Madrid, and I was going to come back to Parque del Retiro.
As I wrap up this blog post, I’m happy to say I’ve already been back to visit.