I would be lying if I said I have hated every minute in Barcelona.
I would also be lying if I said this experience has been the greatest in my life so far.
This morning, I woke up to the sound of a man cutting sheet laminate with a circular saw about twenty feet below my window. At 8.45am. It was horrible – I spend the week waking up early to get to work and when the weekend comes around, my precious sleep has been snatched from me.
Safe to say, this morning, I hate Barcelona.
So, I wanted to follow on from yesterday’s post by writing about how I have made the harder parts of this experience a little more tolerable.
From staff at school, to lecturers at university, to previous YA students, the hype surrounding the Year Abroad (Capitalised, always) comes from all angles. Students who have done them shriek wildly, “OH MY GOD YOU’LL LITERAHLLY HAVE THE BEST YAR EVAR!” and people who have not claim, “like, I’m really f*cking jealous, mate, you get to bunk off uni for a whole yar.” But realistically, they’re pretty smug in the knowledge that they’re returning for another year in the hedonistic education institutions we call our universities.
Being force-fed this information made it doubly difficult to arrive here in Barcelona and spend a week and a half crying spontaneously while walking down the street, getting coffee, and my favourite place, on the Metro. I felt horrible because I felt like I shouldn’t be feeling that way, that I should love every minute and say yes to every opportunity.
But, as I am quickly realising, the Honeymoon Period for Third Year Abroaders is actually closer to myth than reality: I have not spoken to a single person here who has said that they have not had a difficult time settling in. So, I want to share my so-far-secrets that have helped me to get used to living here.
- Do NOT waste your time and energy beating yourself up for having English friends, listening to English music, and watching English TV. Having spent two and a half hours on Friday afternoon in a Production Meeting listening to non-stop, complex, boardroom French, I can safely say that everyone needs a language break.
- That said, capitalise on your connections and try and make as many friends as possible. While its also a great way to spend your time (rather than stalking the Paradise Disco photos, for example), it also makes it more likely for you to meet people that are happy to speak Spanish/French/Italian/German etc etc. Their housemates, boyfriends, aunts and uncles… The more friends, the more potential foreign contacts. Of course, everyone suggests dating a local is the real way to learn a language. (I’m working on it, don’t worry.)
- Spend your time outside. I work in an air-conditioned office for 40-45 hours a week, and all I want to do when I return home is slob on my bed and sleep. While this is all well and good, tiredness often = sadness and loneliness. When these feelings hit, I change out of work clothes, set a timer for 35 minutes, and walk in one direction. When the timer is done, I turn another direction for 20 minutes, then when that timer is done, I work out how to get home. It’s a great way to learn the city (and get lost) but it’s also endorphins = happiness. (Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t!)
- Try and replace crying with laughter when it gets really ridiculous – I had several moments like that during the stresses of house-hunting. Many people have similar experiences – everyone sees airless box rooms with mildew-y bathrooms, and everyone visits at least one (four, if you’re me) stunning flat they can’t afford. There was the time that did a six-floor walk-up with my 18kg suitcase for the landlord to tell me that the room wasn’t available until January. When I finally moved into my flat, I discovered that one of our two fridges didn’t work, and neither did the washing machine. I was regularly brought to tears by my situation. But – the difference between these experiences being dire and them being proper, formative experiences is attributable to the attitude you approach them with. You can’t be positive all the time, but attempt a brave face when circumstances get stupidly bad. Fake it ’til you make it, you know?
- Be kind to yourself. You might be in a foreign city and feeling like you need to take advantage of everything your new home town has to offer, but don’t be ashamed of saying ‘no’, of taking an early night, of preferring to be by yourself sometimes. Personally, after nine hours at work, the last thing I want to do is head out for a drink and attempt to be sociable, and I’m quickly learning that that’s okay: take care of yourself.