I can already tell that this is going to be an incredibly cheesy post, and I've only written the title.
I've been thinking a lot recently about the importance of friendships-creating them, balancing them, and maintaining them. Right now, my friends are divided into three distinct categories. There are my friends from the US, people I've known for years and am really close to; my other exchange student friends, who know what I'm going through better than anyone else; and my Spanish friends, who I haven't known for very long and still have some trouble communicating with. When the other two groups are so appealing, I often find it pretty hard to choose to hang out with my Spanish friends. I know plenty of people who don't often put in the effort to talk to and, more importantly (and more difficult), spend time with Spaniards outside of school, and I can honestly see why. Let's face it: being an exchange student is hard. Harder than you could ever imagine. Sometimes, you do really need a break. That's why I do spend time with my American friends, doing things like the Color Run, getting breakfast at places that sell "American" food (you won't realize how much you love pancakes until they're gone), and doing the touristy things I know my Spanish friends would have no interest in. I always feel totally at ease, and the moments I spend with them are definitely some of my favorites.
Despite this, I know that I came to Spain for a reason, and only hanging out with Americans is neither improving my Spanish nor making the most of this experience. At first, it was incredibly hard for me to find true friends and feel like I could be myself. I've spent every year since kindergarten in the same school with the same 120 kids, so I've never had to add myself to a preexisting social group in English, let alone in Spanish. This made it especially hard for me to feel comfortable at first, but I finally hit my swing and, after a period of trial and error, found Spanish friends that I really feel like I can be myself around, even if it isn't in my own language. I obviously hang out with my Spanish friends most during school, but I've been putting in a concerted effort to see them on the weekends too. I even Skyped one of my Spanish friends last night, even though he lives about 5 minutes away (this is a lot harder to do than you would expect, since you have to carry on a real conversation for an extended period of time without interruptions like other people). Sometimes it's hard and I feel like I'm being pushy about making plans, but I have to remember that it's normal to not see your friends as much outside of school here, and that they normally don't perceive me in the same way.
This brings me to the last category: friends back in the US. Somehow, this is both the easiest and hardest group to manage. It's hard because of the time difference, the problem with scheduling, and the fact that I sometimes feel like I'm neglecting them. It's easy because these are some of the people I know best (and who know me best), and I know that our friendships aren't going to change or deteriorate just because I'm away. I schedule regular Skype calls with them, and I make sure to heavily advertise this blog so that they can keep up to date on my life even when we don't have time to call each other. :)
I also managed to do this incredible thing to link my friend groups, and that is Skyping my Spanish class back in the US with some of my friends from here. It was really great to share more about myself, and to show my friends back home just how hard it is to actually understand people here (at least at first)! I highly recommend it to anyone studying abroad, and I'm going to try to do it again in a month or so.
I've been living in Spain for almost 2 months now, and it's starting to feel like I've been here for much longer. My friends are a huge part of that. I'm constantly amazed at how much they care about me (from deliberately asking my questions about differences in America to offering to lend me long uniform pants for gym class since it's getting cold and I don't have my own pair), and I am so glad I found them. They're making it feel like 5 months is not nearly long enough! That being said, I do really miss my American friends, and it will be great to see them in person again. It's easy to forget how many jokes and memories you have with someone until you're 4,000 miles away and see something that reminds you of them. But every day I get to make new memories with the incredible people I never would have met if I hadn't decided to study abroad. It may be the hardest thing I've ever done, but that doesn't mean it isn't also the most important and rewarding.
I came into the program with a relatively high level of Spanish for a non-native speaker, but I can tell that my Spanish has really improved and I feel much... keep reading