I’m absolutely, entirely, totally flabbergasted that my time volunteering in Spain is coming to a close. I promise I’m not exaggerating when I say that this experience has changed my life for the better. I feel like I’ve matured more in these past few months than I have in the last 22 years of my life (okay, I know this is almost certainly untrue, but I’m going to be dramatic here because I can be). Volunteering abroad forces you to examine the privileges you have back in your home country. You become the anomaly in a foreign setting. You have to expand your personal bubble. You are forced to begin “adulting” (even though “adulting” is a social construct and you should just never grow up although you also should… I’m just gonna stop there).
But instead of writing about redundant topics like “self-growth” or “self-discovery” abroad, I would like to share a few tips for preparing for your time abroad that are not as commonly known. I think this will be a tad more helpful, rather than reading a blog that appears more like the diary entry of an overly-emotional post-teenager exposing all of her sappy emotions. But I digress.
The Adjustment Period Will Take a Bit
I can imagine you all have heard the stories about jet-leg: the sleepless nights, the craving for cereal at 3:00 a.m., etc. However, it’s not really what you think it is (sadly, you do not become a vampire who lives by the moon). Jet-leg actually just makes you tired all of the time. And you will feel this fatigue pretty much all day e’ery day for the first week or two. Try your best to force your body to stay awake until the moon rises and the real vampires come out of hiding. Don’t give in every single time your body cries for sleep. Tough it out. Be a warrior. Also, in addition to that exhaustion, your tummy will probably be angry with you for switching up your meal times as well as your dietary intake. Go easy on your stomach during the first couple of weeks. In summary: Prepare for your tummy to be grumpy and for your teeth to remain fangless.
Be Prepared to WALK (And Load up on that Nivea Cream)
Once upon a time, a girl believed that when her friend invited her to walk to a beach in Northern Spain they would only be walking for a few hours. 34 miles and 2 days later, her feet were dead. Her body was dead. She was me, and I was dead (Although, honestly, I don’t imagine you would be as oblivious as I was and only pack a pair of slip-on eccos and not take the time to look up the distance between Santiago de Compostela and the ocean).
Even if you do not plan to blindly embark on the Camino de Santiago, you should still prepare your feet for lots and lots of walking. On an average day, I will walk at least 3 miles. If you want to go to the store, WALK. If you want to visit the ducks in the park, WALK. If you want to go people watch, WALK. I never thought I’d look up directions, find out my location was a 1.6 mile walk, and say, “oh, that’s not bad at all!” But I did, and I do. And you will, too.
To thank my feet for all of my hard work, I have discovered a beautiful, wonderful, angelic thing called Nivea Cream. Live by this magic. Your feet will be eternally grateful.
Travel with Others, AND Travel Alone
Most of my time in Spain consisted of weekend trips with other friends from CIEE, as well as some friends I have over here in Europe. I am very much a people-person and therefore wanted to share my adventures with others. However, even if you are like me and are confident that traveling alone won’t be your cup of tea, YOU SHOULD STILL TRAVEL ALONE. For at least one weekend, make the trek solo. You learn so much about yourself and also what you are capable of when you travel by yourself. My solo adventure was in Barcelona, and while it would have been nice to sing Cheetah Girls with someone in Parque Guell, I am so proud of myself for making that trip alone. Strut like you mean it, because you are a strong, independent human who don’t need no travel partner (at least for one trip).
Consider a Snack Stash
Maybe you aren’t like me and don’t have the munchies and only need your three meals a day to get by. But I am the type of person that frequently has the munchies and needs some snacky-snacks throughout my day. I recommend going to a store nearby by yourself and getting small items that you can much on throughout the day. You could even buy yourself some gummy snacks for your weekend Netflix movie marathons/TV binges (when you are not traveling, of course). While your family is only technically required to feed you two meals a day, from what I’ve experienced and heard from my other CIEE friends, they often feed you all three meals. OBVIOUSLY THIS COULD BE DIFFERENT FOR YOU. Therefore, I feel like buying some snacks just for myself for the moments when I get hungry throughout the day is better than raiding my family’s pantry when the tummy gets needy. But hey, maybe it’s just me and my very aggressively demanding tum-tum.
Pictures are Great, But Live in the Moment
This one is pretty self-explanatory, so I will simply say this: You want to remember this trip, so take some pictures of the places you go and the people you see! But don’t live behind your phone. Don’t try to capture every moment when some scenes are too beautiful to capture on film. Instead, breathe in the air of your surrounding and soak it all in.
I suppose that's all the advice I can impart on you all. Thanks for reading. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for rocking the world.