Now that we’re a few weeks into summer, the typical cache of “Look, I’m abroad!” photos have begun to circulate across various forms of social media. While I may have found this annoying last year, now I can’t help but relish in it—probably because I’m now a part of it. Six days ago, I packed my bags and took off for my own adventure abroad through Duke’s Intensive Spanish in Alicante program. Since I’m not going abroad in the Fall, I felt compelled to spend my summer doing all the abroad-y things that my peers will be doing during the coming semester while I’m in Duke in Durham. Plus, I have zero foreign language credits so I figured I should probably get started on that. Located right along the Mediterranean, Alicante is a relatively small city in southeast Spain where young locals and American college students run rampant. In other words, six weeks of sun, fun and general debauchery (plus a grueling course load).
To be honest, I didn’t approach the trip with much foresight, which seems to be a common motif in my life, but that’s a topic for another column. I assumed I would partake in the common American-college-student-abroad clichés: learn a new language, take advantage of the lower legal drinking age and radically transform the quality of my profile picture. Other than that, I largely shelved the concept back in January when I found out I had been accepted into the program and never really revisited it. And so, consequently, despite my generic excitement to be in Europe, I had not at all contemplated what to expect when I arrived.
It didn’t register that unlike a lot of popular tourist places, most people in Alicante don’t speak English and rely solely on Spanish. Coincidently, I don’t speak any Spanish and have long considered myself bilingually challenged, much to the shame of my Mexican ethnicity. I didn’t consider that I would be living not with my peers but with a random host family whom I had never met before and who would also inevitably speak only Spanish. Nor did I really think about the fact that I only knew two people in my program, so if I ended up hating everyone, it was going to be a rough month and a half. In essence, this had the possibility of being an extremely lonely, isolating and linguistically stressful experience. I did, however, finally consider these and a million other worries and logistical concerns right about the time I boarded my flight to Alicante.
I like to consider myself a relatively paranoid individual—I am constantly aware of the multitude of different ways my life could physically and metaphorically spiral downwards into destruction and desolation. It’s a gift, really. At school, there’s a certain level of monotony that naturally accompanies each day and so these fears are largely subdued and masked by the comfort of normalcy. But by going abroad, that sense of security is shattered. Everything is new and exciting and different. Other than four hours of class in the morning, I don’t know what I’m going to do tonight or tomorrow or what my options even are. I think most people go abroad to capture that sense of adventure, to experience something new, because as amazing as home may be, there is still that unrelenting inkling for something more. Abroad allows for an extended escape when, for whatever reason, life as we know it just isn’t cutting it.
Update: it has been six days and I’m happy to report that I am still alive. I haven’t been mugged, pick pocketed or kidnapped like that chick from “Taken.“ My life choices have been relatively solid and I am not completely useless in terms of my Spanish speaking abilities. I have even made friends. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got here, but even if I had tried to imagine it I don’t think I would have been able to do the experience justice.
Here’s to the next five and a half weeks.
Michelle Menchaca is the Editorial Pages Managing Editor and a Trinity junior. This is her first column in a biweekly series during the summer.