-The Road to Bilbao-

I believe some people just are born with the desire to roam. I knew before I started university that I wanted to study abroad. I never knew where, and at the time I had never traveled internationally. I came from a family that went above and beyond to give me everything I ever wanted. But traveling was not in the budget when I was growing up. So I knew I had to prove how serious I was about studying abroad if I wanted this to happen.

At my freshman orientation at Tennessee Tech University our group leader asked, “What do you guys want to do while in college?” Most of the students answered “study engineering”, “Join a fraternity”, “graduate with a 4.0 GPA.”  I answered “Study Abroad.” To this day my family says I was more focused on that than my actual studies (they aren’t wrong). I told myself I needed to give Tennessee Tech a year or two, to see how I adjust to university life before I try to jump into studying internationally. I assumed during this time I would also figure out what country I would wanted to study in.

My second semester of my freshman year after the homecoming parade my friend and I sat in the campus Starbucks, trying to figure out what language these two exchange students were speaking. I was guessing Portuguese, and assumed the guys were from Brazil. My friend finally went up to them and asked where they were from. The guys told us they were from Spain. Little did I know at the time they were speaking Galician, so Portuguese wasn’t too bad of a guess. I remained friends with the guys until they returned back to Spain that summer. Through our friendship I learned so much about Spain, and was always asking ridiculous questions about their country.

After meeting them I became fascinated with Spain. I guess I had just never thought about that country much at all, nor did I know anything about it. I remember going into the study abroad office and asking if studying in Spain was an option. Unfortunately, at that time Spain wasn’t an option for my major. My infatuation with Spain continued, but I knew I’d have to study somewhere else.

The summer before going into my 3rd year of university I save up money and decide to visit my aunt living in Munich, Germany. I just wanted to prove to myself I could travel alone (somewhat). During that trip I kept telling myself if you don’t message the guys mentioning that you want to see them in Spain you’ll regret it.  I messaged the guys and during the last week of my Europe trip stayed with them for a few days in a small town in Galicia. My friends went above and beyond to show me the Galicia region and introduced me to all of their incredibly kind friends.

I returned to America right before my junior year started absolutely in love with Spain. The walls of my room were covered in the photos from those few days visited. I even had to write a letter to myself for the job I had at the time. Each of us employees were to write about our goals we wanted to accomplish, and were to re-open the letter at the end of the semester. I wrote in my letter “Right now you’re pretty obsessed with Spain. I don’t think this will change any time in the future, so here are some euros because you’re going to be back there soon.” I was a slight bit dramatic in the fact that I actually added about 15 euros in my envelope including the letter.

During this first semester of my Junior year of college I had set my mind on studying a semester in Tasmania. The application process for this university was quite extensive, and I wasn’t in any rush to finish it. The week before the Tasmania application was due I went to the study abroad coordinator to ask what my chances of being accepted to the university were. As this program required a large application fee. She told me that my chances were slim as the the Tasmanian University was quite picky, and there were a large number of applicants. At that moment I assumed I should not waste the money, and maybe studying abroad was not going to happen this far into my years at university. Before I left the study abroad coordinator told me about this new university that just got touch with them about exchange students. As soon as she told me this university was in Spain, I was sold! We checked and they offered the classes necessary for my major. The only problem was that they had never received students from Tennessee Tech before, and the application had to be completed very quickly, in order to go the upcoming semester.

I still remember calling my mom leaving the study abroad office so thrilled about the new opportunity. Although, I had not planned on studying internationally until my senior year of university, I knew I would regret passing up on Spain. Within a week I met with so many professors and deans of the university for signatures and recommendations for my application. To this day I still give so much credit to a few professors that went above and beyond to make sure my application requirements were met.

I remember one night after my application was completed, my mom and I talked on the phone for hours about what would happen if I got accepted. My parents were worried that financially going to Spain may be too much. Although, my parents have always given me everything they could, they have been very open about the fact that we were never very well off financially. Seeing my parents work so hard and still struggle made me feel guilty that I would put a strain on them financially. Yet they had not gotten to travel internationally themselves. While I would have money of my own to spend in Spain, what I did not realize was the amount of money you must show proof of to receive a student visa. While money was a big portion of our phone call that night, some of it was filled with crying at that I’d be away from home for half year. I think the fear of safety for my parents and brother while I was gone was something that had crossed my mind. While it never occurred to me that I’d be the one alone living on a different continent, and how much that worried them. We ended that phone call with me saying, “I feel like this is something I will forever regret giving up.” I knew this was not the answer my parents wanted at the time, and it hurt me so much to tell them that their words did not change how I felt about going to Spain.

I felt almost sick to my stomach the week waiting for my acceptance. Sometimes I wished for it to decline so that I wouldn’t feel the guilt of wanting to go anymore. While I knew deep down I wanted to go, and worked very hard to do so. It was late one night at work and I checked my emails to find a strange email written entirely in Spanish (I didn’t know any Spanish prior to going). I used what would soon because my best friend, Google Translate, and found out I was accepted. I was in such shock! I remember pacing in circles in the office crying tears of joy. I called my parents (waking them up) and told them that I was accepted. My mom replied with “Well, now you’ve got to get that visa.”

 

As I finished up my final exams, I planned as if I was moving to Spain in January. Although, I only told a few people, in fear that I would not get accepted for the student visa. It gave me anxiety to think that I was already accepted, had picked my classes, and was apartment hunting, yet if I didn’t get that visa it was all for nothing. In order for me to get the visa I had to hand in my application at the Spanish Consulate in Houston, Texas. Just before Christmas me and two other students accepted to The University of the Basque Country drove twelve hours to Houston to turn in our visa applications. I soon learned that you will never have all your visa documents, and you will constantly be faxing more paperwork after you leave. On December 27th I finally received my student visa, and now it was time to hurry and book a flight. On January 23rd I left Tennessee for Bilbao, Spain. It’s still all a blur to me as to how all this got accomplished so quickly. Just a few months prior I was looking at the photos of my trip to Spain that summer, not knowing when I’d be able to return. This was absolutely one of those cases where, if you keep pursuing something, it happens when you least expect it.

I have now spent nearly half a year in Bilbao, Spain. To put it simply, living in Spain is more incredible than I ever imagined. The fact that I’m lying awake in my room at 3am due to the noise of the Casco Viejo streets on a Friday may seem like a bother to most, but I’m going to miss it. Everyone studies abroad for different reasons, and they each return with a different experience. I had such high expectations for mine experience, that I was sure I was going to be let down.

Although, life in Spain has been crazy and full of hardships, this place is my home now. I love knowing that I am just a plane ride away from the narrow streets I once got lost in, with my friends looking for a pintxo bar. While I can say nothing but amazing things about Spain, Bilbao, the food, the culture, and it’s people, there are things about this experience that I hate. I hate the fact that in just a few days I have to say goodbye. I hate that I won’t be able to walk along the river at night because I can’t sleep. I hate that I was never told that Spain will slow down your typical American pace, and you learn to take your time with enjoying the everyday things. I hate that I’ve grown accustomed to taking the metro to the beach after classes. I hate that I have met people here that I can’t imagine what life was like before we met. But what I hate most of all, is that I can’t take any of these things with me. Even though this visa will expire, and my exams are over, the friendships and memories don’t end just because distance. Spain, you have won my heart a second time and I hope to return to my second home soon!