College 101 Dedicated Feature Life

This is why you should study abroad – I went to Madrid

I’ve always been a little hesitant and unsure of myself. When I started telling people that I planned on studying abroad for the Fall 2019 semester in Madrid, I could tell that they were worried. I mean, how was I going to survive alone? I wasn’t fluent in Spanish, I didn’t know anyone else that was in my program, and I don’t exactly have a plethora of common sense – I’m more book-smart. I think that part of it was that they didn’t want me to get my hopes up. Studying abroad could be a really great experience or a really terrible one, and there wasn’t room for anything in between. 

But, I was determined to prove them wrong. I always have been. Ever since I was little I’ve always felt that people saw my capabilities as one-sided. I could do this but never that. To me, it seemed like an expectation thing. No one expected me to be so independent and sturdy, especially when I appeared in front of them as fragile or sensitive.

The truth is that I had never been given the chance to prove myself in this capacity. The second that I took too long or wasn’t doing something precisely the way that someone else would, they took over. And, as a result, I became apprehensive, kind of shy, and extremely nervous. 

However, it turns out that I was right. I had been largely independent all along, and studying abroad was a great idea. I slowly realized that I could do anything I set my mind to, even this, all the while holding on tightly to my emotional tendencies. I learned a lot about myself while basking in the Mediterranean sun. 

During my time in Madrid, I met people and made connections in ways that are indescribable. I don’t know if it is because I finally found myself in a situation in which I was free from implicit restraints and boundaries or if I became a product of my surroundings. But, I am sure of at least one thing, that being that I was entering a moment in which I was young enough to still have the ignorant belief that nothing mattered, but also wise enough to know that everything mattered much more than it had ever before. There were so many things, and so many people, clawing at me and insisting for my attention, and I finally let go.

For the first time I acknowledged the positivism of this sweet, even blissful, point in my life—one that I may never get again. So, I gave in to the extremities. In doing so, the whole world opened up. I found security in empathy, I learned about ambition, self-awareness, and I felt genuine longing for the first time. I spent days dancing in streets that were once touched by Goya, Ernest Hemingway, and Velasquez. I read poems by Pablo Neruda on the metro and I ate TONS of churros con chocolate.

What I found to be the most pivotal about my experience in Madrid, though, would be living in a home-stay. This is where I spent the most time, had the most laughs, and learned the most about myself. The day after landing in Madrid I met my host family and moved into their home. While they didn’t speak any English at all, and whatever Spanish I did know I forgot the second I opened my mouth, we managed to work through it. 

I knew I wanted to build a relationship with them, but before I could do that, I had to conquer my own confidence battle. I had to remind myself that yes, they were strangers with whom I would be living with for months, but I was also a stranger to them. Frankly, we were all in the same boat. Eventually, I got used to their habits, learned their family traditions, and studied their culture until I felt like I belonged there. They made me feel like I was as much a Madrileño as they are.

At dinner, my host parents would always ask about my day, my classes, and if I was up to anything fun. On the weekends, they would recommend countless restaurants or art museums to my friends and I, and then ask me if I liked it the next day. They even comforted me when I felt overwhelmed or insecure. What I appreciated the most, however, is that they actually listened to my stories, which I am sure that I told in broken Spanish, and always seemed interested.

We really grew to love and care for one another. In those four short months I am sure that they watched me grow exponentially. I truly became myself and started to feel comfortable in my own skin. Plus, I came out being able to speak and communicate in Spanish light-years beyond my ability from when I first arrived in Madrid. 

My memories from this time in my life are whole, and they always will be whole. I’m finally able to show off my independence and I’m never turning back. This just goes to show that a little bit of introspection and determination could go a long way. Of course, I was scared to be alone and so far away but I knew that it was what I needed.  Once I convinced myself to just rip off the band-aid my possibilities for personal growth became endless.

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

Politics The World

In the midst of the migrant crisis, I’ve found a hero

I had dinner alone today, sitting in an empty house eating  pasta as I flicked through the channels on TV, idly thinking that my situation was the worst on Earth.

Then the screen was flooded with images of the thousands of refugees trying to reach, in any way possible, Europe and so escape from their war-torn countries.

I was there, eating. Eating food that I like and that I chose from my kitchen.

I was sitting on a chair, with my plate on a table, and watching TV, with a roof on top of my head and sipping on cold mineral water I just took out from the fridge. But still I was complaining.

Those heart-wrenching images came on in a stream. There were babies crying holding their mothers, men and women destroyed by such a long travel on a boat, that wasn’t made for so many people. I wondered if they and their children had even eaten a half-decent meal since the wars began in their countries.

Right now there are thousands and thousands of people escaping from countries like Syria, Afghanistan,  Eritrea, and many others, everyday. They are risking everything to reach Europe. Many of them died while fighting for this hope – but I won’t be speaking about this, because there are so many people who can do it better and can tell direct stories from the ones who endured all this.

I want to talk about hope.

Because in the midst of all this chaos and tragedy, there is still hope.

Everyday on newspapers we read racist comments of those who want the migrants sent back home because they don’t want their countries to become “dirty.” We see the inefficiency of the institutions who should be helping the refugees. We see the criminal organizations robbing and taking advantage of the migrants, and a lot more horrible things – but still, someone out there is doing the right thing.
Those people give me hope.

Like all the Macedonian citizens who created a Facebook group to try to help the thousands of migrants desperate to reach Europe in any way they could. Macedonia, a little country in the Balkans, is definitely not a rich country. The medium salary is about 340€ or $380, unemployment is high, and prices are higher.

But none of this stopped Lence Zdravkin, the Macedonian woman who opened her home to the immigrants walking near the railroad by her house. She offered them as much support as she could, and soon volunteers started to help bringing her food, water, clothes and more resources that helped this amazing woman with what she’s doing.

These people are doing their best to save the migrants from the criminals who could rob them of the few possessions they still have, or even kidnapping them for organ and human trafficking. I wish that were really an exaggeration – but we’ve seen several reports of robberies on migrants, and the situation is likely much more severe than we know since these migrants are terrified to go to police. Migrants are basically ghosts. They leave their countries and travel without anyone knowing their identity, so no one would notice their absence. They’re easy targets for criminals.

But people are moving. They try to help.

Volunteers from local NGOs like LEGIS and NUN try to help daily. Twice a week HERA, using a mobile intervention station, offer free gynecological visits. The Red Cross and UNCHR are all focused on this crisis, where the migrants must be helped before they end up in the wrong hands.

The fact that now NGOs are helping doesn’t mean Lence stopped with her efforts or slowed down. She runs from place to place to help and even forgets about herself. And after such a fulled period, such a stressful one  she still finds the strength to smile. She smiles to everyone and in each photo I’ve seen she has that beautiful smile that gives you a sense of peace.

She quickly became a modern hero to me. And even more when I saw that everywhere in Macedonia, people are trying to follow her example by going to stations and helping the migrants, even if all they can offer is a bottle of water.

Like my friend Mariangela, who takes her little daughters to the Skopje central station, so in their own little way, they can do something to help the migrants suffering, and they will grow up knowing that helping others is the most important thing of all.

But you can find these simple gestures, also in other places touched by the migrants crisis.

Like in Milan, where volunteers decided to help the migrants stuck in the Central Station after being turned away from other European countries and sent back there. Those people are doing what they can to help, bringing food, diapers for the babies, clothes, soaps and everything else. All this just by their own will to help others.

Like the little girl in Ventimiglia, an Italian city on the border with France, who donated candies to those she saw suffering.

Like the many families across Europe who are opening their homes to house refugees in needs.

Those gestures I’m talking about maybe won’t change the world immediately, like the end of all wars would, but they mean a lot.

They mean that there’s still hope for humanity. They mean that we didn’t all get transformed into the capitalistic monsters, craving each day for more money, we hear about. But mostly they mean that someone out there is growing the next generations with the rights values. The love for humanity ones and maybe one day we won’t need to write like this. We won’t need to talk about hope, because we won’t have to live in terrible times like this, we will have learned to not do wars. This might be just something I see and never become true, but it’s what gives me the strength to wake up everyday and try to do something for this so called hopeless world.

There is still hope and it is the light we need in those dark moments.