Saying goodbye and going through periods of change is always difficult. Studying abroad is like living in this sandwich of big changes and big goodbyes, with a bunch of amazing experiences in between. Two months may be short, but it’s enough for cities, for people, to sink their hooks into you. The last week I have spent wandering the streets of Córdoba (in between studying for finals, of course) and soaking up as much as I can from this place. As I have reflected on my time in Córdoba, my travels throughout Spain, and my whole experience here, I leave you with these 5 lessons, thoughts, and recollections.

1. Be open.

This sounds really corny and obvious but it’s honestly one of the best things about traveling and being in a new place. Some of the best moments I’ve had in Spain have been striking up conversations with strangers, in the library or in a hostel. In my experience, people Spain (and especially Andalucía) are really friendly and welcoming to foreigners. Many Spanish students are studying English and looking for chances to practice, so they would just start talking to me if they heard me speaking English! I really enjoyed having these conversations with locals. Traveling and staying in hostels is also a great opportunity to meet people from all over the world. You may be traveling with your friends from your program, but make sure to take advantage of hostel culture and talk to people! First of all, the people who work in hostels are usually young travelers who work in return for free room and board. They will usually know the city fairly well, so ask them for recommendations! And there are so many different people staying at hostels as well. I met a mom and her daughter, a guy biking from Amsterdam to Southern Spain, and other study abroad students from America and London.

These may not be lasting relationships you make, but their amazing little slices of what it’s like to travel, to open yourself to new people and new experiences. In a similar vein, be open to spontaneity in general. Planning out your day is helpful, especially when you’re traveling, but make sure to leave some time to just let the day unfold. Some of the best moments I have had in Spain have been unplanned.

A lot of potential new friends await you everywhere…

And no matter what you’ll have your friends from your program!

2. Take time for yourself.

Studying abroad comes with this whole new group of friends, who have a similar background to you. On top of that you have so many shared experiences and you are all going through this experience together. You also have a host family, maybe an intercambio and some local friends. Oh, and studying! There’s a lot going on and a lot of people to experience it with. For most of my program I was always doing things with other people, exploring Córdoba or another city with my friends in the program. I really enjoyed those shared experiences – but by the end I realized I was really craving some alone time. I started to seek out quiet moments, moments where it was just me. I took out my headphones and looked around. And by doing so, I noticed so much more and had more time to just think and feel. Some of my best memories are from times with other people – and now I also have memories from times spent alone. One of the most important things I learned while abroad was how to take more time to be alone with myself and my surroundings.

Take time to wander, you never know what you’ll find.

3. Ask for and accept help.

Being in a foreign country, there are so many things that you just won’t know. You might not know where to buy shampoo, or if you have to print out your train ticket before you get to the station, or where the locals go to eat. Especially if you are learning a new language, it can be scary to ask for advice. You can probably figure out most things on the internet anyways, right? Ok, some things you can, but a lot of the time you’ve got to ask someone. In my UCEAP program I had a wealth of people who could help me with things like this – our program coordinator, my professors, and my host family. These people know the city you’re in a lot better than you and they want to help you! So let them. The same is true when you’re traveling – people in hostels are almost always really helpful. Being open to accepting help will make your life easier and your time better spent.

4. Make yourself available to your host family (if you have a host family).

My expectation of what it would be like to live with a host family was definitely different than the reality. I expected that we would do a lot more “Spanish” things, in a way I expected them to be like my informal tour guides of Córdoba. What I learned is that host families are normal people with normal lives, and so they didn’t have a ton of free time to do a lot of things with me. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, and my family did still do things with me, as well as introduce me to their friends and family. I realized that if I really wanted to do something, it was more likely to happen if I asked about it. Another aspect of this is to spend time at home, especially some weekends. Obviously weekends are a great time to travel, but I’m really grateful I spent some of my weekends in Córdoba. Not only did this allow me to explore Córdoba, but it also gave me more opportunities to do things with my host family.

This hike with my host family & friends took a few tries to plan, and it was so worth it!

5. Record your experience.

When I started my program, I told myself I was going to keep a journal during my time here in Córdoba. Unfortunately, I am really bad at consistently writing in a journal, and so that didn’t really happen. I did write a number of times, but I would have liked to write more. However, I did take a lot of pictures and videos, and writing this blog helped me keep a sort of journal during my program. Studying abroad is full of so many wonderful experiences that you will want to remember. You may also find yourself changing as a person during your program, and that is valuable to be able to record.

There was a group of cats that lived in an empty lot near my house, and I photographed them whenever I could. These cats are one of the many things I will miss about Córdoba!

I hope that if you can study abroad, you will. I have learned so much, grown as a student and person, and made amazing friends during my time in Córdoba and Spain overall. ¡Hasta luego España!

Celia Cody-Carrese studied abroad in Cordoba, Spain, in Winter 2017: