When you spend time abroad, it’s both essential and inevitable that you make friendships that will last a lifetime. After I realized living with a host family wasn’t the best option for me, I happened to meet a Spanish woman who took me under her wing.
It all started on the night my fellow UK classmate, Rebecca Clements, arrived in Getafe, Madrid in August 2014. We decided to explore around the University of Carlos III, because it was Rebecca’s first day in Madrid and we had no idea where to go, what to do, or where to eat. We ended up at a local bar/tapas, “cervecería”, beside the residence hall called El Eskinazo. Little did we know, it was a popular spot for students to gather after class. A server offered us a menu in English when he overheard our conversation; we wanted to try to read the menu in Spanish, but failed. A man and a woman sitting beside us saw we were having trouble understanding certain food items and offered to help. The four of us started chatting and ended up wandering around town together for the next few hours.
That’s how I first met Tania.
Over the next couple of days, Tania invited me out to meet her friends when she realized I was feeling a little lonely because classes had not yet started and I only knew one person there. She lived right beside the university in an apartment and had an extra room available so she invited me to live with her for the rest of the semester abroad. I said “yes” without even knowing her too well, but it ended up being one of the best decisions I made abroad.
Growing up, I never knew what it was like to have an older sister, but luckily I do now. Tania made me feel like I was a part of her family; she took me on trips to Mérida, Toledo, as well as to the hidden gems around Madrid that I would never have seen if it weren’t for her. I learned more about Spain- their culture, food, and way of life through her eyes that I was never able to do by reading a textbook. I learned about Spanish traditions such as the 12 grapes on New Years Eve and tried new things I never would have even considered in the U.S. such as squid, pan con tomate (bread with tomato), octopus, and even snails! There was never a dull moment between us, and now I constantly miss singing our song, “oh mama mia, he’s italiano” on our nights out.
Not only was she there for me in fun, she was also there through every other step of my time abroad. When I was feeling homesick, upset, or troubled in any kind of way, she was always there for comfort and to watch Friends in English with Spanish subtitles so we could both enjoy the show. Even when I couldn’t find the right words to say in Spanish to describe the way I was feeling, she somehow always knew exactly how I felt.
There’s no doubt in my mind that I was supposed to meet Tania that evening at Eskinazo. When I first returned to Lexington, it was hard to adjust to not having her as a roommate. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for her loyalty, kindness, guidance and friendship. I hope that everyone who plans to go abroad finds his/her own Tania and is able to experience the country where they’re studying, teaching, doing service, interning or conducting research through a natives eyes.
Photo and written by: Ashtin Morgan
Ashtin is an Education Abroad Peer Ambassador studying Journalism and Spanish. She is a Junior and participated in the UK Exchange Carlos III program in Madrid, Spain