5 Things You Need to Do Your First Year Abroad

I have a lot of goals and philosophies that guide the way I lead my life, but they can all be basically summed up by my desire to live life to its fullest and have no regrets. At times this can be a tough order to fill, especially when I reflect on past mistakes. Hindsight vision really is 20/20, but I try to look at these mistakes as an opportunity to learn something and better myself. As the saying goes, experience is life’s greatest teacher… or something like that.

I made some mistakes during my first year living abroad in Spain, but the truth is that I don’t regret most of them. Mistakes, errors, blunders and gaffs are to be expected in life, but the important thing is to learn from them. Now that I am back home with my family and have had time to reflect on my past year, these are some of the mistakes I will surely not make again when I head back to Spain for another year of living abroad.

Live with Spaniards 

I can say this with a clear conscience because the American roommate I did live with this year knows that I absolutely love her, and I thank my lucky stars that she was such a great roommate and friend. My conscience is also clear because I know she felt the same way about our living situation.

One of our main goals while living in Spain was to improve our Spanish skills. Living with a Spaniard would have helped tremendously, but unfortunately in our small town we just couldn’t find anyone to live with that fit our needs. In an ideal world, next year I will live with at least one Spaniard to help immerse myself more in the Spanish culture and one person from any English-speaking country for those days when I’m too tired or frustrated to speak Spanish.


Take smaller trips and explore my area more

I took some big trip this year to Ireland, Italy, Paris and parts of Northern Spain. What I forgot to do, however, was explore my own little corner of the world. There were so many great places just around the corner from me that I didn’t visit simply because they were right there, and I was too busy looking for far away places to visit. Although I’m looking into taking trips to Germany and London this upcoming year, I am also making it my goal to get to know my area of southern Spain like the back of my hand.


Take more pictures

When I spent the summer of 2011 studying in Seville, Spain, I took a million pictures of anything and everything. For me, my “study” abroad program did involve some studying but mostly it felt like a two-month vacation, and vacations are meant to be documented. This year, I thought of my life in Spain as simply my normal life, and I don’t feel the endless need to capture every mundane moment of my life unlike many people in my generation (I swear if I see another selfie of someone in the front seat of their car going to work/the mall/ the beach etc. making the same face they always make just with a different outfit on, I will explode. End rant).

Although I have zero regrets about not taking pictures of every café con leche I drank or every tapa I ate, I do wish I took more pictures of my town and with my friends so I could remember this wonderful year of my life. I’m sure I’ll never forget, but more photo memories would have been nice.


Watch TV in Spanish

 I didn’t have much control over my roommate situation, but I could have made up for all the English I spoke at home by at least watching a ton of TV in Spanish. One of my close friends this year was a Spaniard who spoke English incredibly well and credits some of his ability to watching shows like the Big Bang Theory in English. He constantly implored my roommate and I to watch TV in Spanish, but we didn’t really listen to him. He also told us not to speak to him in English, but that didn’t really happen either. *Sigh* My Spanish skills improved a lot this year, but I still must admit that I really dropped the ball on that goal.

So, next year in addition to religiously following Greys Anatomy, Scandal, Twisted, Teen Wolf, Under the Dome, and Game of Thrones, I will also add some Spanish news programs and a popular Spanish TV series to the list. Please wish me and my time management skills some luck.

Photo via  Sienna Brown

Photo via Sienna Brown

Learn how to cook Spanish food

As I predicted a few months ago, now that I’m back home one of the things I am missing about Spain is the food there. This problem would have had a fairly easy solution had I just taken the time to learn how to cook some traditional Spanish dishes during my 10 MONTHS in Spain. I had plenty of time to do this, but of course I never got around to it. These unquenchable cravings I am now suffering through are my punishment. Lesson learned. I’m getting some Spaniards to teach me a few recipes next time around.


In the grand scheme of life, these mistakes are really not that big of a deal. They’re just a small blip on the radar, but when I look at them collectively, they all scream one conclusion at me: I didn’t make the absolute most of my time in Spain! For me, that is unacceptable. That is an inexcusable and fatal error to not take advantage of every day that I am alive, young and healthy. That is a mistake I refuse to repeat during my next year in Spain or any other year that comes after no matter where I am.


This was originally posted on She Dreams of Travel and republished with author permission on May 5, 2015. 

Jessica Poitevien is an international storyteller, an eternal optimist and a dreamer on a quest to see everything our gorgeous planet has to offer. She's a lover of speaking different languages, trying new foods and talking to strangers. All things she gets through travel. You can follow her mishaps and adventures on her blog, She Dreams of Travel