The First Time I Traveled Solo

Going abroad alone at 18 after my freshman year of college was something I had been looking forward to forever. So, in the summer of 2017, I found a 6-week summer internship program in Madrid through the amazing The Intern Group. Being a huge fan of the city as well as the soccer team of Real Madrid, I was thrilled to finally visit the place I had been dreaming of visiting for years. I can honestly say that I have nothing negative to say about the experience and I learned so much from the 6 weeks I spent in my now favorite city.

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Palacio Real, Madrid

Early impressions…

Because my mom is Japanese, she would take my two siblings and I to Japan every summer for a month where we would live with my grandma. Besides these Japanese adventures, my parents also loved to take our family to cool destinations in Europe, so I was really lucky to be able to travel a lot since I was young.

But, the first thing I realized when I arrived in Madrid last June was that traveling solo was way different than traveling with my family. The first encounter I had in Spain was with a really nice driver that was going to take me from the airport to my apartment in Chamberí, a beautiful neighborhood in Madrid. Although I took years of Spanish classes, I felt completely unprepared and unexpectedly embarrassed to speak Spanish with a native Spanish person. Although at the time I was mortified that the driver didn’t speak any English, now I see that this was the best possible way to start being comfortable speaking Spanish; I literally had no other choice and I only had myself to rely on.

Before traveling to Madrid, I was not intimidated or worried at all about traveling alone. But, to my surprise, I did have a day or two in the first week where I actually wished I was home in New York with my friends who were all hanging out and working together. Even though I was in my dream city of Madrid, I did have tiny moments of FOMO in the beginning, but they quickly disappeared after the first week.

The best 6 weeks…

Despite my early nerves, I became completely comfortable and at home after a week in Madrid. Through my internship program, I met some of my best lifelong friends who made the summer that much better (who I keep in touch with!). We all shared a passion for traveling as well as Spanish culture, and it was amazing to befriend people from all over the world.

Everyday, I looked forward to going to the office to see my hilarious co workers and loved spending the evenings with friends at tapas restaurants, eating churros or just walking around Retiro park. Weekends were spent walking along Gran Vía, touring soccer stadiums or traveling to other Spanish cities like Valencia or Barcelona. And the best part… I got to be in Madrid when my team, Real Madrid, won the Champions League; needless to say, I was ecstatic and celebrated in Cibeles alongside fellow Madridistas. Long story short, I loved every single minute that I was in Madrid and would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

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Weekend trip to Toledo, Spain

Looking back at Madrid…

At the end of my 6 weeks in Madrid, I was devastated; I wanted nothing more than to stay in Madrid forever with my amazing co workers and new friends. Unfortunately, I had to get back to school, but the trip had a permanent impact on my perspective and my personal goals and aspirations.

After my time in the Spanish capital, my passion for traveling alone and meeting people strengthened more than ever and became my #1 passion in life. This experience influenced my decision to intern in Munich, Germany the next summer as well, which was another incredible time. Before this trip, I had been uncertain of whether I wanted to attend graduate school or what professional career I wanted to pursue. From my time in Madrid, I know for certain that after graduating from my university in New York, I will move to Europe (probably Spain or Germany!) to get my MBA and find a permanent job.

Tips for preparing for an international journey…

To someone that was about to embark on a similar trip like mine to Madrid, I would give them this advice:

  1. Learn the language before and during your stay. Before going to Madrid, I watched shows like “El Internado” and “Club de Cuervos” which taught me more Spanish than any high school course or even my college Spanish class. But, my biggest regret is that I didn’t speak as much Spanish while actually in Spain; I would speak simple Spanish but when it was a little complicated, I often resorted to English which is something I really wish I didn’t do. If you force yourself to speak solely the language in the city you are going to, you will learn it much faster.
  2. Be an extrovert. I have always considered myself an extrovert for the most part, and that really helped me out. On the first day of our program orientation, I spoke to as many people as I could and even though it was intimidating as I was the youngest one by 2-3 years in the program, it paid off because I met some of the best people in my life. On another note, definitely try to interact with the locals as they know their city the best and I loved hearing their advice on what to do in the city. It’s definitely a good idea: my Madridian coworker told me about an exhibition game in the Santiago Bernabéu (Real Madrid’s stadium!) that I would have never known about without her help.
  3. Keep an open mind and be respectful. I remember when I travelled to Valencia and overheard some English speakers in a restaurant insulting items on the menu like octopus or horse meat in a loud manner. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion but to insult the culture of a city that you are traveling to is incredibly disrespectful. If you’re uncertain about a certain food or custom, try it! Or, if you definitely don’t agree or like an aspect of the culture, keep it to yourself and enjoy the many things you do like! Just always be respectful.
  4. Take advantage of the time you have, and don’t be afraid to do things alone. Before traveling, I was someone that liked to do everything with friends. But, while I was in Barcelona, I decided to tour the FC Barcelona stadium, Camp Nou, on my own as my friends were uninterested. I was a little nervous beforehand that I would not have as much fun or I would get judged if I went alone but I was completely wrong; it was amazing to be able to tour such an iconic place for soccer fans, and I even made some new friends with the other tourists. My advice would be to do everything you want to do while you have the chance, even if you have to do it alone and step out of your comfort zone.

If anyone is considering traveling, studying, or working abroad, I would recommend it 11 out of 10 times. No other experience has had such an amazing impact on my life and I cannot wait for my future international experiences to come. 🙂

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