Post submitted by Hannah Hull, who studied abroad in Valencia in 2019. Hannah is double majoring in Statistics and Public Relations.
I have always been quite terrible at following advice; the words roll right off my back and don’t stick until I have learned my lesson. Since my acceptance into the study abroad program, I had honed my energy into shoveling Spanish customs and culture to the front of my memory and carving the ins-and-outs of the Valencian alleys onto the backs of my eyelids. I didn’t stop to take a breath until I realized I couldn’t breathe; all of my airways were blocked with the sludge of travel and struggling to function in a new environment. I didn’t truly take time to reflect on my mother’s precautionary tale about illness susceptibility on airplanes until I was alone in a foreign place with fire ants in my throat and tears in my eyes. Catching a sickness within my first few nights of long-awaited exploration hit like a wrecking ball to my self-esteem and flooded my thoughts with regret.
Homesickness, the emotion I wrongly believed I was invincible from, crawled up my body and wound tightly around my heart. I couldn’t tell where the physical pain of swallowing needles ended and the mental pain of yearning for my mom to brew me echinacea tea with extra honey began.
I grew up fiercely independent. At the age of two, I taught myself how to pick child locks – then, the doors of the world creaked open a little further. By sixteen, I had donned my barista apron, and wouldn’t take it off until I packed my bags and moved halfway across the world.
Despite my headstrong behavior, I knew I could always fall back on my mom’s support. When I was ill as a child or an adult, she would do anything in her power to help me recover. Laying in my dormitory bed as my new roommates prepared for the first night of chupitos and celebraciones, the little moments of maternal comfort came bubbling to the surface of my memory. From passing out during ballet practice all the way to strep throat senior year of high school, my family was the grounding force that cared for me and nudged reminders that letting my guard down was okay.
Due to my developing throat infection, I could only roam the streets of Valencia in my fever dreams. My deflated energy and raging cough took the thrill out of my new home very fast. I chose to hide in my apartment from every activity, purely focusing on how terrible I felt both inside and out. This self-inflicted quarantine was sabotaging my new experiences.
A week into my sickness I had begun to recover physically, however, my mental health was still in shambles. With each item I added to my list of reasons for missing home, I spiraled further down the rabbit hole. I had spent months prior pondering what kind of person my study abroad experience would make me; which personality traits would pave my path, and which would get left in the dust of adolescence. The further I receded into myself, the further I was getting from the bold person I had envisioned.
Seeking a moment of serenity before the hectic night ahead, my roommate and I watched the sun set over the Torres de Serranos. Perched on the side of the ancient bridge, dollar-store wine glasses in hand, we absorbed Flamenco music in the distance as the last rays of warmth disappeared behind pink clouds. Once the sun had fully set, I swallowed my pride and liquid courage and opened up about how heavy my heart had been feeling. I relaxed as the snake of homesickness unwound from my lungs and I took my first unrestricted breath since walking off the tarmac. All of my dammed-up thoughts flooded out as the weight of silence and sickness lifted off my spine.
We talked about everything under the sun. In a past life, I would have been a milk-maid near the coast of the English countryside, and she would have been a flapper during the peak of the roaring twenties. Albóndigas and tiburones are our favorite Spanish words so far. Both of our summer romances ended in flames, so we made a pact to focus on purely ourselves with unabashed confidence throughout our year in Europe.
I have always been quite terrible at following advice, but the lessons I’ve learned since arriving in Valencia have stuck like honey despite the bittersweet taste. What I lost in weight and mental fortitude during my sickness, I gained back in perspective, emotional strength, and a cabinet stocked with echinacea to share.
For more information about our study abroad programs, visit international.fsu.edu.