Back home, I used to walk my dog every morning. This daily routine unconsciously turned into an exercise for reflection. Every day, those 10 minutes became a safe space to dream without boundaries, to acknowledge my feelings, and face my problems. It connected my busy self with my most sensible self.
When I first arrived in Madrid, I was overwhelmed by the dynamics of the new city: all the faces seemed foreign, the places felt unwelcoming, and things seemed to happen way too fast for me to understand them. It was really hard to picture myself reconstructing my conception of home in this new place.
Being new to a city provides you with the opportunity to start from scratch: you have a blank canvas that allows you to improve the uncomfortable labels and experiences you carry from the past; and at the same time it imposes the biggest challenge on your identity.
For those of us who come from abroad, the university experience implies changes that modify our conception of reality. Not only do we change our educational and social environment, but the world we were used to ceases to exist. There is no such thing as the usual grocery store, the trash container is nowhere to be found, and moving from one place to another seems like a puzzle of buses and trains designed to mess with our minds. Simple references have a huge impact on our emotional stability, but we only seem to appreciate them once they’re gone. Especially in moments of despair, all of those small things which we used to hold on to seem to be further than ever.
Every one of us arrives at IE with different expectations and backgrounds. There is a complex scale ranging from excitement and curiosity, to fear and nostalgia that defines each of our experiences: some feel more daring and independent, while others find it essential to look for support from families and friends. However, no matter what our approach to this new life is, each of us faces moments of overwhelming feelings and sabotaging thoughts. It is about those days where the bank visit did not go right, when the grocery bags fell all over the floor on your way back home or a day in which a random pipe breaks – and floods – your apartment. This is when the irony of freedom hits us the hardest: we start to miss the boundaries that made us feel safe. There are times when there are no explanations for our feelings, and yet there are many ways to justify them. As humans, it is about those days in which we simply need a hug.
For all of us foreigners -and not foreigners- let’s remember to embrace how circumstances are teaching us to become more vulnerable, whilst at the same time making us stronger. We are continuously being taught to be humble, cautious, and curious. Differently than most people think, reaching out for help does not make us weaker, but instead strengthens the bonds with those around us. And, opening your heart and releasing your monsters allows greater things to fill the now empty spaces.
For all of us young and lost adults, I encourage us to lift our sights. Enjoy the daily commute, find your dog walk. Your brain needs a safe space in which to go wild. Next time you get off the bus, or exit the metro station, lift your sight. Look at those faces that now seem not so foreign, acknowledge that you are now part of those not so intimidating dynamics. Lift your sight to appreciate the trees that are part of the now familiar routine. Most likely, you have not given yourself the chance to acknowledge everything that has changed about the daily commute. Stop privating yourself of this beautiful growth opportunity. The morning walk to university is my new dog walk. It fills me with joy when I look back at all I did to get here, and when I walk home at night I smile for having a beautiful and safe space to call home. Lift the sight and see how the world around you is applauding everything you have achieved.
Good news is that IE is not only an environment with many people in need of hugs, but also where the best of its kind are given. We understand each other precisely because of how little we know: we connect from our vulnerabilities. The past 7 weeks taught me that strong relationships are not defined by time, but instead by the quality of its people. I could not be more grateful for everything that has arrived to my life during this journey and I can not wait to see what dog walks are waiting for me in my future.