Having friends to stay: a glimmer of normality

I’m into my second week in Santiago de Compostela and my time here is, so far, shaping up rather nicely. My suspicions about my flatmates being total babes have turned out to be correct, the city itself is super cute, I only work about 20 (twenty!) hours a week, and, best of all, I’ve actually managed to meet some people my own age. Working for ESN has meant that opportunities to meet Erasmus students here are abundant. I can take part in any/all of the activities and trips run by the organisation that I want – there’s a trip to Morocco at the beginning of June that, bank balance permitting, I’ll be first in line to sign up for – and, additionally, most of the other people who “work” for the organisation (I use inverted commas because it’s run entirely by volunteers, quite a feat in itself) are students too. Life in a certain French château this is not: I’m not made to feel like anyone’s inferior and blame is rarely apportioned to anyone. As far as unpaid internships go, I think I got fairly lucky with this one.

Some highlights of other things I’ve done so far: went on a guided tour of the roof (?!) of the cathedral; discovered the famous tarta de Santiago (spoiler: it’s delicious); went to a language exchange, run by ESN, in a very swanky bar; and took part in ESN’s International Dinner, in which teams prepare some food typical of their country and then award points to other teams in a Eurovision-style voting system. Turns out that there aren’t many Brits here; my team consisted of just one other person, Catherine, who approached me at aforementioned language exchange and proposed entering the competition together. Amazingly, our offering of finger sandwiches, cream teas, Eton mess, and sausage rolls (along with vegetarian alternatives) impressed the other teams enough for us to come second! Considerably better than the UK usually does in Eurovision.

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Any Brit’s staple diet. Obviously.

However, the best thing that has happened so far in Santiago was having a friend from Oxford, Lizzie, come to visit. It was so much fun – and made more exciting by the fact that this was her first time in Spain! – and having her here gave me an excuse (as if I needed another) to play the tourist in my new temporary home. We went out for many a coffee (always accompanied by the obligatory chats) and had a fabulous vegan lunch; having eaten hummus everyday in Granada, its presence on the menu came as somewhat of a relief (and I’m only exaggerating a little bit).

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Lizzie left this morning (getting up on time proved difficult after an unexpectedly boozy meal out last night) and I think I can safely say that pasamos la bomba during her stay.

I’ve had quite a lot of people come to visit me during my year abroad. Whilst Lizzie was the first to come to Spain, three friends from home as well as parents and brother came to see me when I was in Laval; I met up with two separate friends in Paris and visited my closest childhood friend in the city where she’s doing a British Council teaching assistantship. My excitement to see someone from home did not diminish as the number of visitors increased. Showing people where you’ve been living is exciting every time and offers the chance to do things and visit places that you wouldn’t normally, but I’ve realised that the real thing that makes seeing people from home during year abroad so refreshing is the feeling of calm and normality that they bring with them. Year abroad is many things, but relaxed is definitely not one of them: there are too many pressures (social, linguistic, work…) brewing in an unfamiliar environment for that to be the case. With friends from home, everything is easier: conversation flows more easily (probably read definitely aided by the fact that it’s in English) and there’s more common ground between the two of you. And who doesn’t love a good heart-to-heart? In my experience, whilst year abroad friendships can be great, they’re not often intimate enough for DMCs to be happening on the regs (although I did have a great one with a friend in Laval whilst sat on the kerb outside the town’s only nightclub).

I don’t miss the work at Oxford, really – although I do often miss the feeling of being constantly, overwhelmingly busy – but I do miss the casual nature of the social life: going to a friend’s room for a cup of tea, meeting in the college bar, sitting in the gardens with Pimm’s and strawberries (oh, Oxford). Having people to visit offers a way back into that life for a blissful couple of days. And, with only eight weeks of my year abroad left, a couple of days is enough to keep me going for now.

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