Study abroad can be difficult. You stay for a long time in a city you don't know, and you try to speak a language you didn't learn when you were five and your brain was best suited to learn it. The social norms are different, and the cultural history is different, from your native country, where you had a much longer time (20 years, in my case) to learn how to navigate its society and culture. It would be even harder to do it alone, because you don't have people to fall back on if you're having a bad day or you need to ask a question without feeling sheepish.
Fortunately, I didn't have to do it alone. I knew Jake and another friend before the trip, and the four-hour conversation with Amanda on the plane was exactly what I needed to feel like things were going to be all right. Once I met Seth, Kinsey, Dylan, Artur, Melissa, Laurel, Ken, and other students from both the semester and year-long programs, I knew it would be, not simply all right, but chock full of good times. And I was right: we fully enjoyed ourselves as we saw the fallas of Valencia burn to the ground, stayed in an inexpensive hostel in the Beverly Hills of Gran Canaria, ate late-night churros con chocolate in Madrid and walked up the old stone steps of the Parthenon in Athens.
The uncertainty (and the adventure) of a completely new environment bonded us together like few things can. The bond strengthened in the fall after our return, when Dylan died in a car accident in Madison. We had started to work our way back into our pre-Madrid lives, but Dylan's death reaffirmed how dearly important we were to each other, and it spurred our first IU/Wisconsin reunion in Madison two weekends later. It's impossible to quantify how good that weekend was.
For this reunion, we were in the Windy City at the same time as the Taste of Chicago and the Pitchfork Music Festival. With where my mind was, though, they might as well have happened in St. Louis. Staying in a hostel, walking down Navy Pier and playing Frisbee on Lake Michigan with these wonderful people was all I needed.
Thanks, guys, and hasta luego.