Eleven people in a whole study abroad program.
Getting to know people is easy. Finding people you like… that’s the hard part. Eleven random people from all over the country who are all studying in Spain for different reasons. Eleven different backgrounds, and, maybe most importantly, eleven different financial situations.
I, for one, am the kid who has been working and saving for years to go to Europe. My family is not poor by any means, but I wanted to do this myself. The thing is, there are about three others in my group who made it here because of their own hard work. The others… well, when someone suggests flying to Copenhagen for the weekend, they don’t have to bat an eye. Because for them, getting 250 Euros is just a quick call home. For me, that’s how much I paid for books for a whole semester back home. That’s a whole week’s paycheck from my summer job.
I could handle the money thing… except it also means they all complain… a lot. About everything. I’ve never known how many things there were in life to complain about. One of the girls complained that the sheets at the hostel in Marseille were too tight to the bed.
Anyways, I’m starting to sound like them. Europe is amazing! I love it here. I just want to adventure and travel in the cheapest ways possible so that I can do as many things as possible… but I don’t really have friends to do it with. We’re all just really different. But then, Portugal happened.
“Hey Jackson!” I turned around. “Are you coming to the club with us or what?”
“Uh…” I looked over to the guy next to me. “Wanna explore the city instead?”
“Sure man. I feel more like walking than drinking tonight, I think.”
His reasoning was funny to me, but I appreciated the company. We were leaving tomorrow, and I still felt like there were places to see. Besides, I like talking to people in all of these different countries. You don’t talk to anyone in clubs. I didn’t really understand why dancing with foreign strangers was any better than local strangers.
We wandered the streets of Lisbon, which were decorated with colorful lights everywhere. It was the end of February, but it was sixty degrees here even at ten at night. We headed towards the harbor and sat at a pier away from the city, where you could see all the colored lights leaking into the ocean. I looked at my buddy and was about to suggest heading back to the hostel, when I heard American voices booming down the pier.
“Dude! Those lights!”
“This is so much better than that pub they all went to, guaranteed.”
That’s when I knew. I had finally found American friends in Europe.
Welcome to today, the most epic fails of all the days. I had decided to go on an adventure this weekend with my new friends, Millie and Nick. We spent that whole night in Lisbon talking and wandering the city together. They were both studying in Paris this semester, in a similar program style to mine. We talked about American culture versus European culture, the differences in studying in France over Spain, our colleges back home, what places we dreamed of going to this semester, our favorite trips so far, all of it.
It was my favorite night of the whole semester, so I was stoked to see them again. We had exchanged our WhatsApp information and planned this trip over the course of this week. My classmates had planned some exotic trips far away, but I really needed to save money this weekend, since spring break was the week after.
Millie and Nick trained down to me from Paris and I met them at the train station. Trains from Paris to Barcelona weren’t terribly cheap, but they weren’t crazy expensive either. Besides, they had wanted to see Barcelona anyways, and I could get them free housing. They didn’t get to the station until 11, so when I met them there, we simply rode back to the dorms, talked for a bit, and then went to bed.
The next day, I showed them around my city. Playing tour guide really makes you remember all the incredible things about the place you’re staying in that you had grown used to. It was an absolute blast. The cathedrals, the hills, the crazy street markets, it was like all of it was new again. That was partly because… well…
“Millie, you look…” I fumbled for my words, and my cheeks grew red.
Millie had just walked out of a public restroom (a novelty in Europe truly) wearing her brand-new Spanish dress. It was definitely a cliché tourist thing to buy, but Spanish girls really did wear them, so she wanted to fit in for the day. She looked absolutely stunning. I really did enjoy her as a friend, but finding her gorgeous and her laugh adorable aren’t crimes, are they?
We ended the day at my house, where my fantastic host mom had prepared an authentic Spanish dinner. She didn’t like overnight guests, so we stayed in my friend’s dorms last night since they were out traveling (with their permission, of course). My host mom loved my friends, and Millie and Nick, who also lived in dorms, both said they wished they could have lived with a host family. It’s honestly been my favorite part of the experience, but I didn’t tell them that because I didn’t want to rub it in. After talking for hours with Mrs. Loaina, we headed back to the dorms, exhausted and ready for sleep. The next day would be another adventure, and this time it would be new for all of us.
Just in case you were curious, Andorra does not exist. If you don’t know where Andorra is, supposedly it’s this little tiny country between Spain and France. It’s only about four hours away from Barcelona by train. I had been planning to go at some point during the semester, and it was “on the way” for Millie and Nick. We were all curious what actually existed there, since it really is one of the smallest countries in the world. We didn’t do any research; we were just going to go. We figured that between my Spanish and their French, we could manage fairly well. We didn’t account for the borders of Andorra being nonexistent, however.
Originally, we tried to get there simply based on maps, train guides, and people’s directions. We weren’t going to use our phones or Google Maps. We took one train that was supposedly going to take us into this beautiful town in Andorra from Barcelona. When we arrived there, we walked into this tiny country town and looked at the maps there. It told us we were 50 miles southeast of Andorra’s border. We asked some locals and they told us we were still in Spain. At this point, we gave up on our phone-free commitment and looked at Google Maps. Apparently, we were in Andorra. To this day, I have no idea what town we were in.
Of course, we needed to reach Andorra still. We hopped on another train that was headed in the right direction according to the map. When we reached our stop, we got out and checked our phones to see what landmarks we could find. Our phones told us we were in France. The maps in town said Andorra, but once again the locals told us we were just shy of the border. I’m not entirely positive if our communication was simply that skewed, or if the locals did not know what country they belonged to, but someone was wrong.
Finally, we took a bus that took us further into Andorra, right about to the central point. This time, the locals said we were in Andorra, but our phones kept switching between saying we were in France or Spain. At least the maps in town agreed with the locals this time. The town was tiny and had absolutely nothing to do, and we still weren’t entirely positive we had actually made it to Andorra, so we sat down to eat dinner and to decide what exactly our plan was for the night.
We rested our legs and pulled out our phones again. I was just about to unlock my phone when I got a notification for an email from school. The subject line made my heart sink and race simultaneously.
“All Students Required to Arrange Plans to Return Home ASAP.”
I read the email further to see that President Trump had enacted a travel ban to Europe and any American citizens were asked to return to the States immediately.
I looked up at my friends, who had similar looks of dismay as they looked at their phones.
“We’re being sent home,” Millie and I say together.