Hello, I’m Grace and I am a third-year student of Spanish and Mandarin, currently embarking on my year abroad. I will be the Mandarin editor this year. Having very limited experience of writing more than ‘the library is west of the classroom’ in Mandarin, I am excited to explore a new space of journalism within the language.
There is a certain cyclical nature of this article, I am sitting at Heathrow airport frantically distracting myself before I board to begin a new life in Santiago, Chile. My friend says it’s very Carrie Bradshaw of me, I would argue it’s just poor time management. But I will begin this story in an almost identical place. This time three years ago, I was sitting at Heathrow waiting to board the plane to Barcelona. It was my first time travelling alone as I was 18, but nothing was too scary thanks to my sweet naivety, so off I went without a plan.
The day I landed it was humid, the air thick with smoke and a strange yellow light hung over the city. It was October, tourists were sparse, people walked with purpose; they had somewhere to be and something to do. I wiggled through the streets, struggling to hold all my bags and constantly being asked – in English – if I needed help.
I was the ugly duckling in a sea of beautiful Spanish swans. Although this made me nervous, after spending a few nights in a hostel I managed to find a job as an au pair in the city and moved in swiftly. It was the perfect opportunity, easy hours during the day and lots of free time in the evening and weekends to be able to explore the city.
My first Saturday night, I went to the local charity shop and bought a pair of velvet flares, a bottle of 2€ Don Simon sangria (if you know, you know) and made it my mission to make at least one friend. After joining Bumble for friends, which I would recommend if you’re somewhere new and struggling to meet people, I met Emma.
My whole world view was about to change. We met in a bar in El Raval where the walls were laden with fur and the bartenders decorated you in jewels. We drank wine and talked all night before catching the metro home in the golden yellow light of the city. From then on it was street markets and second-hand clothes, books and coffee, discovering the joy of meeting new people together. Everything managed to align in the most perfect way, and the city became our space to run. This meeting recently led me to California where I went to visit Emma and her family as we have continued to stay in touch even now. Although this may seem like a very small experience, it was life changing. It showed me how cities are simply buildings until they are filled with memories, how clothes and books are objects until you have someone to share them with, how your life can change, and the world suddenly becomes smaller in a single night.
That is why this was a very memorable trip for me, and as I move on to this next solo travel trip I am reminded of the joy that comes from the unknown.