Finding Home: How Studying Abroad Changed My Life


Marian Sahakyan

The Royal Palace of Madrid is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country.

It was a little past midnight. My friends and I were walking down the street in our quaint little neighborhood for a last minute store pickup, talking about how unreal it feels that the months of planning and anticipation have come and gone and at last. We are here.

It was the beginning to so many different things for me. It was the end of comfort zones and the start of a grand adventure. And 35,000 steps, 14 miles and 24 hours later, Madrid felt like home. So many sights, so much culture followed by endless memories and sleepless nights.

I bonded with locals by a single glance or a dumb touristy question, like when I thought the man standing outside of my apartment building is the doorman and tried my hardest to put a sentence or two together in my broken Spanish to express concerns about my apartment key that won’t work. I found out he wasn’t the doorman but the owner of the café next door.

Or that one disappointing moment when I found out iced coffee was not a thing in Europe but ordered a side of ice with my cafe con leche anyway, just to spill it all over the table, because I failed to mix the two together.

I can’t help but think about the countless times I purposely got lost in the city, exchanging an eight-minute metro ride with a 35 minute walk because I didn’t want to miss a corner. Because I knew my time there was too little and too precious and that all of it will be gone with a blink of an eye, and all I will be left with are bittersweet memories.

Or the times I would stroll through Parque del Buen Retiro and have conversations with the old man who sold his paintings there. One of his pieces now hangs on my living room wall, right next to it is a framed picture of the two of us. Boy, is it a conversation starter among guests at the house.

I fell in love. With buildings, museums and sidewalk cafes and Castellano (Castilian Spanish) and flowers and life. I fell in love with the bird sound that walk signs made when you were allowed to cross the street. Last but not least, I fell in love with the straightforward nature of the people, because no pasa nada (nothing is wrong, nothing happened). This is not just a phrase that people use, it’s the Spanish lifestyle that they live by.  

Madrid is the place where you can smell cigarettes more than anything else around you. Where people sit and talk over a glass of wine for hours and hours, because they value spending quality time with loved ones. Madrid is the city where people work to live and not live to work. Madrid is the city where the night doesn’t start until past midnight, and the party doesn’t end until 6 a.m.

I was accepted and loved in Madrid. I was appreciated there. I was welcomed in Madrid, because Madrid was home to my heart, mind and creativity. Madrid is home.

Had I not studied abroad, I would not be the person I am right now. I can easily say that studying and living abroad is the best thing I have ever done for myself. I am so grateful to have done this.

My advice to everyone who is able to study abroad, to travel abroad, is: just go. Eventually, you’ll earn the money, you’ll get the job. Things can wait, the opportunity will not.

GCC’s Study Abroad Program

Did you know financial aid may be used for study abroad? For information, call
818-240-1000, ext. 5718 or email [email protected]

Some upcoming destinations include:

  • Bali (Summer 2018)
  • France (Summer 2018)
  • Italy (Winter 2018)
  • Caribbean Islands (Winter 2019)  

All programs/courses subject to approval by the college Board of Trustees. College is a member of the­-California­-Colleges­-for­-International­-Education, a consortium of community colleges dedicated to cooperation in advancing international education for California citizens.