I remember when I changed the design of this blog and after thinking of things for a while, came up with a catchy tag-line: “From America to Andalucía, learning Spanish, a new culture, and more about myself during Fall 2013.” It was a summer day, and I had been in Spain for maybe two weeks. I was excited, though dealing with adjustment difficulties, and I slightly felt like I didn’t quite know my place yet. This was all new. I had just moved into the housing at the school, after living with a host family a week and a half. And though soon after moving into the school I realized that I wanted to be with a host family, I had to wait until two weeks had passed. I remember this so well.
Now, I find myself changing my blog design again, trying to think of a different tag-line. I’m not quite there yet, but what I do know is that I am resuming my “normal” life…or well, my new normal. I’m back at EIU, resuming my studies, my job, and my extracurricular activities, and still missing Spain a ton. There’s something that seems to remind me of it each day, and sometimes they’re the most random things. Some days are worse than others, but being back in Charleston has given me time to really reflect on my experiences in Spain, and to reflect in different ways than I could at home.
Shortly before I came home/after getting home, I pondered this question…what do I tell people when they ask about Spain? I felt like I had so much to say but couldn’t find the words for it, so a lot of my conversations went like this: “how was Spain?” “good!”…and then awkwardness. Someone told me to prepare a response that I can tell people when they ask, and I tried, but I’ve got this response down since getting back to Charleston.
How was Spain? Spain was good. Spain was bad. I think I had more bad parts than a “typical” study abroad experience, but the good outweighs the bad, and even the bad things turned out good in the end. I can say with 100% certainty that Spain changed me. I know that’s the cliché response, but it’s completely true. Studying abroad does change you. I had never been outside of my culture, my country. In Spain I had to adjust to a different culture. Sure, down here at Eastern I’m “on my own,” but my parents were only four hours away and I could communicate with anyone I wanted to when I wanted to. In Spain I had to deal with being isolated…it was a really lonely feeling of isolation at times. I was literally an ocean away from my family, my friends, and everything that I knew about the world and my life. I pretty much had to wait most of the day to be able to talk to family and friends. When I skyped, it was at night–9 or 10pm. My mom dealt with a lot of iMessages around 4AM (which I appreciate!) but other than that, it kinda sucked having to wait for so long to be able to talk to people. Sometimes I would iMessage my mom in the morning, and she would be getting ready for bed. I don’t think words can really describe that sense of loneliness that I (and I’m sure others who have studied abroad) felt. I’m not saying I didn’t have friends in Spain…of course I did! And I’m so glad that we have the technology we do–I got to FaceTime into my family reunion and birthday parties. Basically I’m saying that I think this was the first time I was really on my own.
Spain taught me to trust myself. One of the hardest things I went through while I was there was getting a lot of money stolen from me. It was a mess. Basically a relative of my host mom abused my trust in her and over a few days was taking my debit card and taking money out from ATM’s. I never really mentioned it on the blog because it was a really complicated and hard situation and for a while I only talked about it with people that needed to know about it. I also want to mention that this is NOT a typical thing to happen on a study abroad trip…well actually I don’t know but I don’t think it is. What I’m trying to say is that as this situation was unfolding, it was one of the worst two weeks of my life. It was incredibly stressful. But it taught me to trust myself. Things were happening that did not sit right with me, and thing after thing I stuck with what I thought was right. I’m not one to really trust myself. I’m super indecisive. But people around me supported me and agreed with the things that I was doing. It was a really, really, hard situation, and I couldn’t see at the time how ANY of it could be beneficial, but standing on the other side now, even though that was one of the worst things that happened, it was really good for me. It’s not good to get money stolen, obviously, but it was something that grew me as a person. Like I said, Spain changed me. And I say this to everyone I talk to about it–going to Spain was the best decision I’ve ever made.
I also grew somewhat in independence. At the beginning, I never did anything apart from going to downtown by myself. In the last two months of my stay there, I took some trips by myself. I went to Fuengirola (an hour by train) by myself to see a bullfight. I took a bus to Gibraltar and spent the day there by myself. And last but not least, I took a weekend trip to Madrid by myself. And it was good (besides my iPhone getting stolen, but that’s in one of my other posts). Being in Madrid by myself was…liberating. Some people expressed their doubts about me going by myself, but I didn’t really think anything of it. Madrid reminded me of Chicago, and I’ve been in Chicago by myself and was fine. Taking trips like that by yourself is also good too. It’s great to go with friends, but there’s something about going somewhere by yourself, taking the city in, absorbing it, making your own itinerary and doing what you want to do, that also grows you as a person. I guess I should say there’s something about going on a trip by yourself while in a foreign country that grows you as a person.
Spain is in my heart and memories, and I have so much memorabilia in my room–pictures collaged from my time in Spain, a Spanish flag and map (which I bought before going to Spain), prints of paintings by Picasso and Dalí. Spain is a part of me. One of my Spanish teachers told me in an email near the beginning of the trip that studying abroad is a big deal and when I came back I would be me but with Spain incorporated into me in a meaningful way. She was right. I have the stories, I have the pictures, I have the “response” figured out when people ask me about it. But another fun part is talking about it and being reminded of little funny stories. I will go back. I don’t know when or how, but there’s so many things that I didn’t do.
Meanwhile, I am in a different stage of life–back at EIU, taking on a new semester. Perhaps that merits a blog design and tag-line change :). But since I keep saying that I’m different, I’ll tell you some things I’m getting involved in this semester. Most things are the same, like I’m taking classes again, working at my job again, but I’m getting more involved with oboe this semester. We are having a studio class and recital (which is exciting because we haven’t had either before!) and I’m actually (much to my shock) learning to work on reeds. I’m still involved with Cru, but I’m getting involved with Spanish Club, which meets for an hour every week. I’m also participating in a program called Amigos and Friends, which is a program through the Newman Center where we teach people English–people that are here to work for their families back in Mexico or Guatemala. I’ve been a member of Sigma Delta Pi (the honors Spanish organization) but we’re planning cool stuff for the semester. Basically I’m trying to speak Spanish whenever I can…I miss being surrounded by it! That was the one thing I loved about Spain.
Anyway, I’m pretty excited about this semester and what it has in store. So there’s an update for you and a bit more of my reflections. This semester is gonna be great!
I miss the sunrises/sunsets the most.