One year later

“Una bolsa quiere?”

“What?” I thought to myself. Do I want a purse? This was my first experience buying groceries in Spain. The employee had to repeat herself a couple times and then pointed at a plastic bag. I quickly understood and agreed. The vocabulary word I had learned as a purse in school also referred to a plastic shopping bag in Spain.

This was a little taste of the confusion I felt. I had recently gone to Spain, and was literally across the ocean from everything I knew. I felt like a foreigner. I stumbled across my words the first week or two because it had been months since I had spoken Spanish. The people talked fast and I couldn’t understand. “Tres euros” sounded like “trece“. When I finally got to rest after nearly a day and a half of traveling, I cried. I was so overwhelmed. I worried about how I would survive four months in this country and wanted to go back home.

A year ago today, I boarded a plane and flew halfway across the world by myself. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long. I had no idea what I was getting into. But going to Spain changed my life. I miss it every day. I can say that I successfully lived in a foreign culture and navigated life there for four months. And hey, that’s a feat.

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Departures and Arrivals
July 31, 2013  ||  November 23, 2013

A week or so ago, I posted a picture of Málaga with a description, and will probably repeat myself here. But Spain really did change my life. The most obvious way is that it made me realize how much I love Spanish literature and how I want to teach about it at the college level. Before I had gone to Spain, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But Spain grew me as a person, too. I went through some hard things, like getting money stollen from someone close to me (at that time) and getting my phone stolen in Madrid. But even those things wouldn’t deter me from going back. My friend Emily just got back from Chile (you can read about it here) and I was talking with her before she got back, and she articulated some of my feelings well:

When I first got here I was like, “if this is really bad I’ll never want to travel again” and even with the bad experiences it’s like I’m an addict for adventure and new experiences now…I love living with less stuff. I love being free to go places. I love feeling independent and capable because I can navigate a foreign country reasonably well most of the time due to the languages I know. I’ve had some horrible experiences here but they don’t change how I feel about everything…they almost make you feel a little more like a duck with water rolling off your back to have these “bad experiences” that are supposed to be travel nightmares, and coming through them more unscathed than you’d think. And you realize that unfortunate stuff might happen, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the world.

That’s how I feel…that despite having bad things taught to me and having to learn some hard lessons, it grew me as a person.

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Near the end of my time studying abroad, I was sitting on a bus and observed as someone tried to communicate with the driver but couldn’t because they couldn’t speak Spanish very well. it was kind of painful to watch, but offered some perspective, because it made me think of my first experience speaking with an andaluz.

I had gone to two different luggage carousels from the Madrid flight, and my luggage was nowhere to be seen. I was stressing out, thinking my luggage was lost somewhere, and an employee approached me and said, “Hablas español?” That was about the only thing that I understood as he proceeded to speak super fast. He kept saying maleta, which means suitcase, but I thought meant ticket at the time. I pulled out my passport and showed him the sticker on the back and he directed me to the international luggage carousels. I walked up and my luggage was right there.

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 It surprised me how fast my Spanish-speaking abilities picked back up. Within a week of living with my host family, I was speaking so much better than I had. There is something to be said about being completely immersed in the language. My first host family didn’t speak any english either, so I had to look up a fair amount of words in the dictionary. The thing I loved about staying with host families is that we would just talk, and they would correct me, but not in a mean way. If you’re afraid of making mistakes when you speak, you won’t speak. So even though I said some things stupidly, I just kept talking and learned from my mistakes. Some of my favorite memories in Spain were times I sat with my family and chatted in Spanish. The thing I miss the most about Spain is speaking Spanish.

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You know how certain songs remind you of certain times of your life? (Or maybe I’m the only one?) Well, that happened for me. This one day, early on in my time in Spain, I laid down for a nap. Naps probably didn’t help my jet lag, but hey, when in Spain, take a siesta, right? Anyway, I remember waking up to the song “Wake Me Up” by Avicii blasting through the floor. I go downstairs and my host parents are just kinda dancing around. Neither of them spoke English and told me that they just liked the way it sounded.

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When I think about Spain, I think of a bunch of random memories. It’s hard to put into words how going to Spain changed me, but perhaps putting it into words is just the culmination of little stories like these. Spain is a part of me. It’s my enthusiasm for Spanish literature. It’s my affinity for bullfighting. It’s my ever increasing wanderlust. It’s in the way I find it hard to hear Spanish words pronounced with an English accent. It’s my cravings for Spanish food. It’s the bittersweet feelings I have thinking about memories created there, and looking back on photos.

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“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” -Pat Conroy

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I was lucky to have been in Málaga in mid-August for their annual feria. It’s basically an 8 day long street party, celebrating the reconquest of the city by Ferdinand and Isabella. People dance flamenco in the streets. At the conclusion of the event is a parade commemorating the entrance of the monarchs. The discotecas are open all day round, I believe. It is an interesting atmosphere, so carefree.

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Calle Lairos, pictured above, is a popular destination. Full of stores and restaurants, there is plenty to do. No cars are allowed on this road. This street changed from an interesting, unfamiliar place, to a place I miss. The full name of the street is Calle Marqués de Lairos. Most of the streets are named after people. I lived on Avenida Pintor Joaquin Sorolla. They’re kind of mouthfuls, but I find it a nice way to commemorate people.

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La plaza de la merced sits in the center of Málaga. There are restaurants around it. Picasso’s birth house is on the corner. The monument in the middle of the plaza, pictured above, pays respect to General Torrijos and his 48 soldiers that were assassinated, whose remains are there as well. I love the plaza life in Spain in the summer. It’s so relaxed. People go out to eat and sit and chat for hours. People congregate around the plaza and little kids play soccer. It’s a site I miss.

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Part of a town’s feria is the corrida de toros. Usually they’ll have one every day during the fair. I didn’t get a chance to get to one in Málaga, but I went to the last corrida of the fair in a town called Fuengirola. It’s a really cool event, and the atmosphere is unique. Despite its controversy in other countries, the Spanish love their bullfights. I enjoyed the two bullfights I went to, and would like to go to more.

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There’s just such an artistry as the matador guides the bull; a brush with death. Some bullfighters get killed. Many get killed in the running of the bulls in Pamplona during San Fermín. Yet with each pass the matador proves his power over the bull.

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This is one of my favorite pictures from Spain, and I believe that it captures the essence of bullfighting. It is an exhilarating, exhausting ordeal for the people who do it. You can see exhaustion on this torerro’s face. A bullfighter is considered good when he can kill the bull with one plunge of the sword. One matador that I saw plunged the sword and then just waited, standing with his arms up, so confident in his delivery, until the bull collapsed. That was a pretty surreal experience.

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They’re pretty good looking, too.

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Posters like these are all around the city during the season, being really the sole form of advertisement. The details are different for each fight, but the posters all have a distinct look.

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Málaga is the home to Picasso. He was born there. This sculpture sits on a bench in La plaza de la merced.

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His birth house was pretty cool, but pictures aren’t allowed inside.

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This was the school I went to. Well, technically, this is the housing part that some students stay at, but it connects to the school, looping over to the right. I loved my stay here and all the amazing people I met. I still stay in touch with some of the teachers.

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This restaurant was one I frequented often. It’s very close to the school, and up the hill from where I lived. After a while the waitress knew my order without me having to say it. I wish I had tried to talk with her more, because when I did, near the end of my stay, she said that my Spanish had improved. On my last night, I had dinner there, and she gave me a tiramisu. She asked if I would come back, and my response was the same now as it was then: yes. I don’t know when, and I don’t know how, but I’ll come back.

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I loved the bullring.

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While I was there, I took a trip to Granada and got to stop at the birth house of Federico García Lorca. He was a Spanish poet and playwright, part of what they call the Generation of ’27. (1927). I’ve read some of his poems and plays. It was really cool to see his birth house, though it was a quick stop.

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One of my favorite things about Spain was the sunrises and sunsets. I saw so many beautiful skies. Here, back in the USA, nothing really compares to that, but sometimes there are some nice ones.

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This is only a part of what Spain means to me. I am so grateful that I got to spend that semester abroad. I have an ache in my heart for Spain that won’t rest until I go back. I learned a lot of things on that trip. I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I am capable of living and thriving in a foreign culture. I am capable of carrying on hours of conversations in Spanish with people. I learned that I had such a narrow perspective, that though I don’t consider myself a ‘typical’ American, in some ways, I was. I learned that we’re all ethnocentric, but it is possible and so beneficial to step into another culture’s shoes. I learned about the beauty of the Spanish life. I learned that sometimes, being an ocean away from everything you know helps you to work out issues. I learned so much and met so many people and I miss them. It’s difficult to put Spain into words, or to fit it into a neat little box. The experience and everything about it is infused in me, it’s a part of who I am. I didn’t really know what I was getting into a year ago when I left, but I’m glad I stuck out the initial bad feelings and learned to love Spain. I wish I had branched out a little more and tried more foods, but I know that now that I have gone, that next time I will try harder to branch out. In the meantime, I’m trying to make up for it. I’ve got my eye on a Spanish tapas bar in Chicago that I want to go to, and at some point, I want to try to start making Spanish food. The first food on the menu is churros con chocolate. A year ago, I boarded a plane. And everything about my experience, everything that happened to me in Spain, has made me the person I am now, and, in my opinion, a better person. But now I’ve got to get back to reading The Sun Also Rises…gotta get my Spain fix!

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Videos

Sooo, in my Spanish class we were talking a little bit about how Latin America celebrates holy week, and my teacher showed some videos of the processions they do. It reminded me of a similar thing that happened while I was in Málaga, when the town was celebrating their patron saint. It’s kind of a hard thing to describe, but I took a couple videos of it. And today I was randomly going through videos and decided to upload all the videos I said I would upload later while I was in Spain but I never did. I won’t put them all in one post because there are a ton, and some of them aren’t done uploading yet. But I’ll try to go chronologically, zoo that means we’ll start with the feria! I wrote a blog post about it here, but basically, it’s a week long (I think 10 days, actually) festival to celebrate the Catholic monarchs’ entry into Málaga–taking the city back from the Moors (they’re muslims, but Moore refers to a specific ethnic group from Northern Africa, and they ruled Spain for 8 centuries.) Quick graphic that shows who ruled the land:

So they have a really long fiesta–Calle Lairos, one of the main downtown streets that has a ton of restaurants and shops, and doesn’t allow cars, only people, is packed to the brim. On a normal day (especially in summer) it’s pretty packed but this is packed. Here are some of the events that were going on.

It’s pretty cool. They also end la feria with a parade that serves as kind of a re-enactment of the monarchs’ entrance into the city. I got plenty of videos of that, too.

That is a lot of videos…whoops. Hope you enjoy!

Flashback #1

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This was probably, no, was the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. I took probably fifty pictures–at least–on my phone. Soon after I went to Madrid without copying them to my computer and when my phone got stolen, I lost most of them.

This sunset was surreal. I had an off day, and by chance I decided to get out of the house for a walk, to clear my mind. This was a spontaneous decision, and I just started walking on the Paseo Marítimo (meaning right next to the sea). Normally I take the bus into town, but I randomly wanted to walk.

And as I started, I watched this beautiful sunset unfold before me. In this moment I forgot about my problems. I felt like God was putting on a show for me, giving me a boost I needed. I felt so small. The sky was giant and the colors so vibrant. It was something you can’t describe just by a picture, but the pictures I took depicted it pretty well. I would walk and stop, until I finally found a spot and just sat, listening to music and taking pictures, sitting in awe. I watched the sky transform from normal colors to golden clouds, pink clouds in the opposite direction. This cloud formed, and as if formed it looked like a hurricane–I’m guessing because it was so windy that day.

Eventually the golden hurricane-like cloud got darker and pinker until it didn’t look like a hurricane anymore. I watched and took pictures until basically when it was dark out. I walked down on the beach, trying to get a good picture of the water and the sky, thinking of how blessed I was in that moment.

This is one of my fondest memories from Spain, although I have so many. Lately when I’ve been doing whatever, my mind will drift off into some memory or moment in Spain, and it’s almost like I’m in the moment, re-living it again. I’ve decided to do some posts about some of these “flashbacks” and I’ll post a picture and try to describe it and what was happening.

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(Come on, I couldn’t just post one picture!)

Here we go!

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!

Sunrise

I miss the sunrises/sunsets the most.

Iberia

This is not a “coming home” post, but it is a little story I find interesting, especially because after being in Spain I’ve noticed how some cities are actually Spanish words (or in California, saints).

My mom loves James Michener. He wrote a bunch of books that are pretty much all history-based (I think). Anyway, she had mentioned he had a book called Iberia, different from his other books in that this is more of a travel log and reflections about Spain. He loved Spain. It’s a very good read, but very thick, with 900 some pages. He mixes his thoughts and experiences of Spain with its history, and I’ve been learning a lot in reading it.

Anyway, I’m on the chapter about Madrid, and he recounts his experience of seeing the remaining sites of this old university founded by a famous cardinal. One of the most famous attendees was Carlos, the son of Felipe II and heir to the throne. One night he tries to sneak out, but it’s dark, so he slips on a stair and falls and hits his head on the door at the bottom.

People are all worried about him, but the next day he seems fine, but after that he gets worse. They had 50 or so consultations from different doctors, and there were three people who presented three different treatments; a Moorish man who comes and offers these two ointments, black and white, that will cure the pressure that is on Carlos’ brain. (Moor is the term from people from North African origins, who came over to Spain and reigned for quite some time, who were Muslims.) Another doctor wants to perform a procedure to drain the blood and heal Carlos. The third doctor wants to lay the body of this dead friar named Diego next to Carlos while he is unconscious, because this friar has performed other miracles.

Some people think the doctor started the procedure to drain the bad blood, but healthy blood came out, so he didn’t finish. Others think he finished. Others say this Moor put the ointment on Carlos, but it was so strong that he got worse, so they banished him. The last doctor laid the body of the friar next to Carlos, and the next morning he woke up perfectly fine, and said in his dream he had been visited by friar Diego and he healed the future king. Carlos was adamant that he wanted this friar to become a saint, but three popes came and went but did nothing. The fourth, Sixtius V, moved the investigation along and later announced that this friar was now a saint. His day was November 13th, “and in honor of his having saved the intended King of Spain, a pueblo in the colony of California was some years later named after him.” San in Spanish means saint, so now you know the origins of the city of San Diego, California. :)

This has been a history lesson.

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Coming home – part three

I’ve been home for about five weeks, and I’ve felt some sort of writer’s block in regards to processing Spain. I have this idea that I just need a good session to get everything out and wrap Spain up in a little box and it will be done. But I don’t think life works that way, and maybe that says something about this. It’s not some simple thing to process, and I think it’s always going to be a part of me in some way. And even just processing this past semester is a process. I’m somewhat of a perfectionist and ideally would like to have it all wrapped up. But the influence this semester has on me is that it will continue to. If that makes any sense.

It seems like almost as soon as I landed back in the states I wanted to go back to Spain. I definitely still miss it a lot, and I miss it the most when I hear a song that reminds me of something about being there, or getting a craving for churros con chocolate, or being reminded of a little story about stuff that happened. If you wanna hear me talk about Spain, just get me to tell some stories. Seriously.

Somehow I think I won’t completely stop missing Spain. And that doesn’t mean that I’m not happy to be home, either. I never realized that I had adapted to the culture and the life I had there until I came back. Going to Spain without a doubt is one of the best decisions I’ve made, and I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to go and the support of my parents. The stuff I learned over there didn’t stop when I landed on American soil. It’s shaped me, it grew me as a person and also changed my career plans. It gave me perspective on things. I dealt with happy moments, frustrating moments, and upsetting moments. But I made it through. Hey, I flew halfway across the world by myself, lived in a foreign country for four months, and flew back across the ocean by myself. That’s an accomplishment!

Some days I was so lonely, a unique loneliness knowing that I was literally halfway across the world from my family and friends, from everything familiar to me, and I was 7 hours ahead of Illinois, which complicated talking to the aforementioned family and friends. I experienced the joy of being in a place where I was immersed in Spanish, and I understand why teachers push us foreign language majors to study abroad because it really does impact your language skills more than you can do in 50 minutes, three times a week. Not only that, but I had to learn to depend on myself, to go with my gut and go with the flow of life. So it’s pretty evident why it’s not some simple thing to process and be done with.

Being over there made me realize the passion I had for Spanish literature, and began the thoughts about perhaps going into postgraduate study of peninsular (i.e. Spain as opposed to Latin American) literature. And then visiting Eastern and talking to one of my professors (shout out, Dra. Routt!) confirmed that following this passion is something I want to do. So in a way, going to Spain has shaped my future in some aspect.

I have to admit that being home has been somewhat weird. I have enjoyed being around my family. I think after you start college, coming home starts to be weird, because you don’t quite fit in anymore; but that’s because home has changed and you have changed. Which isn’t bad, it’s natural. Anyway, every time I come home I feel like I’m in this weird transition phase. This time around I feel anxious to get back to school and get back involved into places where I can continue my Spanish speaking, because I’m afraid of losing what I developed abroad. I also get restless when I don’t have anything to do. I’m trying to just go with that, and many days have been spent watching various Law and Order shows (hello Netflix, I’ve missed you!). I’m just not used to resting. But I’m trying.

I’ve been working on a photo book of pictures and perhaps my blogs from Spain, and it surprisingly has given me some sort of closure. It’s been fun looking back on the pictures I took, because while I was over there I didn’t have a whole lot of time to look through all of them. I don’t even know how many pictures I took over there…several thousand, I’m sure. I’m just not even going to try to count. I think the book is a good idea, because I want something that has those memories and photos, and it’s a whole lot easier than making my own scrapbook. I mean I am doning that, but just digitally.

I know one thing for sure: I’m going back to Spain. I just don’t know when…or how, but I have to go back. There’s more stuff I want to see. Time will tell how I manage to get back. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking at the pictures, telling people stories, and speaking Spanish.

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Coming home – part two

Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch to say that I now feel like I am part Spaniard, but it’s true. And I’m still not sure where to start processing or how, but I just re-read an email one of my teachers sent me at the beginning of my trip and she said that at the end, I’ll be me but with Spain incorporated in a meaningful way. Perhaps that explains the longing I have for Málaga, and how I can close my mind and see the city, see the view outside my window. It’s true, I miss the Spanish the most. I knew I would. The other day I got to talk to my host mom on the phone. Hearing “hola, cariño!” in that familiar voice made my day. I’ve been trying to listen to Spanish music and continue reading the novels I bought over there when I can, but I’ve mainly been sleeping in and just resting. I’m not sure why I can’t seem to sit down and process at home…this second burst is yet again in the car on the interstate. Traveling has always been meaningful for me.

My first thoughts upon entering O’Hare and making my way to the exit were from looking at the signs and seeing that everything was in English. Obviously…but having just come from a different country, it struck me as odd that they didn’t have at least one other language or more pictures…the Madrid airport has their signs in English and Spanish, and the Málaga airport has theirs in English, Spanish and German. Somehow it seemed a bit closed off to other cultures and languages…especially for being an international airport. This was only further confirmed by making my way through customs. I have to admit that it was nice having sort of a “preference,” making my trip through customs a lot faster, but as I walked into the American line a couple with Spanish passports was trying to get out and go to the other line, looking so confused. I almost stopped to try and help them. There was an attendant talking to them in English, but who even knows if they speak it?

This was my first observation after entering back into my country. I’m not sure if it’s a snobbish observation, but almost right from the start of this trip I started to get this feeling that because I’m an American, I’m privileged…just because of where I was born. It wasn’t a feeling I liked, and I soon felt my ignorance surfacing every day I sat at the school and listened to all of these different languages…it seemed to me that most people I met knew at least two languages…I met someone who spoke five, I think! But if you think about it, it makes sense. Europe is a lot smaller, and instead of uni-lingual states, there’s a bunch of different countries that speak different languages. I could have gone my whole life without leaving the US and learning another language and I would have been fine, if not for the two year requirement in high school.

The other thing going to Spain showed me was my ignorance of the world. I live in a bubble here. I don’t really read the news at all. I don’t know if the culture promotes this or not but it’s incredibly easy to fall into…more so I’m thinking in my generation that’s been raised on technology and distraction. I’m not saying I’m completely ignorant of the world, because the really big news at least makes it on to twitter and Facebook (example: Nelson Mandela dying today). But even one of my friends that I met over there who has been in the United States confirms this. So maybe it is culture. But there were a couple of times where seeing something American on the news surprised me (in both of the host families I stayed with, the custom was to watch the news at lunch, so I’m assuming this is normal there?), like when there were the tornadoes in Washington, IL. I had been following it the night before since I was concerned for my family, but it surprised me that it was on the Spanish news, and they even showed that video of the guy videotaping the tornado and praying.

I can say that I had a general ignorance. I’ve never really thought about the world in its entirety that much, or how it functions. So going to a culture different (but with its similarities) to mine was an interesting and worthwhile experience. I can’t say that I am no longer ignorant, because I am. But I’m a little less ignorant than I was when I left. There were things about the culture that I really like, and stuff that I didn’t (but I think these things were more different and more of an “inconvenience” than anything).

Examples: I didn’t like the whole paying for water at a restaurant and no free refills thing. I didn’t like that I couldn’t get ibuprofen or basic medicine like that at the supermarket (but there are a ton of pharmacies, so ok excuse there). The whole businesses shutting down for the siesta in the mid day was kind of annoying when I actually went out. Also, the huge change of pace re: waitstaff at restaurants was hard to get used to as well. But I liked that the “big meal” was lunch…and it kinda makes sense. I like the Spanish style of greeting people (you kiss each cheek). I liked that for most stuff, tax was included in the price on the shelf. I liked the public transportation and wish we had more here.

More than anything, going to Spain opened my eyes. My way of doing things isn’t the only way, nor is it the best way. I could have used these inconveniences to teach me to slow down when I go out to eat and not be so focused on time, to actually use the siesta (love/hate restaurant…I WANTED to be able to nap but I could never fall asleep). I think it’s very easy to get trapped in your box of the world and how to do things. But experiencing another culture, however uncomfortable, is a teaching experience.

I’m not sure if this helps me to know how Spain is now incorporated into me or not, but at least little ‘ol American me could offer some of my observations. I’ll also leave you with a picture of another part of the culture that I liked (though controversial…but I’ve already written two blog posts on that!)

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