One thing I’ve noticed about studying abroad is that it has this grandiose power to make you examine your life and who you are as a person. Being in Spain has made me acutely aware of the fact that I am, and will always be, an American. In my entire life, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked, “Eres de Estados Unidos, cierto?” so many times, in Spanish or English. It’s like people have a radar and are just able to pick Americans out of the crowd, no matter how well we may try to fit in. This is just one of the reminders out there that I was born into a culture so dynamically different from the one I’m in now. Customs are different, mentalities are different, and behaviors are different, and that’s entirely apart from the obvious difference in language. For example, here people are much more unapologetic than in the United States (I know, that comes as a shocker). By that, I don’t necessarily mean that they are more rude but rather more relaxed about things. Being bumped into at an airport isn’t viewed as something worthy of an, “Oh, I’m sorry” or “Pardon me.” Instead, people carry on with their daily lives. When I apologize to people, I often get strange looks. I guess that’s hint number one that I’m not from around here.
Another example of this self-awareness happened to me today when I was coming back from Madrid. I was standing in the metro station, waiting for the lucky number 518 bus to come along, and I’d forgotten my iPod at home. Instead, I sat there, listening to the conversations going on around me. Surprisingly, I’ve gotten better at being able to understand. However, as I was listening, I was thinking in English and the clash between my thoughts and the language just seemed so blatantly obvious to me. That’s when I realized that I was probably the only person in that area of the metro who was thinking in English. That simply blew my mind. I was in the minority. This wasn’t an American station where I felt like just another face in the crowd (Pardon the cliché), this was a place where I was distinctly other.
Another common thought that comes with studying abroad is what I like to call the I’m-going-to-remember-this effect, in which almost everything I do is accompanied by, “When I’m back in the States, I’m going to remember/ miss/ tell everyone about this.” I don’t know if what I’m feeling is pride or pure bliss, but every time I travel some place in Spain or Europe, a part of me reflects on how that’s going to effect me as a person down the line. When I think about how strange it is to be a world away from everything comfortable, I’m torn between two things: missing that comfort and being proud of myself for exploring uncharted territory. On one hand, I miss my family and friends everyday. On the other hand, I’m growing as a person each passing second. Spain has a lot to take in, and learning about the culture and art and foreign affairs and geography is super-charging my brain. I love every minute of it.
For example, last week, we went to visit Granada through El Coliseo. The trip was essentially full of elderly people with their significant others and us, six “jovenes.” We took tours around Granada to see the Muslim influence on the buildings and art. Looking at architecture was never something I was interested in in the States, but here it’s different because everything is so finely detailed and eye-popping. I’ve developed a deep appreciation for everything around me. The buildings there had tiles painted with vibrant blue artwork and the streets, as always, were paved in stone. At one point, we reached a hippy-center, where there were people selling things right near an overhang of the city. If you went to the edge, you could tell you were high above everything else, lost in the mountains. The houses were miniscule and you could distinctly make out Alhombra, a famous ground for three palaces, garmented with gardens and ruins from past dynasties. We actually went inside of it the next day on a guided tour. It was entirely in Spanish, and we had speakers that we had to wear to hear what our tour guide was saying. I felt like a business woman walking around, donning the ear piece, and though the concept of it was great, the reception was terrible. Often times it interfered with other groups or cut out at random times. Regardless, it was worth it to see everything.
Another cultural event we finally experienced was a flamenco show. Flamenco is a traditional Spanish-style dance that combines tap rhythms with guitars, clapping, and a high-pitched kind of singing. Again, dance hasn’t always been my cup of tea, but there’s something so enticing about the passion that these people have for what they do. They literally put all their energy into moving their body and singing, and it’s inspirational to see. Then, to intensify everything, the costumes and lighting are so vibrant and lively. The club itself was a small building in the middle of no where, but the performers brought it to life. I was able to kick back with a glass of wine and watch it all unfold.
When we returned to our hotel that night, a four-star hotel nonetheless, we decided to see if we could go on the roof (It was our attempt at being sporadic “jovenes”). To our great luck, the door was wide open and when we stepped out the door, there was an entire dining, swimming, and bar area to enjoy on top of the hotel. The bar and pool were closed because it’s still only spring here (though it’s hard to believe with the 70-degree weather). However, the view was absolutely stunning. We looked out over the entire city, everything spread out before our very eyes, glowing against the dark of the night. Way below, every one and everything looked so small, and Crystal, Taylor and I all stipulated on where everyone was going or what they were doing. We had some incredible conversation, before returning to our rooms for the night. It was nights that I know I will remember all my life.
Beyond all of this, however, one thing I am immensely proud of myself for is trying new food. As everyone in my life knows very well, I am the world’s pickiest eater. Seafood, mushrooms, mystery meat; not my thing. In Spain, though, I have absolutely expanded my diet. I’ll admit that I still haven’t touched much seafood, but the other day, I ate Pate Pato or Duck Spreak with strawberry jelly on a piece of bread. I was surprised at how much I didn’t hate it 🙂 Yesterday, I ate hard-boiled eggs with tuna in the middle, two foods that I would never eat alone, yet alone mixed together. So while Conchi still has to cook me special food because I won’t touch seafood, I can proudly say I am making waves. Thank you Spain for expanding my taste buds.