The clock on the bottom of my computer screen reads 3:15 a.m. as I begin to write the final post of my experience here in Spain. It’s hard not to get sentimental during a time like this, and right now my emotions have reached nostalgia after rolling through a wave of more dramatic sentiments. This is the last time that I’m going to be sitting on this couch in a four-story house in front of a Spanish television. This is the last time that I’m going to be living the life I’ve carved for myself here, and it’s the last time I’m going to be thinking these thoughts amidst a country so dynamically different from mine. Maybe I shouldn’t jump that far ahead, because I still have high-hopes for future travels and plans. I’m not the same person who arrived in Spain five short months ago. I’ve learned so much about the world, society, and life by living here. When I first arrived, I was scared stiff, my eyes furiously shifting back and forth trying to take in my surroundings. I was clueless about public transportation and sadly ignorant about a lot of things that were going on in the world around me. Now, I have no doubt that I have grown so much as a person and have learned more about myself than I ever would have by living for years in the United States. I will never forget the memories I’ve had here, the friends that I’ve shared every special moment with, and even the times that have tried my patience. Each experience that I’ve had here has contributed to who I am in this moment, and I will forever carry Spain with me as I move on with my life.
Before I left the U.S., my uncle told me to set goals for myself and I did. The two most important were 1) to learn the language and 2) to see things that startle me. Five months later, I’m happy to report that I’ve done these things beyond my wildest dreams. The language aspect is often a touchy subject with me, because I came here hoping to make myself fluent. I’ve struggled every day with the language barrier that existed and with my inner critic telling me that I wasn’t doing well enough. On several occasions, I have felt like an idiot standing before native Spanish speakers, trying to pick out words and phrases that I was familiar with and then trying to shape my own thoughts into those in the Spanish language. On several occasions, I’ve broken down and been mentally exhausted from the effort it has taken to try to learn this language. On several occasions, I have gazed upon the face of someone who hasn’t understood a single word I said despite my finest attempt at saying it. This has humbled me, because I know that dreams don’t always easy and that goals are not easily accomplished. With this, though, came those few moments of sheer bliss such as when I had a conversation with someone as if were entirely in English or when I cracked a joke in Spanish that made everyone laugh. These fleeting moment have made it all worth it, and in the end, I may not be one hundered percent fluent, but I’ve gotten so much better at saying what I need to say. The words don’t come out perfect. Sometimes they are broken or distorted, but they come out, and finally, people can understand me! I never knew how amazing it was to have the power of language until it didn’t come easy, and now I have such a newly found respect for anyone with any type of disability that prevents this.
Beyond this, I’m so proud of myself for reaching the level I have. It’s not perfect but it’s something, and for that reason, alone, I can smile. As for the second goal, it almost goes without saying (please forgive the cliche, but it’s now 4 a.m.). I aimed to “see things that startle me,” and, in retrospect, that one was accomplished almost on a daily basis. Every time I learned something about the Spanish language or set foot in a different city, it left a unwavering impression on me. The first impressionable moment occurred when I was sitting in the Valley of the Fallen for the first time, my feet dangling below me as I sat perched on a wall overlooking the mountains. Despite the bitter cold that kissed my face, the view overtook any worry or concern I’ve ever had in my life. In that moment, I knew my goal had been accomplished, though so many other factors also accomplished the same thing. Everything I’ve realized about communication, everything I’ve seen, has all startled me and shaped me.
This past week has been full of doing everything I possibly can while in Madrid and saying my despedidas (farewells). Last night, for instance, was the hardest thing I think I’ve ever faced in my life. Crystal, Taylor, and I went to an Italian restaurant with our Mexican friends as a final goodbye dinner. We ordered all the food in the world, chatted about life and our future, and laughed, all while the gravity of our impending departure weighed down on us. Each person made a speech to the group of 10 of us, and we talked about the memories we’ve had, the traveling we’ve done, and the friendships we’ve formed in two separate languages, depending on the person. After, we went to Madrid, walked around, signed each others’ Spanish flags and ate churros. On the bus ride back, the tears streamed. We overtook the back of the bus and each sat there, talking little and thinking a lot. Our friend, Ivo, played the song “Good Riddance” by Green Day on his iPod and everyone sang along, not quite ready to say goodbye. It was a bus ride we’d taken together many times before and the seats and windows were familiar to us all, but something was different. When you know that moments are limited, you tend to take in a lot more, and that particular moment seemed so distinct. Taylor sat there rubbing my back as she prepared to leave and when we approached her stop, I watched her hug Crystal and remembered all the classes we’d had together and our roles in each different trip we’ve taken. She hugged my quickly and was gone. My eyes filled with tears as she left the bus and I peered out the window to see her disappear into the night, an image cemented in my memory. My friend Carlos grabbed my hand and when I looked up to see that he too had began to cry, my heart broke. Carlos is such a sweet person and he would rather freeze to death than see you shiver once. Him crying made it real. I looked over and saw my other friend Karen trying to hide her eyes, and I laughed at my own strategic placement of my sunglasses to hide the tears. After those last moments together, our lives would forever diverge and we’d all move on to different experiences. We came together through an experience so distinct and unique in comparison to other experiences, and while we talked about having a reunion, part of me worries that I will never see them again. We’ve shared so many beautiful moments together, and no matter what happens, I will always carry them in my heart.
I’m trying very hard to see the positive in everything, and as they say, all good things must come to an end. Life can be so bittersweet sometimes. Agridulce. I’ve been removed from my life back home and while I have some inkling about what is going on, I’m going to again be thrown back into the mix, hopefully as if nothing ever changed. I hope that things are the way I remember them and that my “hellos” will be as strong as my despedidas were. I’m sad to leave this experience behind me, and perhaps the saddest thing is not knowing when I will be able to do something as equally life-changing. My program director told me that from here, it’s up to me and that I can pretty much form my own future. I know she’s right, and I know this is one taste of an entire dish that I have for my future. I’m going to miss walking the streets of the city that I’ve come to call my own and I’m going to miss eating meals with the family that has become so dear to my heart. Equally, I’m excited to see my family, friends, and boyfriend and to share stories with them about everything that I’ve done and hear their own stories. I’m not quite sure I’m prepared to decipher my own feelings on leaving, beyond me labeling it as “bittersweet,” but I do know that no matter what happens, Spain will hold a special place in my heart. As the Spanish say, “No es adios, es hasta luego.” And now, Buffalo-bound.
“You’re gonna miss this. You’re gonna want this back. You’re going to wish this days hadn’t gone by so fast. And these are some good times, so take a good look around. You may not notice now, but you’re gonna miss this.” -Trace Adkins