hola, buenas, chao, y hasta

June 24, 2011

Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve learned quite a lot. That is, of course, the general aim when one studies abroad, but what I’ve learned stretches far beyond the limits of an entire semester’s worth of two classes condensed into four short weeks.

I’ve grown to love a new country; I’ve gained a level of confidence in my speaking ability which I never would have had otherwise; I’ve learned many useful [mostly inappropriate, though colloquially acceptable] new phrases; I’ve adjusted to a new eating, sleeping, and academic schedule; I’ve been introduced to beautiful architecture, delicious foods, and amazing sights; I’ve met incredible new people; I’ve found myself feeling lost and uncertain; and I’ve found myself breaking out of my comfort zone and adapting to a new way of life.

But most of all, I’ve learned that I still have so much to learn about the world.

Liz and my incredibly sweet host-mom for the past 4 1/2 weeks, María. I dread having to say goodbye tomorrow morning.

This past week, in particular, I was skimming through some newspapers. There were the expansive articles covering the uprisings for economic reforms here in Spain, a movement I don’t understand half as well as I wish I did but one I’ve had many a conversation about with professors, my host mother, and an anarchist at one of my favorite cafes [who later on invited us to his flat for special brownies, but he was a tad drunk and so Liz and I gracefully declined his offer]. But there were also articles on Greece’s looming economic downfall, Obama’s announcement to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Saudi women fighting for their rights to drive, ash clouds in Australia, and a plane crash in Russia, and after scarcely 10 minutes of skimming, my eyes were wide as saucers and I realized that I have been living in a cozy little bubble for the past month.

[Ironic, really, when going abroad makes one even less aware of what’s happening in the world.]

And then I felt a surge of guilt, and an overwhelming desire to want to be a part of it. Of everything. Of the world.The sad part is that I don’t even know what I mean by it. But it doesn’t lessen my desire to do it. Perhaps work for the government, or volunteer, or teach abroad, or even just continue learning. For the time being, at least. I’m not even twenty yet, after all. I have plenty of time to go through the list of potential post-undergraduate career paths/travel itineraries/applications for higher education.

[And give my parents even more reasons to worry about my looming unemployment and further plummet into financial dependency.]

top: view of Granada from the Alhambra.
bottom: Mediterranean Sea from Peñíscola.

But in the mean time, I look back and realize that, although I may not understand macroeconomics well enough to fully grasp the severity of what Greece and Spain are going through, nor politics and foreign affairs well enough to weigh the pros and cons of Obama’s planned withdrawal, I can help a stranger out at a train station and bridge a gap between two languages. Or chat with passengers on trains, hearing about their fascinating lives and what journeys have brought us to the same place. Or make friends with the owner of a small gastronomy shop and discuss the best flavors of marmalade and olive oil.

Or, most recently, spend upwards of an hour talking to the amazingly sweet owners of a fruit and vegetable market, two blocks away from my apartment, after having surprised them with a cake.

Literally some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. After a fair few days of walking home with free peaches and apples, Liz, Zach, and I decided to repay the favor and purchased a torte as a “thank you.” We ended up talking for quite a long time, in both Spanish and Hindi, chatting over slices of cake, hearing about how they moved to Spain in ’05 from India [their Spanish is impeccable], their optimistic image of the world [even after facing tough economic times in ’08 that would leave many people feeling hopeless], their love for Valencia and traveling, their lives here now, and their hopes for the future. My only regret is that I didn’t get to know them sooner.

And for now, that’s enough. Life is what you make of it, in the end. Take every experience to heart, and you’ll learn so much along the way.

I mean, look at what four and a half weeks has given me: a crispy tan, seven new scarfs [not an exaggeration, I’m still struggling to pack them all], and a head full of new dreams.

And an extra 10 pounds around the gut, but at least I enjoyed the ride! [Plus, what good is it being home for the rest of the summer if I don’t experiment with healthy cooking? (Code, of course, for I can’t wait to have my KitchenAid at my disposable once again, but nuances.)]

On a lighter note, though somewhat more depressing, today is my last full day in Valencia. The fact that this time tomorrow I will be on a stuffy plane, heading back to the States, with a severe lack of exciting in-flight entertainment, hasn’t really hit me yet. But I am quite sure that this time tomorrow I will be in tears.

Nevertheless, it has been an incredible final week. Browsing Valencia’s bustling streets with Zach during lunch breaks resulted in [even more] food for me to bring back home, mental debates about purchasing [even more] new shoes [debates which I lost, in the end (or won, if you’re my bank account)], and eating [even more] carbohydrates in every form imaginable. Yesterday was final exam day, and I can’t lie and say that it’s not nice to finally be out of class for the summer.

It was also a day of fiesta here in Valencia: el día de San Juan. Around 11 last night, we took a bus down to the beach, to be met with thousands of people dancing and drinking, huddled around bonfires both large and small. I don’t know much about the historical significance of the festival, but nowadays you meet up with friends and enjoy general merriment [read: chupitas and meriendas] until around midnight, when you’re supposed to write down a wish on a piece of paper, throw it into the fire, and jump over waves in the sea. It was loud and crazy and breezy and beautiful, and we still managed to make it home by 2:30.

Okay, admittedly, we didn’t stay out very late. But we were exhausted after a long day of finals, so we decided to take it a bit easy. Saw the sights, had more than a few laughs and chats, and then came back.

As for today, Liz is currently on a train to Barcelona to meet up with family [she, the lucky girl, has another four weeks of travel-time across Europe], and so I am soaking up the last few memories I will have here in this apartment. Zach insisted [and I won’t lie and say that it didn’t take long at all to convince me] that we go out tonight for one last hoorah, meaning I will likely get little to no rest tonight and suffer the consequences of this decision with a bad headache and desire to drug myself to sleep whilst on the plane tomorrow, but what good is it coming to the party capital of Europe if I waste my last night in Valencia sitting at home? Packing, dinner with María, visiting a few bars with Zach, and going to a discotheque. Although not ideal, since I will be leaving it all behind in a few short hours, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Besides, it’s only a matter of time before I’m back.

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