The Run Down: Went to Spain through my University’s study aboard program for a month this June
My Semi-Dramatic Take On Things:
After several plane delays and a missed train, I found myself in the historical city of Zamora, Spain. The journey had started off rocky, but the destination appeared to be well worth the chaotic wait. Zamora’s churches were like Seattle’s Starbucks, there was one on almost every corner. I knew that the city offered an endless amount of cultural and architectural exploration. I was filled with a young traveler’s anticipation and an old traveler’s wisdom. I wanted to see everything I could, but I also knew it was important to slow down and appreciate my surroundings. I didn’t want to spend a trip behind the screen of my phone; I wanted my pictures to be mental ones.
Besides promising myself to stay somewhat distant from all things tech savvy, I had also made a promise to myself that English was something I was going to leave behind. I wanted to force myself to speak nothing but Spanish around the clock. I figured the challenge would force me to pick things up faster. Unfortunately, this challenge was something I quickly gave up on. I spoke only Spanish with my host family, but it was hard to keep my Spanish only speaking rule alive when I was around the other American students. For the most part, the group engaged in English only conversations. In the beginning I tried to fight the urge to speak English, but I quickly caved in and allowed myself to go native so that I could engage in the group conversations. I wasn’t proud of myself for giving up on my goal so easily, but I did find myself wanting some easy social interactions.
The group met up several times in the first few weeks to discuss and prepare a power point for our community service project. It all felt a bit unorganized, but the laid back nature of things was comforting. The group excursions that we took we’re filled with informative tours and memorable scenery. Spain is easily a picturesque country. It wasn’t hard to find beauty in the landscape. My favorite tour guides were a mother and son duo that brought the right kind of life into our group. Marta, the mother, was well informed and warmly, while her 8 year old son was a ball full of energy. The days we spent with them, by far are the days that I would do over. They introduced us to neighboring historic towns, took us to places where wine tasting was essential, and brought us all over to their place for a group feast during the last week.
The community groups we worked with seemed like they were on the verge of collapsing. Things were shaky, and the activities never really seemed to pan out properly. The kids seemed uninterested in interacting, and the organizers appeared a bit aloof. Summer seemed to be getting in the way of any real valuable community service time.
As for the anti-social activities, there was plenty available. I found myself doing a lot of walking around. I began to just wonder around the town, and whenever I would find a spot that appeared cozy, I would sit down and get lost in a book. I began reading Cincuenta sombras de Gray, thanks to my host sister who had checked out a copy at the town library. I just about finished the whole book in two weeks. I was impressed that my reading ability had reached such an erotic level. Not only could I read through the book without peeping at a dictionary every other page, but I also seemed to understand it (I plan on ordering the sequel in Spanish as soon as possible).
I found myself doing a lot of wandering. I wandered into churches to admire the décor and ambiance. I found the town cathedral to be absolutely breathtaking. Gold painted this and gold painted that. Beautifully preserved rugs and outlandish paintings. I am no historian, but I felt like I had been thrown into some kind of new age Indian Jones movie. I got the impression that some of the most important parts of all architectural history were somehow all rolled up and laid out on Zamora’s landscape. I walked up and down Cobble stone roads, aligned with flats built mid flapper era. I jogged along the Duero River and caught sight of what was once an ancient Roman bridge. I window-shopped modern day stores inside historic looking buildings. The town has done a remarkable job with preserving the old and incorporating the best of the new.
I wandered into several of Zamora’s well kept museums, and stared into glass cases filled with ancient artifacts. I sat down at empty cafes to sip on rich coffee and observe the people. I would say that the majority of my favorite moments were moments were I found myself in a foreign solitude. I have always appreciated my alone time, but finding alone time in unfamiliar territory was even more soul enriching. New views allowed me to find new perspectives, and new people allowed me to find new parts of myself.
My host family seemed warming in the beginning. I was greeted with a home cook meal and Spanish siesta. However, I quickly sensed that my presence wasn’t exactly welcomed. One of the two kids was amidst taking one of the biggest tests of her life, and the other kid was a teenage boy who had better things to do with his life than occupy a visitor. I also discovered, through another host family, that my host family was mourning the loss of their grandmother. I felt as if my timing wasn’t exactly pristine.
My host mom was friendly, but openly and overly opinionated. When I came down with a horrible virus, she was attentive and mindful of what I was dealing with, but I felt as if her home remedies were only making me sicker. I wanted to be mindful of the cultural clash, and respect her advice, but I also knew that her treatments were not properly helping me to recover. I felt as if I was a walking zombie. I knew what my body was craving, but I felt as if the world around me was keeping me tied down. I was starving, but I wasn’t giving access to solid foods. I was dehydrated, but everyone seemed to believe that water and Gatorade were not beneficial to my recovery. I literally felt as if I had landed on another planet, and the hosts wanted to exterminate me. I not only felt as if my physical being was dying, but I felt like my mental being was too.
After a week of fighting an illness, I finally took myself into the hospital. I was immediately given liquids and then pushed away on my hospital bed for several x-rays. They took my blood, asked me several questions, and sent me back home with a pocket full of antibiotics. At least I now have comfort in knowing that Spain’s hospitals are clean and reasonably priced. If I ever find myself sick in Europe again, it would be safe to say that I would migrate back over to Spain for treatment.
The more I reflect on my time in Spain, the more I feel as if my time spent there was some kind of life reflection. I did a lot of thinking, which led to a lot of self-reflecting. I think I arrived in Spain, assuming that a perfect adventure was a given. However, I was quickly reminded that adventures are not always perfect. Sometimes a cultural clash or a schedule delay is needed to humble our senses and readjust our viewpoints.
We can’t always control how the wind is going to blow, but we can control how we choose to react to it.We can’t chase adventures, but we can find them. The real adventures occur and then can later be defined as moments of serendipity. We all know that they exist, but getting to the ones worthwhile takes more than just a plane and a destination with a nice view. As I experience life, I have come to realize that my best adventures are not just about my surroundings or the people I’m with, but about a mixture of magical moments.
When I arrived in Spain, I was eager to experience one of these moments. I had dreamt about experiencing an unknown reality. I had pictured finding a new form of paradise. Before even embarking on my European journey, it seemed as if my expectations had manifested themselves. My expectations seemed positively limitless (all thanks to snazzy Instagram photos and travel friendly websites). However, limitless expectations can also have a way of cursing you when things don’t turn out how they were imagined. When expectations aren’t met, it feels as though a favorite dream has forever turned foggy.
I have always been a fairly independent thinker, but this trip put that independence to the test. I quickly realized that if I was going to enjoy myself, I was going to have to find an inner peace. Sometimes life makes it easy to find fun, and sometimes fun indulges in a tricky game of hide and seek. This trip, fun and I had quite the game.
I reflect on my trip to Spain, I feel like I sound like a spoiled brat. Here I am, fortunate enough to have traveled half way across the world and yet all I can do is talk about how my expectations weren’t fulfilled. However, I want to be clear about why I feel like they weren’t. I won’t say that Spain disappointed me, but I will say that I disappointed myself. I am disappointed about feeling as though my community service time was useless. I am disappointed that I didn’t have a natural connection with my host family. I am disappointed that I fell horribly ill for a week. I am disappointed that I broke my no English rule. I’m disappointed that Spain didn’t unravel the way I saw it unraveling in my mind. And, I am truly disappointed in myself for feeling bitter and sounding ungrateful. While there is a huge part of me that appreciates the experience that I had, there is also a huge part of me that wishes it had occurred differently. That is what I am disappointed about.
After compiling a list of depressing and pessimistic disappointments, I also need to shed light on the light I did find in Spain. For Spain reminded me that not everything in life should occur as imagined. We have to learn that there are both dark and light bits of life. Discovering the dark bits of life, allows the lighter ones to shine even brighter, and I did find light in Spain. I found light through sighting a shooting star, feeling a lengthy breeze on a lawn near a castle, engaging in a sultry gaze with a shy Spaniard, listening to the sound of a lonely violin amidst a bustling city, drooling over a sexy Picasso inside an elaborate glass decorated house, catching the whispers and screams of historical church walls, and admiring the silence of loud paintings. These were the moments that made my trip worthwhile.Moments that I couldn’t have chased, but rather moments I found myself running into.
Spain may not have created another reality for me, but Spain did remind me what my existing reality consists of, Real Life. Like a Sourpatch Kid, sometimes real life appears sweet, but tastes a little sour. You might have to take a little bad to get a little good.