Before coming to Spain, I knew for sure I’d be gaining new life experiences. What I didn’t realize though was just how much I’d grow from spending five months in a foreign country. I thought that spending two years at college away from home had given me some sort of independence, but I had no idea just how much growing I had left to do. So, I thought as a final blog post I would make a list of things I have learned while studying abroad. Bear with me here, this one is going to be long.
Perhaps this is the most obvious one, and something I definitely expected to learn from spending 5 months in a foreign country. Now I know from experience what everyone will ask me as soon as I come home. Are you fluent now? It’s absolutely everyone’s favorite question, and it’s a tricky one to answer. As soon as I say I don’t think so, people quickly jump to a condescending looks. But truth be told, I’m not sure it’s possible to become fluent in just 5 months. Maybe that is just my excuse, but there is just far too much vocab and colloquialisms to learn. Now don’t start judging me yet. I know I spent a lot of time hanging out with Americans while I was here, and I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t speak as much Spanish as I possibly could have, but that in no way means I haven’t improved. When I first got here, I had a hard time understanding most things our family said, but now I often find myself listening to the radio, tv or even people’s conversations besides me and don’t realize until later that I understand what they are talking about. So I guess I don’t know how to say every word or phrase in Spanish, but thanks to 5 months in Spain, I now feel confident with my Spanish abilities. I can hold my own in a conversation. I’ve formed a close relationship with 3 kids and 2 Spanish parents whom I only speak with in Spanish. I’ve taken classes with all Spaniards as a foreign exchange student. I’m proud of myself for what I’ve accomplished. I know I have a lot more to learn, but I’ve got a whole lifetime ahead of me to keep practicing and improving.
2.How to live with a new family (with new rules)
For 5 months Colleen and I have been members of a Spanish family. I know a lot of people in our program would say they have just been a guest in their senora’s house, but we have had the blessing of having a family that has truly accepted us a member of their family. This wasn’t always easy…in fact most of the time I would say our family was far too comfortable with us. I've always been the youngest in the family, and I've had to learn how to live with younger siblings. I’m honestly not sure how my siblings ever did it. Far too often I found myself wanting to strangle Carmen at 8 in the morning when she screams (or during one of her many tantrums in the middle of the day). I had a few unfortunate run ins with naked 13 year old Luis. Maria lately has been coming home from school and stripping down to just her underwear. But I would take any of these slightly awkward instances any day because the way I see it, it is just their way of showing how comfortable they are around us. As I told Carmen when Maria wouldn't let her play with her friends at her communion, she has 2 other sisters to play with. I never thought that I’d have younger siblings (not to mention ones that only speak Spanish), but I’m so happy I was paired with them. And even though I've had my ups and downs with Pilar along the way, 90 percent of the time she has been great. Sure she could be a bit moody sometimes, but with Carmen as a child, who can blame her? She eventually did remember my birthday 5 days later when Maria reminded her and felt so bad she had forgotten that she went out and got a cake right then and there. She will never be nearly as great as my real mom, but as a Spanish substitute for 5 months, I must admit she was pretty amazing.
3.Enjoy the moment
Throughout all of our trips and all of the bumps we hit along the way, Colleen and I always told each other one thing: It’ll all work out. Whether it was getting stuck in Florence without plane tickets home or train hoping through Germany to catch a flight in time, we always found a way to work things out. Traveling should be a fun experience, not a stressful one. I was lucky enough to have had a travel companion as great and as laid back as Colleen. All in all we visited 2 continents, 8 countries and 19 cities. Is there any better way to spend the semester?
4. How to travel
Before coming here I had only really taken vacations with my family. My parents did the planning, and I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. But after taking so many trips, I’ve learned quite a bit about how to travel. I now know the ins and outs of European trains, planes, hostels and sightseeing...and of course how to do it in the most fun and cheapest way. I’m not sure it’s a skill I can really explain. I guess just being thrown into new situations in new countries (that often speak a different language) has provided me with situations to learn from. I now feel confident in my ability to travel and more independent because of it.
Alright so now, to wrap up my blog posting career, I want to take a minute to reflect on the things I’m going to miss most in Spain and the things I can’t wait to get back to America for.
First for what I’ll miss most about Sevilla,
1. The relaxed atmosphere. Not having much school work at all has been so completely different from the usual work load I have at UNC. I know going back to the Business school next semester will be a tough transition. But more than that the people here just have such a relaxed way of living. The 3 hour long siestas in the middle of the day and day drinking are exactly what Spain is all about….and I must admit I’ve gotten a little too used to it.
2. This beautiful city in general. Sevilla truly is spectacular. I will miss walking by the river, finding my way through the tiny historic streets in el centro , gawking at the stunning cathedral and running through the beautiful Maria Luisa park. There truly is nowhere else quite like Sevilla.
3. My Spanish family. Yes, even Carmen. I didn’t realize how much I was going to miss them until this last week. Pilar and I both teared up this morning when Colleen left, and I’m 100% certain I’ll cry tomorrow night when I have to say goodbye. But as Pilar said herself, we will see each other again someday.
|Us at dinner when Colleen's mom visited|
4. The cheap beer and wine. Drinking here is so common that drink prices have no choice but to be cheap. That being said, I guess I’ll also miss being legally able to drink. Thinking back on it, I don’t remember a time I was even carded while in Europe. Oh how different America will be.
5. Cafes con leche…they are small, sure, but they are absolutely delicious. I’m afraid the Costco blend just might not hit the spot anymore.
6. The ease of being able to travel. This semester has been full of amazing trips….trips that just aren’t possible from UNC. It really has been more like 5 months of vacation than anything else.
7. Pilar’s food. Having someone to cook for you twice a day is a luxury far greater than any dining hall plan back home. I will truly miss lunches with warm, freshly baked bread every day…although I’m sure my waistline won’t miss it
8. The new and amazing people I have met here. I have spent the past 5 months with Colleen. We sleep a foot away from each other, walk to class together, eat meals together and suffer through the highs and lows of our family together. In the past months, I don’t think we have spent more than 2 days apart. It will take some getting used to not spending every day with her….I hope that doesn’t sound too creepy. Although, reading it back through I don’t know how it couldn’t. I guess I should just say that in general I’m so happy to have had a great roommate and met wonderful new friends along the way. Colleen and I say all the time that we are on a 5 month long honeymoon. And I'm sad to say it seems that honeymoon has come to an end. But not to worry, we have PLENTY of pictures and memories to reminisce on back in Chapel Hill. I thought I'd leave you with just a few of our infamous honeymoon shots...believe me I had a lot to choice from.
Now, for the fun part: what I’m excited to go back to America for.
1. Friends and family. I haven’t seen anyone from back home since January, except for my parents of course. I truly cannot wait to be reunited with Kevin at the airport on Wednesday, Daphne on Thursday and see my family at Anne’s wedding this coming weekend. Then there is the list long of UNC people I will hopefully see sometime this summer. If nothing else, at least being on the same time zone as everyone will be a relief.
|Our family on Mother's Day. I'm looking a bit yellow on the iPad|
2.Having more freedom and independence in my house. Living with your own parents is much more comfortable than constantly having to respect rules like no showering after 10 and always having slippers on. It has by no means been terrible, but it will be nice to get back to my own house, my own bed, my own parents and, most of all, a quite house without screaming (and far too often naked) children running around.
3.Gym—running through the parks here is truly wonderful, but I have missed having access to a gym. Not only for the sake of lifting weights, swimming or taking classes, but also so that I don’t have to listen to the whistles, honks, and comments from Spanish men.
4.Fully functioning internet. The connection here hasn’t been terrible, but often times the internet will go out without warning…especially when Skyping.
5.My closet. I know I’m getting a little materialistic here, but I really have missed having my full wardrobe. Coming here I had no choice but to pack light…plus I had to pack for winter and summer so having lots of outfits wasn’t really an option. I’m excited to get back to having choices…oh and to having my laundry done more than once every week and a half (a problem that wouldn’t be an issue in the US, but here gets a bit annoying with such a clothing restraint).
6.Libraries. Now this obviously isn’t something I’ll be taking advantage of right away, but come fall semester it is nice to know I can always go to the library if I need to get work done. The hours for libraries here are really inconvenient…not to mention the libraries are tiny and hard to find.
7.Big cups of coffee. I know this goes against my café con leche love, but I do miss being able to sip on a big cup of coffee…far too often cafes con leche here are gone in a matter of minutes.
8.Air conditioning. As far as I know, our house does not have airconditioning, or at least if they do it certainly has not been turned on yet. In the middle of the day I find myself sweating if I stay in my room for too long…not to mention how terrible it has been to try and fall asleep at night when I’m hot. I’m sure I’ll sleep like a baby come Wednesday night. I can almost feel the air coming from the vents just thinking about it.
9.Cell phone. My prepaid cell phone here has certainly served its purpose. I’ve been able to contact friends if I’m out and call Pilar if I need to tell her something, but with every phone call or text, I think about how much money I have left on my phone. I also really miss just being able to call my mom, sister or aunt when I’m walking around just to chat. Unlimited texting and free calls to Verizon customers is going to feel like a luxury when I go back.
10.Food. Alright I know I’m really sounding like a hypocrite now because I just said how much I am going to miss some of Pilar’s food, but I have been craving certain foods ever since I got here. I’ll try not to go on for too long (something that is very easy to do with this subject), but to name a few: Chickfila, Mexican food, any type of cheese (Pilar doesn’t like cheese so therefore we never eat it), fruits (we’ve been deprived for the past 2 weeks for some reason), vegetables (far too often the only thing resembling a vegetable that I see all day are french fries), sushi, pizza, my mom’s oatmeal (and any breakfast food that isn’t corn flakes for that matter), macaroni and cheese, and Chinese….just to name a few.
I know I made the US list longer than the Spain one, but I guess that is probably just because of how much I’ve been thinking about all the things I’ll be going home to. I will miss this place, but I know I’ll come back one day. There is no use being sad at this point...I am just happy that I was given this opportunity. And thank you for reading this. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have enjoyed writing down all my thoughts. I hope to one day read through my old posts and relive some of my experiences. But for now I must concentrate on getting to Madrid tomorrow and then back home on Wednesday. So for now, hasta luego espana!