Well, this is the end. Finals are all turned in(fingers crossed), the papers are written and only 2 days remain of my Grand Adventure.
I’d like to talk about the experience as a whole, in addition to life here in Alicante, as well as Spain. Because it’s been nearly 4 months of experimentation, I’m sure that my findings will be substantial enough to require sharing with the fine people of the Salve Regina Community, and the world if need be.
The month of September was the hardest for me, which I expected. It was a hot, and uncomfortable new world, a place whose daily routine was nearly non-existent. A place where you spend your days going slow, and your nights as fast as you can go. It seemed so impossibly different from life in small-town America. Devoid of the things that made me the most comfortable; namely friends and family. Alicante is basically a beachside desert, but don’t let that discourage you, it has a charm all its own.
Back then, It seemed that this semester was going to be as long as an eternity. and homesickness really took its toll. One day towards the middle of October, I was walking down the Explanada here in Alicante, when I came to the realization that for the people of Alicante, this is their paradise. They wake up every day, go to their job or to the university, passing the new development, palm trees, plazas and cafés as part of their daily lives. For them, this is what they want in life, to live their days with long nights fueled by the sun of the Mediterranean.
It wasn’t until that Mid October day that I finally was able to let loose and take in everything that makes this place amazing. It was then when I met some new friends, and school really started to pick up. I stopped thinking of Alicante as a strange place far from home, but rather my new home. From then on out, I had visited other cities and had been more eager to explore this brave new world that was presented to me.
I began to really appreciate how old this place is. Alicante is nearly 1200 years old. As a city, it has been here since before Spain was called Spain. And the streets I walk on a daily basis must’ve seen millions of travelers in its time. I feel privileged to have been one of them. I climbed a local landmark in the quieter part of town, el Castillo de San Francisco the other day, Atop this quiet old fort, I could see the city all the way to the sea. And as I looked upon it, I could only think that the city before me was an extension of me. Just like a local, I could tell you where the best restaurants and monuments are, and how to get there. I have absorbed the culture of this city and am proud to say that I was once a resident.
Spain as a whole is a slower society than back home. Which is a nice change seeing as the go-go-go lifestyle really was by bread and butter for my entire life until this point. Spaniards would rather have you stop and smell the coffee that you will inevitably be drinking, followed by a siesta. Though I still haven’t adjusted perfectly to the sleep schedule of the Spaniards, I can admit to taking the occasional siesta.
After nearly four months of speaking Spanish day in and day out, I’ve come to notice how gratifying it is to speak Spanish with other people. To communicate with someone you’ve never met in a language that isn’t your own is truly a remarkable experience. And of course, receiving complements from native speakers about your Spanish feels even greater. I always found it funny when other Americans would get picked out of our group as American, yet I was able to sneak by the suspicions of the Spaniards. Here in Spain I’ve met people from Italy, Germany, France, Poland and even Japan, sharing only the Spanish language with them. That was an incredible traverse of culture. I was talking with people from other parts of the world in languages that neither of us grew up with, and that gives you a whole new perspective of how connected the world can be through languages.
The university here is wonderful, though the education system has a few distinctions with the American system, it is a very diverse place, with many ways of connecting you to the other students in a manner that can best be described as “European”.
Last night other American students and I met with the international coordinator here, for some drinks; a last farewell to some of us, and to the director; who is a great advisor. We didn’t leave there of course. The nightlife of Alicante is more lively than rush hour. All of the streets and the restaurants are bursting with merry people. Being Christmastime, the whole city was lit up with string lights and Christmas garland. We went to our favorite restaurants, and sights for a great last hoorah. A fond farewell to my friends was more emotional than I anticipated it to be. The bonds you make with your friends abroad is nothing like the ones you make at home; here they seem more intimate, because you know that these people you shared good times with will only likely see you for this brief adventure in your life. These people will certainly always be one of my fondest memories in Spain, and I wish them happiness.
Of course, the local people you meet have an impact on you as well. This is especially true for your host family. My host family, Inma and her son Pablo have been of monumental help to me. They helped me with my Spanish and always have lively conversation and advice. Certainly, I cannot imagine this adventure of mine without them in it. They are an extension of my family at this point, and 2 more people on the list of the things I will miss.
There are always people singing here. Whether it be the elderly couple sitting for dinner, the Mariachis that perform in the street, or the people on the floor above or below you, the people of Spain are filled with songs. And they love to sing. This is just a quirk I’ve noticed. and something to remark upon, a welcome quirk at that.
Another thing to note is that everyone in Spain, ESPECIALLY the youth, has one goal: To see New York City. If you’ve been there, you may as well be a celebrity. When I told them I lived about 3 hours from there, most of them would lose it. The Spaniards love America, but to be fair, they only know what they see in the media.. Which in their case is 80% of their programming, movies and music, the rest is filled with Spanish local programming. This was very apparent when I attended a “Final Debate” for an English studies class, as a guest judge (for being a native English speaker). The Debate was about whether it was better to teach American grammar or English grammar in schools. Each team was dressed as pop culture Icons from both their country. There were Batmans, basketball players, pop stars, presidents and cowboys for team America; and royalty, Harry Potters, Dr. Whos and Shakespeares on the English side. I couldn’t help but to maintain a smile throughout the debate as to how bombastic they saw these two English cultures. It was quite the experience.
I came here nearly 4 months ago an American student, on a mission to speak better Spanish and soak in the sunshine of a new place. And after traveling about the country and studying the literature, watching the films and spending the nights out, I can say that Spain has most certainly grown on me. I still miss home, but leaving now seems so bittersweet. I have no regrets with anything that I’ve done here, only that I wish I spent my free time doing more things. There is so much to see and do in Spain that even after a year in Spain, I still wouldn’t have scratched the surface. This is an old place, with a unique set of very practiced traditions, and a sense of charm and respect for these traditions that you can’t get in the United States.
And now this Grand Adventure is coming to a close, and the dream has been fulfilled. I’ve accomplished my mission. And I need to give thanks to the people who made it possible and fulfilling. First, to my parents for letting me leave home for 4 months and then come back, as well as supporting my dream to go. Second to Katie, Erin and the rest of the OIP, (and I know they’ll be reading this) for helping me sort out the paperwork and telling me what to do, because I’m still questioning how I even got here in the first place, certainly not on my own. Third to my Spanish professors from 2004 until today, whose teachings let me experience the world in a new light. To the Director of International Programs here in Alicante for sharing his knowledge about Spain with me. And finally to my host family and to a specific friend that I met here, who effectively turned my experience from just another semester into a real adventure.
Looking back, I know now that studying abroad is more than just taking a your studies elsewhere. It’s a social experiment, with yourself as the subject. You begin to see the world differently, through the eyes of other people and spoken through other tongues. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that will become a part of you for as long as you live. I cannot express greatly enough on paper how grateful I am to have done this, and I would recommend this experience to anyone with the ambition, determination and wanderlust to see how big, (and small) our world really is.