by Victoria (AIFS Salamanca, Spring 2003)
I am that person who came back from Spain only speaking Spanish for the first week, until my boss forced me to speak to customers in English.
I begin every sentence with “When I was in Spain…”
I still have only my Todos Exitos 1 and 2 in my CD player.
Essentially, I am annoying to my family and friends because they don’t want to hear any more stories about the amazing things I did without them. That’s all right with me. Across the big ocean, I have another family and group of friends who speak Spanish, also own Todos Exitos, and tell the same stories I do. In Salamanca, and all over, there are people I met who changed the way I see the world, and myself.
I think of the ones I met at the university, the ones whom I would go with to grab a café
con leche. Or the bartenders that knew me by name, and made me a Caiperinha without
having to ask what I wanted. The people I met while living abroad are some of the greatest
friends I have. They were the people that shared the experience of being abroad during the
war, of experiencing a new culture together, the friends that supported my growth and
change because they, too, were growing and changing.
It’s hard to explain what studying abroad is exactly. Yes, it’s learning a new language, a new culture. But more so, it’s learning a new you. I think that is the most t important part of studying abroad, how the person who left for the trip isn’t the same person who comes back. I was changed by things I saw, people I met, places I went to. Those beggars I saw on the streets of Barcelona. Trying ‘lengua’ (cow’s tongue) for dinner. The fisher woman in Nazaré who invited me into her home and wanted me to marry her son. The lady who worked at Paladares Bakery who always had a “Magdalena de crema” waiting for me on Wednesday afternoons for no charge. The man who sold Once tickets that I said hola! to everyday on my way to class. The gorgeous estanquero who sold me stamps. All these people who were part of my life for a short while, but have changed me forever. How much I changed, even when I didn’t expect to, even when I didn’t think I could. It was almost as if I blinked, and the experience was over. It all ended too soon, but I have the hundreds of pictures to prove that it happened and that it was as amazing as I thought. I am not interested in petty things anymore. I don’t get mad at the man who cuts me off while driving. I actually laugh, because I am in no hurry for anything, anymore. Tranquilo is my motto. I still speak Spanish whenever possible. I get excited about meeting people from Spanish speaking countries because it’s a chance to say “¡No me digas!” The world’s a lot more complicated now, and it’s a lot more fun. There are a hundred places to live, to visit, and to know about. There are billions of interesting people that share this planet. An important thing is not to take each day for granted. The saddest part of leaving is the moment I realized everything was real, and that it all was going to end soon. It all will be just a memory and not “my life” as I know it. Towards the end of my stay I started spending more time out in the Plaza just enjoying the day, trying to fix the feeling of the Spanish sun in my bones.
Another important thing about the experience is to take what you learn, bring it back home and just live it. Tell everyone you know about what you learned. Ignore them when they say, “I don’t want to hear it.” They do. They are just jealous at first. Tell them how it’s okay to siesta during the day. (It should be mandatory in all 50 states.) Tell them how going out at 2 am and not coming back until 7 in the morning is good for you. It keeps you young. Try to remember what made the Spaniards dance, and what made you smile while you were out there. This is the reason for going abroad: To change your life. The only disadvantage to this whole deal? All that longing to go back, even for just a second. But it’s worth it!