What would be your definition of a thoroughly enjoyed international experience? Does it involve visiting a certain amount of countries? Learning a new language? Savoring the delicacies from as vast an array of culinary delight as possible? I suppose these are the questions that have run through my mind as my theoretical (and literal) departure flight from my Europeanly delightful stint is quickly drawing near. I find that experiences like mine are substantially difficult to quantify with numbers or charts (I need no further motivation to avoid these painful methods of documentation) and instead can best be realized through a sort of nostalgic kaleidoscope of all my overseas experiences, both good and bad, throughout the past five months.
For starters, I can confidently say that my Spanish language think tank has steadily risen at a satisfying rate and has either met or exceeded my pre-conceived expectations before the beginning of my journey (the level mark on the tank was slightly blurry and, hence, difficult to gauge). As a matter of fact I have found parts of this blog to be more easily communicated in Spanish than my own native tongue, a very positive sign indeed for how much I have grown in the language. Looking back now I can say that my means and methods for stretching and growing my bilinguistic abilities were sufficiently challenging and effective. For all those who also desire to take hold of a new language, allow me to share my humble suggestions for you: (1) switch your cell phone, computer, facebook and e-mail account to the language you are trying to learn. Doing so will force you to constantly use your new language, regardless of your country of residence, and it will introduce you to very practical and useful terminology in the world of technology. (2) Don’t be lazy. In other words, put yourself outside of your comfort zone by seeking social groups, study partners, or clubs which will allow you to use your language in common settings outside of the classroom. (3) Read a book. Quit worrying about whether you’re good enough yet, just get the freakin book and read it! Have a dictionary on hand with a personal notebook for new vocabulary. Learning a language requires a healthy balance of listening, speaking, reading and writing, so make sure you keep a happy medium.
Enough with the self-help column.
As I was saying earlier, I have chosen to think of my overall experience here in Spain as a kaleidoscope. Lots of colors, your view is in constant motion, and it’s almost as hypnotizing as watching a bonfire or a waterfall when you’re already about ready to fall asleep (if anyone knows how that last part relates to my analogy, please tell me). Food was great. I made an effort to savor at least one morsel from every land in which I visited. The list includes paella, sangria, Serrano ham, and Spanish tortilla in Spain, potato soup and fresh Guinness in Ireland, haggis in Scotland, bratwurst in Germany, and Norwegian chocolate in…..you guessed it, Norway! Unfortunately, due to a massive kick to my bank account’s face I was forced to pinch and scrape to make it to Rome, sadly leaving me without the taste of fresh, hot Italian pizza or cold, creamy gelato on my tongue. But fear not! My days of adventure are far from over as I am but little more than a mere fifth of the way through my journey toward 100 years of life.
Countries. Unfortunately the silly European Union has inhibited my dream of a stamp-filled passport with their laxness of passport control (yes, I just looked it up and laxness is a word). Nevertheless, my little blue adventure booklet is slightly tighter around the waist than when its feet left American soil last year. To date my travel log includes the following countries: the beautiful US of A, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, and Norway. Perhaps a bit weak in comparison to the long list of exemplary world travelers out there, but still a good start for this newbie.
I shall save you the long list of details of the amazing friendships, funny experiences, flat tires, language barriers, and everyday happenings I have encountered. Needless to say, I can say that it is nothing less than pure joy when I put my kaleidoscope up to my eye and slowly spin the sphere, watching the moments go by that turned into experiences, all cumulating into a beautiful roaring sea of memories and emotions. To a certain degree I am happy (okay, ecstatic!) to return home to my friends, family, and familiar surroundings. But I will surely miss the life of mine that has so quickly developed and, now, is so quickly nearing an end. It’s amazing what can happen in five months, how your views and opinions of the world around you can change, how your appreciation for things outside of your own culture can increase so dramatically, and how your interest in football (that’s soccer to us Americans) can so insanely explode especially when your team (Valencia) makes it to the finals and Barcelona and Real Madrid tie in an unbelievably tight matched game and you know that miracles do happen and that Valencia could potentially find itself in front of thousands of fans face to face with Barcelona, the best football (soccer) team known to man, in the finals of the King’s Cup…!!!!! I suppose lots of things can change in five months. And as I hear my departure flight approaching the gate (literally speaking this time), I can’t help but think about how much and in what ways my life will be different from here on out because of my decision to study abroad in Valencia, Spain. There’s no going back, but the future looks bright. Especially here in the Mediterranean sun. So before I conclude this farewell blog post, let me leave you with one final humorous discovery I made of the Spanish language while attempting to translate the typical ending to a fairy tale (you know, the ones that goes “and they all lived happily ever after”):
And they all lived happily,…and ate partridges.
Un ultimo abrazo,