A time like none other. An experience that none of us will ever forget and will always cherish. You move away from your home, your family, everything that is familiar and travel to a world of unknown experiences. At first you think it’s perfect, you cannot see any wrong. We live and love and learn and travel. By the end of the first quarter we were discouraged, tired of the food and had begun to form dislikes. We missed home and the comfort it provides. Sometimes it felt like Spain would never be home.
Then, second quarter comes, and you start the grind of school all over again. Here, during the second quarter is where change begins. This is where you realize that you really love the country. This is when it takes hold of a piece of your heart and never lets go. This kind of love is not the same love as last quarter when we all first arrived, and everything was new and perfect. This love sees the country for what it is. A country that isn’t perfect, but unique, and full of incredible people. Just like that It has become home. How did this happen? You don’t know. You just realized one day that you felt at home, as though this place was where you belonged. We loved the country for everything that it was, even the things that used to bother us didn’t anymore. It was just life and it was our lives and now we were really ready to live it to the fullest.
We had all undergone a transformation and we had been through it together. Contrary to popular belief, study abroad is not all travel, happiness, and amazing Instagram photos. It’s tough. Tough to adjust and learn to love and live in a new place in a true way. This is something we all experienced and shared and that, without knowing it, brought us together in a way we could have never imagined.
Throughout this process you also realize what really makes this specific school so special, and the answer is simple: our teachers. They have always been there encouraging us, supporting us and putting their all into making this experience wonderful and unique. They sacrifice a lot for us. They have given up time that they could be spending with their friends, family, sleeping, doing their grocery shopping, and going to the gym. That is a lot of sacrifice for people who will be in their lives for just 9 short months. But we all know that they will gladly do it over again for the next group of people with just as much sacrifice. They welcome us into their homes and lives. They share stories with us, and we laugh together, cry together and dance together (especially in Chelo’s class). We become a family.
Life slows down and it doesn’t feel dreary anymore. You learn to appreciate every moment that you get to spend in such a beautiful place. Every morning a beautiful sunrise greets you, the ocean begins to shimmer silver and deep blue and every night a majestic sunset signals time for the evening campus activities to begin. Then the big moon rises over the hills and shines down on us as we walk to and from worship and the gym. The orange trees always have something wonderful to give. At the beginning of the year it was oranges of course. We ate them and drank their juice and a few times they were used as weapons in epic battles that took place on the walk to and from Sagunto. Then after the orange season is over the blossoms come and the sweet smell fills the air all day long. All these pieces have become a part of us. Things so beautiful it’s actually hard to take them for granted.
You meet more people and make more friends as time goes on. You build a community. You travel and learn how to travel. You learn how to order a taxi in Spanish. You learn valuable lessons from leaving water in your water bottle while going through security, missing flights, trains and buses. Maybe you even had something stolen, or now own a bracelet some man slipped on your wrist and made you pay for. You forget to check into flights and find out that some hostels have bed bugs. You take Ls and move on laughing with another story to tell. The memories multiply.
You begin to learn that this new life is your new reality, and everything just feels so right until one day at 3am everything changes. You have to leave your reality and go back to the other life you lived in the past. Except that you are different, you have changed, and it is scary. Scary not knowing how you are going to fit into that old reality as a changed person. It is exciting to see family and friends and the excitement of this will keep you going at the beginning, but then reality will hit and you realize just how different you are. You miss the quiet sunrise runs with the smell of orange blossoms all around and the happy loving faces of your teachers. You realize that never again in your life will you have teachers that individually know, and genuinely care about you that much. The pain of this realization hurts. You can feel it deep inside of your stomach and it doesn’t go away. It’s simply because a piece of you is missing and always will be. In a matter of hours our lives had been changed.
We weren’t ready. I know we wouldn’t have been anyways when we left in our own timing, but at least we would have had time to prepare ourselves for it. Crying in el Comedor with 60 other people at 8am is not really how any of us pictured leaving. Lidia crying while she hugged us whispering “I’m so sorry… I’m so sorry.” over and over again. We were weak from crying because we were already missing these people and this place we hadn’t even left yet. Every goodbye got harder and harder. It was time to leave and we were still waiting for someone to wake us up, tell us it was not true, it is all just a bad dream. We were not actually leaving for good right?
But we were. We were going home to very different lives. At this point, all we could do was turn our focus forward to the future. The truth is that we will never really leave our lives in Spain behind, because we have changed and will always carry it with us. No matter where we go. We will never forget, never stop loving and never stop missing those we left behind.
Thank you, Spain, for impacting our lives in such a beautiful way. ¡Hasta luego!