In my experience, the old adage “time flies when you are having fun” could not be more accurate. It seems like only a few short, action-packed weeks since my last post, but in reality it has been a few months of deep cultural immersion, wonderful adventures to different countries, great academic strides and professional accomplishments. I have experienced age-old traditions and created new ones with friends and family. I have found yet another new city that I can confidently call home and I have grown on a spiritual and intellectual level at a rate that rivals my 7th grade, 5-inch growth spurt.
My abroad experience brought a new level of perspective to how I see the world. Over spring break, I experienced Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Sevilla with all of its festive pompadour: the passionate pasos, the outdoor and rainy Palm Sunday mass that brought the entire city to the streets in their Sunday best, the gatherings at the Cathedral and the pride of this Andalusian tradition…all juxtaposed with the tangible air of a Southern Spanish ease so distinct from my central Spanish city. I took a flight north to stay with my crazy, loving, fun and brilliant superwoman cousin Melissa in Oxford where we saw Harry Potter buildings, ate delicious meals at potlucks, shared pints with amazing new friends and I tried my first real plate of fish and chips…oh yeah, and saw the Queen dressed in her signature pastels. That Sunday, I had the most unconventional Easter experience at the Oxford/Cambridge boat race in London (Oxford won, of course)….then attended a ball (yes, the kind Cinderella made famous) that night.
In April, I basked in the Portuguese sun in Lisbon, and witnessed breathtaking views from the tops of mountains at the miradores. I turned 21 in Madrid, and danced the night away with old best friends and new ones. I saw Northern Spain and witnessed the strikingly peaceful beauty in the Basque region. In Bilbao, I marveled at Walt Disney’s collaborative effort to construct a Guggenheim with warped walls that can only be described as out of this world. I experienced San Sebastian and understand how one of the world’s most beautiful beaches can’t quite be captured on camera.
My last month, May, was an absolute whirlwind that I am still trying to process. The first week of May brought four exams, the submission of a 15 page research paper and an accompanying oral presentation about where I think the future of journalism is headed. For the first time, I approached these Spanish exams with a confident understanding of the language. I had been eating, breathing and sleeping Spanish and journalism for the past four months and through periods of deep thought, reflection, frustration and discovery, I had developed a new perspective on how I saw journalism in the modern world, not just in a one-dimensional –American-capitalistic context. This new definition tied in elements of citizen participation, the validation of social media as a means to communicate valuable information, the possibility that longstanding institutions like El País and the New York Times may not be the powerhouses that they were ten years ago, and the hope that this type of journalism incorporates a newfound sense of ethics distinct from the modern business format. There is no answer for exactly where the future of journalism will be, but rather than becoming anxious and doubtful, I see this void as an opportunity for the introduction of an innovative model that is progressive, living and will develop with the generation that creates it. With this hopeful conclusion, I took my last set of exams, turned in my portfolio and stated my case in an oral presentation. I had officially concluded the academics of my junior year!
This conclusion brought me to the simultaneously wistful and exciting time of my last week and a half in Spain. I was extremely excited because Mike was on his way to visit me and explore Madrid and Barcelona. We were traveling with some of my best friends from abroad and I was grateful for the opportunity to share this time with some of my favorite people in the world. After an early morning airport pickup, I played tour guide as we picked up bocadillos and picnicked in Retiro. Later in the afternoon, we ran into friends near the lake and sipped on cañas in the beautiful afternoon sun. It was a perfect day in Madrid.
The next morning, we journeyed to Barcelona to spend the weekend. We took Vueling and I have to say it was the hippest airline I have ever flown! As we took off and landed, we were soothed by the gentle melodies of Bon Iver and the airline’s magazine boasted many interesting articles. It was incredible to see Gaudi’s architecture up close and spend our afternoons on the beach. We got a taste of the city’s famous nightlife and casually sipped on cocktails with royals (no seriously, that happened). We returned home tired, sunburnt and with a little bit of resaca…all signs of successful weekend in this beloved Spanish city.
My last few days in Madrid were overcast and cold, atypical for mid-May, but the perfect kind of weather for museum hopping! Luckily, there was a new Dali exhibit at the Reina Sofia that I had wanted to see and it was well worth it. The Persistence of Memory gave me the same star struck feeling I had experienced with artwork in the past, but this time, the intensity was similar to sitting down for coffee with Bradley Cooper (okay, maybe a little less exciting, but you can understand the visual). Dalí’s eccentric and creative style builds off of so many different element; a person could spend hours staring at the same work of art without noticing the intricate details woven throughout. I left the exhibit utterly impressed and with a mind full of whimsical, magical and bizarre imagery. When the sun peaked out for a few hours in the afternoon, we stopped for an afternoon snack of chocolate con churros and revisited some of my favorite plazas in Madrid. In Plaza de España, Mike and I stood gaping at the street performers for probably too long, him in pure intrigue and me in, well, sheer terror (something about clowns still freaks me out). You can gage your own reaction here in the video we found a few days later. Despite the dismal grey and icy chill in the air (and spattering of extremely unseasonable hail), I still managed to have some very warm goodbyes with new friends that have made a lasting impression on my life. As we sipped Oreo-fudge milkshakes and laughed about the crazy, exciting, meaningful and ridiculous things we were a part of that spring semester, we couldn’t help but smile. It was a sad goodbye, but also celebratory: knowing that we did the semester right, and although we will always love the city, this experience was coming to a close. From this point forward, this chapter of our lives would forever be stored away in our hearts as a beautiful memory.
As I left Madrid, I held on to this mindset. Through this semester I learned so much about parts of the world that I have never experienced before, I learned how to be flexible and patient with communication, I developed a greater appetite for adventure (…and croquettas) and simultaneously developed gratefulness for the vivacity, love and excitement within my life at home. I was prepared to experience a sort of “reverse culture shock” while adjusting back to life in the US, but so far I have been able to see with a lens of appreciation. I was lucky enough to return to the U.S. for a Memorial Day celebration in Nantucket that was filled with so much laughter and so many smiles that I didn’t have time to be sad. I returned to Rhode Island and spent a week with family relaxing and enjoying the beach before returning to “real life” the following week.
On Sunday, I moved into my Barbie Dreamhouse, the home that I will share with 6 beautiful friends for my senior year at Providence College. I also started an on campus position in the Center for International Studies (i.e.: Study Abroad Office). I absolutely love my job and I have been thoroughly enjoying updating social media accounts, making posters with beautiful pictures from all over the world, putting together informational packets based on my experiences and preparing to share this experience with other students in the next few months or so. I also began a social media management position for a small tutoring company called Academic Advantage. This company offers tutoring services, academic planning and testing prep for elementary and high school students. All of the tutors are extremely well qualified, many times certified teachers or individuals with graduate degrees in the material they tutor. The director, Rick Deutsch, has been working in education for more than 30 years and is a pleasure to work with. I’m so excited for both of these opportunities and the valuable professional experience that I will gain through the next few months!
Today, I stumbled upon this quote, by the first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharial Nehru, that basically summarizes exactly how I feel studying abroad has amplified my world view:
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”
Keeping my eyes wide open and searching for the charming beauty of everyday adventures, I start my summer with a sense of accomplishment, a newfound understanding, and unadulterated excitement for the experiences ahead.