I had never realized how hard it is to summarize what is essentially a whole new life until I received email after email from friends and family asking the simple question: “How is Spain?” While this is almost always followed with slightly more specific questions about my host family and classes, I always groan when I see the question. It is probably one that will not disappear until long after I’ve returned to the States. Inevitably I forget something important or interesting that I mean to say each time I sit down to respond to this horrible question. Yet eventually, fingers crossed, I’ll end up answering everything in my seemingly chaotic and less-than-chronological manner.
At least I can make the attempt at some sort of chronology. So, to begin at the beginning: When I first arrived in Sevilla, Spain, I was so exhausted by jetlag and my near 24 hours of traveling that I could barely form proper sentences in English, much less the Spanish that was what my host family would actually be able to understand. Living with a host family was what terrified me the most about living abroad. It seemed (and still seems) to be one of the most awkward situations I’ve ever experienced. After about a week I finally settled into a basic routine, which improved everything.
My host parents, Edu and Pepe, are old enough to have a gaggle of grandchildren. In the beginning I know I was awkward and uncomfortable at meals, which is mostly when I spend time with them. Within about a week meals became some of my favorite times. Frequently we watch the news while we eat and they explain the background of the issues or just make random, but often entertaining, comments. Pepe is fond of telling me that Spaniards are the best athletes around, especially since Nadal won the US Open. The meals themselves are incredible. I’ve only disliked a couple things so far, yet the difference between American food and Spanish food is huge. What I wouldn’t give for a nice juicy steak right about now! There’s always some meat each day, ham or chicken for the most part, but it’s not the main focus of the dish like it is in the US. I am enjoying the food, even if it does mean an occasional run to McDonald’s for a “nice” burger.
Homesickness hit me hard the first few days I was here. I was not expecting this at all, because I have traveled a lot before, even without family. I figured that it would take a couple weeks before it hit me. It was the knowledge that I would have to find a way to live here for nine more months that made it so bad. Once classes started and I was able to find my way around without clutching a map like the stereotypical tourist, I lost much of my homesickness. However, at the time, everything felt miserable: it was too hot (nearly 105°), the email on my phone wouldn’t work, my host home was awkward, and I was just too tired to deal with it.
Although most of my homesickness faded after the first few days, the first week was hard. So I was very happy that I had signed up for one of the OLA (Optional Leisure Activity) trips with the Center for Cross-Cultural Study (the school I take my classes at) for the weekend. We traveled to Portugal, a short two-hour bus ride from Sevilla. While incredible beaches, attempts at pronouncing Portuguese, and fabulous weather accompanied this trip, the best part by far was our visit to Cabo San Vincente near Sagres.
As I stood on the cliffs of what was once known as “El Fin del Mundo” (the end of the world), the brisk wind cooled my front to the point that for the first time in a week, I was finally cold. My back, however, was sunburned enough that the combination kept me a comfortable temperature. I felt my stress caused by the first week of learning my way around the intricacies of living with a host family, finding my way around a foreign city, and speaking almost solely Spanish melt away. Yes, they were still present in my mind, as I suspect they will continue to be to some degree, but I finally felt like they were not insurmountable.
Now, with the three weeks of the Intensive Period ending (where we took one language and culture class for four hours each day), I am more comfortable and more settled in my life here. Through the center I have been able to visit many historical and beautiful monuments such as the cathedral, the Itálica (old Roman ruins just outside the city), and the Alcázar (fortified palace) with its extensive gardens. With friends, I have also had the chance to see other parts of the city, such as the giant Corte Inglés (essentially a Macy’s plus a Wal-Mart plus an Albertson’s) and a bar with amazing live flamenco dancing and music.
So in response to that original, dreadfully irritating question of “How is Spain?” I would say that it is miserable, incredible, awe-inspiring, awkward, sad, hilarious, exciting, and confusing. Regardless of how homesick I have become, I have never reached the point where I regretted my choice to study in Spain, nor wished I were here for only a semester. If the price for my adventures in Spain is being asked repeatedly how it is, then I will gladly pay it. Well, if not gladly then with minimal grumbling and rolling of the eyes. A girl does have her limits.