Let’s just acknowledge right away that this blog post is long overdue. I was asked nearly a month ago when I arrived home from Spain to write a summary blog recapping how I felt about the time that I spent in Spain. I’ve held off on writing that blog until a month after I got home for a few reasons…
First, there are so many stories I never even told you about. There was the time that I went to the home of my intercambio’s friend who makes the dresses for the falleras. For six hours, I got to pretend that I was a real fallera and was dressed up in two different dresses, was covered in jewelry, had my hair done, and was then paraded around the streets of Valencia to take pictures.
I also received more cooking lessons. I got to attend a pallea master class with my friends from Bible study as well as make a Spanish omelette for a Spanish family. And there were so many more delicious dishes and pastries that I got to eat. Thinking of the bakery across from my school still makes my mouth water.
We took a second excursion as an institute to a few different cities in the province of Aragón, Spain. It was so fun to see another part of Spain that was completely different from our Valencia. The tall apartment buildings and beaches of Valencia were replaced with mountains and forests and groves of nisperos, a delightfully tart Spanish fruit. We visited two cities. In one city, Teruel, we wandered through the streets and learned the legend of the two lovers who had lived there and inspired Romeo and Juliet. In the second city, we explored ancient, medieval streets for about fifteen minutes until the rain came pouring down. We got completely drenched searching for a cafe, and when we finally found one, we spent the rest of our trip sipping hot, Spanish coffee, talking and laughing.
Then, there was the week that I got to spend in Italy. I was so blessed to be able to visit friends of my family in the medieval town of Treviso, Italy as well as travel to Venice and other cities. I spent Easter Sunday at a 300 year old villa owned by cousins of the incredibly kind woman that I stayed with. I ate gelato every single day as well as mozarella cheese. Delicious. I also was staying with an Italian history teacher, so I spent my days learning all about the history of each of the cities that I traveled to: their contribuitions to their country and the world, their culture, and their art and architechture. It was a magical week.
There was the night that Lindsay and I went to the Andalucian fair, celebrated by all the people from Andalucia living in Valencia. We spent the evening eating tapas and watching flamenco for a few hours. It was one of the most fun, peaceful nights that I had in Valencia.
These are just some of the highlights. I didn’t even tell you about the ordinary, every day moments where I could not even wrap my mind around how blessed I was to live with my host mom. Everyone asks me what the highlight of my experience was now that I am back, and I always begin with her. I wish she was here with me now as I type this and we could curl up on the couch with our dinner trays and watch “El Jefe” (Undercover Boss) all night long or sit at the kitchen table drinking tea and talking about our days. She became my second mama in every way. Thank you, Mama Lucía for everything. Thank you for all of your advice, for the hours of laughter, for tea and life chats at the kitchen table, for all the special times we went out to eat, for encouraging me, for correcting my Spanish, and for the week where we ate cheese every single night for dinner. No puedo describir tu impacto en mi vida. Te quiero y te echo de menos mucho.
I also had such amazing friends. Oh my goodness, how thankful I am that I got to know each and every one of them. There were the girls at Wednesday afternoon Bible studies with whom I shared lunch, laughter, and learned from their wisdom and insight and views of the world. There was my church congregation, made up of young and old, who took me into their family, allowed me to serve and participate fully in their ministry, and with whom I shared some of my most special moments. They are the people who prayed for me, encouraged me, listened to, laughed with, and welcomed me into their homes. I am so thankful for their friendship. I learned so much from them and am thankful for the unique and special role they played in my life during my time in Spain. The last week that I was in Spain, the church sent each one of us off, asking how they could pray for us. Then, they presented us with a book of letters from different members of the congregation at Bible study later that week. It was with these people that I got a little taste of what heaven is going to be like someday, and it was so beautiful.
There was also my intercambio, Prisca. What a generous, fun, person who shared so much of life with me. When I said goodbye to her, I truly could not imagine not seeing her twice a week. (But it’s okay because we have big plans to become business partners and open up a paella restaurant and a churrería in the United States someday). She showed me Valencia from a true Valencian’s perspective and allowed me to participate in the Valencian culture in so many special ways that I never could have even imagined.
I spent my last week in Valencia taking in all my favorite sites and doing all of my favorite things. I had lunch at a fancy restaurant with all of my professors and the girls at the institute. I went to the beach with friends in the early morning to watch the sunrise. I spent lots of time with my friends from church and Bible study. Lindsay and I had one more taza de chocolate in the old city. Mama Lucía and I went shopping in the old city and climbed the Miguelete to get one last look at all of Valencia. I also did not so glamorous things like write really long papers and take five final exams.
And that doesn’t even begin to cover every single thing that I did during my time in Spain…but it is a start.
The second reason why I haven’t written this blog yet is because it has taken me this long to figure out what to even say about everything that I learned while I was in Spain. (And honestly, I still haven’t finished processing that experience). Everyone told me that studying abroad would change my life. I had no idea how right those people were. I can truly say that studying abroad has been the highlight of my college career and I count the three and a half months that I spent in Spain among some of the most important and formative months of my life.
I went to Spain with two suitcases, a desire to improve my Spanish, my knowlege of the Spanish culture, and learn as much as I possibly could about everything around me. I came back from Spain with three suitcases and a backpack, significantly improved Spanish, an understanding and a true love of Spanish culture and a feeling of immense satisfaction and disbelief at just how many experiences and lessons I had learned from the people around me. I came back to the United States as a different person.
Since returning from Spain…
- I have a whole new compassion for people who are new to my country. I am so very thankful for the people in Spain who welcomed me, befriended me, were patient with me, and loved me in spite of the many times I struggled with a language barrier or did not understand an aspect of their culture. I want to be that person for people going through the same thing here.
- I have such a decreased level of stress. Spain helped me to put my life into perspective and learn to compartmentalize.
- I tend to live my life on a much more day by day basis. I am trying to remain focused on what is in front of me rather than whatever is months ahead.
- I am a better listener. When you go to a different country and you are learning a new language, you have to learn how to listen and ask questions in order to really learn. In the process, you learn so much more about people and the language then you ever could have imagined.
- I am more confident. I know who I am and I like who I am.
- I have seen so many ways in which God is working all over the whole world in the people that I met and I am so very excited for what He is doing. I have a much more global perspective when I think about my faith.
- I notice more details. Every week I taste, hear, see, smell or touch something that I didn’t experience in Spain. I get such pleasure from receiving a free glass of ice water at a restaurant, eating a Resse’s peanut butter cup, and seeing the plants and animals that are native to my region of the country.
- I think in Spanish often. And I often say things in Spanish as well. This has caused two problems. My family often has no idea what I am saying, and I mispronounce words in English all the time.
- I understand what Jaqueline Kennedy meant when she said after being abroad in Europe, “Being away from home gave me the chance to look at myself with a jaundiced eye. I learned not to be ashamed of a real hunger for knowledge, something I had always tried to hide, and I came home glad to start in here again with a love for Europe that I am afraid will never leave me”.
- I know just how important it is to have a community wherever you may be.
- I am immensely grateful that I took risks and opened my heart and shared life with people and learned from them even though I knew time was running out.
These are just a few of the ways that I have noticed changes in myself since returning from Spain.
The third reason why this has taken me so long is that I literally just finished unpacking yesterday, exactly one month after I arrived home from Spain. Everything finally has a place. I have piles of tickets and brochures and hundreds of photographs that I need to develop. My room has little momentos and postcards all over it that are precious to me.
So why did it take me so long to unpack?
Well, in typical Breanna style, I got home and have plugged right back into my life here at full speed. I was visted by three of my dearest college friends at my home in Minnesota within the first few weeks of being home. I got a second job working at the local bagel shop, an item I missed terribly while in Spain, and have spent way too much of my tip money consuming now that I have been home. I spent a week doing elementary clinicals and working with kids who are just beginning their Spanish journey. I just finished another week volunteering with my Spanish teachers at my local high school. It was amazing to work with the two teachers who inspired me to keep taking Spanish and decide to be a Spanish teacher. They have also each been to Valencia on mulitple occasions and their classrooms are filled with pictures of beautiful Spain. In addition to these things, I am taking full advantage of the free movies my brother gets to take us to because of his summer job at the movie theather, enjoying spending time with my own family, reading for pleasure in English and Spanish, and taking an online class. Life is full and I feel so blessed.
I miss Spain terribly, but I am also thankful to be home and applying the lessons that I learned in Spain to my own life here. I still spend time every day thinking about when I will be able to go back and about all the people that have permanent spaces in my heart 4,000 some miles away. I don’t think that will ever change.
Last summer, before the school year started, I chose the following quotation by C.S. Lewis as a theme for my year.
“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishnes. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become inpenetrable, unbreakable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
That was my goal for this year, to be vulnerable and love, and I lived it out in Spain. I fell in love with the people I met in Spain as well as the country of Spain itself, and although I miss them terribly, I am so very grateful to have gotten the opportunity to weave my heart with theirs.
I’m not sure what brought you to my blog today. Maybe you’ve been following my journey all along. Maybe you’re considering studying abroad and are reading about my experience (DO IT!!!!). Maybe you had someone else on the same trip that I was on. Maybe you’re just curious. Whoever you are, I just want to say thank you for taking the time to read some of my story.
I also want to extend a special thank you to those of you who made this trip possible for me. Thank you Mom and Dad for paying for my plane ticket. Thank you Study Abroad department for all of the work that you put into every single trip someone from Cedarville takes abroad. Thank you donor who sponsered the English, Literature, and Modern Languages study abroad scholarship without which I could not have gone on this trip. Thank you professors for believing in me, for giving me the language and life skills necessary for this experience, and for supporting me in so many ways throughout the entire process. Thank you to those of you who are unnamed for your financial support that make this trip possible. I am still not sure who all of you are, but I am so very grateful for you. You are the people that made my dream become a reality and gave me a gift that I do not even know how to adequately thank you for.
To those of you wanting to know more about my experience in Spain, I would love to talk with you about it! To those of you wondering where the pictures are on this post, I am hoping (hoping!) to go back and write down a few more stories on this blog of my experiences in Spain and will share some more of my pictures then.
Thank you again for following along with my journey and for supporting me along the way with your comments and letters. I am thankful for you.
Until the next adventure,