Published: January 30th 2011January 30th 2011
A year ago I was examining shiny brochures filled with pictures of exotic places, happy students, and quotes that said things like: The Experience of a Lifetime or The Time of Your Life is Waiting for You or Are You Ready for a Life-Changing Experience? It's hard to know what something is like until you are actually experiencing it, but now the thought of those brochures is comical. How could they possibly have summed up and described the study abroad experience to me with a few pictures and words?
I am so much more aware here. I'm not surrounded by the comforts of home and people I've known for a long time. Somehow the absence of familiarity combined with the rush of everything new makes me very perceptive of every experience I have. It makes some days a lot harder, some things all the more amazing, and it really makes me think. I guess when you step out of your comfort zone and begin the process of adapting to a new place and culture you're forced to really 'live'. Instead of just going through the motions at home, I'm attentive to what I'm experiencing and what's going on around me. Instead of zoning out on a walk to class or drive to school, I walk down Passeig de Gracia and watch all the Spanish people drink espressos in the cafes lining the street, look up at Antoni Gaudi's architecture, and notice how me and all other American's are winding in and out of people on the sidewalk because we walk so much faster than the Spanish. Being somewhere new makes me experience and feel everything possible, there's really no escaping it. It's wonderful, exhilirating, and quite a challenge to keep up with my own thoughts. Every day I feel more at home, but at least so far, I haven't lost any of the new awareness of myself, everyone, and everything around me.
Life here is so much slower than it is at home. Even though Barcelona is a huge city, no one, excluding the taxis, is rushing anywhere. People amble down the streets at a snail's pace compared to the pace of American sidewalks, it's nearly unheard of to get a coffee or food para llevar (to go), and people regularly site in restaurants and cafe's for hours on end sipping beer or espresso and reading the paper alone. It's amazing how different the mindset is here, and quite funny to see American's getting frustrated as they try to navigate the sidewalk at a pace much faster than the locals. A few times I have ordered a coffee 'para llevar' on my way to school as I only had time to drink it while I walked. They always oblige, but look at me with a knowing glance like "Oh, Americans... Always getting your food to go?"
On Friday I went to a park for the first time since I arrived and it was truly a breath of fresh air. I have never lived in a city before and it must be the Alaska in me, but gosh I miss open spaces and trees and grass. Barcelona isn't dreary or gray in the way I imagine many cities in the US to be, but it is still a city and the people, mopeds, and buildings are constant. At least each building is drastically different in its color and design. I often have a perpetual crick in my neck from walking down the street and staring up at each building in awe.
Yesterday, one of my roommates and I took the metro down to Las Ramblas and wandered off in one of the side alley-like streets to a district of Barcelona called El Raval. It was so different from the area I live in - full of international people and vintage clothing shops. The streets were so much narrower there, made of cobblestones and lined by apartments with lines of drying laundry. We found a cafe, did like the locals, and sat there for hours drinking our cafe con leche. Later we got dinner - durum kebap's (google image it) - before we spent a while trying to wind our way back through the twisty narrow streets in that part of town. This city is so big and there are so many different sides to it, I don't think I will ever see all of it.
Next weekend I'm going to Paris. Actually I leave on Thursday, so in four days I will be in Paris. I'm going with all my roommates and the five guys next door and we're all staying in a hostel until we fly back on Sunday. The weekend after this coming one I'm going to Rome. The Rome trip is pre-arranged and paid for through the program I'm here in Spain with, which is pretty convenient. It's hard to believe I'm going all these places in such a short amount of time.
Anyway, this post is plenty long. The time is flying by already, I can hardly believe it's the end of January. I think about all of you - I'm not homesick, but being here makes me appreciate home and the people I know so much.