No, no. Not the lacy thing that women put on their heads at weddings. In Castilian Spanish, vale (pronounced ball-eh) can mean many things. In most cases, it’s a variation of okay, or sure. It’s slang, pure and simple. It’s something you get to know when you spend seven weeks in a country. Strange how a simple word can represent and remind you of an entire trip, but in the case of my seven weeks in Madrid this summer, it reminds me of the dream that was the flash of time I spent on the Iberian Peninsula.
The circumstances that led me to Spain aren’t completely unique, but they are not exactly how I planned it. I had wanted to study abroad since my freshman year, but work obligations had not allowed me to go without giving up my job. I knew I wanted to go to Europe, but originally I was planning on somewhere in the UK — preferably England. With graduation approaching, however, and a lone breadth requirement remaining — foreign language— I knew I couldn’t be picky. More than anything, this trip represented a personal growth experience with unpredictable highs and lows. It’s cliche to talk about coming back from a study abroad trip and feeling changed, but it is difficult not to feel that way at least a little bit when you are not simply visiting a country on vacation, but living there for an extended time.
My program included two classes. The first, Spanish Culture, was a breeze. Taught in English and meeting only twice a week, the class was an interesting, albeit brief look into the rich history and varied cultures of Spain. The other class was a Spanish language course in the highest offered level because I needed to fulfill my requirement taught entirely in — you guessed it — Spanish. Though that course was way more difficult than I ever bargained a study abroad class to be, I learned not only a lot about the language, but gained friendships and connections I cherish because of the small class size.
There were times in the beginning of the program, that, at least partially because of that class, I just wanted to fly home. The class felt overwhelming, and being in a foreign country and continent thousands of miles (ahem—kilometers) from home with a bunch of people you’ve never met is somewhat of a jarring experience. Loneliness can be very real. But thanks to great new friendships, roommates and a barrage of new experiences, most of this faded away.
Looking back at the sequence of events and places I went, there is no way to say it does not feel like a dream. Segovia, an ancient Roman town, had an 800 year old aqueduct and a castle (which partially inspired the Disneyland castle) that I climbed to the top of. A Garita De Herbeira, where I rollicked through clouds and cows and stared off one of the highest bluffs in Europe. Santiago de Compostela, supposed resting place of Saint James and home to some of the most beautiful architecture in Spain. A Coruna, a historic beach town in the northwestern region of Galicia with one of the most breathtaking sunsets you’ll ever see. Barcelona, the second most visited city in all of Europe, home to FC Barcelona, beaches, a Picasso museum and Sagrada Familia, the astounding modernist cathedral that is still under construction after over 100 years. And the one city I visited outside of Spain: Paris, where every step looked like a postcard, sparkling water came out of water fountains, and the Louvre, Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe were all just as magnificent in person.
And that list doesn’t even get down to the feelings and things that happened at those places.
Partying until almost 7 a.m., capped off with churros con chocolate. Drinking kalimotxo (a.k.a. red wine and Coke) in the park at night until early hours with friends from California. Bars that looked like caves. Tiny grocery stores that played Kendrick Lamar, EDM, country and pop music within the same visit. Jamon, and lots of it. Obnoxiously lovable Australians in Barcelona, and debates on the correct pronunciation of the word aluminum. Rooftop bars with roommates with a view of a palace. A random dirt soccer field with tons of stray cats. Seeing the end of the Tour de France in the rain, by myself in Paris on my birthday.
These moments are things that cannot be planned. They just happen. The reason I list all these things is to try and highlight the absurdity of doing all of this over the course of seven weeks. It felt incredibly long yet instantaneous. It is impossible to distill this experience and all its events entirely into one article. So here’s to the apartment at Principe Pio. Here’s to the rest of the students in the program and the staff and professors that made this trip worthwhile. Here’s to the people of Spain that showed me a different way from my own, and made every Metro ride entertaining. If I ever get the chance to go back, my answer would be simple.