One evening about a month ago I found myself sitting on my 7th floor balcony, catching up with a good friend of mine from Chico when he confessed that he thought I was very brave to traverse the world by myself to spend the summer in San Sebastian, Spain. Maybe he was right—I certainly knew no one in this foreign country and the only Spaniard I can have a coherent conversation with is a three year old.
I told him that I was looking for a challenge, something to shake myself up—I wanted these experiences to be my own. That conversation happened within the first few weeks that I had moved into my temporary new life on the northern coast of Spain. Four weeks later, as I’m quickly watching my time here come to an end, I realize that I’ve gotten exactly what I signed up for.
Five weeks ago, I stepped off a plane in Madrid deliriously tired (and hung over—did you know they serve complimentary wine on international flights? Bad idea.) and with no clue about what I’d gotten myself into. Four days of befriending students from around the U.S. and touring the biggest city in the country, I was whisked to San Sebastian and handed the keys to a 7th floor apartment with a balcony that overlooked Auriol Beach.
Nothing about my life felt real at that point; I’ll call it the honeymoon phase (which quickly ended the first day that I found myself lost in the rain while carrying 30 pounds of groceries, but that’s a whole other story). The strangers I met in Madrid became my family as we all braved culture shock, Spanish cuisine, and the monsoon weather the first few weeks. While my beginning level Spanish class did little to improve my Spanglish, my surfing class became both the bane of my existence and a twice weekly joy, depending on the weather. You see, there are many daily ups and downs when trying to navigate a new culture and a new city.
During my short, yet well-lived time abroad, I’ve seen so many beautiful places, been submerged in a new culture, and created experiences that will change me forever. Of all of my souvenirs from this wonderful adventure, the ones I’m most proud of, are the hard lessons learned. This crazy ride may seem like an extended vacation, but I wasn’t always spending my time on the beach—sometimes I was forced to do my homework as well. There were many times when I was lost, geographically and figuratively; 9,000 miles is a long distance from my home in Chico, and there were many moments when I felt that same distance between myself and my new community. But those stressful and harrowing experiences are what give us the strength to be bolder in the future. I know I have met these challenges with resilience, and I’ve learned that I am more capable than I had ever imagined.
In two weeks I’ll be back at home in Chico amongst familiar faces and hopefully with a Pale Ale in hand, and while it may feel like the good ol’ hometown that I know and love, I won’t be the same. If I have learned anything from the Spanish culture, it is that we must always live for the present and push ourselves to savor every last moment. Hesitations do nothing but hold us back. Let your inhibitions fall to the wayside; go topless on a Spanish beach, sample foods that you’ve never heard of before, and laugh at yourself in the process.
As I embark on my next adventure (my second and last senior year of college), I’ll take this lesson with me and wring every last delicious experience out of my limited time here in Chico. I know that when I cross that stage in May, I’ll have the same feeling as I’ll have when I board my plane in Madrid to return home—the satisfaction of knowing that I have absolutely no regrets.