Well, here it is: my final blog post. Not surprisingly, it is long over due. I have been home for over four weeks, and it has taken that long for me to catch my breath, and settle in to a different life.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
Twain's words struck a cord with me; I am confident that my time abroad was worth the challenges, the sacrifices, and yes, even the high balance on my credit card (though some days I struggle convincing myself of that one!). And, at the risk of sounding vain, I am proud of myself for what I did.
It is still unbelievable: I lived in Spain. My semester abroad came and passed, and here I am, back in the United States, preparing myself for another (and my last-yikes!) year at Bellarmine.
How does it feel to be back? Good. It is strange, but a good feeling. I was ready by July 14. It wasn't that I was unhappy: not even close. I think saturatedis a better word. I missed my family, friends, and country, but beyond that I was ready. There is a Spanish phrase which describes my months abroad well: "buen aprovechado." The meaning is difficult to translate exactly, but it is to say time well spent. I took advantage of my time in Europe and looked forward to coming home.
Since being back, I have answered so many questions, generally along the lines of: "Did you enjoy it? What was the best part? Is it good to be home?" The answers are as obvious as the questions: "I cannot choose one part that was the best, it was all amazing and I am happy to be home." Two people have asked me more specific questions, questions which forced me to reach beyond my trite, though honest, response: "It was wonderful, challenging, yet amazing."
I will being with the first. My friend Paul, who spent a semester in Australia, asked me to tell him everything. Quickly realizing the magnanimity of that task, he corrected himself and said: "tell me your top five-the best things you experienced." It took some thought (I have never been good at making decisions!), but here they are (in no particular order):
1. Learning Spanish
2. Paragliding in the Alps
3. Being in Europe throughout the World Cup, and celebrating (big) with Spain
4. Meeting people from all over the world (literally)
5. Seeing Pope Benedict XVI
The other question I was asked took me by surprise, simply because it was unexpected. I am accustomed to answering the usual questions, but when a family friend asked; “Sarah, what did you learn?” I paused for a moment, but the answer came quickly-it was not a difficult question; in fact, I learned so much, where did I begin?
Laughing, I responded: “A lot of Spanish!” But then I added, “I learned so much about other people, other cultures. But beyond the obvious, I learned even more about myself. The greatest lessons I encountered taught me about my self and humanity.”
I learned to laugh at myself. I learned that mistakes happen, and life goes on. I learned to adapt. I learned that failure is a fact of life-sometimes my best effort simply may not be enough (believe me: that was a difficult lesson!). I learned that people see and experience all things differently. I learned that history is relative. I learned to let people surprise me. I learned that "smiling and nodding" can sometimes lead to confusion...and sometimes interesting conversation. I learned that asking questions the first time makes things easier in the long run. I learned that sometimes a smile can change a person's day more than change in her outstretched hand. I learned to keep (relatively) calm and carry on. I learned that culture is not bound to a single country, nor a country to a single culture. I learned that despite differences in languages, traditions, customs and habits, we are all humans: and I believe this is the most powerful unifier.
It was a simple question, and perhaps it was not asked with the intention of provoking such thought, but I welcomed the opportunity. I learned more than I ever expected to learn, and I had great expectations.
As I mentioned before and will most likely forever say, sometimes it still does not seem real. I laugh when I say things like: “When I was in Berlin…” or “I met a Swiss man while I was in Seville…”
But it was real; it happened. And though lately I have been pining for more adventures (and perhaps an escape from “reality” I am finding here in Louisville) and missing my friends and life in Salamanca, I know my time abroad, and all the lessons learned, will forever be with me. That is the thing about all experiences: they happen to us, they change us. And for better or worse, we are never really the same.
I thank you all (though I don't actually know who-if anyone-read much of this blog) for your thoughts and prayers throughout my time abroad; it would not have been such a wonderful experience without the support of my friends and family. And I feel it is appropriate to thank those who put up with my emotions throughout the adventure-before and after. I know I was difficult!
There is a strange sense of finality in ending my blog; a feeling of which I am not particularly fond. But I will forever be grateful for my months abroad, and I know one day I will return.
Un abrazo muy fuerte.