Up, Up, And Study Away

If you have never taken a Spanish class, let me educate you on the conjugation form of “vosotros”. Vosotros is essentially “y’all”. Any mention of the word vosotros in a Spanish class is immediately followed by a but don’t worry about that, because they only use vosotros in Spain. 

Let me flip the perspective on that – imagine you’re learning English, and you see this word “y’all” every now and then. Your teacher, who’s from London, and did her study abroad in Australia, says not to worry, only a few people use it. You skim past it or just ignore all the times you were supposed to learn it.

Then, you’re chosen to go to Mobile, Alabama for your study abroad.

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also, someone who linguistically falls in-between him and William Faulkner is your host brother.

Needless to say, my vocabulary was broadened. Rapidly.

I’ve had studying abroad on the mind because social media keeps reminding me that a year ago it was culturally acceptable for me to take hour and a half long naps each day (assimilating into the local culture, at times, can bear a resemblance to a mild form of mono). Seeing a lot of my friends leave on their trips abroad has my wanderlust up and itching again.

Sitting at my desk right now is a stack of homework. However, I have a friend who’s living in an apartment in Madrid right now, and my hometown just opened up a low-cost flight directly there.

These two factors have had profound effects on my work ethic.

It’s difficult talking about study abroad. People generally wat to hear one of a few things.

  1. How totally, life-changingly awesome it was.
  2. How totally homesick you were.
  3. How the food was (I respect this one the most, as I feel it is the most emotionally honest).
  4. What your favorite part was.

And these are all really good questions. But I think it’s hard to really answer any of them. People ask What was it like? Did you enjoy it? And it’s the sort of thing you give a generic answer to, because they don’t have an hour to spend on the nuances of getting lost in the Madrid metro (Or the back alleys of Cuba – which is a story for another time).

It’s hard to say, because your answer isn’t going to make sense. It was the time of my life, but the time of my life completely sucked on some days, and also I’d go back in a heartbeat.

People want to hear a few funny tidbits, like the fact I saw a four hundred plus person march protesting the Spanish postal service on my last day there. They had t-shirts printed, drums, the whole nine yards. This is at the same time that part of their country was attempting to secede, but the delayed packages were the more pressing issue.

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Castaway works on a few levels here, and also I guess Tom Hanks is the leitmotif for this entry

People want to hear that you tried eight dollar octopus, and that it was like eating ink-flavored bubblegum, or that they have dinner at ten p.m. in Spain and no amount of willpower will ever keep you from being hangry by about 8:30. People want to hear that you immediately became completely fluent, and that you ran with the bulls, and that you picked up flamenco dancing when you weren’t travelling to a dozen cities around the globe on your weekends off.

To be fair, I would have done the bull running, but it was the wrong time of year, and I’d been told by my parents that my birthright was forfeit if I got anywhere near Pamplona. Once I pay for my own health insurance, we’ll revisit the issue.

People want to hear something that’s as easily digestible as octopus isn’t, and the problem is that the whole point of study abroad is that it shouldn’t be. It’s like hiking – so much of the time you’re hiking, you’re just thinking about how your backpack is too heavy, how you really should’ve spent more time on the stairmaster, and how you would have done something about global warming if you knew it was going to be 106 degrees today.

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It probably doesn’t look 106 degrees in this picture, but that’s only because you sweat in Celsisus over there.

People don’t want to hear that the day came when you realized that no matter how bad your day was, you physically couldn’t go home. You had to tough it out. People don’t want to hear that some days you felt like you felt guilty for wasting your “opportunity of a lifetime” because all you wanted to do was lie on your bed and watch Netflix so you could hear someone speak English. People don’t want to hear that you were alone – really alone, moreso than you could ever be anywhere in your home country –  a few times.

And if they do want to hear it, they can’t really get it, unless they’ve done something similar.

And just like hiking, that’s all the point. I’ve never done an easy hike with a beautiful view. It’s not the sort of thing you can sell to someone on a pamphlet. You throw out phrases like “it’s a life-changing experience” or “you’ll learn things about yourself you never imagined” and rely on the fact nobody’s going to critically think about what having your life changed is like. You can’t tell somebody how feeling like you didn’t belong made you realize better just who you were. You can’t tell somebody what it felt like to sit at a place literally called “The End of the World” and dangle your feet over the ledge, or how living with a host family gave you a deeper appreciation for those roommate contracts Furman makes you do.

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Three Fun Facts: that’s the “Coast of Death”, that water is cold, and I have a good story to tell my grandkids.

And on the flip side, the frustrating thing is that you can’t tell anyone what the really great moments were like either. You can share experiences, but it isn’t the same. You can’t tell someone how cool it is to plan a trip to a country where you speak absolutely none of the language and just going. You can’t tell somebody what it feels like to look at Guernica, (I mean, I can try: it’s a total bummer) or what it was like to actually watch some professionals flamenco dance inside a crowded little club on top of a hill. You can’t tell somebody what it felt like the first time you gave a native Spanish speaker instructions somewhere, or how you felt finding a place that was as close to home as you were going to get.

I suppose the annoying part is that long after the jet lag wore off, and long after you turned your phone’s language back to English, you still feel like you can’t communicate what you’re trying to say to someone. You can just smile, and show them pictures, and tell them they’ll just have to go one day.

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