Being Spain's Student

ostranenie n. The encouraging of people to see common things as strange, wild, or unfamiliar; defamiliarizing what is known in order to know it different or more deeply.

Having officially said goodbye to Spain for the remainder of my European adventure, I felt the need to reflect a bit on my experience. All places we go have things to teach us, but it’s up to us to recognize and regard them as lessons and carry what we learn with us. Travel is not merely a whimsical vacation, but often a very real and raw teaching experience that is most definitely not always pleasant (a lesson reaffirmed to me by Barcelona). So here are the things I learned in Spain:

1. No matter how careful you are with the olive oil, you will make a mess.
2. If you order coffee and they ask you with leche, say yes.
3. Acting impatient in a restaurant will not get you your check any faster, at least not in Spain.
4. On that note, meal time does not hold the sole purpose of satisfying hunger.
5. Rain happens, and it can feel like it lasts forever. It’s easy to mistake a small span of rain for a weather trend of an entire country or life if we’re being metaphorical. But it gets better. There is always a break in the clouds. But don’t let the dark ones stop you from getting out there, even if you get wet.
6. Sometimes you need to stop worrying about money, which for my generation as a college kid is really hard if not impossible. Money is literally all I think about. “Gee this bag of white rice is X grams for $0.78. but this one is Double the amount more for only $0.20 more. Wow I’m saving so much money!” Because even pennies matter, and living so minimalistic is what allows me to take these crazy adventures. I work my ass off, save like crazy, then live like Scrooge for years precisely so I can do this. Now with my mom, we’ve tried to vow not to worry too much about money. She’s doing much better than me, but she also has a stable career and no debt and some idea with what she wants to do in life, even though it hasn’t always been that way for her. We’re both breaking habits of frugality. Since we’ve essentially pooled money, we have stopped counting to try to split things evenly. Basically, I pay for hostels, she pays for food, but that’s about as precise as it gets. Again, this is foreign for us college students who split hairs down to pennies when order Chinese food or pizza. But I’m learning. Saving is awesome and smart but there comes a point when saving must give way to some purpose of spending. After all, it is my belief that one should have enough money to do something but not enough to do nothing.
7. Stay up late, get up early, and value every moment in between. Watch the sun rise, crawl across the sky, and set again. Watch it be replaced by the moon and stars.
8. At the same time, always appreciate what it means to have a good night of uninterrupted sleep.
9. Sometimes you have to shed your dignity and shove it in your pack to get where you’re going.
10. Don’t panic if you get lost. You’ll right yourself eventually and if you can’t, don’t be too afraid or prideful to ask for directions.
11. Pick up your feet when walking on cobblestone.
12. Don’t let one rude person ruin your day or affect how you act toward other people. Maybe that’s what the first rude person was doing and if you follow suit, you’re only contributing to a vicious chain of animosity. If you feel grouchy, try eating instead. That usually works for me.
12. Challenge yourself to try new things and immerse yourself in new experiences. If you have the option to speak in English or Spanish, practice your Spanish and use English to fall back on if you fail miserably. If you have the choice between pizza and some foreign food you’ve never heard of, give the new thing a try. You know what pizza tastes like.
13. When it comes to hostels, the cheapest option is not always best. That couple extra euros a night might save you a lot of headache.
14. Take chances. Let yourself be pulled into hole on the wall restaurants by people on the street because you may have an unforgettable genuine cultural experience. Or not, in which case you can laugh about it later.
15. There is no trouble that chocolate can’t fix, or at least make a little bit better.
16. Treat yourself and splurge every so often. Life is about dealing with unexpected hardships and struggles so it’s okay to make things easier on yourself. You deserve it.

Bearing these lessons in mind, I say “Hasta luega, Espana!” without any doubt that I will indeed return here one day, to the country that has captured my heart.