The Abroad Experience Enhances Identity
People always ask me: Who are the people that have changed your life? They
ask: What is the most influential experience you have had? Those are hard questions
to answer, because the things that have been most influential, the people that
have been key... those are the things and the people that I cannot imagine my
Spain is like that for me. This semester I am back at IU, studying Biochemistry,
basically going through the actions of my previous two years, but I am DIFFERENT.
I have ideas I didn't have before. I have thoughts I didn't have before. Something
must have happened. Growth.
My abroad experience was all about growth. Of course, every day of my life
is about personal growth, but it is easier to "expand" outside of my own realm
of comfort. Here, at school, it is easy to fall into routine, which hinders
observation, and retards the process of "observing life". But those are just
some theories of mime, which need illustrations to support them. So, what
did I observe?
The most wonderful thing about Spain is the way of life. It is noticeable
right away: there are people in the streets at all times of day (except siesta),
conversing, strolling, running into their friends and forgetting about that
appointment they had in order to talk to them for hours. There is no concept
in Spain of coming home and relaxing on the couch. No. People come home from
work, eat, and go out. They need to talk to the vendors, to their neighbors.
To them, this is life. The women need to meet their girlfriends in a cafe
by the beach to have a drink. The men go to bars and discuss economics with
the bartenders. And at might, people of all ages fill the streets: grandparents
with their first grandchild in stroller out at midnight! In, general people
love people. They work to live, mot live to work. It is a very strange, non-American
attitude. I very much acquired a taste for it, this leaving the house to stroll,
purposelessly, and by the end of my stay, I felt right at home because I had
made my own acquaintances while walking around who I looked forward to seeing
daily. It is a very warm feeling. And a very safe feeling. A feeling that
perhaps there are no secrets since everyone is out there talking about issues.
For example, on September 11th and afterwards, I got stopped on the street
many times by people asking my opinion about the terrorist attacks and giving
me theirs. It felt like issues were talked about universally, mot shut up
in individual households. I felt a deep universality.
I did a week-long pilgrimage during my stay. The Camino de Santiago was
an important unifying tool for Catholic Spain when the country was being overrun
by Moors in the 8th century. When the Catholic lords were pushed to the northern
limits of the Peninsula by African warriors, miraculously the remains of St.
James (Santiago) were discovered by a solitary farmer and suddenly, Catholic
Spain had a cause! Santiago was an unseen hero of many battles in over the
next eight hundred years, in which the "Spanish" managed to root out the "Moors"
( after eight hundred years, it is hard to imagine that much distinction would
remain between the two). I felt very moved to be a part of such a historical
event and to be doing the Camino that had been established 1200 years before.
Imagine all the feet that have treaded that path! This was another type of
unity, and this one transcended time. I spent a week walking across the province
of Galicia and because I was on foot, it made the experience that much more
my own. I felt in charge of my own fate. And it was beautiful. And ferocious.
What a strange feeling to be lost in the middle of nowhere while freezing
rain pounds, so cold that you cannot move your fingers, and you are alone...
and you know you must keep walking because there is no way out. It was a week
of meditationof learning to be alone and of feeling the peace that comes
from silence in nature. I finished the Camino with horrible blisters and Athlete's
foot, but I vowed that I would return and perhaps do the whole Caminostart
from Paris or maybe even from Germany.
It is hard to know what to write in a short summary of the study abroad
experience. It is like coming home and having so many stories and not knowing
which one to tell. Spain is many things to me and I will never forget my life
there. But the most important thing about Spain is that it put me back where
I was before, but with new ideas and plans for the future. Like any new experience,
it has added a new level of complexity in me. That, I feel, is very important
because it defines the differences between people. The more complexity a personality
shows, the easier it is to distinguish it from the personality of someone
else. Complexity gives identity. It gives a meaning to "I". Complexity of
thought gives you "you". Spain was factor in determining my identity. I grew
in my understanding of the world (history, culture, etc.) and also in the
understanding of myself because I was able to experience my reactions to foreign
situations. In summary, Spain has brought me to where I am today and I cannot
imagine my life without it.