Saturday, August 1, 2009

Back to Reality and Responsibility--The Last One

So. It's been about a month and a half since I got back to the States. After leaving Spain, I met my family in Italy, and then we went on to Ireland. It was such an amazing experience for us and did everybody a lot of good. But then it was back to the good ole U.S. My emotions were all over the place-- I was excited because I was about to see all of the people I hadn't been able to see for 5 months, but at the same time, I was upset because it was all over. This semester, this incredible experience, that I had been planning for over a year was over. The 8-hr plane ride from London to Chicago was not fun. There was a screen that tracked our progress over the Atlantic, and while watching it, I was anxious and sad at the same time. When I finally landed in Chicago, all the comforts of home were there-- people speaking American English, Manchu Wok in the terminal, paper towels in the bathrooms, being able to text and talk to my U.S. friends without the consequence of an insane bill...

The next day was so much fun, catching up with friends. It was exactly as though I had never left, like it hadn't really been 5 months since I'd seen them. (Of course, at the same time, there were subtle differences that reminded me that that wasn't the case.)

Over the next few weeks, I tried to settle back in. I started back to work, I began attending meetings, and I tried to wrap my head around the fact that graduation now seemed sooooo much closer than it had before I left. It took over a week for me to get over the jet-lag. But as I was getting back into the swing of things, I started to feel the effects of reverse culture shock. I didn't expect it to be as bad as it actually was (or, if I'm being truthful, still is). I miss Spain and my friends and family from there. Before I left, I was still on the fence as to whether I had made the absolute best choice in picking Spain. Now, though, I am convinced without a doubt that Sevilla Spring 2009 was the perfect choice for me. I was able to learn and experience so many things. I am so grateful for that. When I was younger, one of my really high life goals (that I wasn't really sure I'd ever attain) was to live in and travel around Europe. Well, I'm 21 years old, and I've reached that goal. Of course, I still want to go back and hit the places I didn't get to go, but I know that I've done more in my 21 years than most people do in a lifetime, and there aren't words to express how thankful I am for that.

During my last few weeks in Europe, I started thinking about all the things I'd learned. One of the things that I finally realized is how much I actually love being an American. Now, don't get me wrong: Let's not forget that I was the girl voted "Most Patriotic" in 8th grade Who's Who. I've always loved this country. But when I left for Europe, I (and all of my friends) had the mentality that we were going to go to all these different countries and try to learn their ways and try to integrate into their cultures. And of course that's the correct mentality to have when you move to another country-- you don't want to go and alienate yourself because you refuse to accept someone else's way of looking at things. But the more I traveled, the more I became aware of how proud I am to be American. I didn't want to try to blend in and not be recognized as American anymore. Of course, I was still tactful. I didn't run down the street, yelling at the top of my lungs. I didn't stagger home drunk. In other words, I wasn't obnoxious. I was myself. My American self. And there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, most Europeans I met along the way asked questions about the U.S.; they were just as eager to learn about how we did things as I was to learn about their ways of doing things.

Before I left, everybody kept saying, "Oh my goodness, you're going to have such a great time! It's going to be the best experience of your life! You're going to change in ways that you can't anticipate!" I just always smiled and nodded politely when this was said, wondering exactly what they meant and hoping that they were right. Well, now that it's over, I had such a great time, it was the best experience of my life, and I've changed in ways that I never anticipated, ways that I don't even really understand. I'll never forget it.

MacKenzie: My camel buddy. Ha! Dexter Sebastian Marcus Ali-- what a name. I hope you always have weeds in your beer and that people continue to ask you incredibly inappropriate questions regarding... well, you know.

Lauren: Hey pal. Prague princess. Prague was a blast, as were our last nights in Sevilla. I will never look at an American flag the same way. Thanks for setting that up...

Joelle: Tuvimos elau! Vale. You were always up for anything, which I learned our second day in Madrid when we were in the park and you ran and got on top of the statue-less pillar to complete the line. I always admired you for your spontaneity.

Laura: Stockholm was one of my very favorite trips, and I know that that was because you were my travel buddy. I will never forget our forays into the random streets, nor the "I don't know, who stands by a bike?"

Nabilah: I could not have asked for a better roommate. And even though Alejandra drove us crazy on a regular basis, I will never forget her adorable little face after she "painted" it.

Ariel: You were with me from the very beginning (even though we didn't know it at the time!). From the first flight from Miami to the last goodbye in el centro.

Jenn: As with Ariel, you were there from the beginning-- remember me pulling my luggage through my legs when I got off the escalator in Madrid? hehe...

Eric: Thank you for reassuring me that there is indeed a moon in Portugal.

Alison: I'm so sorry you were sick for most of the Munich trip, but thank you so much for telling me about the trip and getting me to go with you guys. It was one of my favorites.

Tori: Barcelona wouldn't have been the same without you. One of my favorite memories from the entire semester was playing in the Mediterranean with you that afternoon.

Sean: I will forever like beer and football haha. Sorry we couldn't get things to work out between us ;)