Preparing to leave for Barcelona, Spain colored me bittersweet as the winter holidays approached. Each day left me more stressed than the previous, and I didn’t realize how awful I felt until my first flight landed in Madrid on the morning of Dec. 31. Then, my second flight landed in Barcelona and, relieved, I realized I was home. The strange thing is that it doesn’t feel new, different or foreign. It feels like home. What feels strange is knowing that I’m leaving at the end of May, that I’m returning to familiar Knox in the fall to finish out my last year of college. I don’t want to leave yet. Ask me in six months and my answer might change. Might.
It’s all become so normal that everything else seems foreign. But really, I’m the foreigner. My Spanish is marginal at best. I like simplicity. Simple clauses, present tense, familiar nouns. My host madre has a 2.5-year-old grandson who lives with us, and I often think he speaks with more complex clauses than I do, even though the majority of his ideas involve SpongeBob, Mickey Mouse and Pocoyo, or his favorite cartoons. The important part is, though, that I’m learning. Week three and I’m still learning how to be a foreigner in a country that feels more like home than anything I’ve ever known before.
A new city, a new routine. That’s what my cousin’s Czech husband said upon learning that from January to June, I’d be studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain, not more than 2,000 km from their flat above Prague’s city center. Normally, an ocean sits between us. We only see each other at special gatherings, as we had at a wedding last October, for which they had flown in from Europe, where this exchange occurred. You will love it, he had said. You will love it. And you will be so close to us! And we will visit.
I do love it. I’ve never loved anything so much. Today, Jan. 19, marks the end of my third week in Barcelona; between classes, old friends, new friends, the proximity of other cities and my host family, I have developed that new routine. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, classes. The Novel of Barcelona, Grammar II, Democracy in Spain, History of Europe and Spain. Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, sleep, socialize, study, explore, live.
Really, the days aren’t divided as such. They mix, aside from set class times. Lunch sitting in one of the university gardens between classes. Coffee around the corner after classes while reading course work. Socializing with your host family before, during and after dinner until someone is falling asleep sitting on the living room sofa, marking everyone’s bedtime.
Settling into this routine took only one day of living with my host family. I’m not sure how well the other members of the Knox program fared in adjusting as we don’t talk about the bad — if there is a bad — and keep conversation light, but for me, it was quite simple. They are welcoming. They are loving. They want to include me in as much as I want to be included in. Basically, they are my family here, something I never expected to feel upon my arrival. They have made my first few weeks here unforgettable, be it because of the fabulous home-cooked meals, the conversation or the general tips for everyday living in this vibrant city.
Barcelona itself is rather easy to navigate. The city revolves around different plazas. The Eixample, or one of the main neighborhoods in which the majority of Knox exchange students live, employs a pure grid street system and is within walking distance of the university and the city center. My daily walk to the university from the upper-left part of the Eixample has taught me where to buy produce, metro tickets, paint, shoes and the ever-important early-morning-post-drinking snack; let’s face it, Alfano’s doesn’t exist outside of Galesburg, Ill.
Replace subpar-when-sober pizza with various types of breaded pastries and you have the bakery section of a 24-hour supermercat, which looks more like a large gas station without the pumps than an American grocery store.
While I miss pizza and have yet to try the Spanish variation, the occasional 5 a.m. pastry always hits the spot while trekking home after a night out in town, which itself has become part of my weekend routine.
Perhaps everything seems so great because this is new. Perhaps the bliss will wane and I’ll start to miss Chicago, Knox and everyone I care about back in the states. Or maybe it won’t. Only time will tell, and for now, I’m perfectly content with settling into the routine of Spanish life, especially if it means waking up to a temperate January and a cat purring in my ear.