Unexpected Lessons

If the purpose of this trip is to find myself in situations that were unexpected and necessary for growth, I would say that I am well on my way to achieving this goal. My first week in Spain was overwhelmingly full of lessons that I had not predicted, but wouldn’t have changed for anything.

On Monday after lunch, we found ourselves with more free time than we knew what to do with. Our afternoons during the week belong to adventuring in Alcala, doing homework, going into Madrid, or anything else we would like. After finishing homework, my roommate and I decided to jump on the nearest bus and see where it took us. It took us to the outskirts of the city. Well we meandered our way out of the city wall and found a small walking path. With no idea where it led or if we would be able to find our way back into the city and consequently our next class, we set off on what looked like the beginning of some thriller movie. As we walked, I noticed the overwhelming amount of graffiti on the wall that lines the city. My initial thought was along the lines of “it’s awful that they ruined this nice wall”. But a couple steps later had me wondering at that perspective. Clearly such a thought comes from my own bias of what a city wall should look like. And to those that spend so much time on their tagging art, this wall was akin to an art gallery wall. In an extreme example, this was their prado.

Now, don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not promoting illegal activities or the destruction of public property; especially walls that cannot be replaced. However, I had a cambia de corazón while walking down this byway on the outskirts of the city. If I am to become something akin to a global citizen, I could definitely work on allowing outside perspectives to have an effect on me. In our Spanish conversation class yesterday, we discussed the difference between a tourist and a traveler.  The profesora made a point that tourists carry themselves with them wherever they are. They are an unchangeable, uninfluenced person who cannot be touched by another perspective because they aren’t truly willing to reach out and touch the culture. And although I will always be Mandy and hold my personality somewhat constant, I am not a stone. I am moldable, able to be shaped by my experiences. Such is the nature of being a human. I am grateful for this wall full of art that reminded me that I can be whoever I want to be in this beautiful thing we call life.

Another lesson occurred yesterday when there were a couple girls in my group that were determined to visit the Costco that apparently was just outside of Madrid. Since I am in desperate need of waterproof boots, I figured I would tag along with them although I had little desire to go to Costco in particular. The entire experience was very interesting as I watched these girls cling to the hope that they could go to their familiar Costco. After taking a train into the central of Madrid, we took another train into an area that can only be described as sketch. It is a huge  industrial area. This is not typically the kind of area I would hang out in, and I could tell that a couple of us in the group were uncomfortable with our surroundings. But, ever resilient, these two girls resolutely pressed forward to find a bus that could take us the four miles left between us and Costco. Unfortunately none of the few locals we met had any idea how to get there, and we found ourselves standing on a highway as the sun began to set. At this point, almost all of the group wanted to turn around and go back into the central part of Madrid where we could find other places to buy what we needed. I watched the despair settle on the faces of the two girls who so desperately needed to get to Costco and was puzzled. As we journeyed back into Madrid, I realized that they were homesick. With everything that is so entirely different, they needed a Costco, a part of home that was constant and present in this alien place. I sympathize, absolutely. We live with strangers, eat food that we can’t pronounce, and speak in a language that I am only beginning to crack.

The experience had me wondering what makes something ‘home’ and how does holding onto this idea influence our decisions everyday. I’d like to say that I am completely unaffected by homesickness. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t craving a Costa Vida sweet pork salad like you wouldn’t believe. But I have accepted that there will always be a part of me that longs for parts of the past, especially when the present is so unpredictable. As a mortal, I imagine I crave the stability of knowing who I am and being able to control my environment. However, the truth is that mortality is a rocky adventure and we need walls full of graffiti as reminders that even though we live in different ways, we’re all in this together.

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