I have two weeks left in this small city by the sea and I have reached a decision. I will eat as much tortilla as medically allowable before my feet land on American soil. It is not that I particularly love the stuff; I have simply dawned my rose colored glasses for these last few weeks and developed a fierce passion for everything Spanish. Bring me your bulls and tapas, Spain. I am here to be cultured. ¡Venga!
Before I enter into the food coma that awaits me, I suppose I should say a few insightful things about my time abroad. Or, more appropriately, that time I got really good at charades and aggressive smiling. First the obvious: I got to spend a year abroad with no other obligation than to learn a new language and culture. I was lucky enough to go abroad without really sacrificing anything in my old life; I can reasonably hope to slip back into my old routine without many long term consequences. I did miss a year of opportunities on campus and I’m sure there are hundreds of inside jokes with my friends I will struggle to understand next year, but through my current tinted glasses, all of that seems like Future Paroma problems. Or, since I am still in Spain, Future Paloma problems.
For those of you who haven’t heard me introduce myself to a Spaniard, Paloma is my Spanish name and my Spanish identity. It came about through the confusing similarities in the spellings of the two names and my tendency to stumble over Spanish (including saying my name) when meeting new people. Paloma means pigeon or dove, depending on who you ask, but if you ask me, it means a girl who chose to not correct people when they called her a wrong name because she simply did not have the language skills to do so. What first started out, however, as a frustrating embarrassment quickly turned into a comfort blanket for me. Obviously, I have an odd name in both American and Spanish cultures, but when someone mistook my name for Paloma it was almost as if a cultural gap between Spain and me shortened. After all, my odd name could be normalized for Spanish culture with the alteration of one letter. How different could our cultures really be when my name could flow so easily between the two? Paloma allowed me to become someone different here, someone who could speak Spanish and sew herself into the fabric of life here without too many noticeable seams. Paroma, on the other hand, felt faded and outdated, an ugly patch drawing too much attention to itself.
Besides a new name, I am bringing home many souvenirs (my favorites being a cuckoo clock from Bavaria, Germany, and a postcard of a Matador’s butt from Seville, Spain), some incredible pictures of my travels, and a whole new group of friends. The thing I am most excited to bring home, however, is my new respect for international students at Cornell. When I was an RA my sophomore year, I tried my best to engage my international residents and to welcome them to campus, but I always felt that I could not connect to their experiences as well as I could to students with similar backgrounds to me. But now I have spent a year full of culture shock, homesickness, and general confusion over ordering food and grocery shopping. I think I have caught a glimpse into the lives of my international residents and plan to use that to coordinate better programs for them this coming fall. I remember standing in my first grocery store here wondering what all these labels meant and why people were wearing gloves to pick out vegetables. On a particularly stressful homesick night, I nearly broke down crying in the tea aisle when I couldn’t find black tea (my normal choice for breakfast, but not a good enough reason to start sobbing). I know that many moments like this await my international residents, but at the very least, I can plan a trip to the Ithaca Wegmans to show them all the wonderful international food ingredients they have there. It will not be home for them, but maybe it will bring them some comfort.
Soon, I will be home, buried under my familiar old comforter as the air conditioning fends off the Atlanta summer. Santander and its crashing waves will be an ocean away. I can already feel myself forgetting things about this city I learned by heart, like the fastest route to my favorite bakeries and exactly how much a coffee costs at the school’s cafeteria. I refuse to believe that I will forget everything, though. I spent a year here; I collected twelve months’ worth of experiences here and that cannot leave me so quickly. Next year, in those weeks that I have three prelims and a lab report due and everything feels like a giant tidal wave whipping me off of my feet, I will focus instead on those times I watched the light house at the entrance of the Bay of Santander embattled by a storm surge of six meter waves, but still standing the next day. I will focus on the times I travelled alone to foreign countries and absolutely nothing negative happened. I will focus on the fact that this year has shown me that I am a resilient, adventurous human being. I will focus on the fact that I, Paloma, have faced my fears and have renamed them as experiences.
Adiós, España. Gracias por todo.