Friday, June 26, 2015

Leaving It All Behind

     It's currently 9:25 AM, June 26, 2015. This is it. Today I leave. Well technically today I go to Madrid for one last orientation and then TOMORROW we actually go home. Anyway, this is it. In about an hour and a half, I have to leave for the bus station. There, my two best friends and my boyfriend will meet me, and that's it...last's over.
     I can't believe it. I can't believe I did it. I can't believe an entire year has passed. It feels like this year has FLOWN by, but it's also been the longest year of my life. This has been the BEST year of my life, but I've also had some of my worst moments this year. It was a process, a roller-coaster, a true journey. I knew that even before coming, but it was never actually REAL. This is....this is real now. I've lived the experience and now I'm ending it. The only part that I have yet to live is the official goodbye and the return home. 

     I remember the beginning of the year when I didn't understand anything or anyone. I was so lost. I felt so alone. I wanted nothing more than to go home. And the worst part about the beginning was that no one believed I could do it; everyone thought I would fail. I could see it in their faces and they've told me countless times that they never thought I'd do so well. It's terrifying to try to believe in yourself when the people around you clearly don't believe in you.  
     I remember asking for forgiveness and always apologizing for not understanding, for needing so much help and attention, for not being like the rest of them...but you know what! NEVER APOLOGIZE. You're just starting a year abroad. You've done one of the bravest things you could ever do--you took that step and you went to another country. I don't care how great you think you speak Spanish or German or Chinese or whatever language it may be, and I don't care how much you think you know the don't. You will get lost. You will need a lot of help. It's OKAY, it's NORMAL. Don't freak out, and definitely don't apologize. Just appreciate them and what they're doing and be sure to thank them. It's a natural process that must occur for you to eventually succeed. 
     I remember the moments when I met and started talking to my best friends. I remember being uncomfortable and terrified at first. I remember slowly building relationships and becoming closer and developing trust and love. I remember ending the year with best friends I feel like I've had for an entire lifetime and that I can't imagine my life without.
     I remember when I first hung out with my boyfriend. We were just friends and we decided we would keep it that way. But after a month, I remember we decided "You know what, screw it, let's go for it!" I remember being terrified to jump into a relationship not knowing how it would go and being scared that it would go really well and that I would have to leave him. But I also remember feeling like it was worth it...why would you come here and waste your time being afraid or thinking of the future? I didn't want to do that, and neither did he, so we lived in the moment, and I'm so glad I made that decision because I couldn't be happier.
     I remember so many things, and I'll remember them for the rest of my life. I can only hope that I've made even a fraction of the impact on these people and this place and they have on me. 

     I'm different. I've changed. I'm not the same person I was when I left, and I'll never be that person again. If you've never gone abroad, you don't understand, because one year in Lancaster County doesn't change you that much. Maybe a few little things change, but you're ultimately the same person you were before unless something monumental happens to you overnight. But if you've gone abroad, if you've spent a year alone in a foreign country speaking a different language, you change. You have to change. You have to mature and grow up. You have to learn to be on your own and to be okay with it. You have to learn how to have fun but take responsibility for your actions if you take it too far. You have to be willing to explore outside your comfort zone. That's how you change. When you leave your home to study abroad, you have a chance to get to know yourself: what you like, what you don't, what you want for your life, what you don't, who you want IN your life, who you don't... You have a chance to FIND yourself. And that's what I did this year...I found myself, and I LOVE myself.
     It's scary though to see that I've changed so much, because I worry that I won't fit in at home anymore. I wonder if my friends will still be my friends. I wonder if my life will still be my life. I wonder, I wonder, I wonder...and that wondering terrifies me, and that's one of the things that keeps me up at night these days.

     The other thing that keeps me up at night is knowing that I have to leave it all behind. I can keep in touch with my friends, teachers, family, boyfriend, anyone really. I can continue to speak Spanish with the very few people back home that do as well. I can hope and pray that I'll be able to come back and visit someday. But it's not enough. I want to LIVE here, I want to BE a part of this community like I've been doing all year. And I can't. I have to let it go, leave it behind, in ONE day. That's what's so scary. In ONE day I have to leave behind an entire WORLD that I've come to know and love. I'm not ready...I don't think I ever could be, to be honest. 

     I've been across Spain, I've been to other countries, and I've been to many states in the US, but I've never seen anything quite like Euskal Herria. It's the most beautiful, homey place I've ever been. This year I fell in love with this place, with Bilbao, with Mungia, with the Basque people, with the Basque culture. I fell in love, and now it breaks my heart to have to go home. It breaks my heart because I know that the truth is I'm LEAVING home behind.....


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Last two days...

     My last two days here... They were incredible but also heartbreaking. 
     On Wednesday, I went out to eat with all my girlfriends. We were all there except for ONE person, so that's amazing. We had so much fun just chatting over lunch and eating great food. During lunch, one of my absolute best friends, probably the one I'm closest to (not including Fernanda), gave me a gift from her and Sara. Sara and Olatz are the two girls from my class that have been there for me and helped me along since the beginning, so we have a really special bond. They gave me a heart picture frame with a bunch of pictures of us in it and a letter. I was almost crying just reading it. 
     After eating, a couple of the girls had to leave, but the rest of us hung around and went to some little plaza that had a fountain. We sat there, half of us on the bench, half of us on the ground, and we just talked and laughed and gossiped and took pictures until we couldn't anymore. 

 Nech y Olatzzzz
 Olatz, Nech, yo, Fer, Esti x2
 I love these two ladies
 Naro mi princesa vasca
 We're dysfunctional 
 Olatz, Fer, yo, Nech, Jone, Esti, Naro, Alazne, Esti
Last time ALL together :'(

     I thought we were just going to go for lunch and then go home but we ended up hanging out until 7:30. Saying goodbye was so hard. It just doesn't feel real. I couldn't believe that it was really the last time that I was going to see them. I told them thank you for everything they've done for me, for allowing me to be a part of their classes, their group, their lives. Olatz started crying which made me cry. It's just crazy because you look at them in the eyes and you hug them and you just never want to let go, never want to leave them. Because they've become your best friends, they've become your support system, they've become your life. It's so hard to have to say goodbye.
     Today, I was interviewed for a local newspaper because one of the journalists is an AFS volunteer. They asked the typical questions that we always get asked: "How are you?" "How is your year going?" "Do you like Bilbao?" "Why did you choose Spain?" "Why did you choose to study abroad?" "How do you feel about going home on Saturday," etc...
     Then after that, I had to go to my school to get the transcript and papers for my school, which was a bunch of technical stuff, but it gave me a chance to say goodbye to some of my professors, the director, and my tutor. It's hard to say goodbye to them too, because they're not just professors that taught us classes, they're the professors who have taught me Spanish, taught me classes, taught me how to be strong, taught me how things work. They're the people who have been guiding me, helping me, and yet still allowing me to be ME. I can't thank them enough for all their help this year.
     Later, I got together with my two best friends, Fernanda and Kacper. Fer has been my best friend since GENUINELY day 1. We both walked into the school office the first day very lost and very confused (she is new here this year from Mexico). We clung to each other from the beginning, helping each other out...well her more than me, because she's the one who practically taught me Spanish. And the second day of school, Kacper walked up to us, introduced himself, and since that day, the three of us have never been separated. We've been inseparable all year, and I can't imagine my year without would NEVER have been the same. They're my favorite pair. I lean on them for everything and I've never laughed harder or trusted more than when I'm with them. I love them so much it's crazy, and I don't know how I'm supposed to go on without my two best friends.
 NANDA heheh
We love each other I swear

     Saying goodbye is killing me. Tomorrow I'll find out what it's REALLY like to say goodbye when I leave the bus station and I leave Euskal Herria, my home. Let's just say I'm not looking forward to it.

A Little Piece Of Home (part 2): Bilbao

    For those of you that read my previous blog post, I went to Barcelona with my mom, took the ACT, and then drove back up to Bilbao. Our time in Bilbao, though it didn't feature anything incredible that I haven't already seen, was definitely 1 million times better than our time in Barcelona, because I got to show my mom who I am now, where I've been living, how my life has been, and who I've had the amazing opportunity to share this amazing year with. It was a trip for the books.
     So our first day in Bilbao, I took my mom to my little town, Mungia. It's not much, and I'm totally used to it now, because I've been living here for almost 10 months now. But my mom fell in love. She loves cute little towns like that. It was funny because all the pictures she was taking of my town I had taken 10 months ago when I first got here. I was just as intrigued and amazed by it as she was when she got here, but the effect has worn off and now it's just my home.

     Then around 2:30, we went to my host parents house for lunch. I was a little worried about that to be honest because I wanted them to like each other and I didn't know how things would go. But in the end we had a lot of fun talking, eating, laughing, and even breaking out the baby pictures...
 Whole fam together
The ladies

     We spent a few hours at my house here and then we went to Bilbao. My mom fell in love immediately. I mean how could you not? That city is absolutely gorgeous. We went out to eat with my best friend, Fer, because it was her birthday. I know it's a lame gift but I got us friendship don't laugh. I know it's such a kid thing to do, but I thought it was cute. The half that I have is half of the sun and the half that she has is half of the moon. They fit together perfectly, just like us.

Best friend's bday
     That night, we got home at around 11:00 and went directly to bed, because it was an early morning again the next morning.
     On Monday (the next day), we woke up, went to Mungia to get some pastries and coffee for breakfast, and then took the bus to Bilbao. When we got there, the first thing we did was go to the mall, as that's the first stop on the bus, and the first thing you see when coming into the city on the bus. Of course the first shop we saw we ended up buying a bunch of stuff. It's this really cool store called Ale-Hop that has clothes, jewelry, electronics, baby stuff, toys, bags, anything really. I ended up buying things like phone power banks, earphones, and a friggin selfie stick...
     After that, we went to the tattoo shop to see how they did things. We ended up picking out a tattoo and setting an appointment for that night! (I'll get more into details later).
     When we left the mall to walk around Bilbao, it was POURING rain and really cold out. I'm used to that. I've been living in Bilbao for a year now and I know to always have an umbrella with me and never to wear sandals or flipflops unless you're 100% sure it's not even supposed to be cloudy that day. Mom didn't take my advice, and she wore sandals. She regretted that, to say the least. She ended up having to buy a pair of shoes in some random shoe store in Bilbao.
 Parque de los patos

     After a morning full of showing her around my favorite place in the entire world, we met up with our foreign exchange student from 3 years ago that lives in Donosti (1 hour from Bilbao) and goes to college in Bilbao. It was so crazy to finally see her again. We've been talking about getting together this whole year but we both get so busy and lose track of time and it feels like you've got all the time in the world when really you've hardly got any. But we finally got to catch up with her, which was amazing.

     Later, we met up with my boyfriend and all went to Artxanda, a place up the mountain where you get an incredible view of the entire city. It was SOOO beautiful. I don't know how I hadn't gone before that day.
Lol yay for selfie sticks
Bilbao you are gorgeous

     After that, it was TATTOO TIME!!!!! For those of you that don't know, I already had 6 tattoos. My mom's boyfriend is a tattoo artist, and so is my brother, so it's close to home you could say. Well, my mom wanted to get a matching tattoo (though we already have one), and she wanted something that would represent Spain, so we decided to get the outline of a bull head. My friends from Bilbao weren't that pleased with it, as that more represents Spain and not Euskadi, but oh well, for my mom, it's ALL Spain. Each tattoo only took about 10 minutes to do, and no, it didn't hurt, it actually tickled. The tattoo guy was so impressed with my Spanish for only having been here 10 months and he was amazed that at 17 I already have 7 tattoos. 
Hi I'm Bri and I LOVE tattoos

     The next day, we went with Fer to a bunch of different places. We went to Butron Castle, and we got seriously lost on the way there...which yeah, that's awesome.

     Then we went to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, which I have pictures of in one of my very first blog posts here. I went there my first month here. It's absolutely gorgeous, but it's one heck of a hike... After finally trekking up the hill and making it to the car, we went out to lunch at a precious little restaurant that overlooks the ocean and had incredible food and absolutely disgusting cheese cake (seriously don't try it...).

This friendship is forever
I seriously don't think we look THAT much alike...

     Then we went to Bermeo, a little town on the ocean that doesn't have a beach but the amount of boats bobbing up and down on the docks is ridiculous (but totally gorgeous).

     After a little wandering, we went to Sopelana, my favorite beach I've been to in northern Spain. Mom of course walked along the shore to find shells, like she always does, and I just chilled in the sand, like I always do.

     That night, we went to Bilbao and had a late night dinner of pintxos in a bar with Pino (boyf). Pintxos are little sandwiches. There are a bajillion kinds of pintxos, and apparently the bar we were at was ranked one of the top pintxo bars, so that's cool. They were definitely delicious.
     The next day, Pino, mom and I got up early, ate breakfast in Mungia, and then headed out to Donostia (San Sebastian) which is a little over an hour away from where I live. The first thing we did was go to the aquarium, which is supposedly amazing, but really just like any other aquarium. Then we shopped and walked around the little streets and did a lot of tourist-y picture taking.

 mi amorcitooo
 idk what he's doing tbh

      When we went back to the car, we realized that we had parked in a lot that was for residents only. We had no idea because there were no signs and there was no problem getting in, but we realized we were in the wrong place when all of a sudden there were these poles that had come out of the ground and only allowed you to get in if you had a special card. Whoops... so we had to go talk to a police officer that was there and he almost gave us a 90euro ticket, but I'm so smooth I just talked my way out of it. In the end, everything was fine and we just moved the car.
     For lunch, we had tapas at a random bar, but we sat outside, which was a little chilly but very beautiful. Later we walked along the beach, looked around the town, did a lot more tourist-y picture taking, and then finally went back to Bilbao to drop off Pino. While we were in Bilbao, mom decided she wanted to try a kebab. If you don't live in New York or some other really big American city, or you've never been to Spain, well you probably think a kebab is a stick with grilled meat and vegetables. Yep, I thought so too, until they took me to a Kebab...they're like turkish sandwiches, but they're SOOOO good.
     That night, it was time to pack and get everything ready to go because the next morning we had to leave for the airport at about 5:45 AM... Even though I knew I would be seeing my mom in only a week, it was still really hard to say goodbye to her. It was like having a little piece of home with me, a little tease, and then all of a sudden it was gone, and it took a day or two to readjust to being alone here in THIS country living THIS life.
     Although we got on each other's nerves a little bit and got lost a LOT, I had the most amazing week with my mom, and I'm so glad I was able to share this country, this language, this life with her. Thanks mama for making it out here!!

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Little Piece Of Home (part 1): Barcelona

     I had been waiting basically the entire year for my parents to come see me in Spain. It was something I had been looking forward to since I said goodbye before leaving. In the end, my dad couldn't make it, but my mom did. I finally got to see her after 9 months of being away.
     On Thursday June 11, I had to wake up at 5 AM to get ready and head to the airport to catch the plane at 7. It was no big deal because the airport is right by my house and the plane ride from Bilbao to Barcelona is only 1 hour long. However, when I got to the airport in Barcelona, I started freaking out. I couldn't get ahold of my mom and I had no idea where she was in the airport, considering it's a pretty huge airport. I looked all over the airport, thoroughly searched the baggage claim, and finally went to the exit. I don't know why I didn't just do that from the beginning...I walked out and looked around and I finally saw her. The moment I saw her, I started running toward her and I just grabbed onto her. I almost cried I was so excited to see her. You don't realize how much you've missed someone until you see them again.
First pic with the mamiii in 9 months

     So we went to our hostal which is basically in the center of Barcelona. We had a cute little room with a balcony on one of the main streets, which was absolutely beautiful. After checking in, we walked to the University and got Starbucks...might I remind you that this was my FIRST Starbucks in 9 months, as they don't have Starbucks in was incredible.
 cute little hostal
Gotta love those balconies

     That day we met up with two of my AFS friends who happen to live in Barcelona and they showed us around. The first thing we did was walk to the Sagrada Familia, one of the most famous churches in Spain. It was GORGEOUS!! The outside is so ornate and intricate, it's hard to imagine how someone could have designed and built that. It would have been even better if they hadn't have been doing construction work on it. The inside is very different. It's a lot more modern than I thought it would be. We even got to go up in one of the towers where we got a beautiful view of the city.

en la Sagrada Familia

     Next we went to lunch and got...what do you know...Mexican food in Spain...they had some delicious tacos though! After lunch, we went to Barceloneta, one of the beaches in Barcelona. It was gorgeous and the water was nice and it was a lot of fun. After hanging out on the beach for a while, we were exhausted from travel and from a long day of going going going so mom and I went back to the hostal, showered, went out to eat, and then went to bed. We got some crazy amazing tapas for dinner. Mom loooooved the Spanish could you not?
We love tacos!
 My Barcelona babes
My absolute love

     The next day, we got up and went to the Plaza de Catalunya, which is one of the main parts of Barcelona. We walked around, did some shopping, and then took a tour bus! We saw pretty much all of Barcelona on that tour bus! It was great because it took you around to all the cool places, the audio guide explained to you what it was and why it was significant, and you could get off at any stop because another tour bus came every 10 minutes. We got off at las Ramblas, which is a giant market. One part of the market was filled with jewelry, paintings, antiques, etc. The other part of the market was full of tents with interesting foods, cold wine, and lots of people. We also stopped in a little town more up in the mountain to get some lunch where we had probably the most delicious pizza I've ever had and then continued touring.
 Plaza de Catalunya

 Port of Barcelona
 Mama and I on the tourbus
 Such good pizza omg


     That night, we had to go get the rental car we were going to drive up to Bilbao. The paper said it was at Sants Train Station, which apparently is in the center of Barcelona, pretty much right by where we were staying. However, we had no idea, and when we asked, the bus driver told us it was at the airport. I thought that was a little weird so I called the company to see if that was right and the woman I was talking to said yes of course. So we get to the airport, about 30 minutes away from the hostal and we have to take ANOTHER bus to a different terminal which was like 8 minutes away. So we finally get there and go to the "train station" where there is absolutely NO rental car station inside. The man working in the station said that we had to be at the train station that's in the center of Barcelona, which was another 30 minutes either in the train or in a was already 9:45 ish and the place closed at 11 so we were freaking out and had to call them back and figure out what to do. But in the end, the man who I talked to was very nice and he just switched our reservation to the airport we were at and we were able to pick up our car there. It was quite hectic...
     The next morning was an EARLY morning. I had to take the ACT on the outskirts of Barcelona at 8 AM...gross, I know. I had taken the SAT the weekend before in Madrid, which also started at 8 AM, so I pretty much knew what to expect. They're more or less the same exam. The SAT was 10 sections with math, reading, writing, and an essay, and the longest section was 25 minutes. There was a break after every 2 sections. The ACT was 5 sections with math, reading, writing, science, and an essay, and the longest section was 1 hour. They only gave us one break after 1 hr 45 minutes... But after both exams, I finished at about 1 PM. 
     After the test, I didn't have a day to relax or to go exploring the city...nope. We immediately started our VERY LONG trek back up to Bilbao. It was about a 7 hour drive in total. It's funny to see here that along the highway, there is basically NOTHING. There are hardly any towns, there are no fast food places, and there are hardly any pit stops. It's also so crazy to see the difference between Northern Spain and the rest. Basically all of Spain is either dry and brown or full of vineyards. Once you get up to Northern Spain, it's all forests and mountains. That's what I love so much about where I live... it kind of reminds me of home, but with more mountains. Even Mom agreed that it was the most beautiful place she'd seen. 
     That night, we arrived in Bilbao and picked up the boyf. Mom finally got to see his house, which is basically a castle. Okay I'm over-exaggerating, but it's really big and has AT LEAST 15 bedrooms... Then we went and checked into our Casa Rural, which is like a little bitty hotel in the middle of nowhere. We had some serious trouble finding it because it's genuinely on an invisible little dirt path. But it was beautiful. The room was spacious and nice, the owner was so friendly and kind, and the view from the balcony was spectacular.
Boyf's house

     After settling in, we went to a restaurant right down the street which served typical basque food and had an amazing dinner, the three of us. Mom meeting my boyfriend was a little scary, as it always is when you introduce your significant other to your family...but turns out...she loves him!!! That was very reassuring! 
     Our first couple days of vacation were amazing. It was so nice to finally be able to spend time with my mom after not being able to actually see her face to face in almost 10 months. It's so weird to finally see your family again. It's like you live this little recluse life in another country, and then when you see somebody from back home again, it becomes something so much different. It really feels like you've got two lives, like you're two people, but it's great because you finally get to share that with someone.
     To hear about our time up in Bilbao, go check out my other blog post!!