It happened. But not exactly where you would expect it to happen. I wasn’t gazing upon one of the “seven wonders of the world” or watching the first bull take a fall in a bullfight. I was… staring at a tree.
Most students have an “aha” realization sometime during their first couple days on the study abroad adventure. It’s that pivotal moment when they comprehend, after hours of breathing plane air and attempting to trump the foreign language barrier, that they aren’t in Kansas anymore, or Claremont in our case. For me, it was in front of a 450-year-old tree.
I spent my first week of studying abroad in Madrid, a place Hemingway accurately named the capital of the world, outside of the borders of Madrid. The Hamilton College program took our group of 39 students to a province in the northwestern part of Spain, Galicia, for a week-long orientation. In the midst of touring Santigo de Compostela and the beautiful island of A Toxa, we had the opportunity to visit a privately owned winery. Upon arrival, the one English phrase we were blessed with was the following: “This is not a wine factory.” It was true. It was a wine paradise with enough rows of grapes to overwhelm even the most dedicated Welch’s Grape Juice child actor. To the right of the grand paseo stood that tree of mine. Around that 450-year-old tree grew a family’s 250-year-old passion. It was at that moment that I realized that this tree, more than twice as old as the U.S. Constitution, made me feel extremely small. I did not feel insignificant, but rather enlightened by the depth of history that I stood amongst. It was a rejuvenation of the senses.
My study abroad experience has continued to rejuvenate my senses (specifically my taste buds) with the help of churros con chocolate from the Chocolateria across the street, macaroons from Ladurée in Paris and some crisp apple strudel from Austria. No matter how prepared I thought I would be for this opportunity, there is no way for me to have been mentally and physically ready for the drastic change in lifestyle that awaited me. Madrid has forced me out of my small town mental state and contaminated me with the beauty of Spanish culture. I say contaminated only because the effect of living abroad and learning to communicate in a completely new manner is not something I will ever be able to separate myself from.
Each place has its own allure, but it is Spain that leaves me more inspired and rejuvenated than ever before. With fewer than two months until I pass through customs in the U.S. once again, I can’t imagine a world without country hopping each weekend.
How I managed to live this long without studying abroad will always be a mystery. Galicia was witness to my first “aha” moment, but each morning I wake up with a greater tolerance and appreciation for rich food and history.