When one hometown is not enough

  I’ve been in Spain for two and a half months, also known as nearly a third of my total time here. In these two and a half months, I’ve listened to two Spanish men talk for three hours about the merits of different types of cars, had my host mother wake me up five minutes before the PSAT started, and watched my host sister recover from nose surgery. I’ve helped my host brother with his English homework, and I’ve moved from uncomfortable dinners where I was urged to speak more to sneaking bites from my host sister’s dessert, and vice versa. Essentially, I love my host family.

       I just got back from a five-day trip to Extremadura, an autonomous community in southwest Spain. It borders Portugal and Andalucía and was prematurely considered by the entire class of SYA, myself included, to be the most boring of the three locations for this trip (the other places being Andalucía and País Vasco). In fact, when I told my host family I’d be spending a week in Cáceres, a city in Extremadura, they looked at me in horror, punctuated by my host brother saying very matter-of-factly, “That’s going to be so boring – there’s nothing there.”

       I can now proudly say he was wrong (and I did, actually, on Friday night, when I got back). I had an incredible time. Nearly all of my friends were on the Extremadura trip with me, and we had so much fun. We visited Roman ruins, art museums, spent the day at a Spanish high school, and spent the night at a monastery, which, I might add, was definitely haunted. It came at the perfect time, too. We’d been in school for more than a month with no variation in the schedule, the week-long religious Pilares festival from the beginning of October long since forgotten, leaving a restless feeling in the air. Spending a week traveling to different parts of Spain with twenty other SYA students was exactly what we all needed.

       Of course, that’s over now. Starting soon, we’ll be beginning the grueling month leading up to semester exams. That means long evenings spent poring over the history of Spain until names of royals and dates of different occupations of Spain swirl through our minds, afternoons spent rehearsing lines for the winter play, and of course the inescapable nights of memorizing math formulas.

                 It’s not going to be fun. The end of the semester never is. But what happens outside of school will be.

      The school held a Thanksgiving dinner for us on Nov. 26, reminding us that even though we’re in Spain, there’s nothing wrong with bringing over a few traditions from the United States. The school’s winter play is on Dec. 17, lending me the bit of theatre I’ve missed so much while away from Westminster. And, of course, there’s the fact that my parents are visiting, and I’ll get to spend two weeks traveling through Spain with them before the next semester starts.

        It’s really bizarre to think that the semester’s almost over. When I told people I’d be spending the school year in Spain, a lot of them looked at me like I was insane – after all, nine months is a pretty long time. But in all honesty, I can already feel the desperation starting to kick in. It’s like everyone’s finally realizing that after this year, we’re not coming back for the 2016-2017 school year. This is it. Friendships are forming and strengthening far more quickly than they might at a normal school, and everyone is spending every second they have running around the city. As a quick example, my friend and I went to four museums yesterday for no particular reason. In Atlanta, I don’t think I’d make it through two before begging for a break.

       Honestly, some of the novelty of being in Spain is starting to wear off. I don’t wake up every day in amazement, and I don’t do double takes when I hear someone address me in Spanish. It’s becoming my life, taking the tram to school and conjugating future subjunctive verbs in a split-second. The people at the café around the corner from school know my name, and I’m afraid that might happen at the McDonald’s at the end of Paseo de Independencia that my friends and I go to on the weekends, too.

       That’s not to say that I don’t fall more and more in love with Spain every day. I’m still not used to the cigarette smoke or excessive PDA on the streets, but I am used to the double-cheek kiss and everyone wearing at least one article of mustard yellow or eggplant-colored clothing. If someone tells me the street a restaurant is on, I can almost immediately place it (el Coso, Gran Vía, and La Chimenea are all familiar names to me now). Zaragoza is the fifth-largest city in Spain, but Spain is smaller than Texas, so that isn’t saying too much. And with a public transport system better than anything Atlanta’s system will ever amount to, it’s begun to feel like a small town – and a little like home.

Come summer of 2016, I feel like things might be a little harder than I was originally expecting. Not only will I miss my host family and the incredible friends I’ve made while here, but I’ll also have to deal with the reverse culture shock. There’s no way I’ll be able to get away with calling out a simple, “I’m going out, be back by one!” as I leave the house on Saturday nights. Plans will have to be made farther in advance, as I’ll live a half hour drive from school, as opposed to a ten-minute bus ride.

       That’s not to say I won’t be excited to be home, of course. I will, it’s just that Spain has begun to feel like home, and that isn’t a feeling you tend to recognize quite so acutely in other situations. I don’t remember this feeling from when I moved to Atlanta, at least. But when you only have nine months in a city to make it your own, things happen faster, feelings develop more swiftly, and attachments grow far more quickly than in other circumstances. I’m already sure that more tears than I’m prepared for will be shed by the time May rolls around, and I’m already mentally planning a return trip to the city I’ve begun to call home.