I was twelve years old when my family hosted in our house five people from Murcia, Spain. I temporarily surrendered my bedroom to three non-English-speaking women and slept a mere two feet away from the ceiling in the stuffy top bunk bed in my little sisters’ room. Under normal circumstances, giving up my bedroom is comparable to throwing heaven on earth out the window.
However, when Spaniards were involved, somehow I had no problem in making this ‘huge sacrifice.’ There is something about the nation of Spain that is hugely appealing to me. The language is beautiful, the accent fascinating, and many of the people, (especially those of the male species) are nothing short of gorgeous. So hosting several Murcianos in my house (with the sad exclusion of any aforementioned gorgeous males) was an epic event.
These people were Spaniards. To me they were perfect — they were gods incarnate. Although every cell in my body longed to be Murcian, I surrendered to that impossibility and settled for the next best thing: my ‘dream vacation’ became the region of Murcia, Spain.
Thus, I was quite surprised many years later in the summer of 2005 when traveling to Spain evolved from a young fantasy to a concrete possibility! A mass Catholic event, Encuentro Mundial de las Familias, the worldwide meeting of families with Pope Benedict XVI, would be taking place in the city of Valencia, Spain in July of 2006. I was ecstatic when my Dad decided that my family would attend this meeting. Plus, as an additional ‘cherry on the cake,’ we would by hosted by a Spanish family in a small town called Cieza in the region of Murcia.
I found it unbelievable that my family whose biggest outings consisted of piling in our twelve-passenger van and heading to the nearest state park, would be flying over the Atlantic Ocean to Murcia, Spain, the one destination on earth that I really wanted to go to! We did it — my parents, my brother and I were soon in the London airport, exhausted, hot, and in my case, miserable. I had been so thrilled about traveling to Spain that I forgot how truly maddening travel could be. It was about 3 a.m. Denver time, I was sitting in a crowded airport surrounding by people speaking bizarrely-accented English and despite the fact that I was on my way to my beloved Murcia, I wanted to forget about Spain entirely and go home to my own bed.
Things hadn’t improved much by the next day when I was finally standing on rocky Murcia soil, miserable and holding back tears because there was something about Spain that I wasn’t expecting — nobody spoke English. Having spent my entire life among English-speakers, I was completely overwhelmed when I was surrounded by people who couldn’t understand a word I was saying. My Spanish was hardly better than their English, as my only experiences of learning the language were an introductory after-school Spanish class in third grade and one year of basic sophomore-level Spanish.
In Spain, I was completely lost. I like to think, though, that if you persevere through a difficult situation long enough, the ordeal will become much easier to bear. This was the case with my pilgrimage to Spain. My second day in Cieza, we went to a pool party that many Spanish families were hosting for the visiting Americans. I showed off my new swimsuit, tasted the famous Spanish dish, paella (which, incidentally, I didn’t like at all), and met several other teenagers. Even though there was an intimidating language barrier between us, I was very welcomed by the youth of Cieza.
That night, I walked through the city with my new Spanish friends, struggling to somehow effectively communicate, but having the time of my life while doing so! I spent six days with my Murciano friends, and I am proud to say that in that time I formed some of the best and most memorable friendships of my life. In fact, I believe I can say that returning home and leaving behind ‘my Murcianos’ was one of the hardest and the most painful moments of my life.
I promised that I would return someday, as soon as I could. Today I am in love with the Spanish language and trying to learn as much as I can before I return to Cieza, Spain to visit my friends, all of whom I am anxiously waiting to revisit!
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