I stood petrified as my ears were drowned in Spanish; the small woman yelling at me. My puny Spanish vocabulary told me I had done something wrong dealing with water. Later, my friend translated. My 11 minute shower was too long; I had wasted Spain’s precious water. My first day in a Spanish family and I was already making them angry. I spent three days with Noelia and Alberto, my home stay family. A short time by anyone’s standards, but I learned so much from a mere visit.
When I was first offered the chance to travel to Europe, I was ecstatic; it was a journey to see a world perhaps not so different from mine. Then the tuition hit me like a charging bull aiming for a matador. Where was I supposed to come up with $7,000 in 6 months? Between work and helpful family members, I realized dreaded fundraising would be needed to top off the cost. My loyal stepmom in Georgia provided just the right one. With both of us selling candles in our home state, I reached my goal. I was so close to my dream of seeing (at least a piece of) Europe.
My constant research of the different countries I was to visit aided minimally in the real preparation of what I was to experience. In the back of my mind, I knew what to expect, but the realization of seeing everything is completely different. Words could not prepare me for a lifestyle so unlike my own. Even the mannequins at the mall looked different.
When I first arrived in Valencia, Spain, I could not believe the amount of cars I saw smashed in the streets. Although I saw many cars, I quickly learned that they did not drive often due to the gas prices. As a result, my sympathy went out to my suitcase wheels as I dragged them over 10 blocks of sidewalks, then up three stories of stairs. Never before had I truly appreciated an elevator. Soon, I wanted more than an elevator. Drinking water out of the tap was a figment of my imagination in a city apartment. A washing machine was an item for the elite and air conditioning turned out to be a teenager’s fantasy. During those short three days, I fully realized how much I take for granted in the United States.
Instead of taking 25 minute showers, I decided to shorten that time and perhaps conserve water for people like Noelia and Alberto whose water is too expensive. Walking everywhere for three days sure did give me the insider scoop on true Spanish life. I listened nearby as people haggled at the market, witnessed drivers mold into an amoeba of cars to move as one, and even saw strangers kiss a new friend on the cheek. Everyone seemed so much friendlier.
Upon my return home, I vowed to take my experiences as models for what I wanted to be like too (without the kissing). I’ll stand straighter to look a challenge in the eye so maybe one day, I’ll be privileged once again to travel to a new land and see what I can learn.
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