At first I tried to write this essay with the idea it would read like a brochure, and in the middle I would come to some sort of epiphany. I never really knew what I had learned from traveling to Spain aside from mastering the language until I started to write about it. It’s strange how I never realized how much I had grown until now.
My parents had always traveled to Latin America to show me first-hand human history and foreign cultures. Concurrently I was studying Spanish in school, and being exposed to the language fueled my passion. As I entered my junior year, I realized that in order to get the full Spanish experience I had to go to the place where it all began: Spain. My Spanish teacher was already organizing a trip there, so I worked a year in retail to pay my way, and I jumped on, followed by my closest friends. It was bound to be unforgettable.
As our plane landed in MÃ¡laga, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I had studied and saved for this. Now I was to reap the rewards. I had always expected Europe to be on a whole different spectrum of life than the United States, but surprisingly, as we were driving down the coast, I started to notice how similar much of the landscape was to my own town. Things as basic as street signs, gas stations, and even the roads reminded me that although we as people all notice each other’s differences much easier than our commonalities, we all share common experiences. It drew me much closer to seeing Spain as something tangible and real, not an abstract concept 5000 miles away.
We eventually made our way to our first major Spanish city, Seville. If the United States was to be considered a melting pot, this place put it to shame. For much of its history, Seville was a hub of all three major Western religions. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity had coexisted peacefully here for centuries, and as I was at a tapas bar by a mosque-turned-cathedral, I wondered why such a situation was near impossible today. It didn’t make sense. If all ideologies could get along before, then why can’t they now?
Our last city was Spain’s capital, Madrid. We stayed in the beautiful Hotel GaudÃ right in the middle of downtown on Gran VÃa. A city of past and present, it felt as if it maintained its relationship with antiquity yet melded it with the new era of a chic and cosmopolitan Europe. Here people were often found out until one in the morning on a Sunday, but still managed to keep a slow tempo of rural life as made evident by its vibrant social life in Madrid’s labyrinth of streets. Family, friends, and church were in complete harmony as people would sit for hours in parks or restaurants simply making small talk. The Spaniards took socializing to a whole new level.
Spain didn’t produce the stereotypical “I hate America” theme with me as it seems to do with many other American teenagers. Spain helped me to learn to appreciate and enjoy cultures other than my own, and swept away much of what little bigotry I had to begin with. I came away with a renewed sense of confidence and place in the world, as I finally became reunited with my roots. Most of all, it put me through a baptismal “rebirthing,” and I came out of it knowing who I was and where I wanted to go with my life.
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