Mejillones y Reactivaciones

(Nick Schcolnik)– I’ve known I would study abroad since graduating high school, and so my decision in March to go to Madrid was only a formality. The question wasn’t “if,” but “how long” I would go. After settling on a semester (I would have loved to leave for a year, but realized that it was impractical given major requirements), I anxiously anticipated my departure date: I would be leaving the humidity of the Amherst fall for Madrid’s dry and cool season. I would switch from football to fútbol; instead of pizzapalooza, I’d be eating paella. Even if the weather were poor, if I didn’t enjoy fútbol, and if the food weren’t to my liking, I knew I would be in for a great experience—a marvelous adventure.

So as I sat only mildly uncomfortably 35,000 feet above the Atlantic on my way to Spain’s capital, I enthusiastically jumped into the spirit of adventure, undertaking a discussion with a Peruvian man, Bill, who was traveling with his wife to go on a cruise in the Mediterranean. We chatted in Spanish, and after quickly picking up my accent (did you know I was Argentinean?), he told me of his experiences in a number of European cities, shooting me pointers about what to eat, where to go, and what to avoid. After taking a few notes on the ins and outs of Madrid, I couldn’t help but feel that this conversation was a good omen. “This is awesome,” I remember thinking to myself. I was already speaking Spanish and making friends.

We chatted a bit about my program—one I had carefully chosen to fit all of the criteria I thought would facilitate my mastery of the Spanish language. The program had a strict Spanish only rule, and only 25 students (all of whom I would be meeting for the first time the next day). Sharing in my enthusiasm, he agreed that the experience would be fabulous.

I felt great: having finished carefully arranging my complementary blanket and pillow, turning out my light, and saying goodnight to Bill, I was now finally, and most certainly, on my way to Spain. But then we hit a bump, a big bump—the kind of bump that sends flight attendants scurrying back to their seats.

And as I sat strapped into the soaring metal contraption (note the height from the second paragraph) which was to carry me across the ocean, a number of things happened. First, the plane underwent a series of enormous and stomach dropping plunges, quickly and effectively reminding me of why I strongly dislike heights, sudden movements, and, logically,  roller coasters and airplane turbulence; second, the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign casually flickered on (I never find it comforting when the fasten seatbelt sign turns on as if to remind us that yes, in fact, we are going through turbulence); and, lastly, as I watched the flight attendants nervously buckle themselves in, I took my impending doom as a sign that I needed to reevaluate my decision to go abroad.

I sat watching Bill comforting his wife, assuring her that everything would be all right, but couldn’t help but feel that I, too, could use some reassurance. What had I gotten myself into? At what point had I thought that speaking only Spanish for four months was a good idea? Why did I want to go on a program where I knew nobody? Another semester at Amherst began to feel tantalizingly manageable as I considered the prospect of a program that would be so mentally and emotionally demanding.

This was my  requisite  “what the hell have I gotten myself into?” moment.


This all took place over a week ago and I, of course, landed safely. I’m happy to report that I haven’t regretted my decision for a second since landing—partially because time has been a blur.

Here are a few reasons why:

View from a Celtic Castro in Northwestern region of Spain. The land on the other side of this river is Portugal.
View from our hotel (paid for by the program) in Baiona, Spain.
Picture of the town of Baiona from the hotel.

With a bit of distance from my turbulence induced second-guessing, I have no doubt I made the right decision. I’ve met fabulously interesting people who share similar interests with me—specifically that of cultural immersion—and my experiences have demanded of me that I think about things I otherwise would not. Because all the students signed a contract to speak exclusively in Spanish, the issue of communication, and necessarily identity, is consistently prevalent. While everybody possess a good groundwork for speaking, conversations tend to, logically, center around the words and verb conjugations that people are comfortable using. While this could pass as we become proficient speakers, it makes me wonder how well I am actually getting to know the people in the program. In other words, is it possible that I’ll leave Spain with one understanding of somebody when, in reality, their “English speaking” side would lend an entirely different impression?

Given the language barrier, the fact that we’re spread out all across the city, and the issue of cell phone service being spotty at best, I need to do what I can to stay in contact with the other students. Much to my chagrin, then, this post officially marks the beginning of my readmission into society. I swore I wouldn’t do it, but I’m giving up the cause. Yup, you’ve got it, I’m back on Facebook.

So now I can take a break from the looming, “wait, you’re not on Facebook…?” which haunts my every acquaintance. The (admittedly) convenient means of communication will once again be at my finger tips, and while I can’t say I’m proud to have only lasted 4 months sans el “libro de caras,” having it while I’m in Madrid will certainly make my life a bit easier.

And so with that, I’m off. I’m off to continue my adventure and, in the words of François Rabelais (thank you, John Green), to continue my discovery of the “Great Perhaps.”