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Reflections on an Brief Lifetime

Xander Mitchell
July 12, 2016
View of Cibeles

I’m home for the first time in nearly two months, and yet for now, “home” feels like a misnomer. It’s familiar, sure, but after growing accustomed to everything from the 3:00pm siestas to the 10:00pm sunsets, it’s going to take some getting used to before my “normal” is once again normal. I’m filling my time with everything that I love – friends, family, coffee, literature, language… coffee – but it’s hard to think about anything other than my time in Madrid and beyond.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel after my program ended. I visited Paris and Berlin, two cities that I think of very fondly despite having spent only a few days in each. I shared my time in these cities with both friends from Yale and friends from past adventures, but I also spent a good deal of time wandering the streets – opulent and charming in the case of Paris, vast and thought-provoking in the case of Berlin – considering how these other European cosmopolitan centers paralleled Madrid. My conclusion is that no place that I’ve visited compares to Madrid in terms of liveliness. The city is alive with people at all hours of the day, its residents vivid like a cubist painting in the Thyssen, easy-going like an afternoon in Retiro. This quality made Madrid what it was, and I am sure that it will take some exploring to find a place that compares in this regard.

Weeks removed from the end of my program and independent travels fresh in my mind, it’s hard to convey my feelings at the end of the program: feelings of leaving Madrid, leaving my host family and leaving my friends from IES Abroad and abroad. To that end, I’ve decided to share the contents of my last journal entry in Madrid, which I wrote sitting in Toma Café, airport-tagged hiking bag to my right and Malasaña’s Calle de Las Palmas to my left. I hope that the entry, if at times overly-poetic, can express the competing moods that flutter through both the head and heart as one departs from an experience like this.

I’m content, if a little bit confused – confused by how rapidly six weeks in this place flew by. The days moved so impossibly quickly, in fact, that I firmly believe that this was not six weeks; rather, it was a brief lifetime packed into an abbreviated space of uninterrupted adventure. I didn’t sleep and wake so much as I flowed through states of heightened animation and repose; the timeline of events feels to me to be like an impressionist painting, differences discernible only through slight variations in brushstrokes or miniscule switches of tone. I’m filled with emotion, yet at ease. I’m satisfied, though claiming to be satisfied would imply that I had set out with a goal in mind and accomplished it. In truth, with the exception of my Spanish speaking ability, this wasn’t ever meant to be a summer of intense seriousness or measurable self-improvement; it was, however meant to be a summer of self-discovery and relationship building. I did follow through with my goals, if you can call them that, in this regard.

We keep telling ourselves how this is not the end – how Madrid will always be Madrid, how we will always have each other, how the forces of change are not nearly as powerful as the bond that we’ve created. I’m experienced enough to know that this is simply not true. My host mom, in her typically blunt manner, said it best when she told me in Spanish, “everybody is very excited and emotional right now, but you will all go back to the US and back to your lives and forget what this feels like.” I’m inclined to agree – in part, at least. It’s nearly impossible to hold on to a felling; we get jaded, we get apathetic, and we chase that next feeling with little regard for what we’ve been through in the past. That is why I believe that any proper experience like this requires not only self-reflection, but also group cohesion. It’s harder to lose something that you share with others, of course; we slip up when nobody is watching, but balk at the idea of disappointing somebody that means something to us. We’re products of those with whom we surround ourselves – why would we ever want to throw away a part of ourselves?

I write these words under a guise of confidence or sagacity, but truthfully I have no idea what to make of them. Really – what do we have to do to retain the whole of our beings, all 5 or 50 or 500 parts of “I” that are not ever the true “I”? We keep in contact, sure, but that Happy Birthday! Miss you! on Facebook is no weekend roadtrip, and even that is no six-week, foreign immersion, intro-to-city-life-and-by-the-way-it’s-in-Spanish kind of thing. “This is only the start!” they say as the sun sets while the plane leaves the gate and they’re left alone, still on a temporary high off of “memories” or whatever their preferred fanciful noun is.

I love this country and I love the people that lived in it this summer: the Americans, the Spaniards, the Germans, the Brazilians, the Czechs, the Bulgarians, the Costa Ricans and all others that I met. I love being in a cosmopolitan setting, and after six weeks of introductions and reunions, nights on the street and days in class, I still get a high from these interactions with such a diverse set of people. Nevertheless, part of maturing is being able to see the good in things that previously appeared bleak, and for that reason I’m content with teaching myself how beautiful a goodbye can be. It’s not an easy process, but six weeks of fumbling through conversations in a foreign language has taught me not to fear slipping up.

I’m thankful for IES Abroad, I’m thankful for Madrid, and I’m thankful for all of the people I’ve been blessed to have met this summer.

Likewise, I’m thankful to have had readers following me on my journey. Thank you for sharing this experience with me. Whether you’re family, a friend or somebody looking to change their life by studying abroad, I wish you the best and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

If you would like to keep in touch, feel free to message me on Instagram with any questions or comments. @tarxander, instagram.com/tarxander

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Xander Mitchell

<div>I&#39;m Xander&mdash;a photographer, amateur restauranteur, recreational runner and humanities major spending six weeks of&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">my summer in Spain. Traveling notebook-in-hand and iPhone-in-backpack (or maybe the other way around), I&#39;ll be&nbsp;</span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">showcasing the best of Madrid culture available to travelers and students on a budget. You can expect photographs of&nbsp;</span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">and musings on Madrid architecture, history, literature, food, music and the great people I find along the way. Oh, and&nbsp;</span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">there will be coffee, too &mdash;don&#39;t forget the coffee!</span></div>

2016 Summer 1, 2016 Summer 2
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Yale University
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