A Pitch for Traveling Within Your Country

Maple Buescher headshot
Maple Buescher
April 1, 2024

A few weeks ago, after hours of painstaking deliberation to find a time that worked for us despite the transatlantic time change, I signed on to a Zoom meeting with my academic advisor from my home university. Before we dug into the meat of my thesis proposal, we chatted about my time abroad: academics, food, culture. Then my advisor asked me about travel. Many students who study abroad in Europe travel to other cities on many, if not most, of their weekends abroad, and my advisor asked me about my favorite places I’d been.

I named a few: Cordoba, Toledo, Ávila, and above all Granada, home of the massive Alhambra Palace, which I told my professor was the coolest palace I’d been to.

He smiled. I’d just named four cities in Spain, where I am studying abroad. “I like that you’re traveling within your country,” he said. “Lots of students spend every weekend jetting off to another European capital.”

I’ve noticed some students doing that in my program, too. When my Spanish teacher kicks off our Monday morning, first-class-back-from-the-weekend class, she asks us how our weekends were, and stories are a lesson in geography: Paris, London, Dublin, Prague, Venice, Amsterdam.

Their experiences sound spectacular. They get to learn new things, try new foods, and experience new cultures—all things that are much easier when you’re based in Europe than when a trip to Portugal would be a $3,000 transatlantic airline ticket. I’ve traveled internationally this semester, too, and it has been incredible; in February I went to Marrakesh, the capital of Morocco, and I have plans in the works to visit my aunt in Rome.

But traveling within Spain has been one of the most important and enlightening experiences of my semester. In Granada, my first trip with my friends, we learned about orange juice and the Reconquista; in Cordoba we learned about Muslim architecture and the Roman legacy. In Toledo, we saw an ancient temple; in Ávila, Spain’s oldest gothic cathedral. 

We came to better understand the culture of the country we’re living in. We tasted new foods typical to different regions of the Iberian peninsula. We spoke Spanish and heard different accents. We were forced to learn vocabulary (I’ll never forget how to say dumpster, bedsheet, or mop again—not since I had to ask for them from staff after a friend vomited in her hostel bed). And we understood our place within the long, deep, broad legacy of Spanish culture better.

Returning from my spring break travels (which, yes, I spent abroad—in Copenhagen and then Vienna), I stopped for a 6-hour layover in the northern Spanish city of Bilbao, where I got to try classic Basque desserts, learn some words in the Basque language and hear why local residents are worried that younger residents will only learn Spanish, and watch an Easter procession. Processions are common and sacred in Spain, but unusual in the United States, and getting to see one was one of the most culturally important and exciting moments of my semester so far. (A friend and I had watched men practicing to lift the Paso – the large religious float featured in the procession—when we were in Cordoba, Spain a few weeks earlier, so it was even more exciting to see it decorated and maneuvered with such sacred care.) 

When I think about the most potent and important memories of this semester so far, I think about Spain. (It is where I’m living, after all!) I think about Madrid – about laughing with my host family, seeing civil war forts from my classroom window, trying not to get lost in El Rastro—but I also think about what I learned about Madrid and Spain from elsewhere in the peninsula. I think about the mosque in Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada and the magnitude and brilliance of Muslim architecture and its legacies in Spain. I think about the cathedral in Ávila and everything my friend in a Spanish Architecture class taught me about windows. I think about all the monuments to Columbus I’ve seen, especially the ones in Granada, and how that illuminates the differences between Spanish and American perspectives on the colonization of the Americas.

This is not a pitch to never travel internationally. This is a pitch for a balance. This is a pitch for you to lay out your weekends on your calendar and be mindful that you’re spending enough time—not all your time, not every minute you have, but enough time—in the country you’re living in.

When you look at the map of Europe and all the places you want to see, take some time to consider destinations within your own country. For me, Spain has given me the best memories of all my weekends abroad.

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Maple Buescher headshot

Maple Buescher

Hi!! My name is Maple and I'm a junior at Bates College, where I am a member of the sailing team, the orchestra, and everything in between. I am the Editor in Chief of our student newspaper and am interested in pursuing a journalism career.

2024 Spring
Home University:
Bates College
Political Science
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