I have a confession to make.
When I first arrived in Barcelona, it wasn’t exactly “love at first sight.” I was excited to be there, sure, but I was more overwhelmed than I expected to be. I usually adapt well to new situations, but this was a four month situation, and after one week, I questioned if I was as ready as I let myself believe.
I met a lot of people, but everyone else seemed to quickly get settled into a solid group, or they stuck to the clique of friends they came with. I went alone, it was my first time living in a big city, there was a language barrier and I couldn’t help but think about what my semester would have been like if I had stayed home. I was a sophomore in such a rush to finally study abroad, but I began to worry I did it too soon and perhaps should have waited.
Luckily, I adjusted after about two weeks and became more comfortable with my choice. The rest of the semester still never became the way I envisioned it to be, but I relished in every fleeting moment of it. Looking back, there are a couple of things I might have changed, but I truly had the best time of my life, so I can’t complain. And more than anything, it was “los últimos días” I cherished the most. After spring break, my last month was a whirlwind of adventure, learning and just plain fun.
During los últimos días, I came out of my shell. I would strike up a conversation with just about anyone if it meant practicing Spanish – a barista, a sales associate, a taxi driver. I would talk to my host mom for longer periods of time, and our topics became in depth as my vocabulary expanded and nerves subsided. Twice I asked strangers on the beach to let me join their volleyball game. Even in English, my friends and I met a group of Scottish people in a hush-hush sort of bar, and we played pool with them and exchanged scandalous stories. I also became friendlier with classmates I had never really spoken to before. I let go of my inhibitions, and Spain gave me the confidence to do that.
During los últimos días, I ate at all of the restaurants I had been meaning to try and the ones I loved the most. I had my last Ramblas gelato fix, my last glass of cava from La Champaneria and my last fruit juice from La Boqueria.
During los últimos días, I explored the city. I visited all of the art museums, walked aimlessly around the sun-drenched beach and explored neighborhoods I wish I had discovered earlier. Even though it wasn’t dark enough to see the colors burn as bright, I finally watched the Magic Fountains burst with streams of warm hues in Plaça Espanya. I also ventured to Montserrat by myself, where I spent the day hiking, writing in my journal and meditating in the serene mountains.
During los últimos días, I traveled to Madrid with two guys from my program. Not only was it one of the most “brotastic” weekends of my life, which was a whole experience in itself, but it was my last excursion in Europe and a place I had been trying to get to all semester. I felt like studying abroad in Spain wouldn’t have been complete without seeing the country’s capital, and it ended up being an incredibly fun time with great travel buddies. The attitude for any suggestion on the trip was, “Why not? Let’s do it.” We even almost went sky diving on an impromptu impulse. Well, we didn’t. But we scored tickets to a Madrid fútbol game, observed art in the Museo del Prado, pigged out at El Tigre and took a nap on the grass under the sun in Parque del Retiro. We went hopping from countless tapas bars the real Spanish way, we bumped into friends we met on our spring break cruise and we danced the night away at Kapital, one of the most famous night clubs in Europe. Bullfighting season had also just started, and if we didn’t have a 10 a.m. flight on Sunday morning, we would have gone to see one. Instead, we learned about the gory sport at a museum near the arena. And I was fortunate enough to meet up with a roommate from home studying there. She showed us around the bars of Sol, the residential side of the city, and she took us to a Mexican joint with burritos better than Chipotle’s. I lost my camera battery charger the week before, so I couldn’t document the trip, but I think that allowed me to freely enjoy Madrid for what it was. I was solely there to have a good time, and that’s what I had.
During los últimos días, I went to the movies to see a film with an ironically appropriate title: “Los Últimos Días.” This post-apocalyptic thriller was set in Barcelona, so my friends and I gushed about the scenes we recognized and loudly exclaimed, “Arc de Triomf!” and “Oh my gosh, that’s Carrer de Balmes!” It was cheesy, as those movies usually are, but it was a pure laughfest. And it was completely in Spanish with no subtitles, so we tried to follow along. But that wasn’t too hard, especially when half of the dialogue was curse words, all of which we understood.
During los últimos días, I was living large. Within reason, I didn’t impose too many limitations on myself. I went out on school nights (gasp!), splurged a bit and did spontaneous things.
During los últimos días, I finally had a sense of belonging. I felt like I was in Barcelona for more than an extended vacation; I felt like I lived there. I’d see familiar faces on the subway, the owner of Amigos knew my order before I could say it and I could navigate the best routes to take without a map.
And on la última noche, I went out to my favorite bar, Ovella Negra, where I said goodbye to friends and, of course, drank some sangría. Being one of the only Floridians in my program, “goodbye” was especially hard because realistically, I’ll probably never see these people again. But one thing studying abroad made very clear was that it is a small world after all, and our paths may cross again. As the night was winding down, I remembered to drink from la Fuente de Canaletas as a symbolic promise of my return. Then, when it was about 2 a.m. and I had exactly 6 euros left in my pocket for the Aerobus, I made my way back to my homestay to finish packing and face the morning departure. I know, my priorities are set, right?
Now that I’m home and missing it all, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about ways to go back to Spain. I don’t see myself becoming an expat just yet, but I’ve given thought to the idea of teaching English for a year after I graduate college. Study abroad was something I dreamt of doing since high school. I made Spain happen once, and there’s nothing stopping me from making Spain happen again.
From this point on, I don’t know where life is going to take me, but who knows? Maybe “los últimos días” weren’t my last days after all.
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<div><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Marisa is a sophomore at the University of Florida, majoring in journalism and minoring in Spanish. She is an active writer and photographer for her school newspaper, The Independent Florida Alligator, and a varsity rower on the UF crew team. In her free time, she enjoys playing guitar, volleyball, cooking, shopping and hanging out with friends. Traveling is Marisa’s biggest passion, and she has wanted to study abroad in Barcelona for some time now. She is most excited to master fluency in the language, immerse herself in the culture, sample exotic cuisines, and explore cities throughout Europe with new and old friends.</span></div>