When I was young, my abuelita would lay down next to me before I went to sleep and do four things: she’d tell me how much she loved me, she’d tickle me all over, she’d pray to La Virgencita to watch over me, and she’d tell me a story. I remember many of her stories—stories of past loves, of my mother when she was a child, of life in Colombia. They were always very colorful, fun, and meaningful—the perfect way to end the day. One of the stories that she told me time and time again—and only because I asked her, given that the story never changed—was the one of a Spanish bullfighter who immigrated and settled in Colombia. Abuelita didn’t remember anything besides his last name (Ortega) and the day he died: standing in the doorway, wearing his traje de luces, waving his capote. This was her father, my bisabuelo.
This was my first memory of Spain. I was too young to conceptualize it as the land of paella, tapas, and siesta—I hadn’t even heard of these common stereotypes yet—and so in my mind, it became the land of adventure, legends, and the unknown. My abuelita never knew her father’s name, and if she had come to learn it she later forgot it, and she could only make out the faint details of his figure—one that could be associated with any matador—rather than specific features. He was a man our family simply called el matador.
But, this mystery fueled my desire to learn more about my roots. What did my bisabuelo truly look like? Was he fair or olive? Were his eyes brown like mine or green or blue? What made him go to Colombia of all places? These questions, like all questions that cannot be answered, sparked my curiosity and from that curiosity—passion. Deep within me grew an ardent passion and yearning to visit the land of my great-grandfather, to see part of my family story and walk on the cobblestone streets that my forefathers may have too.
Everyone has a different reason they study abroad. Everyone has a different reason they chose Spain. My answer for the former is not the same as the latter, but here comes my opportunity to experience Spain—la madre patria— the way I have also dreamt. It is quite certain that I will never find out more about my bisabuelo—his records lost to history—but at least in Spain, I will be able to experience something I cannot find on paper or in records. I will experience the way he lived, the foods he ate, and the buildings he saw. This alone, more than anything else, will bind me to my bisabuelo and, subsequently, to my roots.
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<p>One day I dream of becoming an author. I have entire worlds developed in my mind and have so many different stories and ideas that I wish I could craft on paper. They all make sense within the recesses of my brain, however, when I attempt to put them into words I cannot articulate them the way I know them to exist within my heart—as real and authentic characters and places that live within me. I have one character I am particularly fond of, Silvia Torrenegra, and I know her better than I know myself. Consequently, writing represents an escape for me—an escape to reality, in which I can experience everything in the world even if I have never experienced it in the flesh. </p>