I can't believe it's already been two weeks in the beautiful city of Barcelona!
At the same time, I've already experienced so much that it almost feels like I could go home now and have 100 stories to tell. The food, the art, the music ... it's all incredible! Still, it's not real life if there hasn't been at least one wrinkle in my plans.
Here is a list of highs and lows of the inaugural days of my European journey. I'll start with a low, so I can end on a high note.
Low: I took the wrong way on the train and got lost.
Graffiti by the train tracks
Sopresa, sopresa. After parting ways with three girls I met at an orientation activity, I had to take the train back to my apartment alone. It was my second night in Barcelona, and my timidity had kept me from speaking to anyone in Spanish thus far.
I got on the train just as I had before with my friends (or so I thought), but when it came to the stop I thought was meant for me, I didn't recognize any of my surroundings. I even emerged from the tunnel and walked around for a bit to see if I was at a different stop in the same station.
I became frantic, but I knew crying or fretting would do me no good. With it being late at night and seemingly having no other choice, I went up to the friendliest-looking woman I saw in the station and said, "Estoy buscando para Barcelona-Sants."
She replied in rapid Spanish that was difficult to comprehend, but her words were accompanied by expressive hand motions and pointing. I took her directions, and soon enough I realized I simply took the train in the opposite direction of my apartment, and all I had to do is take the train on the other side of the platform back a few stops.
Though this experience scared me, it forced me to use Spanish for the first time. Now, each time I try to speak the language, I am more and more confident.
High: I found my way to the International Church of Barcelona.
An ICB pastor preaching at the 9:30 service
Two of my friends who previously studied in Spain told me about this church, and I was determined to go this semester. I was a bit hesitant since I've never gone to church alone before, but I knew if I didn't go on Sunday, I'd find excuses each week and never make it.
I navigated my way (correctly this time) through a few stops on the train and a 6-minute walk. As soon as I walked in, I was warmly welcomed. The lobby was filled with friendly faces and contained a coffee bar, similar to my church in the U.S.
The familiarity of the worship songs (some of which were beautifully sung in Spanish) and a service in English gave me a sense of security and peace in this land so far away from my home.
Low: I threw up the second night.
The last meal I ate before the unfortunate incident.
After a lot of yummy food (and I mean a LOT), I went home to rest in my new bed. As the night went on, my stomach started hurting, and the pain increased with every minute that ticked by. I'm not sure if it was the pesto, the squid, the jet lag fatigue, or delayed motion sickness from the flight — in truth, it was probably a combination of all of these factors. Eventually, my body ridded itself of the pain through my oral cavity.
Yikes. There really is no nice way to say that, is there?
Still, I'm glad that if I was going to get sick, it happened the first week. Now, I know that I can handle sickness on my own … though nothing beats having my mom bring me chicken soup and a Sprite while I relax on the couch.
High: Grocery shopping is surprisingly similar ... and possibly even easier ... than in the U.S.
Fresh orange juice from the supermarket near my apartment
Coming from a small town, supermarkets are few and far between; therefore, so are trips to the store. It's necessary to make tedious grocery lists in order to avoid multiple car rides to and from the store each week. We fill up carts with food that we take to the check-out line, and after the cashier scans our goods and places them in dozens of plastic bags, we load our trunks and head home.
Just across the street from my apartment are two supermarkets. On the way home from school, I pass two others. Less than 10 walking minutes away from my school is yet another option: a traditional outdoor market. Hence, I really don't need to make a grocery list when it's convenient to simply stop in and pick up what I need every few days.
Here, people bring their own reusable bags to load their groceries in, or they take with them a large canvas, cart-like object on wheels called a shopping trolley. This environmentally conscious choice inspires me to bring a reusable bag of my own.
Aside from these two positive differences, grocery shopping is extremely similar to my U.S. experiences. Fruit, bread, meats, soups, sauces, dairy, eggs, dessert, snacks … they're all there. Of course, the labels are in Spanish (and their word for calories translates into "energy" … Don't you just LOVE that?!?)
Still, the one thing I still haven't been able to locate is sour cream. My homemade quesadillas just haven't been the same.
Low: I got double-charged at a restaurant and had to go back to explain that.
When the restaurant offers crepes like these, I couldn't hold a grudge for too long.
This experience was trying and traumatizing. After hastily removing my card from a machine while paying, the waiter insisted my transaction didn't process. I knew that my Spanish wasn't good enough to argue with him (and a receipt never printed), so I let him run it again.
Later that evening, I checked my bank statement, and sure enough, I had two charges from the restaurant. I frustratedly phoned my bank, but since it was a foreign transaction, the man on the phone told me that he couldn't dispute it. I called the restaurant and spoke in a mixture of Spanish and English, and the employee told me to come into the restaurant.
A few days later, I made it back to that part of town, and I nervously conversed in Spanish with a woman who helped me get my money back (in euros). Though it may have been a big ordeal for just a few dollars, I felt so accomplished and empowered knowing I could communicate well enough in Spanish to solve a problem like this.
High: I've had so many opportunities to practice my Spanish.
The first meal I ordered in Spanish!
And it's actually going better than expected.
Whether it's ordering at a café (yes, I've already learned the word for oat milk), getting lost on the train, or disputing a charge to my debit card, I've been immersed in a culture where the native tongue is not my own. It's an exciting and challenging barrier to be confronted with, and each day I get closer to breaking it down.
It's only been two weeks, but I'm already having so much fun here. I can't wait to see what the next months have in store.