Should’ve Been Born in Europe

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Last week I hit something of a slump. Maybe it was all by fault of the rain, but nothing much was happening. After class I would go home, dry off, eat lunch, and then stick around and do homework or watch TV. While I was enjoying the company of my host family, most notably the bright spot in my week in which Oscar and I went to the library and then afterward got waffles in the park, I felt I wasn’t having quite the experience I originally expected.

Two weeks in, and the veneer of possibility had already been washed off Oviedo by the consistent Asturian downpour. I had seen everything the city had to offer, and in the end found myself underwhelmed. I met everyone I was going to meet, and while I was happy to have friends with which I could practice my Spanish, I was getting a bit tired of the same bars every weekend. Rather than an adventure full of excitement and intrigue, my study abroad experience had finally devolved into nothing but boring afternoons at home, only in a different country.

Or so I thought.

This past weekend saw a significant turnaround in my attitude. It started with a hike on la Ruta Costera Naviega, which took us through Puerto de Vega, a cozy fishing pueblo likely responsible for the octopus soup I ate my first week here, and also had views like this:

Thanks to the hiking club of the University of Oviedo, I was able to trek the Spanish coast with a group of fresh faces. It isn’t always easy to strike up conversation with strangers, but when you’re hiking for hours the only other alternative is to just look around (which wasn’t a bad option, to be honest), and so I went the social route. At the end of the afternoon, I had gotten plenty of practice explaining the basics of my life story in Spanish.

The trail took us through Puerto de Vega, a cozy fishing pueblo likely responsible for the octopus soup I ate my first week here. Through most of my conversations, I discovered that I am woefully under-traveled. Everyone else seems to have been to more countries and learned more languages, and I wished at times that my own story could be just a bit more interesting. Then again, compared to our one obscenely large home country, it’s pretty easy to make your way across Europe.

Though it helps a lot to have been born there. Last week the Erasmus students arrived after being recently liberated from their stressful week of exams. Erasmus is a program which connects many universities in Europe. The idea is that you go for a year to study your major at a university in a different country, and that university sends someone in your place. It’s mandatory, but hey, it’s also free.

On Monday we didn’t have classes (thanks Santo Tomás, whoever you are), and so I took the day to go skiing at San Isidro with a group of Erasmus students. The only American once again, it became quickly apparent that when you’re in a group of people that can be most cogently described as “international,” whether you want to or not, you become your country. I spent the afternoon with Brits, Germans, Spaniards, and one Icelander on vacation, and much of what we talked about revolved around the differences between our respective homelands. I’m not one to identify myself on nationalistic terms, but it’s impossible to see the matrix of culture you spend your life in until you step outside of it. Now, I not only recognize aspects of myself as American, but I also suddenly find myself thrust into the position of being an ambassador for the country and the city of Philadelphia. I received the rather grim news from a girl hailing from Exeter that there was a different group of Americans studying at the University, but I was the first friendly person from the States that she had met.

The culture of your home country informs your life in more ways than you realize, just as much as what you do affects changes in the patchwork of the culture. It’s a reciprocal relationship in which everyone participates in their own way. Though if I hadn’t come to Spain, I never would have had the chance to trade threads with so many different kinds of people, to swap a few memes here and there. Just as culture informs each person’s life, anyone can inform another about his or her own culture, and in turn make the planet a bit more interesting.

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