Although it was only for a month, I feel like my time spent in Spain was a dream…On my return home I kept thinking, Was I really in Spain?!?! I was experiencing overwhelming waves of appreciation because I had been to a place (lived there for a month) that most people only get to hear about in history lessons. To go beyond that, I lived 10 minutes away from the Cathedral, a HUGE landmark on the Pilgrimage of Santiago that people from all over the world come to see. Despite having a fantastic time, I was happy to come home because my younger brother would be heading off to spend his junior year of high school in Germany as a foreign exchange student a week after I got back and I wanted to spend as much time with him. Needless to say, like my arrival in Spain, my arrival in Portland was a welcomed one but I was also instantly busy both times (the similarity was that I had dinner at midnight in Portland too). Everything was a rushed experience but that made it all the more exciting. It did take me a while to adjust the everyday life here because my mind was still wandering the streets of Oviedo and it was strange to realize that I wouldn’t be enjoying the social event of drinking sidra in the evenings. However I got plenty of chances to relive my Spain experience through sharing the stories with my family because shortly after my brother left, I traveled to the midwest to spend the rest of my summer with my extended family over there. Also, telling the stories was a good process of reflection for me as I thought about things that happened from a different perspective or my family would ask questions that added to my view of everything that happened. The adventures never end and like I said before, I plan to visit my home in Oviedo again.
I had my reservations about traveling to Spain because of how I visualized the culture to be… that being said, I’m pretty sure that the culture of Oviedo was distinct and I can’t say that all of Spain has the same characteristics that Oviedo does. I noticed a lot of similarities in culture between Oviedo and when I live in the USA but there were definitely differences as well. Drinking the local fermented apple alcoholic drink (sidra) most nights as a social custom was of course an adaptation I had to learn to love. I was in awe at how they treat their children in Oviedo. I imagine that it’s not just in Oviedo, but they seemed to specialize in anything baby related so that those kids would want for nothing. The children themselves are beautiful cherubs and always had the nicest clothing….like the way we dress our kids for Easter…but this was an everyday thing for them. I could have spent hours people watching just because of this and looking at all of the cool gadgets they have. Beyond that, kudos to the mothers because they generally seemed flawless as well. Also, I appreciated the fathers’ unrestricted display of love towards their families that I unfortunately don’t see so obviously in the U.S.. These were some of my favorite differences of culture that I observed. There was also a little different twist on fashion in Spain but it obviously meant a lot to everyone….Especially the shoes. It’s very impressive that age doesn’t matter with regards to what highly fashionable shoe a woman (and sometimes man) chooses to wear. Fashion never retires in Spain. However, for me the most surprising cultural difference was perhaps the dogs. People usually didn’t have large dogs but the tiny dogs that they did have went everywhere with them. It surprises me that the dogs have a different personality in general because they were almost all extremely well behaved or trained and they wanted absolutely nothing to do with a stranger. American dogs will wander over to greet someone they don’t know, or at least bark at them…but the Spanish dogs could care less and will not acknowledge your existence unless they see that their human family accepts you into their family. Only then are they the sweet little companions that love unconditionally.
Overall, I believe that I did well in my host culture. It’s a little difficult for me to get a real taste of the culture in just a month and to fully adapt so that was the main challenge for me I think. I felt caught in between because just as I was starting to get the hang of Spanish living, it was time for me to return to the U.S.. I wish I could have stayed longer in Spain, especially to explore more parts of Spain and to experience the cultural differences just in Spain alone. I am really happy that I did get to stay in Oviedo though because from what I heard, Madrid is a very bustling city and I enjoyed the quaint everyday happenings in Oviedo. It was the perfect environment. I absolutely want to come back one day to my home in Spain and explore the rest of it.
I have to play a little bit of catch up because the last week was really hectic and I didn’t have time to post as much as I wanted to…
Anyways, for our last excursion they took us to Santillana del Mar where we were free to explore the little town at our leisure. The whole time spent in Spain I was surrounded by tangible preserved history but I never lost the sense of awe I first felt on my first taxi ride into Oviedo. Walking in this town totally reminded me of how lucky I am to have had this opportunity and now am apart of the passing history of this town. All the shops are too cute and just the setting in general is beautiful! While exploring, we found the museum of torture that we were told is not for the faint-hearted but definitely an interesting glimpse on the history of not only Spain but Europe in general. THAT was an intense experience although it was very interesting. Afterwards we just continued wandering throughout the little calles and shops until it was time to go. It will forever be a sunny-filled memory spent with good company.
Looking through all of my posts, I’ve realized that for some reason my pre-departure post isn’t on here, probably due to error of user. Anyways, before I departed I was still a little bit undecided about how I felt about Spain in general. Naturally I’ve always had more interest in traveling to countries that were not the imperialists but those that were colonized so needless to say Spain wasn’t the first country that I thought I would study abroad in. I try not to have expectations when I travel but just as a comparison, I thought it would be more down to earth than the USA but more sophisticated than Costa Rica (which is the only other country I have experience abroad in). I had heard that Spain is a very religious country so I assumed that there would be a lot of churches and that the culture would be more religious centered than in the USA. I also wasn’t sure what to expect because I knew that Oviedo is an older, historical town but that it wasn’t excluded from the festive night life that takes place in all of Spain. I think of myself as a pretty open-minded person so I just saw myself learning to interact with the Spanish culture as best as I can. I know that making mistakes is part of it all so I saw myself enjoying the experience whether it was similar to what I thought it would be like or not. My main concern was that I wouldn’t get along with my host family because that has a significant impact on my experience in a foreign country. I was also concerned about the language barrier but I also knew that the language barrier is probably one of the most exciting challenges for me. All in all I was a bit apprehensive but also super excited and grateful to be able to visit SPAIN!! I am so fortunate for all of the opportunities presented to me and I really value being able to study abroad and see things from other perspectives!
Although Oviedo is such a small town, it seems to have it all! On Tuesday we took a trip to the local art museum. Our guide, one of the professors from school, was very informative but also conscious that we would be overwhelmed if we covered all of the pieces so she selected specific pieces to show us. Among them we saw some pieces by Goya and Dali which was amazing to see the pieces in person and not just copies! We were going to view some pieces by Picasso but they were on exhibition in Madrid at the time. Although learning the historical value of the pieces by Goya was interesting, my favorite piece was by Dali called Mariposa. The professor was not expecting to present on this piece but she was also very informative on capturing the significance of the little details of the piece and what they meant to the artist.
We ended our excursion on Saturday with a trip to Covadonga. Tradition says that the first Asturian king, Pelayo had victory against the Muslims in a battle in 722. Additionally there is a cave where it is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to give courage in war. At the foot of the cave there is a fountain and legend says that if one drinks from it, they are assured to have a good marriage. Also in this area is the Basilica that was built over 100 years ago.
There are no words to justify how beautiful this place is. Pictures can’t even do it justice but I’m going to try. The lakes we visited, Enol and Ercina, are situated in a national park with a mountainous landscape. There are cows all over the place which made the drive up even more challenging because they would just mosey in front of the cars. There were also sheep all along the road too. I’m pretty sure I saw a wolf but I can’t be sure because it was in the distance and people bring their dogs everywhere with them. We were told that animals similar to antelope live in the mountains as well as foxes, wolves and numerous species of birds. We got to eat our lunch with a view and later on explored the area.
Saturday was a full day of site seeing that took my breath away. The first place we visited was Cangas de Onis which is a cute little town but has a lot to offer. After getting off of the bus (the bus ride was an adventure itself because this area is situated high up in the mountains), we immediately walked up to el Dolmen prehistorico where la Capilla de la Santa Cruz, or the Chapel of Santa Cruz is which was the first Christian church in the area and dates back to the times of the Romans.
Next we walked over to el Puente Medieval also constructed by the Romans. It is situated on the main street and is one of my favorite places that we have visited because it is nature’s eyecandy. The weather at this point was also treating us well so that made everything even better! Wow we are so lucky
On Wednesday we all got to go on an excursion after class to a close-by coastal town called Gijon. The weather wasn’t awful but it definitely not the weather one imagines at the beach. Nonetheless we had an excellent time exploring the little town. First we went to a museum that focuses on the traditional Asturian life. It was quite interesting although I didn’t go on the entire tour because I stayed back to help interpret for one of my classmates. Since I’ve always considered being an interpreter this was a really fun experience for me and it was totally worth it.
Next we went to visit the fisherman’s town part of Gijon. The route we took had incredible scenery of not only the ocean but also the European style little streets. We ended the whole thing with a trip to an ice cream shop…and can I just say that they have got the perfect recipe for ice cream figured out here in Spain!It was artisan’s ice cream but the texture is like no other here and the flavors are delectable! To any future travelers in Spain: NEVER pass up an ice cream opportunity.
Monday night my host, Pepita, and Lexi and her host, Nieves, all went to a fiesta up in the hills. I asked what the occasion was but all Pepita told me was that it was a family gathering… That being said I think it was more of a family gathering bringing whoever else they wanted because there were so many people, I’m guessing about 300. I was really excited because Maria Jose (Pepita’s daughter and the person I stayed with the first week I was in Spain) was going to be working at this event in the kitchen so I got to see her. I also got to see Jose, her husband, and their daughter Maria. The week I had stayed with Maria Jose and Jose, Maria and Pepita had been in Madrid together so Maria had bought me a little gift of a notebook and a pen; so cute! At the party there were two bouncy houses for the kids so Lexi and I watched Maria release some of her energy out on those before too many people got there. Then we went for a walk around the country to explore and Maria taught us what different bugs and plants are called. She found a baby snail for us to hold and we named it Charlie.
When we got back the food was ready and I enjoyed the tortilla de patata which is kinda like a cross between an omelette and a quiche but not really…anyways, I love them so much so I was very satisfied. Additionally there was a lot of sidra, of course. Then once it hit 10:30 the band, Domino, came out and they were a lot of fun to watch. I have limited knowledge of the dances here but it made my night to watch everyone have a great time together dancing the night away. Many of the women in our group are definitely fanatics about dancing and didn’t hold back at all. I loved it!!! However, since Lexi and I had school the next day we went home before the party ended.