Australia Study Abroad Video!

I have never been one to really express my self through words however I think this video does a nice job of summing up my time in Australia. Beautiful, spectacular, and life changing.

 

 

Australia- Expectations vs Reality

(Written from 19th June, final week)
Unlike my other posts, this is going to be more of a list of the biggest 5 things I learned while studying abroad, followed by an explanation. They’re in no particular order.

1. Expectation- Everything while I’m abroad is going to be exactly the way I want it to be, and it’s going to feel like an extended, worry-free vacation. Australia is going to be the problem free resort I had hoped it would be.

Reality- Not everything is going to be the way I want it and it’s not going to be 100% peachy keen. Although a different life, life in Australia comes with its worries, struggles, sadness, and down right annoying moments just like it does in America.

I think I learned rather quickly that despite everything, my ‘plans’ don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. Even as I situated into my room, I realised maybe this wasn’t how I expected it with my small and dirty room. Homework, as easy as it is compared to home, is still a nuisance, especially when it piles up all at once. The train gets crowded at times and it’s hard to find a spot to sit when you really want one. Your friends make plans to go out and you don’t always make the cut. Your roommate stays up until 2 in the morning talking to his father on the phone while you’re trying to sleep. It rains when you run out money on your myki and have to walk home instead of taking the bus. And then, sometimes, even in paradise, life just gives a bad day. There’s never going to be a truly ‘worry free’ world wherever you go. But you roll with the punches, make the best of everything, and in the end it turns out alright. All in all, the good stuff far outweighs the bad.

2. Expectation- The big trips I do and big accomplishments while here are going to make this trip great. I’ll do tons of life changing things that few back home will ever experience, and these extraordinary feats will shape me into a giant.

Reality- The big stuff is nice and all, but in reality, it’s the small, everyday things, that will make me remember Australia the most. The ordinary, mundane things are what really shapes this world as something unique and special.

It’s not an understatement to say I’ve done a lot of big things here that few people get to experience. I went scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, saw the stars in the Outback, cuddled kangaroos, and sailed across Sydney and Tasmania. But while those memories will last forever, I think the little things are what has made this trip stand out to me. The sounds of the ravens, parakeets, and magpies that are still so unfamiliar to me. Long walks along the river taking it all in. Cooking dinner with friends and a game of pool afterward. Walks to get milk from Coles, or getting ice cream from Flinders Street station. Weird plants in the gardens, beautiful buildings in the city, the trams running through the city day and night… it doesn’t all sound like a lot, at least, not just one of these things. But all together, it makes this place special, and I’m truly going to miss (almost) every bit of it.

3. Expectation- My family is going to miss me while I’m gone, but our relationship will change for the better as I’m gone. Still, my family will grow and prosper as it always has without me in the picture, and they’ll adjust as I become further from home.

Reality- My family REALLY misses me, and while our relationships have changed for the better, they need me. Our closeness can’t be changed and despite everything, family always comes first.

My family was certainly hesitant as I told them I was thinking about studying abroad, in Australia at that, for the first time. I’d only just gotten away from home at New Paltz, and now I was going from an hour’s drive to the other side of the globe. We’ve always been close, and although so much was pushing me to go, my closeness to my family was the major thing holding me back. I’d be leaving at a critical moment for my sister: her last semester of high school, and I’d miss her birthday, prom, and graduation, among many other adventures. I’d miss my step mom’s birthday, Father’s Day, and their anniversary. And although we’ve adjusted and are doing well, we still need each other. A lot. I’d call my dad at midnight because I was having an emotional night and needed someone to talk to. My sister would confide in me about her friends and high school drama as always. I’d ask my step mom how to make a certain dish or accept my student loans next semester (uggghh…). Some days are hard without family by your side. Maybe I don’t know where my future will take me. But if it’s five minutes from home, or the other side of the world, my family is always going to be there no matter what, and no distance or time will ever change that.

4. Expectation- I’ll make a lot of close and lasting friendships here, maybe even find a girlfriend, and they will be the beginning of a new social life I always wanted. My connections with my friends (and girlfriend) will make me happier and better off than I would be alone.

Reality- Despite having built friendships here, I’ve learned how to be happy on my own. I don’t need dozens of friends, I don’t need a girlfriend, because I’ve learned how to make my life meaningful to me.

This may sound like a cheap excuse for why I’m not bringing back a beautiful Aussie sheila back with me like a lot of people (including myself) were expecting. Believe me, I wanted to. But one thing I definitely realized while here was that happiness doesn’t come from anyone or anything but yourself. Don’t get me wrong, being with cool people in an exotic place having fun adventures is great. But I don’t need any of that to make me happy, I need to make myself happy by choosing to be happy myself. I made great friends during this trip, and I’ve become close with many of them. But many I won’t see again after this, and there’s some who have already left. The places I’ve been are fantastic and beautiful and something straight out of my imagination. But again, the likelihood of seeing some of these places again, at least in the same way, are slim. So all in all, it really comes down to me. What I make of this life, and how I chose to live it. People and places change, and as sad as it is to say they don’t always last forever. Only you last as long as you do. Your memories, your character, your happiness.

5. Expectation- I’m going to find out what my purpose is in Australia and be fully ready to take it from here onward. It will be an eye-opening experience on my way to discovering how my life will unfold.
Reality- Being in Australia has made me question even more what my goal is in life or where I’ll end up. I have even less idea what my plan is, if I have one, and I’m seriously questioning absolutely everything, including myself, going forward.

This was indeed the biggest expectation I had for Australia. That I would find answers to the many questions I’d begun to ask myself while here. What do I do after school? Would I find a partner, a home, a career? Would I discover who I really am, find my true purpose in life? The short answer is, no. At least, not yet.

While being in Australia has truly been a life changing experience, it seems I now have more questions than answers when it comes to figuring out ‘life’. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s better to have unanswered questions than wrong answers. But if there’s one thing I learned here, it’s that this world is so much bigger than I imagined it to be. There used to be one path that I thought I would follow, and it didn’t take me out of my comfort zone or very far from home. Then I started looking at path A and path B, path B being more of a dream than a plausible direction. Now I see there’s thousands of paths, and no single path is the ‘right’ one. There is no right answer, and it kind of scares of me because with only one year before graduating I need to figure things out soon.

Maybe, you never do. Maybe we all just drift around through life, hoping for answers to pop up along the way. In time I guess all things work out exactly the way they’re supposed to. They did when I came to Australia. They did when I chose to go to New Paltz. They even did when I lost my mother to cancer four and a half years ago. So, I guess I’ll just have to trust that it’ll all work out one day exactly the way it’s supposed to. I’ll find what I want to do after school. I’ll find a girl and a home and a career. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find out what my purpose is along the way.

Countdown

(Written 12th June, two weeks remaining)

Like a good book, my time in Australia has seen its beginning as something intriguing, new, and fascinating. It has seen its rise: becoming accustomed to life in Melbourne, as a city, as independent, as a new world. The climax, of course, the giant adventures across this massive continent, taking me into fantastic and incredible new worlds and having an absolute blast doing so. But now, of course, we approach the denouement, the beginning of the end of this great adventure called Australia. Finals are done, classes over, and I now find I have about two weeks left here with no plans whatsoever. A good number of friends are already packing their bags, and soon enough I shall follow suit. 4 months in this world are seemingly slipping away as the reality of my life at home returns each day. But as any good story, there is always that plot-twist that keeps things interesting.

To be honest, a great part of me doesn’t want to go home. Some of me even resents it. Of course, I want to see my family again, I want to see them above everything else. I want to taste home-cooked food, drive my car, and take a walk to the falls with my family. But the other things I miss, I’ll have become used to again in two weeks. In two weeks, everything I idolise about home now will be ‘normal’ again. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe a little normal is what I need after so much time away, to get my head back in the game and on top of my world. But my question now is, what game am I playing? What does life back home mean for my future? What is ‘home’? What is the future?

Coming here has made me realise a lot. I’ve learned how wonderful life is, from the little things that make it comfortable (or not) to the big adventures you embark on and those you go on those adventures with. I’ve learned to take opportunities when they come to you, and to not hold back from things out of fear or uncertainty. I’ve seen that I am capable of living in a new world and conquering it, making it my own. In a great sense, this is home. And what I worry is, what if what I had here is it? The opportunities I’ve had, friends I’ve made, things I’ve done and places I’ve been have been surreal to me, like a great dream come true. But what if it is just a dream? I don’t want to lose that adventurous spirit that has compelled me to explore and see the world. I don’t want to lose the friendships I’ve made here and them all simply fade away over time. I don’t want to lose the opportunities I’ve had here, to change the world.

Australia wasn’t at all what I expected it to be. But I think, maybe it was better. Maybe this is what I needed it to be, from dumpy Footscray to the great friends I’ve shared many journeys and laughs with. But soon enough, all that will disappear and I’ll be back to ‘normal’. How do I take what I’ve learned here, and apply it back home? I guess that’s something only time will tell. Going back home means uncertainty, and that’s something I’ve been scared of since losing my mother 4 ½ years ago. But then again, so was Australia. So my hope, is that once home I’ll be able to make new opportunities, become closer with my family and true friends, and continue to explore my world. And it may take some time to truly conquer it like I did Australia. I have some serious questions to ask myself about my future and my life. But undoubtedly, I will rise back to the top again, wherever my future ends up taking me. I want to keep the lessons I’ve learned here, the confidence I’ve gained and spirit I’ve shined and apply it back where it really matters most. I may not be one hundred percent excited to go back, but whatever happens, Australia will help me build the best me I can be.

 

 

Back in the USA

There is a lot that I already miss about Australia. The kangaroos, the accents, the metro, however being home is somewhat refreshing. I readjusted to home faster than anticipated and did not experience reverse culture shock the way many people told me I would. I guess it is just very different for everyone.

My time abroad in Australia was amazing. So much planning went into it but with the help of Samantha it was made possible. I am a bit sad to be home since if I am being honest I have no idea if or when I will make it back to that end of the world. I saw amazing things from the Great ocean road to the Great Barrier reef. I realized really just how little of the world I have truly seen. Even in the U.S I have only been to a handful of states and now I am more inspired than ever to travel and explore!

Being home has been a little underwhelming but I am grateful for all the experiences and people I met while abroad. I look forward to hopefully visiting Australia again in the near future. While my big adventure has ended I am looking forward to next one!

Actually Being Home

Now that I am back home, studying abroad in Madrid, Spain truly feels like something out of a movie, out of a beautiful dream, out of a moving story. It’s a wild and wonderful part of my memory.

I have stories about me almost getting locked in the metro post closing time, and feeding pink flamingos at the Madrid zoo, and watching a bull fight– history unfold right in front of me as the youngest ‘Matador’ on Easter Sunday got the ears of the bull as a sign of honor, a job well-done.

It was and is unreal to say that Madrid, Spain (in Europe!) was my home.

I was expecting questions about my experience being abroad. I was expecting my family and friends to want to hear stories. I was expecting them to want to know more about my life there, about the people I met, the places I’ve been to, the best moments, the worst moments, the funniest moments, the foods I’ve eaten, the things I’ve seen that I can’t get enough of, the things that ticked me off, the things that I miss about there, the things that I have missed about here. I was expecting and wanting their curiosity.

I’m patiently waiting.

Though I cannot be too disappointed, I practically told them everything after it happened, as I was excited to tell my stories over FaceTime and Facebook posts.

Being back home is actually: a lot of chores. Dentist and doctor visits. Seeing family, friends. Dates. Getting accustomed to doing things with my family again, with their new jobs and changes of their own. Finding access to all my American TV shows, etc. It isn’t as slow-paced as I wanted it to be; but it is a good change of pace being able to just do things at home or near home, without feeling the need to explore the city, spend money, or plan something. There’s a certain kind of peace in just being home-bound.

I miss the metro in Madrid and the button I had to press to get in. I miss the cauliflower and Lipton soups I had before the main entree for dinner. I miss the Spanish language all around me in speech, music, and store signs. I already know and feel that I’m losing pronunciation, or forgetting how to conjugate certain verbs, or hesitating prior to speaking. I miss writing daily in a notebook in all stream of consciousness. I miss the confidence I had in being abroad. Being: sure of myself, of my Spanish, of my decisions– because I had no one else to count on but myself.

I’m glad that I’m back for Pepsi cans at bodegas, though the design on the can is different than when I last left. I’m glad I get to see my mom in her uniform as a 911 Operator. I’m glad I got the chance to see my little brother graduate 5th grade. I’m glad I got to check out the new white truck my dad recently bought. I’m glad I got to see my sister work her make-up magic on a prom client.

A different, or new-world view? Of course. I learned that there’s a beauty in being able to communicate in two different languages, learn an immense amount of vocabulary, and adapt to vocabulary and conversations dependent on people and places. Not everyone in the world is sympathetic about what Trump and his administration is doing to our country. Many people are amazed that I’m from America, from an island called Puerto Rico, from NYC, and even from the Bronx. Some people will enjoy your company. A few won’t. And a good friend in Madrid told me something I’ll never forget. It’s a conscious effort to remember that people here grow up super differently than you did. 

So with that, I vowed to listen better, to judge way less, to make a conscious effort to understand, and let go, because America is different than Spain. For better or for worse, and I chose to live somewhere different to learn about myself, this place, my home, and the world.

It was a conscious effort on my part to live the way Spaniards did to some extent, and my experience was much more memorable for it.

Instead of comparing Spain to America, I was immersing myself in Spain.

I was appreciating  America.

And I was grateful to and for both places I could call home.

Tasmania

(Written 1st of June, final month in Oz)

After having spend a good amount of time in Australia, it’s become very clear to me that each suburb, city, state, and territory is in a very intense but friendly rivalry with one another. Sydney and Melbourne both claim to be the greatest city in Australia (if not the world), Queenslanders tease Victorians about the cold weather (and vice-versa with hot weather), and South Australia yucks up the fact that it was the only colony to have never accepted convicts. Sports matches between cities are rooted in deep loyalty to the home team, and every city or state has its claim to fame that supposedly makes it unique. But through all of it, Tasmania always gets the short stick. Not part of the mainland, cold, and bogan, Tas has heard it all. But after having been there, I think that Tasmania certainly makes the others run for their money.

Originally, I didn’t care all that much about seeing Tasmania. I knew it was seen as lesser by the rest of Australia, a lot colder than mainland, and I didn’t actually think there was that much to do. Flash forward to midsemester break, and I’m watching a good number of my friends having an absolute blast in Tasmania, climbing mountains, driving in the bush, even doing an aerial tour. Now I wish I’d tried to go with them and blown a few hundred over break instead of being smart and saving it, and I tell myself if I get the opportunity, I have to go myself. Later in April, I look up flight sales and see a $100 round trip ticket to Hobart for two days. After taking a hostel, food, transport, and activities into consideration, I realise I can make my own trip for less than $300 US. Although I wanted some of my friends to come, I realise that instead I can make this my own special trip, and prove to myself that I can do a single trip all by myself to such a remote area as Tasmania.

Immediately, things don’t go to plan. I have to spend time focusing on my finals and summer class the week before Tas, and before I know it it’s 11:00 the night before my flight and I still have no plans. Nor do I actually have my homework done. I have to finish my homework in the morning before my flight, and tell myself that I’m not leaving Hobart Airport until it’s submitted. And of course, just not having the time at Melbourne Airport, the first thing I do on Tasmanian soil, is submit my thesis on Robinson Crusoe. After that, I step out into the brisk air of Tasmania. And let me tell you, it was COLD (those of you who know me know I’ll wear shorts up until the first snowfall at home, so if I’m actually cold, it’s cold). I make my way to the hostel, which is relatively freezing once away from the main fireplace and up in my room. I don’t have the ability to drive out on my own, seeing as I can’t rent a car, and with Hobart being such a small city, my attempts to construct a plan are rather difficult (not to mention many of the tours I looked at were for different days or seasons than I was here for).

With not a whole lot else going on, I wander into the city of Hobart, my only real aim being lunch. I almost feel cheated: having come at such a cold, dead time of year, and not really being able to do much of anything. I slowly start to discover, however, that maybe Hobart is exactly what I want in my first me-trip. The city is very small, with only about two hundred thousand residents, and I can navigate everything using a very simple paper map. Also, maybe because of the size and homeliness, almost everyone you meet is extremely friendly and helpful. I’ve said before that I find Australians are much friendlier overall than people back home, but in Tasmania this seems especially true. People help me find my way, things to do, and places to eat. This takes me to Salamanca Place, an older historic type area filled with cafes, shops, and a museum or two. I love the architecture, and the pizza I have hits home as I take a very short walk to the harbour. I look around at the boats, something I could probably do for hours on end, and sign up for a short harbour cruise (which wasn’t really worth it). Afterwards, I scout out the town some more, before making my way back to hostel around dinner time before it gets too cold. I spend most of the rest of the night there, talking to other travellers and telling each other our great life stories.

The morning I wake up earlier, both to check out and prepare for a bus trip to Mount Wellington, the defining landmark of Hobart and from what I’m told an incredible lookout point. Generally, the weather is warmer and less cloudy, but on the mountain gets close to freezing. We only stay out for 15 minutes or so, but the view is completely phenomenal. You can see the slight imprint of a city amongst the bay of the river, and for miles upon miles see various mountains, forests, and the ocean. After returning from that around 12, I head back into the city to more sights, before another cruise at 2:30. The lighthouse cruise was probably my favorite part of the trip, and easily one of my favorite side-trips in Australia. We got to explore the beautiful coastline, see Australia’s oldest lighthouse, and I even got to drive the boat! (Study Abroad Team and the Australian Government said I couldn’t drive a car in Australia. Didn’t say anything about boats). It’s a good two and a half hours on the ocean, something I absolutely love doing, and if I had more money to blow I’d buy my own boat for the fun of it. With it being dark, and there not being a huge nightlife in Hobart, I go back to Salamanca Place for dinner, before planning a walk around the night harbour (it’s much nicer out than yesterday). That is, before I check my phone for a text message.

And just like that, my flight back home is cancelled (note to self: JetStar is cheap for a reason). I frantic for a little bit, seeing as I’m by myself on island with a final to attend in two days that I need to be back for. But after calming down, the first thing to do is march back to the hostel and see is they have any open rooms. Luckily, they do, and now I’m on to planning my replacement flight. With the option for an early flight back in the morning, or late at night again, I decide to plan my stay for another full day. It was easily the right decision, and I scrambled next to find a trip for that day. I found a small tour group exploring Port Arthur, one of Australia’s oldest and most notorious convict sites, something a history buff like me would be fascinated by. The next day, I check out again, and board the bus for my trip, with a whopping 4 other people. We stop at a puny village called Richmond for breakfast and a comfortable start to the day, and I fall absolutely in love with the village. We then head to Port Arthur, where, being Tasmania, the weather changes against us, but I feel the cloudiness and occasional rain adds to the ambience of being a notorious run-down prison. I can see how it’s not for everyone, but I certainly enjoyed myself immensely.

On the way back, the sun popped out again and we stopped at various other lookouts. Tasmania has a feel, in some ways, like it does back home, with autumn-like New England weather, and much of the general architecture reminds me of small colonial towns I’ve seen back home. But in other ways it’s very much Australian, and it may very well be the best mix I’ve seen between the two worlds while still feeling unique. The lookouts, needless to say, are beautiful, and I wander across ancient caverns, magnificent forests, and quaint fishing spots. The trip ends at around 5, but while the guide (who was fantastic, as any fellow “Jon” is) offers to drop me at the airport, I still have five hours before my flight. I decide to get off at the city centre, which while dead brings me to the mall for a quick snack, and, seeing as I have nothing else in mind, to the movies for the latest Star Wars (also great).

Overall, I learned quite a bit from this trip. First off, plan more. It really can go a long way. Also, don’t be afraid to jump at the opportunity to do something fun when presented, and worry about money when you’re dead. Experiences are worth far more anyway. But also be open to change, and feel free to go with the flow every now and then. Most of the time, it’ll still work out, and everything that happens does so for a reason. Hobart was the perfect first self-guided trip for me, teaching me a lot of valuable lessons while also being heaps of fun. Its small size was perfect for me, and I even despite ‘proper’ planning I got to do more than I could imagine in such a beautiful and remote part of the world. All in all, it might be my favourite trip I’ve taken in Australia, and that says a lot when the first day is cold as hell, the second your return flight is cancelled on short notice, and the third you spend in prison.

Final Stretch

(Written from 26 May, final week of classes and exactly one month remaining in Australia)

There’s no such release as the feeling of finally being done with classes. The time of worry is over! Exams are done, papers submitted, and school a distant memory. You now have the rest of the summer (or in my case, some winter first, and then summer) free to do whatever you want. Spend time with friends, go out and explore new wonders, all in all stress free. Right?

Sadly, I’m not done yet. Two of my major essays are due within one week, Creative Writing next Friday and World History as soon as I can pump it out. Needless to say, I’m no where near started, but I can’t take the same “do it the day before” attitude I had back home and apply it here. It gets worse though; not only that, but for these two classes I’m earning over 50% of my grade WITHIN ONE WEEK. The Creative Writing short story, complete with commentary, making up 70% of my grade, and the World History presentation I gave Wednesday, combined with the essay on said presentation, and the final next Wednesday making up 80%. I did a great job on the presentation, and I don’t doubt I can turn out a decent short story with a little planning, or that the other essay or final will be all that difficult for a history buff like myself. But still, the fact that there is so much to do in such a short amount of time is slightly overwhelming.

My other two classes have exams in early June, at the horse race showgrounds for some baffling reason. I’m not stressed about them too much; I only need 6 points in European Rev and 4 points in Irish History to get High Distinction (their version of A+ I guess). My classes here, at Victoria University, are done, but sadly I can’t truly say all my classes are over. Thanks to the Excelsior Scholarship back home, I need 30 credits this year to keep the money, or else I have a giant loan to pay back. As I only have 27, I needed to take a summer class, and what better than Introduction to British Literature? From what I can tell, it’s not the kind of class one can just slide through easily (though I will try) and requires a certain amount of dedication that’s going to clog up my time a little while I’m still here. It’s is more of an inconvenience than a worry, but the class is certainly keeping me on my toes with its weekly discussions, multiple readings, TWO essays, and midterm and final.

The past few weeks have been busy, to say the least, so much so that time has really flown and I now find that I only have one month left here. Realising my time is short, I need to do whatever is left on my bucket list here before I’m no longer able to, as it may be some time before I get to come back. Melbourne is a decently sized city, but as a tourist I find that I’ve already done most of the things I wanted to while here. There’s a few things still to check out, but the list is growing very short and I find I’m going into the city once again just for the sake of going, rather than actually having plans. In Victoria, there’s things I want to do still, but that requires more planning, and often requires transport I don’t have. And out of state, I don’t have the budget, aside from my trip to Tasmania tomorrow.

But I’m determined to make the most of my time here while I still can (provided I get all my assignments done!). Instead of looking so much for things to do, I’m looking for people to do them with. I’ve become closer with friends, expanding my usual group with mutual friends that overtime became my own friends. Though I most often only hang out with a small group of people, I’ve become a slightly familiar face throughout UniLodge and find myself able to strike up a conversation with most anyone (which is a huge boost for me as I’m usually pretty shy and not outgoing). Going out with friends to the bar or for a party used to be a thing I was very much afraid of and dreaded (which isn’t one hundred percent gone), but now it’s become more common and comfortable. I’m looking forward to Tasmania, and hopefully other trips with friends soon. And of course, I’m looking forward to finally getting my classwork all complete so that I enjoy the final month of my time here somewhat stress free.

 

Coming Home Part III: Airplane Ride Home

In hindsight, I actually felt sad. I dreamed about the day I’d go home, back to New York to see my family and friends. I thought I’d be so excited. But I also made new friends and a new family for myself in Madrid. So saying goodbye during my last week to all my favorite places with all my favorite people in the place we passed time together seemed and still seems oddly strange.

Now I know what my international friends at SUNY New Paltz go through, what Yuka and Holly went through—having to make a life for themselves somewhere, and then having to pack up and go back to their true home, too— all in what feels like a blink of an eye. I felt like I was letting a piece of me stay behind in Madrid. I felt like I was leaving a part of me go, too. The people make the place. 

But Madrid in itself made Madrid my place.

I loved my 4 month-and -3-week routine. I loved the Spanish. I loved my Host Mom’s dinner and conversations. I loved the strolls to the city center with friends. I loved planning something every weekend even just to see a new neighborhood, or town, or check out something that locals and tourists alike always love like: the Spanish market on Sundays called “El Rastro,” or American brunch at this place called “Roll” in Malasaña, or one of the best views of Madrid on the 9th floor of the mall called “ El Cortes Ingles” in Gran Vía, or just meeting at 10 p.m. on Thursday nights to have my favorite drink called Tinto de Verano at 100 Montaditos for 1.5 euros to talk sugar honey iced tea and start the weekend.

So of course, saying bye to each friend who had a flight somewhere new or somewhere called home was sad. Or saying bye to the student teachers that would stay, or the family friends that would continue to live their lives in Madrid, because it is where they live, it is their life, was sad.

You’re heading onto the next chapter of your life, back to the place you’ve always called home, without all the people and places and experiences that made Madrid your new home. But you are bringing back to your home, your original home, the memories, the stories, the changes in you.

Saying bye to the host mom you’ve grown to love stung a little that week before you left, and still does even now. Triple hugs the day before you left and the day you did leave didn’t help keep the tears away.

Saying bye to your family friend, your “cousin,” Shakira, and her daughter Cindy at their family bar and right before they got on their bus home, was so hard. As many times as you told yourself you would try your best not to tear in front of them, in front of a crowd, the tears rolled down anyways.

And just like the beginning of your trip, every time you thought about saying goodbye to your family at the airport in JFK before leaving to Spain, you cried. And now, every time you think about having said bye to people you don’t know you’ll see again, stings a lot, too.

Every time you think about all your goodbyes in Madrid, it hurts. And so these goodbyes are constantly on your mind—in the uber ride to the airport in Madrid, in the airport in Madrid and Lisbon, on your flight home to New York on a Tap Portugal flight, and a little bit at any moment you think too hard about it.

And thinking about reuniting with your family also feels emotional. You tell yourself not to cry here either. But your body is tired and hungry and jet-lagged and anxious and happy, and your mind is sleepy and thinking and everywhere. So try not to worry too much about it. It’s okay. This reunion had a long-time coming. Just remember you are bringing back to your home, your original home, the memories, the stories, the changes in you. And you can do your best to hold onto all of that for dear life. Forever. 

-Teary-eyed part II 

Goodbye Letter to Madrid

Dear Madrid,  

You became my home for 4 months and 3 weeks. From being like NYC minus all the skyscrapers, to seeing cathedrals on every corner, to hearing Castellano 24/7, to living on Calle de Padilla, you became Madrid, sweet Madrid. All these elements combined were signs from God that you’d be okay.  

Okay you were when you got lost going to school 3 times before classes actually started. Okay you were when you were told you had to take an extra course in Spanish to be a part of the Hispanic Studies Program. Okay you were after orientation didn’t give you any information you needed to know  on where and how your classes would function. Okay you were when your Host Mom, Asún, yelled at both you and your roommate for being late to dinner. Once. Okay you were when you got the worse grade ever on an exam for a language you’ve been studying 6+ years. Okay you were when you visited the doctor 3x all for different reasons with a bonus of an emergency visit post your trip to Morocco, Africa.  

And you learned that being okay with not being okay was and always will be part of being alone and feeling lonely in another country with no family or any of your closest friends. And that taking a nap was/is healthy. That eating sour candy at night before bed and after dinner at 9:15 p.m. is your happy place. And watching That 70’s Show and Full House before bed to make you go to bed on a high note was your way of identifying with your closest friends and dearest family from 2 different parts of the world-The United States and Australia.  

And you constantly reminded yourself that your Host Mom’s 3-course dinner, your dad’s 12:00p.m. call on lunch break, your sister’s Snap Chat messages, your Mom’s FaceTime calls, your brother stealing your sister’s phone to text you, your Great Grandma’s random dial-ins, your Grandma’s voice messages, your best friend’s weekly messages, your roommate texting you from a room away to see if you’ve gotten out of bed yet, What’s app calls going in and out with your family from Florida and Virgina, and your fiancées stunning photos from Melbourne, all made what you have had in Spain, beautiful and unique and wild and wonderful and nostalgic all at the same time.  

100 Montaditos became your low-cost drink spot. Tacos at Takos became your food spot. Starbucks 7-minutes away from your home became your study spot. HEMA became your buy-a-gift-here spot. Primark became your shop spot. Amourino became your gelato spot. Gran Vía became your favorite ‘dar un paseito’ spot. Usera became your go-to-your-friend’s-house spot. Buen Retiro became your favorite park spot.  

Your favorite playlists included Billie Eilish’s ‘Ocean Eyes,’ Spanish Guitar and Flamenco to think, write, and study. Danny Ocean’s ‘Dembow’ and ‘Me Rehúso’: to jam out, iron, clean and do your budget sheet to. ‘Te Amo,’ by Piso 21 and ‘Modelo’ by Ozuna ft. Cardi B was for fun. And even a Puerto Rican playlist by Gran Combo came to play, reminding you of your Great Grandpa, Papá, and Puerto Rico.

You stepped into Spain’s territory with goals. You had hoped to make Spaniard friends. You had hoped to eat amazing Spanish meals. You had hoped to travel all of Europe, and all of Spain, and even make a trip to visit your special someone in Australia. 

Instead, God gifted you with friends from Miami, Moldova, India, and back home. Your Host Mom blessed you with her version of white rice and lasañga and breaded-chicken because she knew those were your faves. You were lucky enough to travel to Morocco, Africa, experience a camel ride on the beach in Tangier, see The  Caves of Hercules in person, hike in the Blue City, and share a Moroccan-style meal with locals. You were able to see a whole lot of Spain, including a cute, quaint town, Toledo, an aqueduct and castle in Segovia, the monastery in El Escorial, the palace of Aranjuez, mountain climbing in Cercedilla with the magic of snow, the university of Alcalá de Henares, the most visited site in Spain, the almighty Alhambra in Granada, scientific, white, and futuristic architecture in Valencia, and The Cheetah Girls’ home in the stunning Barcelona. You got a chance to fly into Paris experiencing the ghetto, and ending with The Eiffel Tower. And of course, you’ve had the privilege of living in the capital of Spain, now one of your favorite cities in the world, Madrid. And though you didn’t get to meet your special someone halfway across the world, you met part of his family, here: Shakira and her kids, who have been living in Madrid for years, who has made your experience, even more like home.  

You will never forget your first time in front of the magically lit Royal Palace. Or your first introduction to your new favorite drink on your first full night in Spain— tinto de verano. Or your first time in Buen Retiro Park with the most beautiful guitar solo near the blue lake with a little blonde Spanish toddler dancing and applauding away. Or how you reacted to your first corrida de toros, or bullfight, after having had an older man, an ‘aficionado,’ a passionate fan, feed off your curiosity.  

You will remember how much you wanted to improve your Spanish for you, to speak with your family, to talk with your friends. And you’ve never been more proud of your heritage as a Boricua. And so you’ve cherished your new identity as an international student de afuera (from outside). And every time you tell someone you’re from the Bronx, New York they think of Cardi B. And every time you tell someone you’re from Puerto Rico, they say: “just like JLO right?”  

You finished your studies at the university in a town called Getafe. And though you didn’t fall in love with it the way you did with SUNY New Paltz, you cannot be more happy with the courses you’ve taken, the things you’ve learned, the work you’ve produced, the Spanish you’ve spoken, the professors you’ve met, and the friendships you’ve gained because of this place.  

You’ve learned that studying abroad was for you. You’ve learned to not hold everyone up to your standards. You’ve learned that so many people are always on your mind, even though you may not have been a thought in theirs. You’ve learned that your life isn’t the only one that has been passing by. You’ve learned how to and when to be selfish. And when to be selfless.  

You cannot believe this time has come to an end. 

Madrid, Spain, you’ve been a dream. You’ve been a reality. 

You’ve been everything at once: hurting, loving, healing, wilting, rising, and blooming —just like Rupi Kaur would say.  

You recognize that you will never get this time back —the exact way it was offered to you in the first place. And that as much as you want to come back, and say you will come back, and urge to come back, and have the means to come back, you don’t actually know if you’ll ever be back. But you hope and pray to God to come back a couple of more times with the people you love.  

You have little things of everyday in your journal. And you have footage to put it all together and rewind. You will never forget what a privilege it was to have once call Madrid, home. And are looking forward to the day you can say “hola,” to Madrid de nuevo. 

All the best,  

Dynahlee  

Xoxo 

p.s. Madrid, sweet Madrid, thank you, forever. You gave me a newfound love for all that is dear, all that there is to want to share, and all that there is to want to know. Hasta la vista, baby.