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,
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.