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.


(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 letting 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 anyway.

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, too. 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 has been 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,  



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.  

Not(ting) A Chance In Hill I’m Leaving

As I start to prepare to leave for home, i’ve really started reflecting on my time here in London. It’s such a big city with so much to offer and I feel as though i’ve only experienced a quarter of what it has to offer. England may be a small country, but there is so much more to it than meets the eye. Every part of this city is so different and beautiful in their very own way, and i’m going to miss the diversity once i’m back to the cozy and small little town of New Paltz.

I’ve seen so many beautiful parts of England that I don’t even know where to begin. Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus were the first parts of central London I delved into, before I knew all that this city had to offer. I thought everything was amazing then… if only I could go back and tell myself it only gets better from there. That was the first of my many trips to the Piccadilly Circus/Soho area. I think it was one of my favorites, not entirely because of what it had to offer, but because it reminded me of home. I’ll admit I was pretty homesick this trip, but aspects like this made me feel more comfortable. They call Piccadilly the Times Square of London – and it’s easy to see why! Plus, who knew there was also a Soho in London? Definitely not me, but i’m happy there is (even though Soho in NYC is significantly better IMHO). There’s also a China Town in that area too. This area just kept feeling more and more like home.

One of my favorite and last places I visited here was Notting Hill. Known for being the background of many movies, it was the most adorable little place i’ve ever seen. Walking down the residential streets and seeing the colorful houses made me want to return in the future (far future most likely, yah know, when i’m financially stable) and live there. Seriously, I was gushing over this place. Beautiful trees and flowers were everywhere in sight and my heart was very happy. If you want to smile, look up pictures of this place. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Outside of the city, England is filled with historical sights. For instance, the city of Bath. The small city is quite a way from central London, yet completely worth the visit. I literally bought a Jane Austen book after visiting here (mostly because I walked down the path she wrote about in her novel Persuasion). The Roman Baths possess such a rich history that you can’t find in the U.S., therefore I enjoyed every minute of my time there. There’s also a really good ice cream place.

Stonehenge is another historical mystery that intrigued me. If you don’t know about Stonehenge, I suggest you look up pictures and keep in mind the rocks were arranged that way circa 3000 BC. Yup, that’s right, BC. That means no technology, no machinery, zip. So how were the stones transported there and arranged like that? Maybe look up a conspiracy theory for an answer to that question, because nothing is known for sure.

I could go on and on about every place i’ve encountered here including the good and the bad. But I should stop before I start getting into every little detail like what the person next to me on the tube was wearing. Bottom line is that through the ups and down of being abroad, London has been so wonderful, so beautiful, and hold so much promise for the future.

24 Hours in the Outback

(Written from 13 May)

Imagine the average bar of soap, with an area of roughly 46.2 cm (I did a lot of math to illustrate this). Convert that to meters, then multiply that by 187,826 or so, and you’ve got 8,460 m. In kilometers, this is an area of 8.46 km. Paint it red, put it in the barren desert, claim it as an Aboriginal holy land, and you’ve pretty much got Uluru. A giant oasis in the desert, this is the perfect chance for the government (and occasionally locals) to make money from tourists, who come daily in the hundreds and violate nearly every sacred rule set in place. It’s hot, full of flies, and there is NOTHING else around. So, is it really that appealing?

I didn’t actually know if I’d be able to make it to Uluru (also known as Ayer’s Rock) up until a week before I did. Getting a text in the middle of class from Lily and Julia, they tell me they found tickets to Uluru for only $200 roundtrip. The catch? It was only five days away, and I didn’t know if skipping class with such short notice was a good idea. I realized though, that opportunities like this don’t come every day, and if I didn’t go I’d definitely regret it. I would get to go camel riding in the Outback, as I’d promised close friends from my church, and get to see this giant rock that just screams Australia as much, if not more, than Sydney Opera House. So in a wonderful spirit of “screw class, I’m in Oz,” me, Julia, Lily, and Joseph, made plans to travel to what the Aussies call “the Back of Bourke,” i.e., “the middle of rural nowhere.”

Stepping out of the airport, you immediately get hit with an immense heat, and the first thing you notice is the redness of the soil beneath your feet. It’s truly Martian when you first see it, and it’s near impossible to get off your shoes or bare feet. The next thing that hits you is the flies, which will not leave you alone no matter how much bug spray you use or if you were dumb enough to buy a goofy looking fly net (no offense Joseph and Lily). Since it’s impossible to get anywhere without a car, renting one was on our first list of priorities. With that, we went into what somehow classifies as a town for lunch, and after that, to the rock. There really is no way to prepare for seeing Uluru in person. At a quick glance, it is just a big red boulder in the middle of nowhere. But once you see it even from a distance, it is truly awe inspiring. It’s much bigger than any picture can properly portray, and as you driver closer and closer toward it it becomes more and more magnificent. There’s also surprisingly more vegetation than you would expect: vibrant bushes, small trees, and loads of yellow grass.

Our first stop at the rock was at an Aboriginal Cultural Centre, dedicated to showing Aboriginal life, belief, stories, and most beautifully, art. Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take pictures of most of it, which while sad for the photographer I’ve become, is understandable. To have your way of life constantly intruded upon, even mocked, whilst trying to hold onto your identity amongst invasion of your sacred land, is a struggle I’ll never fully comprehend. If it means no pictures, so be it. This was my first hands on glance at a life completely foreign to me, dating back over 80,000 years. With more time, I would have loved to have seen more, but the schedule didn’t allow. And so we left there to embark on a bush walk around the rock itself, and as we pull up to the parking lot we spot a massive tour group climbing on said sacred rock. I want to punch every single one of them. If there’s one thing you don’t do on someone else’s holy land, it’s climb all over it, in doing so disrespecting everything about the owner’s beliefs, and claim it as your own victory. Don’t get me wrong, I want to take pictures, and I want to climb. But I was raised to respect other people’s wishes and their beliefs. To ignore that makes you seem not like a conquering adventurer scaling the top of the world, but an ignorant prick who really doesn’t care at all that this is someone else’s sacred land.

But, leaving them be and secretly hoping karma will teach them a lesson while I’m on the other side of the rock, the four of us begin the long walk around the base. As I’d mentioned earlier, Uluru is huge. With a circumference of 9.4 km (5.8 mi), it’s bigger than Central Park, Hudson NY, or even my pleasant Footscray suburb. Everywhere there is something to see, each crack and crevasse a work of art and each outlying boulder beautifully placed. The sounds of the occasional breeze, buzzing insects, screeching hawks filling your ears, and the soft red sand beneath your bare feet (I had to know what it felt like without shoes). Nevertheless, we gravely underestimate how long this walk will take us. Surely, we’re just going to do a quick loop. After an hour, we begin to question how long the walk is. Debating whether we should turn back or not to make sure we have time to see the sunset, we decide to keep trekking, sure we’re more than halfway there. An hour and a half pass by, and we’re pretty sure we’re not far from the end. Just short of two hours in, we’re getting close, maybe. At two and half hours, we have to turn to look at the map. Only then do we realize that this is a FOUR HOUR hike. Much too late to turn back, we have to tough it out for another hour and a half.

In the great desert heat, having to refill on water many times, and constantly swipe away flies, we make it to the car exhausted. Determined to carry on to see the sunset from a vantage point a few kilos away, we drive and arrive having just missed the best part of the sunset. The flies are still insane, and the light isn’t good enough for pictures. But something greater is out there than a colorful rock. Driving to the hotel we begin to see the stars emerge in the Outback sky. First, one. Then two, or three. We check in, have dinner, and decide to head out again for some quick stargazing. I look up at the immensity of the heavens. In the Outback, there’s absolutely no light pollution. You can see everything, stars all around and light filling the night sky. The entire galaxy is before you, a sight impossible to capture with my camera (but I got some from a pro photographer) but instead enveloping your entire soul. This is the opening of the heavens. And there is nothing more beautiful than this.

The stars came into vision again very quickly: having slept only 5 or 6 hours, we had to wake up early in order to prepare for our sunrise camel ride. Stepping outside to wait for our pickup, the frigid morning air chills you with ease. Arriving at the camel farm, the staff give us a quick run down on what to expect, and then take us out to the camels themselves. Having ridden horses several times, I can tell you riding a camel is a whole different rodeo. To start, camels are much bigger than most horses, and must be mounted as the camel kneels, as opposed to climbing up into a stirrup. Once saddled the camel rises to the ground using its back legs first: failure to observe and prepare for this leaves one with a face full of red dirt. Camels also walk using one side of their legs at a time, going left, then right, then left, much like a ship. As with horses, naturally you want a camel that is well behaved, and even more so since an angry camel has the tendency to spit. When asked about our camel, Luci, we were told that he is “adventurous” and “strongminded.” Only once up and on our walk did they reveal his full name.

And so, Joseph and I are ridding Lucifer the Camel through the bush as the sun just comes up over the horizon. The stars slowly fade as warmth returns to the Outback. Lucifer is actually quite well behaved, making me think he’s just misunderstood and teased by the other camels. We get to Uluru once again, as the sun rises over the vast Australian bush and paints the rock in these beautiful reds and oranges. I’ve said this many times before, but the view is breathtaking in every way, and the whole experience blows you away. Never before would I have thought I’d make it to Australia, let alone riding camels in the open Outback. I’m currently doing something I doubt more than 3 other people I meet will have ever done (Joseph, Lily, and Julia). I get to witness something here completely beyond myself. The beauty of this sacred rock, having in a peaceful and respectful way conquered it by walking the entire circumference of it. The vastness of this great galaxy, each and every star and planet before me. The pleasure of sitting a top one hell of a camel (pun intended) while riding through the desert.

I cannot overstate how special it really is for me to be here, not just in this country, but this world, this life. There is so much to explore out there. A rock. A desert. A country. A galaxy. And it’s yours.

Returning to the US Part II: Thinking  About Home, The Future, and Saying Goodbye to this Home in Madrid 

There are so many questions that have been going through my mind as I prepare to come home everyday for the past month. Saying goodbye to a place I’ve been in for 4 months and 3 weeks seems unreal. Coming back home somehow feels unreal, too. Did time really go by this fast? How? How does time work like that? Why is it always the invisible monarchy in our lives? And if time went by fast for my me, life flew by for my family and friends, too. It’s like I have to make a new life for myself again. Or rather, try to pick up from where I left off. But last I left off, it was winter in NY, and I had just celebrated my 21st birthday. 

Now I’m thinking about what else to do in Madrid before I leave. I’m thinking about who to say goodbye to. I’m thinking about all the emails I want to send out as a thank you to my professors here who made university feel right. I’m thinking about what places I would like to see or what things I want to do again before leaving (including eating at TAKOS, getting drinks and sandwiches  at 100 Montaditos, maybe going to Ojalá cafe once more to finally sit on the sand, and watching the sunset at Buen Retiro once more). Maybe even checking out Sol at night where the palace is to listen to that beautiful chelo again. 

I’m wondering what exactly I will be doing this summer. When will I see my friends? What will my family think of me when I’m back? Will they tell me I’ve gained weight, look the same, or loss weight? What others questions will they ask me that they don’t already know? Will I be able to go out late and enjoy being an adult the way I’ve been doing abroad by myself for all the time without pushback from my parents? What will it be like to be with my fiancé again? When do we continue planning the wedding again? 

And jet lag? What about that? 

What else do I have to do when I’m back? Doctors’ appointment? Dentist? Spring Cleaning? 

Will anyone from abroad reach out to me? Will they think to think of me? Will my family and friends think to think of me when I’m back home? Will anyone make an effort to keep me in their minds? Will I do the same? 

Will I really be a senior after I take my last exam here? Am I ready to graduate next May around this time? Will I see my friends who graduated anytime soon? How will it be to see friends who were my friends abroad on campus? especially if we don’t really talk anymore and/or have grown apart even while abroad? 

What does the future look like for me post graduation? Even back at New Paltz? Will I be able to join WNPC-TV again as a reporter? Will I find a job? Will people remember me and want me back? How  will being a Student Activities Manager be once again, but this time, for a whole year? 

And really, how do I say goodbye to my friends here? The ones that will be in different parts of the US and Europe when we all return to the normal part of our lives? What is normal now? What will be the normal, rather? How do I say goodbye to my Host Mom, the one I’ve grown to care for? What exactly do I write in her card to say goodbye? How do I not cry? What will it be like to say bye to family friends who are here? My 2nd family? How do I not cry, then? 

What now? 

Uhh, Habla Inglés?

The best part about studying in the UK is that everyone here speaks English. Upon coming, I didn’t have to worry about saying something wrong or misunderstanding a native because we speak the language. It was one of the reasons I made the decision to study in London rather than a non-English speaking country. I’m not gonna lie, life is a lot easier when everyone speaks your language anyway. Especially when you’re an awkward person like me who gets nervous when they misunderstand anything and doesn’t want to ask the person to repeat themselves 5 times until i hear them correctly. So, what was it like to travel from a different English speaking country to a non-English speaking country, you ask?

I recently went to Barcelona, Spain to celebrate the end of finals. Wow, did I deserve a celebration. Essays upon essays using a citation format you’ve never used before and trying to incorporate theories you weren’t here to learn so you teach them to yourself wasn’t so easy. Therefore, I believed the sunny Barcelona beach and beautiful city sights was in the cards. The only difficult part of this trip was the fact that I don’t speak nor understand a lick of Spanish. Sure, I know the basic “hello,” “thank you,” and “where’s the bathroom,” but aside from that Spanish might as well be gibberish. I took Italian throughout middle and high school, why didn’t I plan a trip to Italy instead?

Thankfully, many people there spoke English. My friend (who also did not know any Spanish) and I really lucked out, however I did ask my good friend who is a Spanish major back at New Paltz how to say some key phrases. Shoutout to the lovely Erin, your phrases did indeed come in handy. For example, she told me “puedo ayudarme” means “can you help me,” which I hoped I wouldn’t really need to use unless I was asking for directions. My friend ended up fainting on the metro and that phrase helped me in that tricky situation. I probably wasn’t saying it correctly, considering I had no idea how to handle the situation, but strangers came to help before I even really started to get the words out. Spanish people are very nice and helpful.

Anyway, it was very different going to a country where English is not the first language. I’ve only ever visited English speaking countries, so this was a very cultural trip for me aside from being the most relaxed I was all semester. I didn’t feel as isolated as I thought I would since there were so many people who spoke English, but I almost wish that wasn’t the case so I could try to challenge and immerse myself more. As they say, what better way to learn a language that be surrounded by those who speak it, right?

Recommendation for Classes at UC3M

Spanish Grammar Course: I recommend this class for anyone willing to improve their Spanish. This is a good introduction to the Spanish you will hear around you everyday. People in Spain speak Castellano. The Spanish is much different than the one you hear in the United States. So this will teach you new vocabulary. Here, you will  be able to confidently talk with the locals, and understand Spanish grammar and conversation much better than before. A lot of what I learned here, I heard my host mom and family friends say. So it was super useful. I got to hear things I learned in the class, used outside of the classroom. And I too, got to practice using the same things I learned myself. It is a tough class, but I think it’s worth it if you want to challenge yourself and come back home with a better grasp of a new language. Why not?

Cultural Studies:  I enjoyed this class a lot because I learned so much about the very things I was experiencing. For example, I learned about the Spanish flag, about the Franco era, the significance of bull-fighting and football/soccer, etc. Learning about these very things helped me find more meaning living in Spain. I was able to understand Spanish culture with some background, some knowledge. My favorite topics were learning about Spanish women and debunking some of the stereotypes, learning about bullfighting and what it truly means for people for and against it, as well as everything involved with the Franco Era including his plead for football at the time. It is a tough class because of the heavy readings, and writing assignments that make up the bulk of class discussion, but you learn so much. This Professor has also been asked to teach this course in English next fall, so this summer, she will be working on finding material to teach it in the native language of her American students. So, think about it.

Theory and Practice of Short Story Course: I loved this class so much. I was able to read short stories by different Spanish authors and discuss literature all in Spanish. The Professor was so passionate about what he was teaching and that was the best part. His introduction to the course was great, and he followed through the entire time. We were also able to produce small writing exercises emulating some of the techniques and concepts we learned in class. We then used some of these exercises to create a short story. This pushed me to think about literature in a different language, and talk about literature in Spanish. 100 percent recommend if you love reading, writing, and talking about both.