On to life's next adventure ...

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

One year. It’s hard to believe that it has been 365 days since I started my journey to Spain. Ironically, I am sitting here at Starbucks with my laptop, trying to figure out what to write for this article. A year ago, I sat a few tables down from where I am now doing the same thing, trying to decide how to summarize my expectations for the future year abroad. That was my first article about Spain, and this is my last.

Being back in Albany has prompted many feelings for me, some good, some bad, but mainly a combination of both. At times, it feels as if I had only been gone for a month or two, not 10. I got tiny little butterflies in my stomach when I first saw the Albany City Limit sign on July 7th. It felt good to be back to the place where I spent 12 years of my life. I have always taken Albany for granted, complaining that there was never anything to do and saying how boring it was. You would figure that with me being somewhere so big and exotic that I wouldn’t miss this place, but I did. I have so many memories of being here with my loved ones, and I loved to look back on them, especially when I was having a difficult time in Spain. It felt nice to see that not much had changed physically; everything was where it has always been.

I knew other things would be different though, like the people I knew and my relationships with them. I never expected them to be the same, nor did I want all of them to be, but it still came as a shock to see how much things had changed. I felt as if I did not know half of them anymore. Some matured, got new friends, didn’t hang out with the same crowds, moved or went to college, got into relationships or got even more immature and it has definitely taken some time to get used to. I’ve always had a healthy social life and that has not changed much. I still hang out with most of them and have made even more friends! However, this past year has helped me realize who my real friends are.

I realize that I have changed a lot. I wouldn’t say that I am a completely different person from who I was a year ago, but almost. I think I have matured a lot for one. I now base my views on things on my own personal experiences rather than basing my views on how others view the issue. Traveling to all the different places that I have been has taught me so many things. I recognize that all cultures are not the same, and certainly not like the U.S.A. Just because we in the United States of America have it good does not mean that the rest of the world does.

My Spanish has increased significantly during the time I was in Madrid. However, I am not completely fluent. It’s my opinion that unless you’re entering a new country with a good base knowledge of the language, it is going to take longer than a year to fully understand every aspect of the language. My grammar is not close to perfect and I don’t know a lot of words or how to translate a lot of English phrases into Spanish, but I can easily carry on a conversation with someone. Unfortunately, I have not had many opportunities to speak Spanish unless I’m skyping with some friends from Spain or taking my online class at Darton.

Overall, Spain was absolutely amazing and one of the best decisions I have ever made. I miss my host family a lot, as well as my friends. I had a lot more freedom, thus I became more independent and self-reliant. I loved being able to take a train into Madrid and walking around as I please. There was always something different to do on the weekends, ranging from having parties with my friends, going to the park in the center of the town to hang out with all the teens in our town, to going to the city and doing things there. The food was so good there. I wish I had learned to make my favorite dishes so I could show others what the differences were in American dishes and Spanish dishes. However, there were a lot of aspects I didn’t enjoy, too. It was very stressful to not be able to understand everything that people were saying. Also, we Americans do not have the best reputation with some. I had lot of people from Europe tell me that we’re viewed as arrogant, rude, wasteful and stupid, and we have it easy. This was also reflected in the way some people would treat me. I was called “americana estupida” quite a bit, which translates to stupid American, and wasn’t always treated with a smile. Finally, the exchange rate was pretty rough — just ask my parents!

Re-entry into the United States was not as difficult as I thought it would be. Fortunately, I never had terrible jetlag, but my eating times were messed up for a month or so. Getting back into normal ritual was not very hard either. Sometimes it feels as if I was in Spain years ago, not months ago but knowing that I will be back gives me something to look forward to; I wonder what my next adventure will be ...

Darby Calhoun, 17, is the daughter of Bill and Laura Calhoun of Albany. During her year of study in Spain, shecontributed a periodic column to The Albany Herald on her experiences. You can also read Darby’s previous columns at www.albanyherald.com.