Yesterday, I had a drink with a girl who has just arrived in Madrid. We chatted about a number of things, but the conversation was primarily focused on beginnings and endings. We discussed the process of getting settled in a new country and I advised her on a few things that I wish that I had known when I arrived back in September. I walked home afterwards with a huge grin on my face. Without wanting to sound too clichéd, an interaction with someone who was just at the start of the year abroad hammered home to me how much I have learnt this year, about both the country and myself. Madrid has evolved from being a constant challenge to become a constant joy. Having spent less than three weeks in the UK since September, it has become my home. And it’s going to be really difficult to leave.
BUT instead of wallowing, I’ve decided to make this final post a brief homage to the adventures I’ve had this year and the 40,000 (!) words I’ve used to record every detail of them.
So, with no further ado:
I’ve visited Toledo, Segovia, La Granja, Córdoba, Cádiz, Sevilla, Granada, Malaga and Guadalajara, as well as Paris and Rome.
I’ve been stuck behind religious processions and stumbled across education strikes.
I’ve jogged around an Egyptian temple, done yoga in the Sierra de Guadarrama and paddled in the Mediterranean.
I’ve attempted to teach English to around 550 Spanish students and have no idea whether any of it has actually sunk in.
I’ve learnt how to mix the perfect gin and tonic and the cheapest tinto de verano, sampled the best coffee in Madrid, Paris and Rome and polished off several jugs of sangria.
I’ve cracked into langoustines (with extreme difficulty), eaten several meals worth of free tapas, sampled homemade paella, consumed my body weight in cake and developed a dangerous addiction to frozen yogurt.
I can touch type on a Spanish keyboard and bash out a PowerPoint Presentation in 15 minutes.
I’ve seen a world famous rock band play to a packed stadium, an up-and-coming blues singer in a crowded bar and attended a private piano recital in a front room.
I’ve sat ten rows from the front in the Santiago Bernabeu stadium and enthusiastically cheered on Real Madrid against Manchester United.
I’ve seen a bizarre Spanish play about Hamlet in an intimate studio and cheered on a friend performing Shakespeare in a Madrid theatre.
I’ve sunbathed in several parks, on a beach, on a hill above a lake, next to an outdoor swimming pool and (most unusually) at the side of a main road.
I’ve mastered the Madrid metro and managed not to fall asleep on the morning bus commute.
I’ve taught a class of 15 year olds how to hit on someone in a UK nightclub and instructed sixth-formers on the art of queuing like a Brit (“If you push in, people WILL hate you”).
I’ve learnt how to live alone – how to enjoy my own company and when to seek other people’s.
I’ve perfected the art of rolling my ‘r’s and know how to swear like a Spaniard (clue: little and often).
I’ve read and read and read for pleasure.
I’ve watched countless sunsets from rooftop terraces, an Egyptian temple and my apartment balcony.
Most crucially, I’ve met some truly wonderful people who have been silly with me, laughed with me, eaten and drank a LOT with me, cried with me, advised me and listened to me, complained about the weather with me, celebrated my birthday with me and shared all the experiences that have made this year so unexpectedly life-changing.
This blog is really one long, rambling love letter to them. And to Spain of course.
Writing this final post, like every part of the leaving process, has been bittersweet. I can look back over my year abroad with enormous pleasure but am also astonished by how fast the time has flown. I’m not sure what I would have done if I were a recent graduate with no immediate obligation to return home. Perhaps the temptation to stay would have been too great and I would have remained in Spain for another year, embarking on some new adventures.
But, dream as I may, I am not a recent graduate and it is time take up my old spot in the corner of an Oxford library. In some ways, it’s comforting to think that in six months time, when I’m gazing absentmindedly at a stack of books in a half-hearted attempt to revise, my spiritual self will be sitting in a sunny plaza with a cold caña in hand.