Saturday, August 11, 2007

Independent travel- Belgium- June

My final trip was to Belgium in June. There is a long, complicated story which accompanies this trip, and I'll do my best to explain. I really REALLY wanted to visit Paris while in Spain, but when I tried to book things I was disappointed by the hostel reviews because the only available ones were said to have roaches crawling in the showers. I decided to go to Belgium instead because I thought I'd get some chance to practice speaking French, and I could meet a friend to stay with in Leuven. Well, I went to meet that friend at the address she gave me, and it turned out to be the address of a pizzeria. She had moved in only a few days ago, and her neighbors jokingly told her that her own address was this pizzeria address, not knowing that she was passing this information on to me. I ended up arriving at this pizzeria completely bewildered, and talking to the owner trying to figure things out. Meanwhile, a series of well-intentioned people came up to me asking me what was going on, and one of them offered to let me stay with his family! Another one had lived in Michigan for four years, and he told me he loved Americans and would help me any way he could. Then the story gets really crazy: the owner of the pizzeria asked me to describe my friend, and after about an hour of us all being puzzled, she said "I know who your American friend is. She orders pizza here all the time." She then actually called my friend (that's another crazy thing- my friend mistakenly sent me the wrong phone number, but this woman had the right number) because she had her number from when she ordered pizza there! About a half hour later, my friend showed up, anxious and happy I was ok. Meanwhile, I'd been having a great time talking to all these strangers, and the owner even gave me a free pizza because she felt bad for me and said I looked hungry! I honestly could not believe my good fortune, nor the generosity of the people who wanted to help me.
The next few days the weather was cold and rainy, but I ate lots of chocolate and was happy from consuming so much coco. I also tried steamed oysters and french fries just because it's a famous dish. One particularly exciting part of my trip was when I was coming back to Spain and arranging my trains to get back to the airport (I had to take two, and a bus). People are always insisting you can get anywhere knowing English, but there was actually a woman at this rinky-dink connecting train station who didn't speak English, only French, so I got to speak to her in French. It wasn't anything complicated, but it was still a great feeling to put the language in practice. I also got a simple newspaper in French, and even though I'd taken 3 semesters of the language and obviously had to read in class, I was surprised that I really COULD read something that I picked up. It made me really happy that I took the time to start learning the language because it doesn't count towards either of my majors, but has still proven to be fruitful for me. At the end of my Belgium trip, I returned to Valencia to spend the rest of my days studying for my final exam.

Final Days

Final days
When I got back to Valencia, I began to study in earnest for my translation exam, but I was so upset about leaving soon that it was difficult. I honestly can't translate the experience into writing because the words I choose are frustratingly inadequate, and because the culture shock I felt when I arrived there was not severe at all. I was prepared for it to be difficult leaving Spain, but I didn't realize how affected I would be, especially because leaving the U.S. was much easier than I’d anticipated. I knew I'd be seeing the friends I'd made that were from Rutgers back in the U.S., but there was something unique to that time that enabled us to have a relationship that was very different from our relationship here. We've all stayed close and spend a lot of time together, but we were all different people when we were abroad. In retrospect, I can actually identify the ways in which I've "re-Americanized" myself, and I'm still struggling with the fact that I miss the way things were. Actually leaving to go to the airport and come back to the U.S. was terrible, and I console myself with the thought that I can go back to Spain when I graduate. Being abroad made me realize how much more I still want to see, and instilled in me a confidence and tenacity which will help me achieve the goal of seeing and doing more in the future.