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International Center

University of Missouri

Moments only meaningful me

by Alexis H.

I overstayed my program in Spain and yet it still seems too short. I have not even been in the United States long enough to discover if reverse culture shock is a thing. My guess is it is a term used for us who have fallen in love with a country and will now need to spend our lifetime commuting between two or more nations. Does anyone know how long it takes to gain residency in Spain? I have tried several times to write a reflective post about my experience or choose one moment that emulates the feeling that radiates with every recollection of Spain. However, as my third grade teacher liked to point out, I have failed. There are no words. Well, maybe they exist in another language.

An interesting sidebar and lesson learned from gaining an international friend group — English is an easy language to learn. English does not have masculine, feminine or neuter words and our words do not inherently provide more information. In Spanish, there are at least three words meaning “to try,” but one implies trying food or clothes, trying an activity for the first time or just making an attempt. German appears even more complex. But even in another language, I believe it would be difficult to coin this feeling. Living is an international student is a pretty personalized experience, every student has different interactions and encounters the culture in different ways, but always stumbles into these inexplicable feelings of pure awe.

Rather than draw out one mere moment that will only stimulate my frustration for lacking the proper vocabulary to express such an experience, I will share a few.

1) Spain, honestly majority of Europe, hang dries clothing. There were clothes lines strung between apartment windows several stories up that always poked my fear that someone would lose their favorite sock in a swift gust of wind. I guess what I should have been more concerned about was someone dropping their phone off the balcony while hanging the clothes — an event that actually happened to the guy I was dating. However, rather than falling to the mere sidewalk, he was hanging clothes over the enclosed courtyard that required the building owner’s key to gain access. Well, it was Sunday so the landlord was out of reach. Luckily, the second-floor residents from Argentina found our situation comical and allowed him to venture out their window and down a ladder to retrieve the phone. Miraculously, the phone functioned perfectly with only a few cracks. The whole event lasted about thirty minutes but created a new relationship with the family from Argentina. Our passing nods up and down the stairwell turned into happy hellos and jokes about our first encounter. The take-away of this is to either keep your phone inside while hang drying clothes or to find a humorous way to meet the neighbors — I am not sure which.

Person hanging up clothes on line from outside of window.

Moments before the drop.

2) I learned there is such a thing as a “bad beach day.” I must sound like a total brat — I would have punched anyone in the face claiming such a statement before experiencing this particular day. Day — we lasted less than an hour. The day was beautiful in the city — sunny, hot, but not pit-stain hot, with a strong wind. My friends and I bolted for a recovery day at the beach (half the group had a final exam the night before and hadn’t slept for days in preparation.) We met up at the usual flag on the quiet end of the beach. That strong wind turned into turbulence without the protection from city buildings. It took a solid four attempts to open our blanket and keep it pinned down, which was only possible by flopping several bodies down immediately after opening. What we lacked was a barrier because we soon became buried treasure. The whole blanket disappeared beneath the sand and not even our sunglasses prevented our eyes from being impaled with shards of rocks, so lovingly “sand.” I will admit, the waves were incredible. Body surfing had never been more fun; I was laughing harder than the children next to us. We had to take turns body surfing, four people pinning down the belongings and two having the time of their lives. We railed sand all the way to the burger joint that had a Thursday BOGO deal — the workers were more than pleased having a loud group of international students dust the premise and mooch the weekly deal.

3) There is a red and blue tiled strip that runs parallel to the beach in Alicante, Spain, called La Explanada. The strip is full of restaurants and little white tents that sell goods from Morocco, jewelry, clothing, purses and souvenirs. My favorite tent that was owned by a woman named Lila who sold healing stones in the form of jewelry. I bought a moonstone necklace during my second month in Alicante, and Lila and I then discussed energies for almost thirty minutes. This became a ritual during my walks down La Explanada — if I was on a run, I always made sure to throw an animated thumbs-up. We became so acquainted that I wanted to bid a proper goodbye. The day before my early morning flight, I walked to her tent only to find her husband, a figure I had never met. The man seemed to recognize who I was, not from a picture, but simply from Lila sharing our interactions. I was happy to meet the man who actually makes the jewelry (Lila found the stones), but I was bummed about missing Lila. I asked for Lila’s email and he replied by handing over a cell phone that was dialing Lila. We chatted for about ten minutes, it was difficult to understand her Spanish over the phone. We decided to keep in touch over WhatsApp, email and Facebook — an agreement I made with all my older generation friends. Lila was one of the many local faces that stained Alicante as my second home. Our interactions were not daily, but they were meaningful — I will cherish her influence and our talks for a lifetime.

I realize these experiences do no verbalize the culture or provide a true moral of the story, but they do show the quirky moments that characterize an individual’s personalized intimate experience. The random times that will never be repeated for another, that could never have been foreseen but provoke smiles long after the moment has passed.

Bottom of mountain in Alicante that meets a beach at sunset.

El Castillo

About the blogger

Alexis H. is studying abroad on the Universidad de Alicante: ALI Abroad program in Alicante, Spain.

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