In just three weeks in Europe, I’ve learned a lot.
1. Europeans like to stare. A lot. Hi, yes, I am American. Yes I do have giant blue eyes. Yes my eyelashes are ridiculously. Long yes my hair is pretty curly and yes I do have resting smile face– a chronic syndrome where I am literally always smiling–but no that does not mean I enjoy you staring at me. In fact, as you continue to stare you actually won’t be able to figure me out more, because sometimes it’s not about just looking but actually caring. Ooooh my rant turned profound.
2. Generosity is universal. My mom is the most generous person I know. She spends every waking minute– which, for her, is almost the entire day because she rarely sleeps–giving her time and money to people and organizations. Basically every influential building in my hometown has somehow involved my mom, and she does these things from her heart with the utmost humility and determination. Sometimes I look at our selfish world and am rather pessimistic, wondering if my mom is the only person who really understands this notion of generosity. But being with a host mom has changed from pessimism to awestruck wonder: generosity can be universal. My host mom is constantly buying me gifts when she is shopping at markets, bought me a dress and a necklace on the day I arrived, insisted on paying for my medication when I had that 103 fever, takes me out to dinner and won’t even let me open my purse. Her actions reminds me that generosity is not confined to location, language, or blood.
3. The Spanish healthcare system is not exactly as great as I glorified it to be. And getting sick so far from home really, really sucks. Being rushed from hospital to hospital because the first one was on “dinner break”, the second one didn’t accept Americans, the third couldn’t work their copier to copy my Passport, all while having a 103 fever was simply not ideal. For the record, the fourth hospital only saw me because they were just plain tired of me having a breakdown in front of everyone. See, Mom, sometimes breakdowns are good!
4. Jet lag is REAL. It’s like you’re carrying around a sack of bricks. People are simply lying if they act like they can just hop on over to Europe from the US and go full steam ahead. My parents know full well that adjusting was really, really hard. I had no energy. I was waking up at random times of the night. I got some stomach bug. My runs were pathetic and my work outs were more like time outs. I was in a bad mood. Because of this, I strongly believe we need to change the travel culture/voluntourism/mission trip notion that assumes that people can just jump on over to cultures very different from their own and immediately adjust and be 100% present from day 1. That’s dangerous because if you push yourself too hard because you think you should be adjusting faster and that it should be easy, you get a 103 fever and are rushed to 4 hospitals. Oh yeah, did I mention the doctor didn’t speak English well and accidentally tried to tell me I had yellow fever instead of trying to let me know that I had “less yellow (more pale) skin and a fever.” Talk about scary. Also slightly racist? Hey, at least she finally gave me an antibiotic.
5. The US needs to chill. The Spanish are not as stressed. It’s just a fact. They take a 2.5 hour lunch break. They work shorter hours. They live simply and minimally. I’ve learned a lot about the importance of just sitting at the dining room table and doing nothing but staring out the window. Because there can and should be time for that.
6. However…… There’s this notion of EFFICIENCY that Spain just cannot understand. At all. In any context. Whatsoever. I repeat: they are unbelievably (!!!!!!!!) inefficient. They take FOREVER to accomplish simple tasks. They close at absurd hours (I kid you not the woman at the emergency room was on a dinner break when I first got there…. Is that even legal?), feel no sense of urgency, and are very disorganized. They believe more in the “journey” (the experience) than the outcome, which is a wonderful concept unless you, oh I don’t know, don’t want to be in line at Starbucks for 27 minutes.
6. Allotting time to read the books I’ve said for three years I want to read is not only relaxing but borderline necessary. What have I been doing????? How did I possibly think studying a little harder would be more worthwhile than reading famous books by inspiring authors? I’ve learned more in two weeks than I did the entire Spring semester! And I learned quite a lot last semester so kudos to these books.
7. Time is relative. In Spain, time is an approximation. Being fifteen minutes late is still considered on time, and start times are just suggestions. When my host mom says she’ll be home in an hour, she means two hours. When she says dinner will start around 8pm, she means 9:30. Spaniards rarely check their watches, and they don’t take offense when they are waiting on their friend for thirty minutes–even an hour–to meet them somewhere. Time is relative in another sense, too. The time change can be difficult, especially the nine hours between Spain and the West Coast. I keep telling my friends, “let’s talk later tomorrow” and then completely confusing myself on what day tomorrow is given their location. And don’t get me started about the struggles of military time…
8. Just like generosity transcends borders, so does one’s love for Christ. Being in love with Jesus means you’re in love with Jesus. Whether you’re loving him in North Carolina or California or Madrid or Paris. Love transcends language, border, culture and rationality. I’ve never felt the Lord more than I have at the church here in Madrid. The sermons are in Spanish that’s far too fast and sometimes way over my head. I catch phrases and words and verses here and there… And I whisper amen… I watch the pastor’s exuberant cries of joy for the Lord, His deep desire for us to know Him through his captivating eyes and powerful gestures. I scream my favorite contemporary songs, not needing to know the Spanish because the melodies have been engrained in my soul. With our hands raised together the world stops spinning, stops segregating, stops judging, stops trying to plan the future and instead stands in awe of the ability to be alive and to live for the Lord of the universe. Pretty. Fucking. Cool.
9. Oops, I guess France taught me how to curse. ^ Excuse my French.
10. Behind the overintellectualizing and inability to enjoy the simplicity of art sometimes just being art–and understanding that that right there is complex in and of itself, which if you think about THAT is mind blowing–there’s a lot to be learned about the incredible art around us. Painters, sculptors and architects have expressed themselves– their dreams, frustrations, and passions–and their contextual society– politically, socially and economically, and we get to see and to grapple with their expressions. This is the real way to learn. To step inside someone else’s shoes and to understand their own work from their perspective, to understand how they saw the world at that time, to grasp less biased and more striking history. To learn in a liberating, grade-free, inspiring, independent way. To learn how to be responsible, how to care for yourself and for others, how to stay true to who you are when your environment continues to change, how to embrace the unfamiliar but be reminded of how much you take the familiar for granted. That is learning, friends. That is what helps you make the world a better place (which, if you somehow forgot from the commodification of education and the commercialization of universities and the discrimination of society, is actually the point of learning).