Maria and Geronimo were the typical Spanish couple, impassioned by their emotions but resolving and fading into a slump on the couch in front of the TV every night. These were my Spanish host parents when studying abroad in Granada, Spain. They and other “families” made in each country I visited a temporary home. Now I’m in a weird position because I never thought I could miss my “families” away from my family.
Maria was the spunkiest person I have met. She smacked my butt whenever I passed her and gave unsolicited advice about boys. Maria told me to never get serious with boys because they often get in the way of schooling (a thing she could not afford when she was young). “Hombres son los obstáculos.” As for the Spanish men, she advised me only to dance and talk with them at bars to improve my Spanish and say “adios” to them at the end of the night.
Geronimo waddled and frowned, but his presence at the breakfast table every morning brought unexpected warmth. He revealed his soft side when offering to escort us around town the first few days. Not everyone is who he or she seems.
The first day in Granada, a taxi picked up my roommate and me. There we met three generations of our host’s family: Geronimo, his son, and his grandson, Pablo. At first, Pablo wouldn’t speak to us even though his dad encouraged him to practice his English. His glasses were oversized and slipped off his nose. He had a toothless smile that marked his age.
My roommate in Spain, Abby, laughed at all my awkward jokes and made every 30 minute walk from class to home feel much shorter. She had a habit of tearing up when a meal our host mom cooked was very good. We were able to discuss both silly and serious subjects. I don’t know if I could have survived the month of studying without her.
I had other friends help me along my journey. Leah called everyone angels and listened to my late night ramblings about souls. I was able to share my life at home with her. It dissipated the feeling of having one foot on one continent and the other on another continent.
The professors I had while studying Spanish also provided comfort. Isabel was an anarchist that let a random woman in a bar pierce six holes in her ears. She always looked out for me and was concerned at my linguistic frustration. My second professor, Rosa excused herself for being late the first class saying she had been in the mountains helping her sister give birth. Her hiking boots and backpack were still in tow. She tested my confidence by being one of the only professors to openly dislike me. Dealing with her was a challenge that I ultimately became stronger for because of it.
My third professor, Encarna taught us the true meaning of Siesta: after work, you lie on your couch and hold your keys. Once you start slipping into a deep sleep, your body relaxes, you drop your keys and they wake you up so you can get back to work.
After the program ended in Spain, I spent a month on my own traveling. In Morocco, I joined a tour group. We named ourselves “the Sahara family.” There were only a few Americans on the tour. I was able to meet people from Australia, Japan, England and Switzerland. I spent most of the time I had on the tour with four Australian girls and my British hotel-mate. They assured me that traveling on my own in Muslim countries is safe and I should not let other people’s fear prevent me from doing what I desired. If anything, they feared for my safety at home in the US with all the mass shootings and violence against women.
The second tour group I became a part of in Turkey was a much smaller size. We deemed ourselves “Olive the Magic” because apparently all tour groups need a catchy name to be validated. They taught me that I should dip into vanity sometimes by asking for my picture to be taken, especially when I’m in a once in a lifetime situation.
Now I don’t know how to feel because I’m back in my home with my heart beating in three other countries. I gave a piece of myself to everyone I met on my journey. I don’t know if I will ever see these people again, but I’m eternally grateful for their brief time in my life.