Please welcome today’s guest writer, Neil Gilbert. Neil graduated from Calvin in 2014 with degrees in biology and Spanish. In fall 2016, he started graduate school at the University of Alabama, where eventually he’ll obtain a M.S. in biology. He really, really loves birds.

During my junior year, I spent a semester abroad in Oviedo, Spain. I journaled obsessively and now present excerpts for your perusal. Perhaps you’re considering studying abroad and want to know what it’s like. Maybe you are currently in Thailand or Peru and know intimately the joys and struggles of studying abroad. Or perhaps you already went abroad and can’t quite remember what it was like. Whoever you are, I hope that my journal entries from Spain will resonate with you.

7 January

At long last, Oviedo! My host abuela seems nice. She fed me thin slabs of fried chicken for dinner. I decided not to tell her that I’m vegetarian.

13 January

Negative things about today:

  • Sore throat that won’t go away
  • Never-ending rain
  • The always-cold apartment
  • Missing my family
  • Lonely

Positive things:

  • New birds
  • Lots of blankets
  • 10 hours of sleep
  • Coffee

25 January

Our group toured Barcelona all day. I was exhausted because I hardly slept last night—my throat hurt like a bitch, and I had to pee all frickin’ night. Then, I realized our hostel surely qualified as bedbug heaven and thereafter kept hallucinating crawlies on my legs. Ugh!

3 February

Here in Spain, old ladies with flagrantly hued hair wear the most ridiculous fur coats. And heels! These septuagenarians hobble about on 3-inch stilts. I don’t know how they do it.

10 February

Abuela never stops nagging! And today she accused me of stealing a watch (I didn’t). Damn, it’s uncomfortable living here…

14 February

One habit I have adopted is writing down everything I buy. I got the idea from Nait, who got the idea from Gandhi.

24 February

I’m an introvert. I cannot maintain equally deep friendships with all twenty-four Calvin students in this program. But it nags me that we split into cliques. Even though I can’t be intimate friends with everyone, I want to have more than a superficial impression of each.

4 March

Nait and I convened at El Recuelo and tried to study for the exam. It was a valiant effort, but the more wine we imbibed, the less interest we could muster for academics.

15 March

I bussed to Luanco this morning and wandered until I found myself on this limestone headland overlooking the sea made cobalt on this sunny day. I’ve been grappling with the question of how to visit a place. I’m here for just one day. Will I forget Luanco? Will I return?

23 March

Do you understand?
I cock my head; wait, again?
Elusive fluency

25 March

Four observations as I traversed Oviedo late last night:

  • Gascona was hopping. So many drunk people!
  • Certain streets of Oviedo literally reek of alcohol
  • Many Spanish girls wear heels that are longer than their skirts
  • The sound of retching is revolting. I’ll never drink to the point of vomiting.*

6 April

Today I walked with Walter, the disabled Dutchman that I met recently. His German shepherd named Chuck flushed a Gray Wagtail from the roadside. I parted the grass and found a nest with four eggs. “Don’t you touch those eggs Chuck,” said Walter, “Or you’ll be in trouble with Neil.”

11 April

I am SICK of Spain, especially this SUCKY university. Won’t take Calvin for granted anymore.

24 April

Our weeklong excursion begins! We arrived in León today. After seeing people carrying bags of fruit, we wandered until we found a massive farmers market in the city square. Heaven! We shopped and then sat on a ledge, munching. My favorite was the pickled garlic that Jun bought.

30 April

Back in Oviedo. I was surprised at how happy I was to see Abuela again. When I arrived, she fussed over me and made coffee. I told her about the places I visited and she went off on soliloquies about each. It was nice to feel like I was coming home to someone.

5 May

We have begun listing the things we will miss about Spain. The end is coming. I don’t want to leave.

14 May

Yesterday we wrote evaluations of the program. I had a hard time not being snarky; in fact, I failed. There was too much lofty Calvin rhetoric. And Calvin expects us to be high-maintenance! One of the questions: “What can Calvin do to help students readjust to America?” I wrote, “The best thing Calvin could do would be to leave me alone. Thank you.”

17 May

It was sad to say goodbye to Abuela. We parted on good terms. I was surprised yesterday when she came into my room, said, “Tengo una cosita para tí,” and handed me a box of chocolates. There were tears in her eyes.

Adios, España.

* In the interest of full disclosure: since writing this, I’ve thrown up three times from excessive drinking. Never again!

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