Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Original Departure

You will spend three weeks traveling around Spain before arriving in Madrid, your final destination for the next five months.
Five months in a country that I'd only visited once, on a family vacation when I was 14 and still thought that 'NSYNC was the greatest thing since my Strawberry Shortcake obsession in preschool. Five months in a city that I'd never visited. Five months speaking a language that I hadn't spoken since high school.

I picked my dear friend Cara up at a train station in Newark and spent the rest of the evening packing.

"I wonder what it's going to be like," I thought out loud as I stuffed each article of clothing into my enormous, new rolling suitcase.

Nothing could prepare us for the five chaotic, yet fabulous months ahead of us.

The first sign of the chaos was a transatlantic flight in which the airline ran out of liquor. "Happy hour in the back of the plane," someone announced. Suddenly, there was no vodka to be found. As soon as the seatbelt lights went off, people were running around the back of the coach-class cattle car as if it were a Friday night at Maggie's Tavern.

Cara sat next to our friend Devin, and immediately was at ease. Never the shy one, I too, found myself deep in conversation with my seat partner, a complete stranger. Perpetually known as "Nice Nick" from this point on, he was the greatest person to be sitting next to during an eight-hour flight from the familiar (New York) to the absolutely unknown (Madrid). We chatted about school, Spanish, and anything else that would distract me from the fact that I was suspended 36,000 feet in the air over the Atlantic Ocean, just hours from a final destination that would include a new "family" that didn't speak my language.

Eventually, we landed in Madrid, retrieved our suitcases (they'd survived the transatlantic journey, too!), and shuffled into lines to go through Customs. Little did I know then that the single, mindless act of moving from the longest to the shortest line would forever shape the rest of my life. Suddenly, I was surrounded by smiling strangers, and we laughed at the other, longer lines. Past Customs, the group of us followed the herd of students, yet gathered on the same bus to Toledo - unslept and full of a nervous energy.

These smiling faces would become my closest friends during my semester abroad, and would truly shape the rest of my college career.

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