Before May 15th, my view of the world was extremely limited. Sure, I had seen the bathroom where Elvis died in Memphis, TN, walked the Edmund Pettus Bridge where Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many others began their march to Montgomery in Selma, AL, and even touched the chair William Faulkner sat in when he wrote his masterpiece The Sound and the Fury in Oxford, MS. But before May 15th, I had never seen the sights and sounds of any place further than a four hour drive from my hometown of Birmingham, AL. On May 15th, I learned that chewing gum does help reduce the chance of your ears popping as your airplane ascends into the stratosphere. On May 15th, I learned that potatoes served on an airplane are questionably purple but taste divine. On May 15th, I learned more about Barbie than I could ever hope for from Gabriela, the four-year-old whose seat was right beside mine. On May 15th, I learned that the greatest adventure of my life was about to begin.
As I stepped off the Boeing 787 aircraft and looked around at the mountains surrounding Madrid, I wondered how life would be like in a city I knew only existed in history textbooks. What I quickly came to find out is that my month in Madrid would be the best month of my life. On May 15th, I learned that Madrid is home to some of the most beautiful architecture, colorful people, vivacious streets, and tasty foods in the world. On May 15th, I learned that my home for the next month would quickly grow to become my favorite city on Earth. On May 15th, I was nothing more than a wanderer, drawn into the heart of Madrid by its vibrant lights and inviting sounds.
As I ate my first tapa of many in the Puerta del Sol, the center of Madrid, I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming. I quickly realized I wasn’t. As I funneled tapa after tapa into my mouth and drank handmade, authentic Sangria, I experienced a revelation: I was the architect of my journey in Madrid. I embraced my true inner-self in Madrid, and even after four pairs of ripped pants due to fierce and vigorous dancing in the discotecas, I left with absolutely no regrets. Because of my time in Madrid, I was able to witness a bullfight, utilize public transportation, indulge in authentic paella, form a bond with my host mother, salsa dance with people I did not even know, stand a mere 5 feet from Guernica, visit Francisco Franco’s tomb, meander in the Mediterranean Sea, and live the life I had always dreamed.
Because my Spanish classes didn’t start until 4 pm, I was able to spend my mornings strolling El Parque de Buen Retiro, visiting one of Madrid’s countless art museums, or shopping at one of Madrid’s massive malls. Once classes ended, I was free to enjoy delicious pan y paella that my mother had prepared and then meet my friends for a fun night out at one of Madrid’s indescribably fun discotecas. Because traveling is relatively cheap while in Europe, I was able to toast slainte in Dublin, see Gaudi’s masterpieces, experience a true party in Ibiza, and most importantly, fulfill my dream of becoming a Cheetah Girl by getting extremely lost in Barcelona. Not to mention, all of my experiences were with my best friend by my side. Because of my experiences abroad, I have an important understanding of other cultures and a better understanding of my own. My view on life is radically different thanks to my experiences abroad. I learned a lot on May 15th, but I learned more about myself in the month following May 15th than most would learn in a lifetime.
— Justin Nail
AU Liberal Arts – Summer Program in Madrid, Spain