"Why did you decide to go to Spain?"
When people ask me why I went to Spain, I tell them all sorts of stories, but there’s only one that’s true to me:
I was on a search for meaning. I figured that a new place would be perfect for a fresh start and maybe a little bit of self discovery. I think that in the midst of living my life, I’d gotten to a place where it was so easy and often that I would lose myself, I just didn’t want that anymore.
When I first started high school as an experience-seeking, wide-eyed, 15-year-old freshman, I thought for sure that I’d get out of the weird funk that I'd been stuck in for a while and step into something that would provoke better, more constructive feelings in me. I thought a new purpose and new environment would help me find some direction and stop feeling so sloppy and pitiful. (That's a story for another day.)
But that wasn’t the case.
While I fully admit that my high school is the place to be by just about anyone’s standards, I couldn’t see it that way at the time. I guess when you’re 15 years old and you're confused about so many random things in your life and you get hours of homework in single subjects alone, the learning starts to leave a sour taste in your mouth.
When you sit in geometry class for 50 minutes every day not knowing what the heck is going on and spend your evenings playing catch-up (because the teacher apparently communicates in gibberish) when you’d much rather relax and unwind, the image of high school gets to be really dull. And on top of that, the learning starts to feel pointless.
Obviously there’s a difference between learning and ingesting information just to regurgitate (then swiftly forget), but I was starting to forget that. Actually, I was too tired to remember, especially when I was surrounded by so many peers who seemed to be guilty of doing the same thing.
On top of that, my daily routine was beginning to suffocate me.
I was only in my first year of high school, and already, my schedule left me no time to do anything else. Efficiency or no efficiency was irrelevant because at that point, I didn’t even have the energy to be efficient. I was too busy wrestling with time, and unfortunately, I was getting beat.
Though I loved a lot of my classes, I rebelled against being perpetually bombarded by homework. I just didn't see the point in allowing my life to revolve around homework assignments, the next deadline, the next assessment... Even a fish would’ve been able to memorize my schedule, and that drove me mad. It was then that I admitted my life had turned into such a pitiful existential crisis that I probably could've starred in the sequel to Groundhog Day.
I was doing high school all wrong. I was doing learning all wrong. I was doing my life all wrong. Whatever the issue was, it was all on me. There was really no one else and nothing else to blame.
Freshman year just so happened to magnify the emptiness in everything that I did. At some point, I just started going through the motions, and every day began to feel like a blur. I think it affected me more than a lot of my peers—who dealt with the same (if not more) responsibilities and time constraints—because I’d spent all of elementary and middle school being too hard on myself. I always took things way too seriously. I was always a perfectionist—the kind of person who’d spend more time on a cursive worksheet than on going out to play. And suddenly, I resented myself for having been that way. WHY? Looking back, I didn’t see any point in being so “exigente,” as my host mom likes to put it, especially when I could've made the most of just being a kid. I had taken my childhood for granted, just as my parents made me promise I wouldn't do.
Play! Have fun! Enjoy your childhood! Experience your world and the world around you! My parents used to tell me that every day, but ever since first grade, those words had been lost on me. Finally, at 15 years old, I was starting to realize the moments that I’d lost and the memories that I’d given up the chance to make.
As the story goes, one day, I decided that that was going to change. It was the end of October, 2015 and the middle of first semester. I’d just turned 15, and I was so disappointed in myself. For so long, I let my life be whatever it wanted to be while I stood idly by and did nothing. It wasn’t right. But if I’m being completely honest, my qualms weren’t just about school. They weren’t just about the obligation and monotony that I was feeling. They were about my mindset, my attitude. It was all wrong. Everything.
I was feeling a tad miserable about my present predicament and, on a deeper level, I was still angry with stuff that was meant to be done and over with. I was wasting so much anger and misdirected emotions on things that I didn’t fully understand, but I'd yet to realize it then. Looking back on it now, I’m glad that of all the ways things could’ve ended, they turned out the way they did, and I became the person that I am. Experience means everything to me.
At the time, however, that was NOT my mindset. I was becoming more like a zombie by the day, and all the unfinished business that remained stuck on my mind was annoying the heck out of me. For someone who had no use for pity, I was sure feeling a lot of it for myself, and that just put more of a damper on everything. I didn't want to be that person.
So one day, I was finally done. I remember it was a Saturday afternoon. I had baskets of folded laundry in my room that I felt too lazy to hang up, my geometry homework was calling me an idiot, and the weather outside projected the way that I was feeling. I was spacing out at my desk when my mom walked in offering to help me with my laundry, which I’d been super grateful for. I got up to help her, but then about three minutes later, I just plopped down into one of the laundry baskets and deflated like a squished balloon. I didn’t bawl my eyes out or anything, but I sighed loud enough to catch my mom’s attention, and when she looked over to ask what was wrong with me, I told her that I was going away to Spain.
At first, I wasn’t actually serious. I mean, yeah, it sounded AMAZING, but I didn’t think it was possible. How could it be? I was 15 years old, it was already November (most people apply to study abroad 3-6 months ahead of time and applications are due by October or even September for the spring semester), and I wasn’t yet aware that semester/year-long study abroad programs even existed. I was just talking it up to relieve stress and say things for the heck of it. My mom, however, took it seriously and gave me a thoughtful look. Uneasily, she entertained the idea and asked me what I would do if I were to go away. Of all the things she said, it was what she didn’t say that got to me. She didn't laugh, didn't tell me that I was being ridiculous, didn't brush off my words like the joke that I’d meant them as.
I'm not even kidding. My mom's reaction set something off in me. It was like being shocked by electricity (in a good way if that's even possible). Charged with a newfound energy, I perked up, whipped out my laptop, and started googling study abroad ideas. All the while I kept thinking, "Mom didn't say 'no.'"
Ladies and gentlemen, that was the moment I decided I was no longer joking.
Soon after that, I chanced upon a semester-long study abroad program, and the rest was history.
Well, not quite.
Thing is, I was either too young or too late to apply to the programs that I found. It didn’t seem as though it was “meant to be,” but I was determined enough to make it happen that I enlisted my brother to help me, demanding that he put down his video game controller and DO SOMETHING. Thankfully he didn't refuse. I think he might have wanted to get rid of me more than I wanted to get away.
My mom, on the other hand, knew I was serious even before I did, so she turned on her heels, walked out of my room, and left the house to go shopping. That's code for "you're stressing the heck out of me, and I need to be left alone." As for my dad, he was visiting family in another country and didn’t get to have a say in anything until the next day.
Let's just say that it wasn't smooth sailing from there on.
Coming soon, “The Process.” Stay tuned!