Thursday, July 21, 2011

Taryn Young: Gijón, Spain

Taryn Young is a sophomore studying Biomedical Engineering and Spanish at the U of U. This summer she participated in the Advanced Spanish Language study abroad program in Gijón, Spain.

Two nights before my study abroad came to an end, the city of Gijón celebrated El Festival de San Juan.  This is observed throughout Spain on the day of the summer solstice, which is also the shortest night of the year.  My host mom told me that I would be able to find small bonfires scattered along the beach in addition to the enormous bonfire that was created by the city.  She explained that it was one of the ways which summer was welcomed.  The fire symbolized the cleansing and burning of the old and the incoming of the new and fruitful.

That night I began my walk from my host family’s house to Poniente Beach, where the main celebration was taking place.  As I started the hour-long journey towards the other side of town, I began to reflect upon the past five weeks and all of the memories I had made.  Among the first things I thought about were the many experiences that I had with my seven-year-old host sister, Inés. 

It was unbelievable that everything was coming to an end, and that I would soon be leaving my host sister, who by that time felt more like an actual family member.  Yes, at times I would arrive home, exhausted from the day’s activities and ready to relax, when she was a ball of pure energy, and other times when she would want nothing more than to play while I was pressed to complete my essays for class.  Yet, there were so many more times that I could not help but love this little girl that gave me all of the affection that she had.

Me and my host sister, Inés

The night that I arrived, she was watching a dubbed episode of Hannah Montana.  I was still nervous about how she would react to me, so I sat on the couch next to the one she was on.  A few minutes later, I found her right at my side, staring at me with a curious, yet sincere smile on her face.  Before long, she had her arms around me and was talking, almost too quickly for me to comprehend, about nearly everything.  To top it off, right before going to bed, she brought down a keychain of her favorite animal, an octopus, to give to me, showing how caring she was by first night.

Then, one week earlier, it was a typical day where I had just sat down at the kitchen table to eat lunch after four hours of classes.  Inés, who had already eaten, came into the kitchen and asked if I knew how to do division.  I answered yes, and told her that if she brought her homework into the kitchen I would help her, even though I was unsure if my Spanish skills were up to the test.  As I saw the frustration with the numbers build in her face, I knew that my plans to go to the beach that afternoon had been changed.  As much as I initially wanted to spend the day under the warm sun, nothing could have been more rewarding than the moment when, two and a half hours later, her frustrated and confused expression turned into one of joy because she could complete her homework problems without any help from me.

But the best moment was earlier that evening when my host mother had asked us to take the garbage to the trashcan that would be collected by the city.  Carrying trash to the dumpster may not sound like the magical moment that somebody would normally imagine, but as we walked towards our destination, the wind was calm, the weather was warm, and the orange sun set the tone perfectly for a nice stroll down the street.  We talked about the flowers we saw, skipped along the sidewalks, and laughed at each other for no good reason.  On the way back, we took turns acting as if we were going to touch each other with our germy hands and ended our short adventure with a big, handless hug.  I couldn’t have asked for a more memorable way to spend the little time I had left with her.

After some more reminiscing, I arrived at the celebration, and found my friends within the sea of people that had come out to celebrate the night.  Upon arriving, I learned about one last tradition: one was supposed to write down a wish or desire and throw it into the fire.  So, I borrowed a pen and some paper from a classmate, scribbled down some words, and approached the community bonfire.

The hoguera, or bonfire

When I threw my crumpled-up scrap of notebook paper into the city bonfire, I also burned all sad feelings that I had related to leaving.  It was true that there was so much that I would miss.  From visiting different cities across Spain to taking out the trash with my host sister, there were numerous memories that I would take home with me.  However, as cheesy as it may sound, it was just as my host mom had said.  That night was the burning of the old.  It was the end of the old me that had existed five weeks earlier—the one that had not overcome countless language barriers, had not experienced the Spanish culture, and had no idea that she would create such a unique bond with an amazing little girl.  However, room was made for the new—the future to come that could be better created thanks to the experiences I had during the previous five weeks in Spain.

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