This past Summer I had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain to finish my undergraduate classes. I had never experienced living in another country for a month and it was such a thrill to be able to do this. I have traveled to Mexico to visit family and once to England when I was 12 on a trip with my teachers and peers. When I learned about this opportunity I jumped aboard without hesitation. I had a plan of what other countries and cities to visit; summer could not come soon enough.
On arrival to Madrid it was night thus nothing was very visible but the excitement and jitters were completely present. With a quick glance of the building around, I was able to tell that things were going to be very different. For example, the dormitories in Madrid had one thing that I had never seen in the United States, different trash bins to separate and organize the trash. One trash bin was used for cardboard and other recyclables (bottles, paper, plastic), one for compost (fruit peels, left over food and such), and the other for non-recyclable trash. I really love this concept because it trains students to recycle properly even if they were not really trying. I feel that in the United States people only pretend to recycle in order to stay in the “hip and now” of generational trends with things, but that is not how it should be.
One thing that was very noticeable and I completely loved was that there were so many parks within walking distance from wherever you are in the city. Even the smallest monument has a park around it and it is completely open to the public. During some of the trips we took as a class we would walk and explore the parks. Even traveling to nearby cities would be an exploration day rich in culture and history. On some weekends we would walk through parks in the city and enjoy an afternoon listening to live musical bands performing in these local parks. Maybe our lives in the United States are always so busy and non-stop that we do not get to enjoy the freshness of nature or the sound of music in our local parks, but once in a while we should just take a break to take all that in. I feel that the more we spend the day in the outdoors, the more we will feel connected to what makes us happy.
Our stay in Spain, while it was a whole month, felt completely short. I was fortunate enough to travel on weekends to outside cities. One weekend, about half of the group decided to go to Barcelona and I was amongst them. The city was incredible and not to mention how gorgeous La Sagrada Familia is inside and out! Park Güell is incredible as well and the views it provides for our enjoyment are magnificent! The fountains, architecture and everything that the local encompasses was just an experience that I will never forget. On a different weekend I had the opportunity to travel to San Sebastian, in Northern Spain. The view of the Atlantic Ocean is amazingly breathtaking! Not to mention their food and the wine Txakoli, only produced in the grandeur of the Basque Country. Everything I saw and experienced is something that I will never forget since the Spanish country has taught me a lot of who I am.
After my program ended, I traveled with six others to other countries to enjoy and learn more about what Europe has been through for centuries. The first country on the list was Italy where we visited Rome and Venice. The sites are incredible in both cities! I had never imagined being able to see old architecture first hand like I did there and making these amazing monuments available to the public is great. Getting around the cities was very efficient due to the well thought-out transportation system. Even when there was heavy traffic in public transportation it was not a problem to get around by foot because most of the tourist attractions were within walking distance. Seeing ancient ruins has always fascinated me and learning about cultures and how they made their civilizations grow has made me fall in love with archeology over and over again. Why I never pursued this degree is beyond me, but my love for it is always there. One thing I completely loved is that the airport in Venice is powered by solar energy! More than half of the power comes from the sun and it is amazing to see how much other countries are moving forward with green energy.
The next country was France where we only visited Paris! As a girl coming from a big city and never really using public transportation, I thought that the transportation system was great. We used the trains all the time to get everywhere and when we felt even more adventurous, we would walk to sights that we wanted to see, even when they were miles away. I feel that walking to places gets people to see the city on a more personal level as apposed to zooming by on a train. The Eiffel Tower was everything and more! We even had the chance to visit the Palace of Versailles on the outskirts of Paris. The gardens are astonishing! We walked all day and ended up rowing a boat in the small lake at Versailles. I am excited to see what the UN conference will bring here next year! With the amount activities and locals in this amazing city, we did not want to leave, but the United Kingdom was calling our names.
The United Kingdom is a country that has always interested me. Since the first time I visited this country as a little girl, I fell in love with it! London was our landing port and we immediately got to exploring the vast city. The weather was beautiful refreshing compared to the heat of the previous cities. A light sweater was enough for us to keep of comfortable in the cool breeze of this cloudy city. The second day in the country we decided do a trip to Windsor Castle, Roman Bath, and Stonehenge. Although I have been to Bath and Stonehenge before, it never ceases to amaze me how beautiful it is. Walking around the castle in Windsor we saw peaceful gardens that were perfect to walk in and have a picnic at any time of the day. What can I say about Stonehenge? Nothing I can say will ever do its beauty justice. It is one of my favorite places in the world and I know that I would go back in an instant if I had the chance. It has a serene feeling to it that I can relax and just think and reflect with nothing but an majestic view in front of me.
Our last country was Ireland and I knew from the moment we landed that I was going to return one day to this country. The people were friendly and very welcoming to us everywhere we went. It was not difficult to get around the city and here we decided to walk everywhere since we wanted to take in the entire city of Dublin. The history of the sites we saw was amazing to me and the history of how many people had to leave their country because of a famine, broke my heart. We went to the west coast to see the Cliffs of Moher and let me say that I was completely mesmerized by the beauty nature has created. I was amazed by how much people in this country love tourists and to me this is what gets people to return. There is one thing that was unnatural to me because our appliances are different and their dryers had something unusual. The house in which we stayed had a dryer that would collect the moisture from the wet clothes in a container and one would have to physically empty out the container. I loved this idea because the water that collects can be used to water the garden, whereas in the United States the dryers evaporate the water or shoot it down the drain. I am completely in love with this country and I know I will return one day.
My trip was short but it is one that I will stay with me forever. The entire month and a half that I was abroad was an experience that I will forever cherish because of everything that I learned and saw. I loved all the sites and locations. I loved every country, every culture, and all the new things that I learned about all the places. I know that I will return to all the countries one day and I will travel vastly to explore all the beautiful places this planet has to offer. The outdoors, open spaces, parks, and land as it relates to cultural heritage is something I will always cherish every place I go.
Zoraida Martínez ~ Ambassador