I have been home for just under five weeks, and I am still having trouble putting my gap year experience into words. I learned so much this year, more than I could even have imagined before, both in my classes and while living in Spain and travelling to new places. I came to Spain barely even knowing where Barcelona was (oops!), and I left it able to discuss its economic and political situations with both Spaniards and people from other countries. Besides learning about Spain and improving my Spanish skills dramatically, I also learned how to appreciate a place for its special charm instead of constantly imagining how it could be better. I realized that instead I have to change and adapt to fully enjoy any place that is different from what I am used to.
After leaving Seville I spent a few days in Madrid with my family and then headed off on a six week backpacking trip through seven different European countries (Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and England) with my Eurail pass in tow. I feel that this trip was the perfect culmination to my gap year. I explored many new places that were each very different without much prior knowledge of these places, something I did my whole year in Spain. Over the course of the year, I had learned how to use public transportation in new cities, make myself understood even when there was a language barrier, keep calm during stressful travel situations, and just enjoy myself even when my plans did not work out the way in which I envisioned. I also became more independent and comfortable being by myself this year, which was helpful as I would be doing half the trip alone. However, even during that part of my adventure, I was never truly alone between friends from Seville I met up with in France, old family friends, and new friends from the hostels. For the other half of my trip, I traveled with one of my best friends from high school who had just finished a semester in London. At just about every stop, I found myself wishing I could take a gap year or gap semester just to get to know each city better. All of this does not mean that I was not nervous or even scared about the prospect of being responsible for finding my way in a new city or not running out of money or figuring out what was the best way to spend my time in each place (quite the opposite, in fact). But I did feel more confident knowing I had, in my opinion, successfully adapted to three different Spanish cities and loved my time in each of them.
Visiting Charlotte in Montpellier
Charlotte's flower bracelet and my host siblings' rubber band bracelets
Prague with Jordan
Throwing food at people on the Pont des Arts with Angelique
Hall of Mirrors with Angelique and Ursula
Angelique's Welcome Home Party
Now, I am back home in Arkansas. I miss Europe. I miss being able to walk outside my door and wander around and discover something new. I miss my friends who are all spread out across different time zones. I miss the excitement of first-time experiences and always having a new site to see. However, now, I am just trying to enjoy the comfort of being at home since I do not have much time left here until going off to college. I missed hanging out with my family. I actually missed my parents a lot more than I was expecting. I missed my friends whom I had not seen in ten months, and it has been great getting to catch up and pick up right where we had left off. I missed my favorite restaurants where I almost have the menu memorized. It seems that after this year, I do not just have one place I am always longing to return to but several. I guess this is just one of the bittersweet parts of travelling. Coming to love so many different and wonderful places means I will be filled with great memories of all of them but also always be missing somewhere or someone.