I Lost Myself to Rediscover Myself

During moments of nostalgia I’ve often encountered the truth of the expression “you don’t know what you have until you lose it”. While I’m sure I’ll look back on this trip with an immense feeling of nostalgia, there’s some other sensation I felt last night that I’d like to discuss. This previous evening during our final group excursion at the cider house, in the midst of a celebration, a rush of profound and conflicting emotions overcame me – a sort of present moment awareness, in which I felt the joy of realizing that I currently possessed something beautiful right in front of me, but also a sense of melancholy as I acknowledged that the beauty was fleeting and won’t last forever. As I reflect on our final gathering at the cider house last night I’ll do my best to expound on the sensations I felt, and how I feel it pertains to our abroad experience as a whole.

Yesterday my morning began like any other week day in San Sebastian. After a typical day of class, followed by lunch, workout, and power nap, I found myself boarding the bus in Plaza Gipuzkoa for our final class excursion to the cider house. It’s essentially a send off dinner where we receive a tour of the facility, and an unlimited fish, steak, and apple cider dinner. Although moderation was kept in mind, I had no problem indulging in the rich entrees the restaurant provided, and of course took advantage of the cider supply. While I expected to blissfully enjoy this celebration, the night took an unexpected twist for me after I had a brief moment of introspection. Towards the end of dinner as our waiters served dessert, I felt a sudden urge to just observe and reflect on the scenery around me – I glanced down the table and observed the seventeen faces of students and professors whom I’ve had the honor of sharing these past three weeks with. In spite of the long night of laughter, rich Basque plates, and barrels of cider, taking in the sight of this group of students suddenly struck me with a rush of uneasy sentiment, a heaviness in the chest, and yet also a profound joy upon observing their laughter and smiles. I’ve come to believe that what I witnessed and felt at that table serves as a symbol for the entire study abroad experience, and why one desires to travel in the first place. However, to better explain this I’d like to first make a brief digression into the present moment.

 Cider House 2

Thus far I’ve been writing this post on the 5th floor balcony of the Tabaclera building overlooking San Sebastian. To my right is the ominous Franco building that towers over the standard structures in the city; it reminds me of the group tour we had of the city our first day here. Beyond that I see the immense yet serene waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the distance – I think of beach soccer on Zurriola Beach, nights on La Concha Beach with friends, and even the afternoon when I swam half a mile in the ocean to the island in the La Concha Cove and back with friends (how they didn’t end up having to carry me back at some point is still a mystery to me). In the distance of the city I see both Jesus Mountain and the San Sebastian Cathedral, both beautiful places that I discovered in a moment of spontaneity where I ended up “losing myself” in the midst of their beauty. Dozens of other memories are flooding to me at this moment, but I think its about time I get to the point. As I’m taking in this bird’s eye view of the city and reflect on all of my experiences, I’m feeling a similar sensation to what I felt last night at the cider house. This detached view of San Sebastian, along with the culmination of all my experiences in the city thus far, seems to give me a deeper and more intimate connection to the place I’ve called home for the past three weeks. While I don’t by any means consider myself an unofficial Basque citizen or connoisseur of their culture, I feel I’ve been able to capture a fleeting but true glimpse of the spirit of this city. The feeling is one of bliss upon realizing I succeeded in my efforts to explore and immerse myself in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but it’s melancholic as well as I realize I will soon be separating myself from this intimate connection with San Sebastian and the Basque culture.IMG_1188

(part of my view on Tabaclera, with the San Sebastian Cathedral tower in the background)

So how does this relate to the cider house? To quickly restate my Tabaclera experience, only by observing the city in its entirety and allowing thoughts to come and go as they pleased have I been able to encounter a deeper and more profound connection with the city, where I feel like I really witnessed the spirit of San Sebastian. Similarly in the cider house the rush of raw emotion overcame me only after I took time to really observe and appreciate my fellow classmates. Seeing their glowing faces, hearing their laughter, reminiscing on our excursions, going to the bars in Parte Viaje, and every other pleasant experience truly established a deeper connection between this group of people and myself. It’s within these faces that I think I discovered the purpose of studying abroad, that the answer manifested itself within the spirit of our group. I saw liberation, carefreeness, relief – an overall joy that suggested something deeper than mere contentment with the way things are. In short, I believe that, even if only for a short period of time, we had truly lost ourselves within the Basque culture. Never before have I felt such a freeing and liberating experience. Living in this foreign land has not only challenged my world views, but its also encouraged me to re-evaluate my own life back home in hopes to further grow from this journey. Thus, I consider the recent rush of passionate emotions I’ve been feeling to be an acknowledgment of our group’s success – these past three weeks we’ve all participated and immersed ourselves into the Basque culture, losing ourselves and becoming unified to a new way of life. To realize this now is incredibly gratifying, but is also accompanied with sorrow as we soon have to separate ourselves from this land. That said, I feel Joseph Campbell perfectly describes the beauty of this experience (thanks to Professor Zabalbeascoa for bringing this quote to my attention).

“It wouldn’t be life if there were not temporality involved which is sorrow. Loss, loss, loss. You’ve got to say yes to life and see it as magnificent this way”

As I bring this post to a close I have one more point I’d like to address – I cannot stress enough how powerful it was for me to share these incredible experiences with a close group of friends and teachers as well. Thus I first want to thank Professor Zabalbeascoa and Professor Conway, for organizing this trip and offering us all invaluable guidance and mentor-ship along the way. Although I like to consider myself a confident and capable person when I need to be, it was certainly comforting being able to look to them for a sense of direction when necessary. I’d also like to thank all the students who joined me on this study abroad experience, for teaching me so much more about myself these past three weeks than I ever could have had I embarked on this journey alone. Although we return to the United States tomorrow, I think we all may be leaving a piece of ourselves behind in San Sebastian.


Thomas Moore is Smiling

I woke up yesterday morning and began my day like most weekdays in San Sebastián: with Spanish Class. We learned about different clothing items and what they were called, and we practiced the different tenses of we had learned so far: el futuro, el presente, y el gerundio. While I was more looking forward to what was coming after class, I still enjoyed it, and gained from it new tools to use in communicating in a place where the language is not my own.

During our visit to Gernika on Saturday (July 30), Julian had recommended that I check out some “radical” bars on a street called Juan de Bilbao, in the old-town of the city. I feel that radical is a bit of a strong word however, since the cause that they mainly support is really (in my opinion) an issue of human rights.

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An example of etxera graffiti on a closed bar. It was possibly put there by the bartender himself to display support for the cause.

Until recently, Basque Country was plagued by terrorism from a separatist group called ETA. The Basques are still trying to gain independence from Spain, but are now doing so through political means. However, the most contentious issue currently is the treatment of prisoners from ETA, in that the Spanish Government has dispersed them all over Spain to prevent them from communicating with one another. This goes against the Spanish Constitution, which states that criminals should be imprisoned in near their homes so that their family can visit them easily for the purpose of rehabilitation. The cause that many people in Basque Country now support is that of bringing the prisoners home, or “etxera”. Since the culture of San Sebastián is largely based around socialization, and since much of that socialization happens at bars and taverns, many bartenders have adopted the cause of etxera, sporting symbols, flags, and even pictures of prisoners, so that people can go and support the cause by buying drinks or donating. I decided that I wanted to explore this movement by visiting some of these bars, and that I wanted to flex my Euskara muscles by trying to speak in Euskara to the bartenders when ordering. So when class was finished I walked through the city to Juan de Bilbao.

One of my favorite things to do in San Sebastián is to simply walk around and take in the city, because in doing so it is impossible to remember anything that might have been bothering or worrying me. Even when the sun isn´t shining, one cannot help but feel bathed in jubilance at the sight of hundreds of people simply walking around and enjoying the day. Back home, I often felt like I was in a rut, constrained to mundane mandatory tasks to go through the motions of being a normal person with a job and a car. Here, it is the polar opposite. People walk instead of driving. They do not go about their day for the purpose of working or doing chores, but instead relax and live in the moment. They enjoy the food from local restaurants and bars, and they are almost never rushing, and never walking alone. I have never seen so much contentment in one place, and in simply walking around the city and enjoying the pintxos, bars, sites, and street performers, I feel I too have learned that it is good to simply saunter through and enjoy what I feel is the closest thing I´ve seen to a tropical paradise. I felt this, as I had countless times before in walking through the city, as I made my way to Juan de Bilbao.

I was a bit saddened to see that most of the bars in Juan de Bilbao were closed, save for two. The first was more of a music bar than one that espoused etxera. There were records on the walls and ceilings, and vibrant jazz music filled the room. I ordered my zurito (a small amount of beer that goes good with pintxos), and my tortilla (which is basically a piece  omelete pie with potatoes and spices inside), and enjoyed the music for a few minutes before leaving. This pattern continued for about five different bars in the surrounding area, all with good music, and even better pintxos. I did get to see one bar with a lot of etxera symbolism on display, including a banner and pins for sale, napkins with the etxera symbol on them, and a picture of a hand shackled to a prison bar window with smaller pictures of political prisoners surrounding it. I wasn’t sure how to show that I supported the cause, but the bartender seemed jubilant when I ordered my drink in Euskara and bought one of the pins he was selling. He even informed me the price of my drink in Euskara: Bat eta hamar, or literally “one and ten”. I went back later that evening and received the same warm service.

This point must be emphasized, for it shows that the Basque culture is one of pride, but also one of acceptance. If you are a tourist in Basque country, you will find no hostility towards you from those living here. In fact, if you make an honest effort to speak their language, enjoy their traditions, and socialize, you will find that they will welcome you with open arms. Not once during my stay here have I felt unwelcome anywhere in the city. Everyone, Spanish and Basque alike, has been happy to see us, whether it be for making friends or buying drinks. That being said, as a tourist I am reminded a lot, mostly by posters and graffiti, that I am not in Spain, but that I am in Basque Country. It is in this way that cultural pride mixes with acceptance of outsiders to form one of the most unique and kind cultures I have ever experienced.

After bar hopping, I ran into some friends in my group from Umass Lowell relaxing on the steps to one of the cathedrals in old-town. We headed over to the aquarium, where we were scheduled to meet our professors for an excursion. The plan was to climb Urgull, a large hill with a gigantic statue of Jesus at the top, to have a literature discussion, and then to visit the island in the bay of La Concha and Ondarreta beaches.

While the hike up Urgull was somewhat arduous, it was manageable, and the literature discussion was a welcome set of possible answers and discussions about questions we all had about the book “All that Followed”, which details the events up to and after the assasination of a conservative politician by Basque Nationalist militants. In addition, while the urban parts of the city are fun to explore and enjoy, the natural monuments and hiking trails, like that of Urgull offer a nice complement to the vibrance of the city. Hiking in San Sebastián is so satisfying, mainly because at the top of whatever you are climbing you can be sure to find either a bar, a viewpoint, or both. In fact, just a few days earlier some friends and I hiked partway up Urgull ourselves to see what it was like. I was too tired to make it all the way to the top, but I don´t regret it, in part because I´m not sure there is anywhere else in the world that would have drinks being served three fourths of the way up the hill, so that one could sit and enjoy the stunning view with a refreshing soda, water, or beer. The hike for the excursion was no different, and it was a welcoming site to see the very top where Jesus stood, and to see the architecture of the old worshiping sites and battlements.

After twenty minutes of discussion, and some sightseeing, we went back down to catch the five o´clock ferry to the island. Again, the views were absolutely breathtaking on the journey there.  I must stress that I have been to Italy, Scotland, Texas, Washington DC, Florida, and California. The only place that can even attempt to rival the views of San Sebastian is Florence, Italy, and I still believe that there is no contest.

When we reached the island, I had a somewhat cathartic experience about my stay here. I realized that this is the last week of my time in San Sebastián. I didn´t want to go home. In that moment, I felt that my family and friends would be better off if I brought them here and had them learn Spanish! I knew this was not true of course, but I feel that the point emphasizes how much of an impact this place has had on me.

I also had what I call a brief experience of “travellers anxiety”. Have I done enough? Did I use my time well? This is my first time away from home in a new land with all the freedom I could possibly want. Am I even doing this right? I spoke to Julian about this, and in doing so, was able to freshly reflect on my experience in San Sebastian. I realized, that it wasn´t about doing it right or wrong, nor was it about using time as if it were a scarce resource in a competetive market. I looked back and thought about all the amazing things that had happened to me on this trip. My friends and I tried to save a sick pigeon with a kind old woman named Maria. I saw some of the most talented jazz performers performing on the street. We sat on the beach at night, just enjoying the view, drinking cider and listening to music. I have tried foods that I wouldn´t dare touch back home, such as anchovies and octopus. I even got to make my own pintxos on one of our excursions. I learned about things that I never even knew existed, like the Tree of Gernika, the language of Euskara, the history of the Basque people, and even simple things like how to properly drink cider, or some of the history behind the most famous pintxo, the Gilda. In that moment, bathed in sunlight atop an island in San Sebastián, I was able to fully realize how formative and inspiring this entire trip had been.

After our discussion, I went down to the base of the island, where I swam for a little while, and relaxed with my friends. I took a 5 foot jump into the ocean, the highest I´ve ever jumped into water before. The ferry ride back was more like a party since “Uptown Funk” and “YMCA” played through the speakers, convincing everyone to dance as we sailed back to the mainland. After a wonderful dinner at our host house (consisting of some of the best hamburgers I´ve ever tasted) I went to the beach, where I drank cider, relaxed, and danced to more music being played through a portable speaker. This is yet another experience I´ll never find anywhere else: dancing on the beach at 1AM like it was my own personal disco. After this, I went home, and after talking to my girlfriend briefly to tell her all about the day, I fell asleep.

So what does all of this add up to? Well, personally, I feel that the day was a wonderful example of how the entire trip has been, in that each day here is a new journey full of new things to do and learn. I feel that I´ve learned important life lessons on this trip, such as how to relax and live in the moment, to be adventurous and always try new things, and to let the wind take me where it may when life happens. In the title of this post, I made the assertion that Thomas Moore is smiling. In doing so, I am not saying that San Sebastian is Utopia, but that I think Moore would be pleased with how close San Sebastián gets to it.Nueva imagen

The Calm After the Storm

I don’t know what I was expecting this morning, after dancing the night away with friends from countries all over the world and tiptoeing in, drenched from the rain, around 6:00 am. Among my list of possibilities were extreme exhaustion, sleeping as long as I could, finding sand all over the floor from walking along the beaches at night, and maybe a bit of a headache. What I never expected was to be woken up at 10:30 am by the banging of drums and the blaring of brass instruments from just outside my window. As I was unceremoniously thrust from my beautiful, peaceful slumber, I vaguely recalled my host mother mentioning that today was a religious holiday. In the United States, we often have parades to celebrate nationally recognized holidays, and so I expected them to proceed down the street and farther out of earshot. Much to my groggy dismay, they remained just below my balcony for another thirty minutes before finally moving on to their next location. I stood out on the terrace, squinting against the glare of the sun through the clouds, and watched as the musicians played and surrounding onlookers cheered. I found myself smiling, despite being sleep deprived, sandy, and overall just a bit of a mess. Just when I start to feel as though I’m beginning to understand how things work in this beautiful city, something new and exciting happens, and I’m left struggling to take in as much of it as I can before the moment is gone.

My lovely alarm clock this morning: the basque musicians and spectators who could been seen through town for the rest of the day.

My lovely alarm clock this morning: the basque musicians and spectators who could been seen through town for the rest of the day.


I decided to get dressed and seize the day, despite the looming clouds that never quite cleared from the downpour of rain the night before. My body protested as I walked to meet up with a few friends for lunch, because I developed a minor case of shin splints from our “short”, very hilly hike through the Oma Forest the day before. A walk, full of very steep inclines, that my host mother insists is “muy facil,” or very easy. It was a beautiful location, but the muscles in my legs can attest to the fact that it definitely was NOT “muy facil.”

A brief glimpse of the view along our "muy facil" excursion yesterday

A brief glimpse of the view along our “muy facil” excursion yesterday

After filling my stomach with delicious food and a couple ibuprofen tablets, my friends and I set off to browse for souvenirs in the light rain that had begun to fall. Unlike the United States, many shops close on Sunday’s here in San Sebastián. After perusing the stores in our neighborhood and having no luck, my roommate and I decided to drag our aching muscles back to bed for our daily siesta. This is one of the many aspects of Spanish culture that I definitely have fallen in love with.

The rest of my day was spent indoors, bonding with my roommate through our mutual love of sleep and with our lovely host mother – an 87 year old woman with more spunk than most of my friends. After a family dinner, we headed out to meet up with a small group of people for gelato. This is a regular indulgence for many people in our group, almost to the point of becoming routine. After choosing my flavor of the day (I try a new one every time we order gelato), I joined my amigas in sitting along the stone wall, looking out over the ocean. The sky was no longer a gloomy grey, but instead a beautiful contrast of darker colors with the faint hint of a sunset peeking through on the horizon. We laughed together, sharing stories and making plans for the rest of our short time here.

A peaceful ending to a peaceful day

A peaceful ending to a peaceful day

As I licked my delicious dessert, smiling with a group of people I didn’t know two and a half weeks ago, it started to set in how fleeting this trip has been. The days feel long, but the time flies by. Every day is a new adventure here in San Sebastián, and my experiences have been exciting and revitalizing. My Spanish has improved immensely, but more importantly, I’ve experienced an entirely different culture and I’ve fallen in love with it. I’ve had the opportunity to bond with people from all over the world, and learn about their experiences and opinions. Over the past two weeks, I have made memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I’m almost dreading going home, back to a routine life without pintxos and ancient history. I don’t want this entire trip to become a memory. Whether I spend my time literally dancing in the rain, or basking in the calm after the storm, I am always left feeling fulfilled and perfectly content. If there’s one thing I take home with me at the end of this journey, it’s the desire to change my habitual life in the states to one that leaves me smiling at the end of each day, the way I am right now.

Rediscovering Peace in San Sebastian

“What does peace mean to you?” This was the first question my classmates and I were asked as we entered the Gernika Peace Museum on Saturday morning. What may appear as a seemingly easy question to answer actually turned out to be extremely difficult to put into words. Slowly but surely, my classmates began naming activities that brought them a sense of peace such as reading, sleeping, running or listening to music. This simple yet thought provoking question led me to dig deeper and discover what I consider to be peaceful. I soon came to the shocking realization that most of the things that I consider peaceful are non-existent here in San Sebastian, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Two Saturdays ago I left the country for the very first time to experience what for many would be a once in a life time opportunity. Traveling to a foreign country essentially meant that I would be leaving my family, my friends, and everything that I have ever known behind. As any young adult would be, I was both extremely excited but also anxious for what the future had in store for me. I was consumed with nerves about not knowing any of the students on the trip, not knowing more than a handful of Spanish words, living in an unfamiliar city, and the possibility of not liking any of the food. However, with the exception of not liking the food becoming reality, I have found that all of my preconceived notions have been proven to be false. As I am now taking a moment to reflect on my last two weeks here in San Sebastian, I am discovering each day that my old idea of “peace” was far from correct, and that I actually have found peace in many of the very same things that I was so worried about.

My time in San Sebastian thus far has allowed me to develop close friendships with sixteen of my classmates as well as friendships with students from Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands. I truly believe that these newfound friendships are ones that I never would have had the opportunity to encounter if I had not stepped outside of my comfort zone. I do not hesitate when saying that I am certain many of these friendships will far outlast the duration of this trip. I have found peace in being away from the people that I know best because I have come to discover that there is even more excitement in meeting new people.


If asked prior to this trip what activity I found the most peace in, I would have responded with sleeping. Being lazy is one of my most cherished activities in the summertime, but little did I know that all hints of sleep and relaxation would disappear when coming on this trip. With that being said, I speak for both myself and my classmates when I say that we hardly get any sleep here in San Sebastian, and we love it. Most days, I struggle to get out of bed after getting a “full nights sleep” of about five hours. My days are filled with Spanish class, excursions in and around San Sebastian, discovering the Basque culture, going to the beach on our free days, and exploring the city into all hours of the night. After experiencing all of my sleepless days and nights, I think it is safe to say that I no longer consider sleep as one of my many comforts; I have found a new sense of peace in adventure and the unknown. This trip has forced me to accept that I will not always know where I am going, what time I will be arriving or if I will even be able to communicate with anyone using my limited Spanish and their limited English. There is something to say about a city such as San Sebastian which can change someone’s idea of peace and their whole perspective on life. I have come to realize that it is healthy to be outside of my comfort zone and I have learned to find peace in the thrill of the unknown. Experiencing San Sebastian has opened my eyes immensely to the type of person I hope to become. I believe that this trip has helped me find peace in new experiences, new friends, and new places. If given the opportunity, I encourage everyone to visit another country where they will embrace a different culture, experience new things (even if it does seem scary), and take the time to rediscover themselves.


Food, Fun and New Friends in the Basque Country

To me, friendship is the key to a happy life. Growing up, I have always had a close group of friends with whom I spend the majority of my free time. I rarely ever made an effort to meet new people or build strong relationships with strangers. Traveling to San Sebastian for a summer study abroad program has given me a lot of opportunities to step out of my comfort zone, and also to take part in experiences I never would have known.

With knowing only one of my classmates prior to departure for Spain, I was very anxious for these three weeks. Upon my arrival to the airport on Friday July 16th, I realized that immersing myself into a totally new culture with no family or friends around would force me to rely on making new friends if I wanted to enjoy this experience ahead of me. Sitting alone in the airport, I decided that it was time for me to grow up and to come out of my shell socially. Never did I expect the results of overcoming my fears to be so fruitful.

Whether I keep in touch with my new friends once I return home or not, the relationships that I have built with my classmates on this trip will be ones that I will forever cherish when reflecting on my time in Spain. As a result of my decision to challenge myself socially, I was also fortunate enough to form friendships with people outside of my classes of all ages and from all over the world, including Switzerland, Germany, Columbia and more. The friendships that I have made with my classmates and others have led to some of my favorite memories from my trip including pickup basketball games, beach days, late nights, hikes, and ultimately the pinnacle of my trip to date—a meal at a traditional Basque gastronomic society.

About a week ago, I met my host and her mother at a cafe to have lunch. When I arrived, I was surprised to see some unfamiliar faces in chairs next to my host. I hesitated before walking over, a little intimidated by the unfamiliar people, but decided it was an opportunity to practice Spanish and to meet new people. My host introduced me to her two best friends, Cristina and Juan Carlos. I took a seat next to the man and he immediately struck a conversation with me. The conversation lasted for the majority of a three hour lunch and ended with an invitation to cook and eat a meal with him at his society on Friday July 29th.

Gastronomic societies are very selective all-male cooking clubs that can only be found in the Basque Country. The Basque gastronomic societies are places where the male members come together to prepare food and to socialize with one another, followed by joining the women guests for the delicious meal. These meals can last for hours as much socializing occurs, even some singing and dancing. A unique feature of the basque gastronomic societies is their exclusivity. Becoming a member is very difficult, as most societies have a maximum membership capacity and memberships are life long. Outsiders can only experience the camaraderie and the culinary creations of a society if they are invited by a member and women are prohibited from stepping foot in the kitchen.

My friend Sean and I showed up to the society on Friday and rang the doorbell. Juan Carlos greeted us with a handshake and a smile. He proceeded to take us downstairs to where the society gathers. Juan Carlos explained the basics of Basque societies to us while taking us through a quick tour of the kitchen and dining area. We set the table, working together to get everything ready for the women that would be joining us shortly. We had a beer before making our way into the kitchen to prepare the Marmitako, a famous Basque dish consisting of tuna, tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. Sean and I worked on the easy tasks, like washing vegetables, peeling potatoes and salting the food, while Juan Carlos flew through the kitchen. We shared drinks, laughs, and stories while the fish cooked. When the girls arrived, we served the food and enjoyed the meal that we worked so hard to prepare.



As I enjoyed the evening with Sean and Juan Carlos, I realized what a special opportunity I was given. Because of the exclusive nature of Basque gastronomic societies, it is considered an honor to be invited to partake in the tradition. This realization showed me the importance of my decision to put myself out there in an effort to make new friendships. Had I not made that promise to myself while sitting alone in the airport, my trip to San Sebastian would not be anywhere close to as amazing and memorable as it has turned out to be. As Juan Carlos said to me while saying bye for the night, “Just remember, Grant, you’ll always have friends in the Basque Country.”


Euskal Kultura (Basque Culture)

The day of July 28 began with the usual weekday morning routine with class from 9:00-11.  This day was slightly different than the resr, however, because it was my first day back after missing the previous day because of sickness, and it was very difficult.  Sitting in a hot classroom for two hours straight was not the most enjoyable thing to do.  At my thirty minute break in between, I went outside and took in some of the fresh air from Donostia and drank some water.  I said to myself, “It’s only an hour and thirty more minutes.”  Feeling somewhat rejuvenated, I did my best to maintain a positive attitude and power through the remaining class time.  I do not know how, but somehow this positivity seemed to magically work as a cure, as the congestion and fatigue I had been experiencing suddenly vanished.  Even after class, I felt great.  I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of my experience in the Basque Country.

After class, me and a group of friends decided to climb to the top of Urgull, or as we had been calling it, “Jesus Mountain” because of the large statue of Christ at the top.  I was somewhat reluctant to hike all the way up, as I did not want to make my illness worse, but we set out anyways.  After climbing up about halfway, the group and I came to a stop that had one of the most amazing views I had ever seen.  From where I was sitting, I could see La Concha and Ondarreta Beach, and a beautiful view of the vast Atlantic Ocean.  I’m not really a nature person, but this view was truly something to admire.  This view was so beautiful that I wanted to see more.  I turned around and there was this natural rock slope that I decided I could climb to get an even better look at the city.  And I was definitely right when I say that this view was even more amazing than the last.  After getting a picture from up there, we had one more stop, the summit.  After a long trek up, we finally made it.  I sat down and took in the amazing view of the city and said to myself that I would come back at least one more time before we left.  Unfortunately, after basking in the beauty for thirty minutes, it was time to descend.  We hiked back down and met up with Julian, Sean and our Basque Language teacher, Stewart, and made our way over to the bar where we would sit down and begin our first Basque class.

The class was only more or less an hour long, but Stewart had my attention every minute of it.  He was a hilarious guy, but at the same time a very knowledgeable person about the language he was teaching us and most importantly, a great teacher.  He taught us basic phrases we could use here as well as some historic culture about the Basques.  He even showed us a song in the isolate language that as soon as I heard it, I felt obligated to learn how to play it on the guitar.  As soon as I got home, I looked up the chords to the song even though I don’t even have a guitar to play them on yet.  That’s how much I enjoyed the song and the class.

What I initially thought was going to be a bad day actually turned out to be one of the best days I had in San Sebastian.  Looking back, the view from the top of Urgull really emphasized the true beauty of the city.  It reminded me of all the beautiful places and sights that I had seen in the city as well as in other cities I had visited in the past.  It was precisely these views from the summit that really made me change the way I look at the world.  They instilled in me a much greater appreciation for nature’s beauty that I am going to more carefully observe for the rest of this trip.  Similarly, the Basque language class also made me develop a deeper appreciation.  The class showed me that language can be tough to learn, but I cannot stop wanting to learn more and more languages.  I consider myself truly lucky to have been able to partake in the experiences I had this day.



Moon Bathing

When traveling to a new country you are immediately given the title of a tourist. You become a stranger to the city in which you are traveling and begin to feel as if you stick out like a sore thumb. There is a sense of not belonging that comes with being a tourist that is hard to break especially in a country where you don’t speak the same language. Although this type of reaction was the initial feeling that I had when arriving in San Sebastián (and when we walked around in the traditional clothing while people stared at us) I have found that I no longer feel this way at all. San Sebastián has become a kind of home to me. I no longer feel like a stranger but instead I feel like it has become a city of my own. I love walking the streets and knowing exactly where I’m going. I love going into the same bar and having the bartender be so happy to see me. I love feeling embraced by this beautiful city and all that it has to offer.
San Sebastián makes even some of the simplest things in life seem beautiful and special. The night that we spent at the beach today became so much more than just a night on the beach with friends. It became a night of new friendships and memories that we will all never forget. While on the beach other people came over and joined us. We ended up making friends with people from all over the world; people from places such as Ireland, Brazil, Germany, and England. They shared with us their stories and we shared ours with them. Then together we all started singing while Spencer played the guitar. At that moment I realized how amazing of a memory I was actually creating. I was sitting with people of all different backgrounds, under the moon on a beautiful beach in San Sebastián with music that brought us all together. It was amazing that music is so universal that we were able to have this huge singalong with people from so many different places. This was something that many people would never get the chance to do but it was something that I was lucky enough to experience. Once the group singing died down I laid back on my towel and took everything in. The sand was soft and squishy underneath me and there was a nice cool breeze in the air. The street lights were shining brightly, lighting up all of the old buildings of Gros. The moon was casting dull light on us and I soaked it in as I laid there, like I would if I was bathing in the sun. I then closed my eyes and listened to the chatter and laughter of the people around me. The people who were once strangers, but had now become people that each of us would always remember. As I lay there I smiled to myself and felt proud to be a part of such a special experience. It became a night that I never wanted to end with people I never want to leave, and that feeling in itself is something that I will always carry with me and hope to be lucky enough to experience again.



Un Día de Comida

I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to indulge in a culture than to enjoy its food. However, we not only got to eat traditional Spanish food yesterday, but had the privilege of learning how to make it too. The dishes we assembled are called “pintxos” and are incredibly common around San Sebastián. When strolling through La Parte Vieja or Gros, as I often do, one can pass bar, after bar, with counters laden in these delightful morsels.

On Tuesday, we made our way to Euskal-Biliera which is one of the oldest Gastronmic Societies in the city. These are extremely exclusive groups of male chefs, and women are still not allowed in many of the kitchens due to strict tradition. However, since none of the other members were present apart from the head chef and his brother-in-law, all of us were allowed to observe the preparation in the kitchen. We sat at a long table lined with the ingredients for the original pintxo, La Gilda. Pickled peppers, green olives, anchovies, and toothpicks were all we needed for this simple bite of history. The head chef demonstrated the proper order to us, and we followed suit. Although not everyone liked the taste, it was certainly meaningful to be a part of. After that, we made four more pintxos: prawns dipped in olive oil and covered in coconut, boiled octopus with peppers, onions, olive oil, salt, and lemon, jamón serrano (thinly sliced Spanish ham) with cherry tomatoes laid on toast that was rubbed with a clove of garlic and spread with a thin tomato sauce, and a roasted red pepper stuffed with a mix of chopped tuna, peppers, onions, and salt. I enjoyed each and every bite, especially the octopus. For dessert, the head chef whisked together a big bowl of mandarin gelato and Pacharan Navarro (a common Basque liquor) and ladled it into glasses for each of us.


I am glad that we were able to learn how to make these dishes in a private Gastronomic Society rather than in a typical public restaurant. Because these societies are so exclusive and traditionally based, I knew that we were learning from people who were experts in the authenticity of the food and the culture. Even today, they practice traditions that have been carried out since about 1901. When the point of this trip is to immerse ourselves in Basque culture, I think this was a very appropriate way to do so.

  For the rest of the day, my friends and I enjoyed a leisurely walk around the city before the sun set close to 9:45pm. We then climbed the stairs all the way up Mount Urgull, or as we usually call it, Jesus Mountain for the statue on top. We stopped along the way to enjoy some small things nearby. The sun cast golden light on the buildings surrounding La Concha and illuminated the tall steeple of Buen Pastor Cathedral against the green rolling hills behind the city. On a terrace below the walkway, we watched two kittens play for quite some time, while rowers left the harbor. The view from the top was certainly worth the long trek up. Looking out, we could see far out across the Atlantic and the mountainous coast in the distance. I climbed the rock face even higher up the mountain where I could see farther out. The view was absolutely breathtaking and I couldn’t stop thinking about how lucky I am to be here. I thought about how experiences like this are when I am really living instead of going through the motions of predictable day to day life. Like a sunset, eating is something that happens every day. However, how often do people really take time to cherish it? Yesterday, I got to savor both the Basque cuisine and the beautiful sunset, and this memory will continue to remind me not to take anything for granted, no matter how redundant.

Here is a link to a time-lapse of the sunset: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmbCl8KZKGc



Mi Cumpleanos en Espana


“Why would you want to spend your twenty first birthday in Spain?” I’ve been asked about a thousand times. When this question is asked of me I look at the curious mind as if he or she has three heads and answer “Why the heck not!” While it may be a monumental event in some people’s lives, turning twenty-one was possibly the least notable part of my day on this 25th of July.

I didn’t know what to expect when I woke up this morning because I was out at the bars in Parte Vieja until 3 in the morning as the Basques often are, and I knew I wasn’t going to get enough sleep because of that. (Parte Vieja of San Sebastian has more bars per square meter than anywhere else in the world, so it’s no wonder why my classmates and I have felt the need to check out so many of them while we’re here.) When I did rise and shine, though, around 9 AM, my host mother, Martixu, and my German roommate, Marie, immediately greeted me by singing “Feliz Cumpleanos.” This was Reason #1 of why a birthday in Spain at a local family’s home is a once-in-a-lifetime, special experience that I am super grateful to have had. Marie surprised me with a slice of cake from a pasteleria that Maritxu recommended to her and she also got me a pretty bracelet because she is a sweetheart and a friend that I know I will keep in touch with after this trip is over.

Even though it’s Monday, we did not have school today because it is a holiday in Spain called La Fiesta de Santiago, which celebrates a Spanish military hero. There was a market on the street selling food but not much else was going on except that all the stores were closed. One of our tour guides from a different day, named Unai, joked with me and said that he would speak with Obama and tell him to make the United States have a national holiday on my birthday because Spain did that for me so my own country should, too. I don’t disagree.

I spent the next few hours of my day by going on an eight mile run around the city, going out to lunch with Taylor, Mckenna, and Jane, and showing Taylor my favorite spot to stare at the ocean, which is on a stone wall between La Concha and La Ondaretta beaches. Then, Taylor and I went to La Ondaretta beach and we really enjoyed the family environment and the peacefulness of it there.

The next part of my day was above and beyond the highlight. Our class activity was to take a funicular up Monte Igueldo and check out the breathtaking views from the highest and most lovely place in the city that I have visited. From up on this mountain, we could see France and the Pyrenees, as well as the northwest of Spain! There was also an amusement park up there and we got to ride a rollercoaster, a log ride, and take a peak at the interior of the tower I have been gazing up at during this past week.


Before venturing into this excursion, my professors Julian and Sean gave me a txapela to wear around all day to signify that I was the birthday girl. A txapela is a type of hat that a txapeldun (champion) wears once he or she has won some kind of competition. In the U.S. we would call this hat a beret or maybe just a goofy cap. I had no shame wearing it though because I am not easily embarrassed and I am also in a place with strangers that will never see me again so I can be as weird as I’d like and there are no consequences! I thought it was really cool that my teachers wanted to make my day feel like it was my day. They bought pastries for everyone and explained that a typical Basque tradition is for the birthday person to treat everyone to food or drinks so we had to pretend that I was the one that purchased them. As if all of the special treats weren’t enough, Julian had the entire class sing happy birthday to me in Basque on the front yard of a beachfront palace, so I really did feel like the birthday princess. I could get used to a life like this.

“Más mañana”

Each night at dinner, my host dad, Juan, asks me “Qué aprendes hoy en esquela?“ which means “What did you learn today at school?” I always know this is my time to shine, yet slightly embarrass myself with the few short Spanish phrases I learned that day. I always manage to stumble my way through simple phrases such as “ Yo tengo el pelo morena” (“I have brown hair”) or “Julia está a mi izquierda” (“Julia is to my left”). The whole time Juan and his wife, Carolina, gaze at me with looks of pride on their faces and a smile from ear to ear. When I complete what feels like my show for the evening, they both praise me for a job well done and Juan says “Más mañana”. This means “more tomorrow”, and I know that tomorrow he just wants to hear more of what Spanish I learned at school. But to me, tomorrow holds so much more than what I will learn in Spanish class. Each tomorrow is a new opportunity for exploration, self-growth, and a chance to create unforgettable lifelong memories.

Tonight I sat on the beach with my newly made UMass Lowell and international friends. The Jazz Festival echoed down the shore and Jesus disappointingly looked down upon us from his stoop on the mountain for staying out so late the night before. It was a relaxing night with good company and a breath taking view of the sunset that I am so lucky to get to watch with a front row seat every night. I will take home with me and cherish the simple nights like I had tonight and the more boisterous ones like I had the prior night where my foreign friends kept me out until the sun began to rise.  However, it is on the nights like tonight where I am able to sit back and reflect that makes me thankful for today and eager for tomorrow.

“Tomorrow” is a chance to learn more about the Basque country and those who inhabit it. “Tomorrow” is a chance to impress the shopkeeper I buy my daily croissant from by boldly stating “Eskerrik Asko” instead of my typical “Gracias”. “Tomorrow” is a chance to navigate this foreign city on a quest for the biggest bocadillo you can buy for less than 5 euro.

There is so much more to learning than just sitting in a classroom. And the extravagant and exciting tomorrows will not end when I leave San Sebastián. This is something that I will take with me from my time abroad. When I go home, “tomorrow” will be a chance to share all my wonderful memories with my loved ones. “Tomorrow” will be a chance to utilize all the knowledge and growth I have acquired on this trip. One thing that is always certain is that tomorrow should never be wasted. Tomorrow – rain or shine, sleep deprived or well rested, alone or with friends – is always an opportunity to learn, grow, adventure, laugh and most importantly – eat gelato.