Sad It’s Over, But Very Glad It Happened

I remember our first day in Spain like it was yesterday. It was a surreal and shocking experience to say the least. As soon as the front door of my host family’s apartment opened, all I could think was “what have I gotten myself into?”. The sudden emersion into the Spanish language was, for someone who has never studied Spanish before, a little scary. With the blink of an eye I had crossed the threshhold of the trip I’d been dreaming about since last fall. I was in San Sebastián: where the food is meant for all to have access to, and the sun doesnt set until nearly 10 pm. Standing on the shore of La Concha that first night I had no idea how this trip would play out. But thanks to the structure of this specific study abroad, quick friendships were able to form and cement themselves within these 3 weeks. Friendships that we will most definitely continue to grow and cultivate back at Umass Lowell.

The very structure of this trip that allows for such friendships is simple. Throw this group of college kids into a foreign country and let the culture and cuisine of the Basque country overtake them: even overwhelm them in part. This will draw them nearer to each other due to the sharing of such a new and large scale experience. Our almost daily excursions with our professor also helped to show us the wonders of being abroad, whilst creating the perfect atmosphere for us students to become close friends. For example, during our pintxo tours we had to encourage one another to try some of the more daring culinary dishes our professor ordered, such as octopus or ox tail. On our free days we had to support one another when our Spanish skills fell short, and we had to watch out for one another while we explored the city at night. It became evident through our actions how much we cared for one another. We would always tell group members to “text us when you make it home safely!”. Grant even came to the bus stop in the rain at 8 am just to say goodbye as some of us left for the airport, which was very sweet.

There were so many amazing experiences I had while on this trip, and I’m glad that along the way I made new friends to remember those experiences by. I am of firm belief that getting to study abroad brought us closer together than we might have been if we didn’t have our amazing professor to teach us and lead us around the city. Thanks to him and this trip, I feel like I really lived in Spain. I learned Spanish and Basque language, recipes, and customs. Most importantly, I feel connected to the city that I now know so much about. And I’ve come to realize how much I miss San Sebastián. I miss the sounds I heard at night through my bedroom window; the laughter, the ocean, and the distant music from jazz concerts along the shore. I miss walking everywhere, especially to the stunning beaches. I miss having my friends to explore with and try new things with. And just hours from my departure, I could undoubtedly confirm that the scariest part of our trip wasn’t the arrival. It wasn’t not knowing how to speak the native language of this land or going through the airport by myself for the first time. The scariest thing about this trip is that it will never happen again and I don’t want to forget it. I don’t want to forget how it felt being 19 and in Spain for the first time. Or how amazing it was to be studying Spanish and immediately getting to practice it out in the city. I don’t want to forget all the beautiful places we visited and the various people we met from around the globe. I dont want to be anyone but who I became on this trip: the person who tries new things and says yes to experiences that might scare them. And I most definitely will not be in Spain again with the best group of friends I could ask for and our wonderful professor. To love something so much, and know it’ll never happen again in the same fashion is heartbreaking. But like I told Aislinn after she had finished her last bite of the worlds best tortilla, “don’t be sad it’s over, be glad that it happened”.









Thank you Honors College at Umass Lowell and Prof. Z for making such a powerful experience possible for our group. I will be forever grateful for this trip and what it has done for me as a person, and I’m sure my classmates feel the same.

Connected at the Core

As our adventure here in San Sebastián nears to an end, it is impossible not to think about our time spent here so far. Personally for me, the idea of leaving my home, family, and of course my dog to go to a foreign country seemed like a daunting task. I had never been outside the United States before, and even living at college, UMass Lowell was about a 20 minute drive from my house. However, shortly after being here, the apprehension faded away as I realized I had found a new sort of family and a temporary home here.

Today started as most other weekdays since we’ve been here. While some days we ate breakfast with our host family, today we went to our favorite cafe in the neighborhood, Ogi Berri. This little bakery and cafe is one of the only chains I have seen in my time here. Then we went to class and on our break, we sat in the same cafe, around the same table, we have sat at every day since we’ve been here. It’s funny to think that we almost feel as though we have a claim to a few little things in this city despite having only lived here for less than three weeks now. However, after class, instead of going out and walking through Parte Veija, eating pinxtos at pintxo pote in Gros, or hitting the beach, we went back to our house to get ready for what was sure to be the highlight of the day: our farewell dinner and tour of a Basque Cider House.

After getting all dressed up for the night, we took a bus to Petritegi Cider House. The sidrería has been around for generations, since the 16th century, and currently the 6th generation is operating and running the business. Behind the building we were going to be eating at later, lied rows of apples of various varieties. The orchard itself grows 16 different kinds of apples consisting of multiple acidic, bitter, and sweet types. However, only a small amount of sweet apples are used in the making of the cider. One of the first things we did was taste regular apples and the apples used for the cider to experience the difference between the two. The cider apples had a much more potent taste than the apples we are used to back home.

After this, our guide explained to us the process behind making the cider itself. They harvest all of the apples manually by using a stick with a nail attached. Given this day and age, it is fascinating that they still use this method. In order to cultivate the best apples, every three days from September-November they gather the apples that have fallen from the trees. The reason they do not take them from the trees is because they are at there best when they naturally fall. From there the apples are cleaned and fermented in a process that seemed similar to the process explained to us at the winery. Petritegi cider is made 100% natural. This means that if not for the fermentation process, it would actually be just apple juice with no preservatives or additives. Once they are placed in the barrels, the cider can only remain for 4 months without turning into vinegar. Because of this, it is moved gradually to colder cellars to slow down the reaction process.

After this informative and interesting tour, we were brought into a room to try 2 different ciders and chorizo. One cider was made with 100% basque apples, while the other had apples that were imported as well. However, the real star of the tour was the chorizo. All of us were in agreement that the chorizo at Petritegi was the best we have had since being here.

However, while the actual tour and details we learned were interesting and an amazing way to spend the night, it was the dinner that truly made me realize how much I am going to miss this experience. While trying different batches of cider, we were given a feast of tortilla with bacalao, hake, steak, cheese, cookies, and, as always, as much bread as we could eat. Sitting around the table with everyone was a perfect farewell. We talked, laughed, and overall just genuinely enjoyed each others company. Many of us made promises to one another to hang out during the school year and it was overwhelmingly bittersweet to realize this trip was coming to a close. Even so, at least I can say I may have only come here having one friend with me, but I am leaving with many more. We became a sort of family in San Sebastián, and I will always be grateful to have shared this experience with each and every person here.

The Best is Yet to Come

It’s true what people say, the best things happen when you least expect it. I never expected to live in San Sebastian for three weeks. Furthermore, never could I have imagined being here with this specific group of people. Yet, now I can’t imagine it any other way. I expected the beautiful beaches and incredible gastronomy. After all, three of the top fifty Michelin star restaurants are housed within the city and this was where the Royal Family and aristocrats came to escape the court. Yet, they have not been the most memorable for me.
In the city surrounded by tourists, it is easy to believe that is all San Sebastian has to offer. However if you keep your eyes open, San Sebastian never fails to surprise. Whether its a coffee shop surrounded by bars or a mixed media painting along a tunnel, each time I step out onto the street I find pieces of history tucked away in the most unexpected of places.

For instance, located at the top of Monte Igueldo, is the Parque de Atraciones. This amusement park dates back to 1912 and hosts Spain’s third oldest funicular. There you can relive your childhood with a ride on the merry-go-round, bumper cars, and boat. You can also enjoy a view of the city on a ride around the mountaintop. But, what never ceases to amaze me is how well the amusement park is integrated with its surroundings. I would have never guessed there would be an amusement park on top of Monte Igueldo despite the number of times I’ve seen it from afar.

Similarly, the Comb of the Winds is an collection of sculptures that not only accentuates its surroundings, but tells a story of San Sebastian’s past, present, and future. The locals were fishermen and sailors who depended on the wind to survive. At the base of Monte Igueldo, the most prominent sculpture represents the present. Directly in front is the sculpture seated in a island shaped by the water and wind, representing a past where the Bay of Biscay had not existed. Meanwhile, seated at the horizon, farther away, is the future. However, unlike other installations, the Comb of the Winds does not dominate the space it occupies. Rather, it allows the wind and the waves to speak for themselves. The plaza leading to the sculptures is full of holes that make sound as water passes through. The sculptures themselves are open to the elements and blend with the granite allowing it to evolve alongside the city of San Sebastian.
The emphasis on preserving history and the natural beauty of the city is what makes San Sebastian so special. While back home space would have to be created in order for an amusement park or sculpture to be installed, here they add to overall character and history of the city. Combined with the relaxed atmosphere of the city and its inhabitants, I am always left wondering what else there is left undiscovered. I have no doubt the best is yet to come.