It was Friday night and we all packed into the back room of a restaurant for one final meal together. Three weeks ago at this time we were all strangers to one another. We took a chance, and all decided to fly to a foreign country in order to expand our horizons. Now we are joined around the dinner table as friends, nearly at the end of our adventure. Over the course of the last three weeks I have been able to take part in a plethora of new experiences which all culminated in this dinner. I was able to taste some of the best cuisine in Europe through a Pintxo tasting tour. I got to participate in a cooking class at a local gastronomic society, where we were welcomed in and treated like regulars. I got to witness a jai alai match in the neighboring town of Hondarribia. I was also able to venture into France and witness some ancient witches caves.

Now as we sit around this table and share one last example of culinary excellence, it’s time to digest not only our food, but also what this trip meant to us. This time of reflection allowed me to recognize several major takeaways. The first thing I realized is that despite coming from different countries, speaking different languages, and having different cultures, people are fundamentally very similar. It was astonishing to me just how much I was able to understand what people were saying to me even though I understood little to no Spanish. For instance, our host mother Maritxu was a sweet old basque woman who graciously opened up her home to us. She did not speak any English and we spoke limited Spanish. When I first discovered this I was slightly panicked and thought that it would be a difficult 3 weeks. However, my initial worries were quickly put to rest once we actually met Maritxu. She seemed very happy to have us in her house and cook for us. We were also able to decipher almost everything she told us after a good while of gesticulation and slow speaking. Also everyone we met at Lacunza was very friendly and eager to share stories with us. Through this process I was shocked to discover just how similar we were to college students from all over the world.

As the farewell dinner carried on, and we devoured 5 giant steaks, another aspect of the trip dawned on me. This was the idea that exploration and immersion truly are the best ways to learn. We have only been in San Sebastián for 3 weeks, but I can confidently say that I have begun to feel a sense of belonging in the city. During the first few days we would wander the streets and get lost down the alleyways of the old town. However, by the end of our trip we were navigating the streets and neighborhoods like locals without a second thought. We would walk into a few of our favorite pintxo bars and the bartenders would already know our order. I also found myself explaining much of what I learned to the other students we met at Lacunza. This deep level of understanding would be borderline impossible without physically traveling to the city, and getting lost in the culture.

By this time in the feast we were all stuffed, and exhausted. To end the dinner we were all served a traditional basque dessert which was very good and oddly reminded me of popcorn. Then Julian gave us some parting words to wrap up the trip and that was it. I don’t think anyone fully accepted that the trip was over until the walk home. I walked back through Gros, crossed the canal, and went along the boulevard back to Maritxu’s apartment. The walk home was almost as if I was able to relive the trip as we passed each location that we visited and the memories came flooding in there was a certain stillness to the city. It was a strange sensation of joy and sadness. When we returned to Maritxu’s house we went up to the roof and took in the city for one last time.

The next day we woke up, made our beds, gave Maritxu a hug, thanked her for her incredible hospitality, and were sent on our way with one of Maritxu’s infamous peaches. Rob and I silently walked to the bus station eating our peaches and knew that it was time to wake up from the dream that was San Sebastián. Although I am uncertain weather or not I will be able to return to this city in the future. I do believe that we have made memories here that will last a lifetime. This adventure has allowed me to experience something profound, and for that I am eternally grateful.

I Don’t Want to See the World

Waking up on a Saturday morning is a hard task on its own. When my alarm clock went off at 9am the first thought on my mind was: “Why am I going sight seeing right now?” Nevertheless, we all showed up on time and filled in the bus, ready to go. The destination that we had in mind were the Witches’ Caves. The bus ride including stops for sight seeing and stopping for food took probably around 4 hours. My energy was at an all-time low. I thought my body was going to fail me. But it didn’t, when I saw the Caves and the beauty of the naturally formed rocks and the water that flows and drips to create a background noise that could only have been described as serene, I only felt amazement. When Professor Z told us that we were then going to hike for 15 minutes to see a lookout of the surrounding area I was excited. The same person who was slumped in his seat was ready to trek up a mountain to see the countryside. Looking back at it now I’m still surprised I wasn’t dreading the Saturday morning hike.

I had never been out of the country before going on this trip, so I had just assumed that it would be like any other family vacation. I would be dragged to places that I wouldn’t want to go and I would deal with the obligatory tourist destinations in exchange for the time off from responsibilities. I first realized that this would not be the case when we drove to the city and we were driving through valleys and mountain ranges, me staring in awe.

This feeling of wanting to explore and see everything is completely new to me. If I spend any time in my host mother’s house, it feels wrong. Not because she is a bad host mother, she is great by the way, but because I have the freedom and opportunity to see something new everyday.

Which brings me back to the Caves. I knew what was in the Caves before I left for the trip, I saw pictures and even voted to go there at a pre-trip meeting. This simplification of traveling by myself I think has been limiting me. I saw the Caves in the photos, but I didn’t experience the Caves. You smell the humidity, you feel the smooth rocks that have been eroded by water, and the most defining image, the light creeping in from the mouth of the cave illuminating the stream that runs through it.

I’ve been thinking, and I’ve come the conclusion that the difference between this trip and the ones that I’ve gone on previously is independence. When I’m going on a trip with my family, I never have time to breathe. I never really have time to really take in what is happening. This trip has opened my eyes to what travel is meant to be.

People always say they want to “See the World” but I think that’s wrong, you should want to “Experience the World.” I have been seeing the world for my entire life leading up to this and what do I have to show for it? I can say “I’ve been to this city,” but what does that do for me more than just being another notch on the belt. I would say San Sebastián is the first city that I have truly lived in besides my home town. I know how to walk around this city better than Boston, and I’ve been here for 2 weeks while I’ve been going into Boston for my entire life. I’ll tell people here that I’m from Boston to make explaining where I’m from easier, but this trip has made me think about the meaning of what I’m saying. This trip has made me want to go back to all the cities I’ve visited over the years. I want to experience those cities rather than just go through the motions.

This trip has given me something that no other city or place has been able to for all my nineteen years, an appreciation for the world’s places and the different things and culture you’ll see in it.

A Conversation With Marti Buckley

Marti Buckley is an American author best known for her cookbook Basque Country: A Culinary Journey Through a Food Lover’s Paradise, which was released September 2018. We had the opportunity to sit down with her one on one and listen to her story. To be honest, I did not know much about her or her writing prior to this conversation other than having heard Professor Zabalbeascoa’s previous praise and recommendation of her book. However, I didn’t give it too much thought because how interesting could a cookbook really be? My opinion changed drastically after listening to her speak. 

Buckley began her story by establishing a connection between us and herself. She explained how her affinity to Basque culture began when she was just 21 years old studying abroad in Pamplona which is only an hour drive from where we are in San Sebastián. She also made it clear that the Basque Country was not her top choice to study abroad at since her heart was set on Madrid. Looking back she could not even remember why she wanted to be in Madrid so badly, since she instantly fell in love with the Basque way of life. It goes to show that everything happens for a reason considering this trip essentially paved the road for the rest of her life. When she got back to her ordinary life in America, she went through many jobs including various writing gigs, but what stood out the most was that she actually got hands on experience in the kitchen for some time. She learned the hard way about the stress that goes on behind the scenes at a top notch restaurant and she had scars on her arms to prove it. This experience allowed her to gain a new mentor and insight in the kitchen. However, after being fascinated with the Basque Country in college, she always felt the urge to go back, so when the opportunity arose to return to Spain years later, she took it in a heartbeat. Her one year trip eventually became her new life here in the Basque Country.

Along with her tips on the best pintxo bars and sit down restaurants in San Sebastián, Buckley offered some more valuable life advice. She emphasized that we should let the flow guide us and not rush the process it takes to get to wherever our final destination may be. Although the Basque Country accounts for only a small portion of Spain and France, Buckley realized that she still had so much to learn about this small area before she could write her book. Similarly, back home we get so caught up in the difficulties of the semester that we fail to appreciate the beauty of getting an education. However, this past week and a half in San Sebastián has been a different sort of experience. Each day I have been able to absorb so much of the Basque culture that would not have been possible without physically being here exploring the city and interacting with the locals. It was not until this experience that I realized how big the rest of the world is. I grew up in the same small city of Revere for 20 years and though I have travelled within the US, this is my first time in Europe. Buckley as well the international students I have met in my Spanish class at Lacunza have inspired me to travel beyond this trip.

Some may say that the Basques have a hesitancy to try new things mainly due to the fact that they had to fight to defend their land and language for so long. But, as Buckley, said a huge factor which makes Basque cuisine so unique is the simplicity of it. That is what I am enjoying the most about this experience. Almost every street we walk through has a small market offering fresh produce. There is also an abundance of fresh seafood markets with a wider selection of products that I have ever seen. People here take their time walking through the streets — really appreciating and taking in the area around them. The atmosphere is so different from back home where it feels as though everyone is racing to get through life. It is this simplistic way of life which I hope sticks with me upon returning home. I have learned here that there is no direct path in life. We will encounter detours that will help shape who we are for better or worse. And who knows, I might even move to Spain in the future.

Kaixo from San Sebastián!

Euskaraz badakizu? Ez? (Do you speak Euskera? No?) It’s okay, neither do I, and only around 700,000 people do. Euskera, the Basque language, is unlike any other in the world. It has no relation to any other language, and no known origin, and it also happens to be the oldest living language in Europe. Despite its mysterious history, Euskera is a vital aspect of the Basque culture. Encompassing parts of Northern Spain and Southwestern France, the Basque Country has a unique history of its own involving conflicts between culture and politics resulting in attempts at eradicating the language. Luckily the Basques held strong, and Euskara recovered to the point where it is considered a co-official language of the Basque Country along with Spanish.

The boat rocked back and forth like a roller coaster as we approached the little island in the bay. Although less than 10 minutes in duration, the boat ride offered picturesque views of San Sebastián’s coast line. The clear, blue water was vast in comparison to our little boat, and even in the bay, sheltered from open water, the waves were rough. The wind swept through our hair as we took in the panorama— La Concha spanned off to our left, filled with people basking in the sun and playing in the water and Mount Urgull stood behind, displaying the giant statue of Jesus looming at its peak. Around us, paddle-boarders, kayakers, and sailers moved up and down with the waves, our boat careful not to get in their way as we rode along.

Once safely docked and onshore, we climbed up Santa Clara Island to a patch of grass overlooking the water where we began our discussion on the novel Homeland by Fernando Aramburu. Examining various parts of Basque history and culture through the context of the book, we were given a deeper understanding of the importance of the language, creating a lead-in to the main event— the Basque Language class. Stuart, our Euskera instructor, had us enthralled with his copious amounts of jokes and accents in an attempt for us to retain the information. We read aloud words in a circle, trying our best to pronounce the foreign words and sounds before learning their meanings. In the span of 45 minutes we had been given just a taste of the difficulty of Euskera. Starting with basic greetings, we quickly moved on to numbers and simple questions like zein (who), non (where), and zergatik (why). The class concluded with common Basque names, and nature vocabulary terms before attempting short role-playing conversations. As I write this blog the day after the class, I can confidently say I only remember about 5 words because of the difficulty and irregularity of the language.

In the US, we take language for granted.  Some travel around the world with the assumption that wherever they go there will be people who can speak English—this is certainly not always the case, but people who speak other languages don’t have this same thought process. As English-speaking Americans, we forget how much of an impact language has on culture until we come into a head-on collision with a language barrier. Not only have I encountered Spanish and Basque on this trip, but Russian and Thai (from other students living with my host family), Dutch and French (from students in Spanish class at Lacunza) and so many more as well. The list of languages I have encountered while here goes on and on, but the way that they all interact together is a thing of beauty.

Stuart leading the class

 I took Spanish in middle school and high school and wasn’t thrilled by it, becoming frustrated with the various conjugations and vocabulary, but here in Spain, I couldn’t be more fascinated by it. Actively learning Spanish and immediately using it in the real world outside of the classroom offers another perspective, emphasizing the importance of communication. What has also become apparent is how many languages Europeans are taught in schools, a stark contrast with the American school system in which I was raised. The students in our Spanish classes in general are more or less fluent in around three different languages, having been taught in school from a very young age. Whereas most of us on this study abroad trip are in the most basic levels of Spanish.

Because the Basque language is specific to the Basque Country, preserving it is paramount, so much so that some children are taught strictly in Euskera until a certain age in which Spanish is slowly integrated as well. I am in awe of those that can bounce back and forth between the two even in the same conversation, and I now try to listen for Basque as I walk around this beautiful city that I have come to call home for this past week and a half. So, to all my friends and family back in the US: laster arte (see you soon). Adventure awaits.