In an attempt to be independent and adventurous, I decided to travel to the Spanish city of Bilbao for one night a day ahead of the study abroad program in San Sebastián. It was mostly to save money on flights, but additionally I was looking forward to learning more about myself as I travelled solo. While it was a good time, it was also lonely, and I was looking forward to meeting up with the group once everyone arrived in Spain. I could not wait to experience all of the excursions planned for us, and being a sports fan, I was especially excited for the Jai Alai match we would be attending the first week. It was one of the activities that most interested me from the start, and the match turned out to be a great way to experience culture and bond with the other members of our group.
As a group, we travelled to the small coastal town of Hondarribia to watch the Jai Alai match, a sport that is unlike any other. The town has amazing architecture with clear French influences that reminds you of your proximity to France, which is just on the other side of a nearby river. Being in the city takes you back in time, a century other than our own. All of the buildings seem to have a purpose in the landscape, making the city picturesque and timeless. Visiting encourages you to think about the past and about all those who have come before. What really drew me in is how old everything is, and how it all still looks beautiful. The United States has incredible history, but nothing compares to the examples of ancient history that exist here in Spain and all over Europe. A building in Hondarribia is still standing from the year 958, a fact that displays the intelligence of humans then. Exploring the town, even for a short amount of time, was a window into the past that will stay with me forever.
The gorgeous Basque region has many incredible things to offer, but the one that has most surprised me so far has been the sport of Jai Alai, the fastest ball sport in the world. Because of how fast the ball moves, it requires great athleticism, skill and bravery to be an accomplished player. The athletes are working extremely hard and it is easy to see how difficult the sport is. Watching the game is an event, one that entertains and excites, and any viewer can see the amount of perseverance that it takes to become talented in the sport. Even though we went in without any knowledge of the rules or the way the game is played, we were able to catch on and enjoy alongside diehard fans.
The energy of the match is incredible. The fans are passionate, which creates an environment that is fun to be a part of. It is obvious that Jai Alai is an integral part of the culture. It is unique to the Basque people, just one of the many ways they continue to celebrate their history today and continue their cultural traditions into the future. I feel truly lucky to have gone to the match alongside so many excited Basque fans who seem to find a good time anywhere. Their energy is infectious, and I hope that I can bring it home to experience life joyfully.
Being able to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience was unforgettable. I not only loved the cultural experience, but also being around the new friends that I never would have met had it not been for this trip. It was a great way to be immersed into another aspect of Basque culture and to get involved in an event that so many people love. Seeing the fans enjoy the sport was a peek into what Basque life is like, and it was a demonstration of a life lived for happiness. Being social and present in the moment are two things that are valued here in the Basque Country, and I am learning to not always look ahead to what is happening next, but to live in the now. Being surrounded by Basques reminded me to appreciate the little things in life and not to get too caught up in the stress and uncertainty. There is a lot to be learned from the Basques, and I am so glad I am able to be their student, even if it is just for three weeks.