Everyone tells me that the semester after coming back from abroad is the Worst Semester Ever. If if is, I have yet to notice; my mood is generally very contented, if somewhat stressed. The informational sheets tell me that many people coming back find their former acquaintances to be provincial, insular, and generally somewhat thoughtless.
I have not encountered anything of the sort. I really liked the people I met in Spain, and while they certainly knew a great more than I did on any number of topics, if we are talking about knowing things in general, I really think that many of my Smith and Philadelphia acquaintances are better-informed than Pepi and her family or many of the other Spaniards I met. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that Córdoba was not a very big city, whereas Philadelphia is a major metropolitan area, and Northampton, while also not large, is a smallish college city with a mobile population rather than the sort of small town where nobody ever goes anywhere.
This is not to say that I am never discontented, but I think that occasional feelings of loneliness owe more to missing people who aren’t around anymore rather than unhappiness with the people who remain. I do look at Smith slightly differently for having been away, but this doesn’t make me like my friends or my classes any less (indeed, the classes compare quite favorably; the teachers care what I think – can you imagine?!).
Do I miss Spain?
In short – no.
In long – not particularly. I miss people that I met there (I should write Pepi and Ana a letter; I’ve been intending to do it for ages!), but I also feel that I have been recompensed by regaining the company of a bunch of friends I left behind and the added bonus of several new and interesting people.
Everyone seems to think that I should miss the Spanish lifestyle, particularly the siesta, but I’m not a nap sort of person. It was nice to settle down and relax in mid-afternoon, but it was also kind of infuriating that none of the stores were open (my perfect class schedule has only morning classes and then I can run errands in the afternoon, and I kept forgetting that one can’t do that in Spain). And the thing about siesta was that it made everything else so late. I don’t mind at all having my 1:00 classes be after lunch again, and I like 10:00 bedtime much better than 10:00 suppertime.
Things were slower, yes, and I liked that, but there were also times that I felt listless and restless. My classes weren’t challenging enough to keep me occupied. I didn’t really know what to do with myself on days where I wasn’t doing activities all day, or on weekends. I didn’t have enough of the sort of friends one can just hang out with to fill my empty times with socializing, and I wound up spending a ridiculous amount of time on the internet. Living with Pepi and Ana, though they were wonderful, was also a little isolating; it was hard to make friends with both Spaniards and Americans outside the apartment because there were very few of the everyday social situations that I am accustomed to use to make friends. In short, I didn’t have enough to do, and I found it hard to come up with things to do so that I felt challenged and/or useful.
I sometimes feel a little silly that I don’t miss Spain more; everyone seems to think I should, just like they seem to think that I should be having a difficult transition back. But sorry, kids, I don’t and I’m not. I liked Spain, and I’m glad that I went, and I would enjoy going back sometime, but I don’t particularly wish that I were there right now.
I had an interesting revelation in Portuguese class the other day. We were working with the verbs ter (to have) and gostar de ter (would like to have), and the professor had handed out a sheet with a list of stuff on it: money, a car, a bicycle, clothes, a stereo, and a bunch of other stuff that I don’t remember at the moment. While looking at the list and discussing items that we temos, não temos, e gostamos de ter, I realized that there was nothing on that list that would make me any happier. A car would be convenient at times, but I don’t really want one, and it would generally be a hassle. It would be nice to have more money, to not be taking out any student loans and not having my mom pay gobs of money to send me to school, but neither the student loans or the knowledge that my mother is paying for my education make me unhappy. There’s nothing that I need to buy that I can’t afford. And while there are things that I should get, like pants that aren’t falling apart, I have clothing now and I’ll still have clothing when I buy more, and I won’t be any more or less happy after I have it.
This realization got me to thinking, and I couldn’t think of anything that I didn’t have that would make me in any way substantially more contented with my life, except possibly a functioning teleporter, and I believe that you can’t buy one of those for love or money.
The long and short of which is, I’m pretty happy with my life the way it is right now. I’m sometimes stressed out, but I’m not doing more than I can handle, and I’m surrounded by friends and doing things I enjoy. I have signed up to be in charge of a convention next year, though. We’ll see how that goes. Or how I feel in two weeks, in the middle of two midterms with the weekend after break helping with this year’s convention and the weekend after that spent in Wisconsin poking people with flexible metal sticks. But I’m not going to stress about that right now; I’ll just get as much work as I can done ahead of time and then take life as it comes.
As Jane Eyre says, “there is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow-creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort.”
I would add, however, that it’s nice to like them, too.
I’m somewhere in Connecticut at the moment, heading homewards. There’s something very soothing about traveling by train. I like the feeling of peering into moments of many other lives: a turtle sunning itself on a log, a man casting his line into a lake, and the ploosh of the bobber as it lands, three beats of a hawks wings before it lands on a tree and is gone, two men sitting under a balcony pointing a leaf-patterned umbrella into the wind, swans floating majestically on a lake, soccer balls bouncing high in the air, an old truck rusting next to a doghouse with “Molly” painted over the door, an Xtracycle lounging in a bike rack with the normal bicycles, backyards submerged in inches of water with forgotten bouncy balls floating amidst the flooded bracken, two boys in a building waving at the train.
America doesn’t always show its nicest or best-kept face to train travelers, but there’s something unguarded about the glimpses of life seen from a speeding train. People don’t seem to feel the need to fence of their lives from a train in quite the same way that they do from a highway, and the passage does not disturb the wildlife going about its business. All the same, I will be glad to slow down, get off at 30th street, and rejoin the usual flow of life.