A Necessary End to My Favorite Chapter

“Good people do things and never know why. Great people do things and know the purpose.”

Eoin Fray

How in the world do I start this? Certainly, it has been way too long since I blogged. Thinking back, I know now that I refrained from writing because I wanted to be so connected to what I was seeing and experiencing that imagining how I was going to write about it would somewhat hinder me in living in those moments. I’ve been home now for 3 weeks, and wanted to give myself some time until I decided to come back to everything in Bilbao and my study abroad journey of a lifetime.

Everyday I’ve been home has been a constant and slow adjustment to life back in America. During these weeks I’ve been able to see the drastic differences between Spain and here, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. Don’t get me wrong, being with my family and best friends is everything to me. And that statement there stems from the most valuable lesson I learned from everything that happened over the course of last semester. I’ll explain. After reading my blogs again, it gives me reassurance in my realization that before I left, I legitimately had no idea what was to come. I mean really, it came so quick that all I could do was buckle up and hold on. You don’t know how it is to be on your own, in a completely different culture until you experience it first hand. Before it begins you don’t know how you’ll feel, what you’ll think about, or what you’ll do. Granted, this is what I wanted from my semester abroad; a culturally gripping, reality-changing, radically life-altering experience. Oh, and I got that. But what I’m saying is that the past months have taught me lessons that would take me days to count, and ones that I still have yet to discover. However, in the clouded array and mumbo jumbo of all these ideas, one in particular stands out.

I know now the only things that matter in my life: my family and friends. When people ask me about what I missed while I was away I try and change my normal answer, maybe I can remember something that I hadn’t yet. But I mean, throw Chipotle in the mix and that just about settles it. The time away taught me what I actually have and care about, and that’s them. It also taught me that all the other bullshit doesn’t matter. It figures itself out, and if it doesn’t…well, just forget about it.

Without my family, none of this would’ve happened. I’m so extremely lucky to have had an experience like this, being able to travel all throughout Europe is more than most people can say they’ve done in their entire lives. God, I just can’t even believe it. I thought before I left I was a traveler/adventurer/whatever you want to call it. Haha, if only I actually were. But today, I am that. The semester only opened the door for what is to come, and that is the World. You aren’t meant to stay where you’ve lived, to see repeatedly the same things and people. No way! We’re meant to move, learn, grow, and repeat.

Truly, it’s impossible to convey how much I fell in love with Bilbao and all of the countries and cultures I encountered. All in all, I went to ten countries and saw things and met people that will leave me with countless stories for as long as I live. I drank beer in Belgium while making friends with two Swedes. I had the best fish and chips in London. I went to the Holocaust Memorial in Germany and touched the Berlin Wall. I took a shot of the powerfully potent alcohol Absinthe in Hungary. I had some Gelato in Italy. I swam in the crystal clear water of Portugal. I rode a camel in Africa, and got back to the city just in time to hear the Islamic call to prayer (plus the food poisoning and allergic reaction as well). And who could forget France and The Netherlands. I visited numerous cities in Spain, and finally, I lived and studied in the most beautiful one of all: Bilbao.

Bilbao was home, and in a way it always will be. I’m still so connected to it because I look at everything in the eyes of the person it molded me into. I left a part of me there. I left people that I fell in love with, ones that truly can never be replaced or forgotten. When you’re in a new place, all you can do is learn. That in itself is a disastrously overlooked part of life. There weren’t enough hours in the day to learn new things; whether it was Spanish, or the unique cultural differences in the Basque Country there was always something. I have so many people to thank, and there isn’t anything I could say or give to ever repay them.

I was given a language, and with that a way to feel, communicate, and connect with others. My professors who became great friends understood the importance of young adults, especially Americans, learning another language. In language I found passion, an obsession and non-stop drive for knowledge. I was blessed with a perfect match in a host mother, Maika. She cared for me like I was her son and would be compassionate when needed and certainly demanding as well. I can remember vividly our first encounter and all I knew to say was Hola and gracias. How things have changed. When I left it was a snowball of emotions, filled with tears, and laughs. I learned so much that those two words turned into hundreds, thousands, and in that moment it became evident how powerful language truly is. It gave me the chance to build a lifelong bond with someone I never imagined ever meeting. Now, I’ll have to resort to weekly Skype sessions and frequent WhatsApp conversations until the next time my feet touch down in the Basque Country.

And finally, to all of the friends I made in Bilbao. Who I shared moments of complete bliss and sincere melancholy with. Who I embarked with in a journey where the end result was so unfathomable throughout it’s entirety that all we could do was simply live through it. Who were by my side through the best time of my life, who can relate to what I actually experienced: thank you doesn’t do it justice. I can only hope that we all found what we were looking for. Now, it is a simple hasta luego. Never could I forget the memories made, times spent, and bonds forged. Venga y agur a ti!

How Much English Is Too Much English?

Well, at this point, I’d say just about any. My last two weekends have been some of the most memorable and crazy I’ve ever experienced. My program had an international excursion to London last weekend and a couple of friends and I packed our bags for a wild weekend in Barcelona a few days ago. However, both these weekends came at a price of not being able to speak any Spanish. Obviously, I wasn’t expecting any in London, but Barcelona? C’mon now.





London was a city that you could never forget if you tried. The British accent and all the little sayings alike provided for some mere entertainment just from listening to locals’ conversation. I was on the edge of my seat the entire week awaiting our arrival in London due to the fact that my Father was born there, stayed for a couple months, and unfortunately had to move. He’s never been able to go back and see his roots, thus propelling me to see and experience all I could–and I most certainly did. But, throughout my life I’ve never been far from the British way of living; my grandmother lived in London for 20 odd years and grew up in the heart of the city. So, maybe you can imagine how I felt standing close to where she lived when the Germans bombed the city during World War II.  My anxiety had come full circle by the end of Thursday night. We were supposed to catch a late flight on Thursday to Stansted Airport outside of London, but this was met with some problems. As our plane had arrived and we were waiting in line, a kind (yet soon to become, terribly, terribly annoying voice) came over the loud speaker to inform us that the plane had been struck by lightning and they would let us know the status of the flight in 15 minutes. 15 minutes? Oh that’s not too bad, right? Sure, yeah when 15 minutes is actually an hour and a half? Yeah, that sucks. Anyways, it had taken over an hour and a half for that beautiful voice to haunt our dreams and tell us that the flight had been cancelled. Being now about 11 PM, we all were very tired, but come to find out it would only be the beginning to a very long night. With doubts that we’d even be able to get a flight the next morning, we waited for over 3 and a half hours for the airport to send us back to Bilbao’s center where we’d eventually stay in a 5-star hotel (pretty cool). By 3 AM we arrived to the hotel and had to catch a bus back just a few hours later for our flight to London. With no sleep, it was time for the weekend I’d been waiting for.



API, the program I’m studying with has been truly amazing, and on all of our excursions they give us the best of the best tour guides, things to do, and places to see. London was no different and after the day of travel we started the weekend with a bus guided tour of all the highlights of the city. Our tour guide was hilarious, filled with British jokes and sayings ranging from “Tiddlywinks” to “Easy peasy lemon squeezy”. Yes, they actually say this stuff! But immediately, I learned that London housed many more landmarks and history than I previously thought. This fact excited me, but at the same time showed me that just 3 days in the city wasn’t going to ever be able to satisfy my hunger for the place so ingrained in me. That night after the tour, we went to some good ol’ London pubs to drink pints and watch the England vs. Wales rugby game. Rugby there is like football in the US, and the pubs were filled with passionate fans and cheering pints with mates.







The rest of the weekend consisted of seeing landmarks like Westminster Abby, “Big Ben” (literally not the correct name), Portabello Markets, The British Museum (awesome), and Buckingham Palace. Out of everywhere, Portabello Markets was one of the coolest places I’ve ever been; miles of outside vendors in a tightly packed street, where you could virtually find whatever you wanted and provided some memories to last a lifetime. In particular, a friend of mine Tanner and I kindly strolled into this shop with pictures and posters and had a quick conversation with a worker that finished with “Have a great night, thank you!”. As I walked out, I heard him give us a good “Damn yankees, all they ever do is come in and never buy anything”. HAHA, how cool is that? The problem with this is that I’m not a Yankee, I’m a Red Sawk, but that’s for another time and place. After walking miles, seeing all we could, and having a few pints we made our way back to the hotel to try and rest our legs for whatever the night were to bring us ahead.

Yeah, that didn’t happen. Within 10 minutes I convinced myself that time was a wastin’ and signed up for a Pub Crawl which was supposed to start in like 18 minutes from receiving the “success, you registered” email.


Accompanied by the group, we made our way to the first bar and started having a great time which would continue long into the morning with discounted drinks, good music, and even better company. On Sunday, our flight was to leave in the middle of the afternoon so the morning was all the time we had left to spend. I went to the absolutely beautifully humongous Hyde Park in the city’s center and enjoyed the rare sun and warm weather. Ah, what a weekend and only wish these fingers had the power to convey everything I experienced.


The crew packed up and we left for Barcelona on Friday morning. Now, all I’ve ever really heard about Barcelona is that it’s a beautiful, yet touristy city on the eastern coast of Spain coastlined by the Mediterranean Sea. And, yup these preconceived notions were just about right. Don’t get me wrong, Barcelona was absolutely sick. But, I’m happy that I never really considered spending my abroad experience there due to the fact that I heard more English than Spanish in my time there. Yeah, I’m not kidding. I’d go up to someone and ask a question in Spanish and they would respond in English because they could tell I was American. Or give a greeter at a restaurant an “Hola”, but they’d come back with “Hello”. NO. PLEASE. I don’t want to speak English. But Barcelona is awesome, with a ton to do, and see. Oh yeah, I even got a haircut at an American place. But, I must admit they had a small DJ and free drinks so…it was a good choice.






We got to take a snooze on the beach, see some of Barcelona’s highlights, stroll through some parks, dance at a club, and just plain live and enjoy a new place. But this whole English thing really confuses me. In Barcelona, the locals speak a different dialect of Spanish called Catalan and some of the locals’ conversations I could hear I was surprised of the difference from up north in Bilbao. But, as I look back I’m astonished of the amount of English I was around. I mean, yeah I guess I was visiting touristy sections and places but wow, I never expected that. I guess it’s a good thing though when your barber speaks English, just in case.



Once again, it’s phenomenal to be back in my home in Bilbao. But this return was a little different than the others I’ve had. My house mom, Maika had informed me last weekend that for the next month we’d have a visitor living in our apartment. So when I arrived, an exchange student from Germany was sitting at the table. So now, I have the opportunity to learn some German, but at the same time I’m sharing a bathroom with a girl for the first time. I guess that’s not a bad trade-off? We’ll have to see. As I’m typing away, I can hear Maika talking to Jackie in very, very basic Spanish. But I guess if I re-winded time to 6 weeks ago I was in the exact same boat. Now, I look back and think of how much Spanish I’ve learned and I surprise myself more and more as time goes on.

I’ve thought so much about what language is, how essential it is to life, and how I want to become as fluent as possible in Spanish. Just in these 6 weeks, I feel like I can honestly understand what other people are talking about, get a gist for what they are asking, all by picking out key words. The problem I’m having is being able to correctly express what I’m feeling. At times, I have to resort to the most basic way of conveying what I truly want to say. And this, here, is what I mean by how important language is. We communicate our love, or hatred for something by using a different combination of 26 letters. The difference between I love and I like, I’m aggravated and I’m mad; all these are words with similar meanings but drastic differences when it comes to conversation. Language is so immensely complex, and being away from English has made me realize that the ability to tell someone what you truly want is a luxury we take for granted daily. Thus, pushing me to try my best and learn Spanish in a way where I can do just that. It’ll take time, but I’m in the best place for it. As I’m wrapping this one up, the new roommate is speaking to someone back home in German, but I guess that’s better than English.

Do You Remember?


A painting by El Greco, I think he’s become my favorite artist (illegal to take pictures, but hey it worked out)

As I sit here now, drinking a glass of Vino Tinto (red wine), in the middle of a buzzing coffee shop surrounded by conversations, some I can understand, and some I can’t, in the heart of the culturally rich, energy filled city of Bilbao I can’t help but sit back, look around and hope that I will never forget this moment. Legitimately everyday for the last month I’ve told myself that I never want to lose the memories I’m making here. Whether an encounter with a local, the walk to school, spanish class, or the numerous amount of laughs I’ve had I can’t help but realize how lucky I am to be where I am. It seems that this adventure is a mere four month vacation, since class is so enjoyable and they are all taught in Spanish, school only facilitates me as I go out and try and conquer this beautiful city.


Flight from Santander, Spain to Brussels
I started writing the other day about how I can remember “better”. But it wasn’t right, I stopped and put my notebook down, leaving it for another time. I see now that I was attempting to ask a question that cannot be answered. Yes, I can write in a journal or try to live more in every moment that passes me by, however, there was a reason the piece didn’t feel right. I realized it’s inevitable that we forget things. Simply, it’s impossible to remember every person, conversation, experience, and moment. Over the last day of putting my notebook down, it hit me that we only remember the things we want to remember. Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but what do you remember? About anything, anyone, anytime? The first time seeing your best friend, or maybe a time in which you succeeded in something you put so much effort into. These are moments that make you, and give merit to this surreal thing we call “life”. I remember so much, yet so little at the same time but what I do recall has made me who I am, and continuously alters the path I walk on. These moments are ingrained within me, just like the footprints I leave in the dirt on my path.
Some artwork on the street in Brussels
The Grand Place (Brussels, Belgium)
Another picture of the Grand Place
It’s almost been an entire month since I arrived in Europe, and for once I don’t think it’s gone by in the blink of an eye. Each day here holds so much importance,substantiality at its finest. When I first saw Bilbao I remember telling myself that this foreign place would become home. And at that time I couldn’t really fathom that idea. After spending last weekend perusing around the city of Brussels, Belgium; a new place with much to do, see, and experience, it was a warming feeling to walk into my home stay here and greet my “mother”,Maika, to tell her I had survived. Belgium was cold, snowy, but AWESOME. The hostel I stayed in was how do you say this? Literally 85 degrees. Sweating, with no sleep I figured the best way to combat the funky-ness of the joint was to throw my backpack on and spend as much time in the city and away from the room as possible. It was the right choice. Finding myself in the middle of a bar in the heart of Brussels, drinking the best and strongest beer imaginable listening to American songs, no not songs, sorry…JAMS like “We Will Rock You” and “Mambo Number 5” I had the pleasure of meeting two guys from Sweden and shared experiences and stories with them for the rest of the weekend. Now, that’s something I’ll remember.
Belgian Waffles
There’s something about new experiences, a realization of some sorts that you can’t understand when you’re in the moment, and not even the next day. But, I let myself refrain from writing for a week and my memory (funny how that works) highlights what I really took from the weekend. So cool, I mean literally the weekend was so friggin’ cool. Update: now it’s been two days and I’m writing on the bus to a winery two hours from Bilbao. Anyways, it’s amazing how I see Bilbao now. Like I’ve written before, Bilbao is nestled by mountains and 20 minutes from the beach. The definition of the best of both worlds, but also its more than just a geographical setting. It’s safe, welcoming, home. But how could I forget, it rains everyday here. Haha, you think I’m kidding? Nah. It’s rained literally everyday for the past 10 and the forecast calls for another 10. But that’s just fine, winter here is rain season. Better than snow right?
I won’t remember the rain though. I’ll remember the taste of Tortilla de Patata. I’ll remember the pride Spainards have for their country. I’ll remember looking out into the mountains and soaking up the luck I have for seeing such beauty. But in reality, I’ll remember everything. Just because I want to.
La Guardia, Spain 
Top of the tower and only grapes to be seen for miles
Wine, and more wine IMG_4035

A Different Way of Living

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Overlooking the beach at Larrabasterra

This whole time change and culture has got me screwed up, but I say that in the best way possible. Eating lunch at 3:00, dinner at 10:00, six hour time change, new language, new culture; yeah it’s been a work in progress. After just talking to a best friend of mine and someone who also blogs, he told me that he hadn’t blogged in a while because he couldn’t think of anything to write. I thought I was in the same boat, but I told him to write anyways, and in the process of telling him this I discovered that I had so much I wanted to say that wasn’t exactly clear until I thought more deeply about it.

What I’ve been most overcome by within the last week or so has the been the extraordinary realization of how refreshing it is to be away from the United States. Yes, the place that’s my home, where my family is, and my beloved best friends. What I mean in saying this is that Spain’s culture is so different that it’s seemingly impossible to compare and contrast one place to the other. Yet, the contrast between the two is what gives me this refreshing feeling. So, I’m gonna try.

The sun doesn’t rise until close to 9 o’clock. It’s unrealistic to buy a full meal here. They wash the streets every morning. Cars are the least used mode of transportation. It’s quiet here, but at the same time so lively. You can walk the streets at 3:00 AM and still feel safe. Soccer is football (haven’t caught onto that one yet). There is no football (I’ll never catch onto that one). Coffee comes in like 4 oz cups, you can’t get it to go really, and breakfast isn’t that big. I have to wear slippers at all times in my house. I have to turn the water off, put soap on, then turn it back on to conserve energy. Lights are on in only one room at a time. And finally, if you’re not drinking wine you’re doing it all wrong.

These differences are what makes this experience worth doing. I’m not about to tell you that within a week and a half I’ve become the best form of myself that I could ever be, but I sure as hell think that I’m getting better. At home, it seems as if there’s always something to worry about. And yes, being here there are numerous things that are on my mind, but it’s just a little bit more relaxed, more real, more alive. The culture here as already given me a new perception on each day. Since the sun rises late and sets early you have to take advantage of every bit of sunlight you can get, which doesn’t exactly coincide with the difference in time and ridiculously large portions for lunch that immediately forces you into a food coma, but every day here has been unique to say the least.

The most significant difference from home and here is that I feel like I’m living in the present more than ever. At school, I’m plagued with constant thoughts of what’s next, and how whatever I’m doing will affect my future, my career, my life. Excuse my language, but fuck that. These little questions, the everyday tendencies to think of the future rather than the present, propel us in missing out of what’s right in front of us: life itself. Maybe I’m different, and maybe it’s just me who constantly looks back and thinks wow, time’s flying by. It really has though, but I’m not about to let that go on any longer.

My brief time in Spain has allowed me to embrace each day as it’s very own. And I hope this idea will become a mainstay within me and translate to my time back home when I return. See, right there I’m thinking about the future. Gotta stop doing that, but I will.

They Don’t Say Wicked in Spain?

This place is wicked cool. No, no I can’t say that here. Where to start? These last few days have been some of the most exhilarating of my life. After meeting my group at the airport we went to our hotel in downtown Madrid. Madrid is bustling, the capital, and much different from any city at home. I love Madrid; the architecture, art, streets, sounds, tapas (type of food), and how can I forget the SANGRIA. All these things were new to me and showed me a new and unique side to the world. That being said, I don’t think Madrid would’ve been the best place to study abroad which is why I’m thrilled in my decision to study in Bilbao.

View from inside a “Christmas Tree” in Madrid

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We did so much in the four days we were in Madrid that even now it’s tough to remember them all. The first day we visited an absolutely massive and beautiful monastery called “El Escorial”. With a medieval look, inside it’s home to numerous historically important objects. The old king of Spain, Philip, lived there and to call it “huge” would be an immense understatement. Inside, you could walk for over ten miles, see art that would give you chills, and hear the ringing of mass in one of the largest churches there could ever be. Our tour guide was hilarious, and extremely knowledgeable so learning about the history of Spain and the importance of the monastery was very easy. El Escorial was the first real taste of Art that I’ve ever had. Regardless of seeing pictures of famous paintings and other various forms of Art through different outlets, Spain has shown me the effect Art can have on one.

El Escorial in San Lorenzo, Spain


El Escorial was followed by a visit to The Royal Palace, which is somewhat Spain’s version of the White House. However, the Palace blew any comparison to the White House out of the water. Again, it was HUGE and this is where past Kings and Queens lived. Nowadays, it is used for tours and has a whopping 2800 rooms. Each comprised of gold, porcelain, and chandelier’s covered in crystal. We also took a tour of the Museo del Prado, which houses paintings from Rembrandt, El Greco, and many more. It’s seemingly impossible to convey via words the power that each painting inside these museums have. You have to see them, stand next to them, lose yourself in them to come to grips with the purpose each artist had in crafting them. For the first time, Art made me feel something. It gave me chills to think that artists 600 years ago could create masterpieces that could captivate our technology-filled generation, and make us rethink the purpose and enormity that our lives have.

The Royal Palace in Madrid


Each night spent in Madrid was one to remember forever, and in the process of being thrown into the awesome nightlife of the city it became in easy way to make friends with everyone in my program. We all share the thirst for something new, and throwing ourselves in possibly uncomfortable situations has become the foundation for our newly found friendships. Leaving Madrid we had about a 6 hour bus ride to our final destination of Bilbao, and on the way we had the privilege of touring the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen: Toledo. Toledo is somewhat of a medieval-looking town, bordered by the Rio Tajo (River). A quick stroll through the city could never be enough, and I hope at some point I can get back to properly spend time there.

Toledo, Spain




Late last night, we finally arrived in Bilbao! Bilbao will be my home for the next 4 and a half months and immediately stepping off the bus I met my Host Mom. Her name is Maika, and speaks absolutely no English which is great due to the fact that this will help in drastically improving my Spanish. I can’t begin to explain how much I’ve learned in the last 24 hours through one-on-one conversation. She’s hilarious and so nice, but what’s best is her cooking! Here in Spain, food is an integral part of the home and each meal we’ve had is comprised of laughs and learning. She tells me that I’ll be fluido en Espanol by the time I leave and there’s no doubt that this will be the case. She’s made it feel like I’m at home, and being 3500 miles away from Massachusetts this gives me a reassuring feeling in my decision to stay in a home where no English is spoken.

Bilbao, view from outside University


Today we walked around the University here in Bilbao and managed to see a good part of the city. It is lively, filled with plenty of hustle and bustle, but at the same time very relaxing. Bilbao is surrounded by mountains and also less than a half an hour metro ride to beautiful beaches. I guess you could say this place is wicked awesome, oh but on the other hand, no you can’t.

View looking towards Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao


Estoy en Madrid!

As 2014 slides into the past, and the possibilities of 2015 emerge; I have found myself sitting in a hotel lobby in Madrid, Spain. I’m studying abroad in the beautiful city of Bilbao this semester and luckily my programs orientation is in Spain’s capital of Madrid. After two flights, a fluctuation of emotions, and over 3000 miles it is clear to me now why I made the decision to study in another country.

For some time studying abroad was a necessity for me, and in reality I never really thought of what I was actually doing. I had told myself for months and years that I needed to go abroad, but this idea was never exactly thought together fully. It seemed as if my decision was fueled by my subconscious, and the actual magnitude of the situation never hit me until the the 767 flight to Madrid from JFK started its engines and lifted briskly to 36,000 feet hovering over the Atlantic Ocean. On the flight I found myself surrounded by the constant conversation of Hispanic families, and at that point I became hooked. I guess in an adventure like this most people will have a few doubts about their decision as they start. When saying goodbye to family and friends, a flurry of questions rang in my head. Can you do this? Is this the right thing to do? Right place? Right time? and finally the question: Why are you doing this?

I had a great deal of time to think about these questions and step closer to their answers. The moment I knew that embarking on this adventure was the best decision I could’ve ever made was when I looked outside and caught my first glimpse of Europe. Now, my decision went from an idea or thought to a physical form, I’m here now. The change in time meant that my flight were to land in Madrid early in the AM, and I was welcomed to Europe with a truly remarkable sunrise. Maybe I was in shock, but the color in the sky looked different than that at home. I could see the Pyrenees Mountains and paired with the snow-capped peaks was the most beautiful shade of red and orange I’ve ever seen. It was like the sky was on fire, and then I knew that taking the leap of faith and leaving home would help me in becoming the individual I strive to be.

I decided to write this blog not for an audience, but rather to have my adventures documented in such a way that looking back on them would easily highlight the transformation I’m about to endure. Also, I want my family and closest friends to be able to live vicariously through my writing, and blogging is the easiest way to achieve that. This is only the beginning, but what a beginning it has been!

Adios Amigos!