The train glides away from the stop at Plaza Mar 2. In seconds, I see Castillo de Santa Bárbara above me, the Mediterranean Sea stretched out in all its sparkling glory below. I feel myself getting overwhelmed and choked up. I know this sense of being overwhelmed comes from both the sadness that I am leaving Alicante, Spain tomorrow, and the great sense of happiness that I had this study abroad experience.
For about thirty seconds, Castillo de Santa Bárbara moves from the right side of the train window to the left. I think about my first day in the city, when the sight of the castle was unfamiliar but still just as glorious. It was my first experience traveling abroad, and the day before had been a traveler’s nightmare, with my connecting flight taking off just minutes after I’d arrived to the gate. An unexpected visit to Heathrow Airport and a train ride from Madrid later, I was in a taxi to my host mom’s house at 9:30 p.m. I was jet lagged and upset that the airline had lost my luggage. My host mom, however, brightened my mood with dinner –– which included my first Spanish omelet.
The next morning I woke up early, a busy day of touring the city ahead of me. I met my class at Plaza Luceros, which served as the primary meeting place throughout this three-week Intensive Course Abroad. We rode on a bus past the sea, then up a steep mountain where we reached Castillo de Santa Bárbara. At the very top we could see the whole city, its low buildings glowing and other mountains in the distance. After leaving, we walked down the mountain through a picturesque neighborhood of brightly colored homes with tiled door frames. I was quickly enveloped in a sense of awe at this city I’d only been in for 12 hours.
This sense of awe kept coming back to me during my time in Alicante. Whether I was walking down the quirky and fun Calle San Francisco with its hopscotch painted streets and fun mushroom sculptures (some of which you can go inside; it was a great place for selfies), or when I visited Playa del Postiguet, a nearby beach, and watched the sunset with my friends, this awe was ever present. It came back when I ate at the many different restaurants, cafes, and heladerias – I had some of the best food of my life there (I’m tasting my host mom’s paella as I type this…mmm).
Excursions to places like the MARQ (an architectural museum), the Valor chocolate factory in Villajoyosa, and La Alhambra in Granada were both educational and fun (and the visit to the chocolate factory was delicious). Whether I was in Alicante or somewhere else in Spain, I was always able to find something interesting and enjoyable to do (one evening after leaving the Día de Reyes parade, I stumbled on a night market near Plaza Luceros that was full of vendors selling everything from jewelry to hot chocolate. It was absolutely delightful).
Oh, and the academics? (This was an ICA, after all.) Muy fácil. What originally was fear and intimidation about condensing 16 weeks of material into a three-week course turned into genuine excitement about learning after my first day in class. Professors Maria (lovingly known as Chitty) and Sonia effortlessly kept the entire class’ attention throughout our five-hour long sessions. And even with all the excursions, I never found the amount of work for the class to be overwhelming. In fact, despite the fact that this was a three-week course, I found it easier to handle the amount of work that was required since I was only focusing on one class, rather than having to juggle work for four (or more!) classes like I do during the semester.
Starting around my second week in Alicante, I began developing a routine that helped me relax into the slow, easy pace of the city. I was able to overcome my feelings of self-consciousness and communicate with my host mom (albeit slowly). The mistakes I made in communicating with her were essential to helping me get a better understanding of the language. And let me tell you, there was no greater joy than when I was able to speak with my host mom and others around me in Spanish and not only understand them, but to be understood as well.
Castillo de Santa Bárbara disappears as the train enters the tunnel, which signals the last three stops on my final train ride in Alicante. At the beginning of the trip, the castle was unfamiliar, but on this last day, going towards Plaza Luceros, the castle, and the city of Alicante, were starting to feel familiar. Like home.