Granada Alhambra

No es un adios; es un hasta luego: What it feels like to leave the people you meet abroad

“It’s not goodbye; it’s see you later.”

I’m huddled under my bed covers, furiously rubbing my feet as I wait for the heater to kick in. It’s mid-January and I’ve chosen to ignore the warnings from friends back home to “bring warm clothes, it gets cold at night”. Okay, I thought. I can handle a few cold nights, but it’s southern Spain; it can’t be that bad. Wrong. How ill-prepared I was for the lack of central heating and fresh mountain air. These houses are constructed to bear the gruelling summer heat waves, not a couple months of temperatures hovering around zero. Logical enough, but still frustrating, even for someone who’s supposed to be used to the cold.

I’d spend those first four weeks or so in Granada hibernating in my bedroom, retreating only for food and to go to class. That was when the homesickness crept in. I missed the comfort of my own bed, my dog’s furry backbone spooning with the curve of my legs, my parents, my friends, my (sort of) boyfriend. My dishwasher. The novelty of being somewhere new had all but worn off. Of course I was making friends and enjoying the Spanish social scene, but I felt I was in some sort of limbo, neither here nor there. My life lacked rhythm.

It’s not difficult to dwell upon such feelings. A quick glance at my Facebook newsfeed and FOMO bears its ugly head. What I had to remind myself on more than one occasion was why I was here in the first place. I had made the decision all on my own to come to Granada to learn the Spanish language, and I was determined to learn it, goddammit! Finding out just how much there still was for me to learn was a rather rude awakening, demoralizing at first, but above all, motivating. As with any subject, and perhaps languages even more so, there is only so much you can learn in a classroom. Immersion is key. So began my quest to Hispanicize myself.

In a program designed for foreigners and occupied mostly by Americans, English is a crutch that we found ourselves using more often than we probably should have. Unless we made a conscious effort to speak Spanish, English was the go-to conversation starter. Fortunately, the friends I made were just as driven to improve their speaking skills as I was. Some were striking up conversations with locals at the bar, others going to intercambios (language exchanges), and a sizeable chunk using good ol’ Tinder. (“Just to practice my Spanish,” they’d swear.) The more we all associated with one another, the more connections we made. Thus, our social circle grew to include Canadians, Americans, Aussies, Brits, and, most importantly, Granadinos.

While January may have passed like any other month, over the next four, I’d be begging for time to freeze, halt, slow down, wait, anything but fly by as it so mercilessly did. Bundling up in scarves and toques quickly became stripping down to our bathing suits. Classmates became confidants. One relationship ended, another began. The owner of the Moroccan place finally knew our order when we walked in (falafel, obviously). I had even gotten a hang of the subjunctive. Yet, just as suddenly as we were thrown into the lifestyle we grew to love, we had to leave it behind.

The goodbyes came in waves. Most left a day or two after exams, others within a week. I spent five months, five days a week – sometimes more – with the same group of people and to think that I may never see them again is a peculiar kind of emptiness. Sure, we made the cliché promises to meet up again soon, but the truth is that it’s naïve to think they’ll be kept. I hope I’m wrong. At the very least, I know I’ll always have a couch to sleep on if I find myself in Melbourne, Manitowoc, or half a dozen other towns across the globe. As for my own farewell to the city that had become my second home, well, it was orders of magnitude worse than leaving Canada. At least in January I knew when I was coming back and to whom I was coming back. I don’t know when I’ll see Granada again, but I know it will be soon. It must be soon. Too much of me remains in Andalucía.

Two weeks after I left Granada, my father called to check up on me.

“Do you miss it?”
“To be honest, Dad, I really do. I wish I didn’t have to leave,” I sighed.
“You know, I think it’s not so much the place that you’ll miss, but the people.”

Bull’s-eye.

What could have been ordinary, uneventful classes was instead time to discover how Spain differed from Canada or France or the UK, share a laugh over our professor’s Spanglish, and catch up on last night’s antics.

Free tapas are a wonderful concept, but it was the good company in which we enjoyed them that made them a cornerstone of our lifestyle.

Hikes through Los Cahorros and surrounding villages wouldn’t have been as adventurous had I not had the self-proclaimed best guide in Granada leading me to all the spots only a local would know.

When I remember the way the cobblestones snaked through the Albaicín, I recall how we collapsed, exhausted, on the sofa every day, determined that those walks were the only thing keeping us in shape while the pastries taunted us from shop windows the whole way home.

When I picture the Mediterranean kissing the southern shore, I see us sprawled out in the sand or polishing off a paella or diving into the sapphire blue, trying in vain to avoid pesky jellyfish.

When I think about the way the city lights illuminated the night sky, I remember slow dancing in the Alhambra at two a.m., that fateful goodbye pushed aside for three minutes more.

When I remember Granada, I remember who was there with me. I remember the marks that we made and those it made on us. Memories fade. Friendships weaken. Life carries on. However unavoidable these things may be, no amount of time or distance can erase the experiences that we shared.

Not a day goes by that I don’t miss it. Sometimes I catch myself daydreaming that I’m there, only it’s Future Me and I have no return ticket. Now, more than ever, I wonder: if I clicked my heels together three times and said, “there’s no place like home”, where would I end up?

What it feels like to leave the people you meet abroad

October 23, 2015

10 Comments

  1. Reply

    Asdghik Melkonian

    February 18, 2017

    Such an interesting article! Love this!

    • Reply

      Ivana

      February 19, 2017

      Thanks so much for reading, Asdghik!

  2. Reply

    Kassie- The Fly Away Life

    February 18, 2017

    This is so true! I felt the same way when I left my semester in Italy. I have this same feeling after every longer trip I take because we may travel to see places but it’s the people we meet along the way that end up changing us. But if it’s any consolation I’ve seen many of the friends I made there in the years since. Some of us have traveled across the world to see each other.

    • Reply

      Ivana

      February 19, 2017

      I’m glad you can relate, Kassie. We change when we travel and much of that is due to the people that we meet along the way. That’s so great that you’ve had a chance to see your friends from abroad! I haven’t yet, but we stay in touch and I have every intention of going to see them.

  3. Reply

    leah sylvia

    February 18, 2017

    Oh man this makes me nervous to leave the amazing people I’ve met while doing a snow season in France! This is all so true <3

    • Reply

      Ivana

      February 19, 2017

      Don’t be nervous! Honestly, the sadness is totally worth the amazing memories that you’ll always keep with you. Also, a snow season in France sounds amazing!! I’m sure you’ll meet tons of awesome people.

  4. Reply

    Alice Chen

    February 19, 2017

    This is completely on point! I find myself thinking happily of the memories we shared. One time I actually ran into one of the people I met in another city! It was a crazy coincidence!

    • Reply

      Ivana

      February 19, 2017

      That’s a great way of looking at it, Alice! Better to look positively upon the time we shared. Oh wow, that’s incredible! What a nice surprise ;)

  5. Reply

    Kyntra Strickland

    February 19, 2017

    Thank you for your openness in this, leaving those we meet abroad is painful. The hope of meeting more people and the memories of shared experiences makes it a little easier for me. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply

      Ivana

      February 19, 2017

      Hi Kyntra! Thanks so much for reading. You’re totally right – the excitement of knowing you will meet new people and make new connections does make it easier.

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