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¿Qué has hecho este año?

¿Qué has hecho este año?

¿Qué has hecho este año? Was hast du dieses Jahr gemacht? Ché hai fatto quest anno? What have you done this year?

The question that is probably hardest to answer. So why am I asking it of myself? As of 10.10 this morning, I am finished with school in Europe. I turned in my Spanish final exam, thus concluding a year of study abroad in three countries, in three languages, at three different universities. The packing has already begun, and is almost finished. At this point it is only the minor items that need to be packed. Today is my last day in Madrid and in Spain. It is a bittersweet ending- I am just beginning to really feel comfortable here, and now it is time to leave. Over the past weekend, I “came to terms” with the fact that on Sunday (wow, is it really only 4 days away?!) I will be flying back to the United States after an amazing year abroad.

Spain has been amazing, in so many ways. I have gone rock climbing, backpacking and camping, seen castles and windmills right out of legends, and even an Egyptian temple! All in Spain. My class was interesting- only having 3 people made for a really intimate experience, and ensured we could always ask questions. Although I know I still have a lot of work to do on my Spanish, at least know I am better at it than I was before. And with time, it will be ever better.

I was unsure about Spain at first. I wasn’t sure why I didn’t just go back to Germany, or stay in Italy, but now that I have completed this month there, I am glad I did decided to come here. I have meet so many new people and had so many wonderful experiences. I would not trade this month looking back upon it now. But, all good this must draw to a close. The past week has been an emotional roller-coaster for me. I am excited to see my family and friends in the US, but sad about leaving my home here in Europe. I was talking with one of my roommates from Germany, and she pointed out something that I have taken to heart: Well, going home means you can go away again- Maria. She is right. But I also know that the friendships I have made here will last even if we are on opposite sides of the world. And that is a comfort.

Four days. It seems surreal. After all these months, I am going back at last. I have watched groups of friends come and go as their own study abroads have begun and drawn to a close. And always for me it was there is still another part, or July is still a long away off; well, here it is…

So what have I done this year? Oh where to begin… I jumped into the world of German back in August, not knowing anyone, and doubting my language skills. I survived and thrived, however- I formed some of the strongest friendships of my life, I explored the German university system and dived into the language and culture, with aid from my friends and roommates. I traveled all over Europe and Germany: I went to the 200. Oktoberfest, I went to Poland, returned to Mannheim, hiked mountains in the black forest, spent Halloween in Salzburg, Austria with three amazing friends, I had snowball fights with my roommate Paul at 23.00 outside the WG (apartment), and walked along the streets of Freiburg on the last night all of my friends were there as the snow gently fell.

Somewhere between Christmas and finals and visas, in January I found myself stepping off a plane in Rome, Italy, where I was greeted by a friend at the airport who helped me navigate Italian and the way to Monte Mario, the location of the John Felice Rome Center, which I would call home for the next 4 months. Italy was hard at first- I was homesick for Germany and my friends. It was a rough first month. I felt like I couldn’t relate to many of the other students-they were all new to Europe and study abroad. They weren’t unintentionally comparing this experience to another one. Then I renewed old friendships with several students who had been in Rome the semester before and were full year students. It was wonderful and helped me learn to love Roma (even if not the transportation!). They knew what it was like to have lived for 5 months already in Europe.

As I grew to love Italy and Roma, I again found myself making strong friendships and growing more as a person. My path took me to Assisi, Prague, back to Germany, Greece, Pompeii, and more. I saw the Pope at least once a month, and had class all over the city, including at the Vatican. Questions about life were answered, and new doors opened, even as it seemed ones that I had come to know slowly closed, but this time, by my own will. Then, somehow, all the students of the JFRC were gathered at a banquet, honoring the past year… Another end had come. Those who had been in Europe for a year were preparing at last to return home, but not I. I still had one more. It was sad, but I didn’t feel the sadness they felt at leaving, while at the same time, the excitement of seeing old friends and familiar places.

The day most of the students left for the US, I found myself once more on my way to Greece to meet up with my sister. We would travel over the next two weeks throughout the Greek Isles before making our way to Barcelona and then Madrid, where we parted ways, this time not for many months, but only one. As she returned to the US, I was settling in in Madrid. Here I found myself at first struggling to remember Spanish- Italian was at the forefront of my mind. But it became easier, slowly. Then University started- the last new beginning here.

And now, a month has gone by. Where, and how, I am not sure. But I know that I am grateful to all my friends and family who have made this year possible, who have supported me, have traveled with me, and have shared in this year, either because they were here, or because of this blog. So now it is time to finish packing, grab some food, and meet up with friends in Retiro Park for a picnic before Tapas to celebrate the month in Madrid, new friendships, and for me, a year of bliss.

Tomorrow, Roma, for the last time as well. Hasta luego mis amigos y hasta pronto.

Joel

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