2018 Summer John Parkinson Temple in Spain Temple Summer

Owls Are Lucky – And 4 Other Unexpected Lessons from Spain

When you’re in Spain, especially in the north, you may notice that owls are a common decoration in many shops and homes. As my host mom explained, they’re a symbol of good luck and pretty popular in Asturias (though I’d later see some in Galicia as well). Owls are lucky; pretty fitting right? A surprise connection between Temple and Spain.

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In describing how I feel after my adventure, I think I could also use another attribute given to owls, one that’s common in America: after my time in Spain, I’m a little wiser. Not wiser in regards to my knowledge of Spanish language and culture; though I definitely learned a lot, a month isn’t enough time to declare myself “wise” in regards to all things Spain. Rather, I became a little more aware and perceptive of certain realities. I learned important things about myself. And I have experience to guide me as I go forward. What did Spain teach me?

1. Learning English has got to be insanely hard

For the most part, Spanish has very clear rules in terms of agreement, conjugation, and pronunciation. But when there are exceptions, things can get very tricky. Now imagine English. The whole language is exceptions! There are very loose rules for grammar, and spelling and pronunciation practically has to be memorized. Anyone learning English as a second language is accomplishing an amazing feat.

Further, though I’ve studied Spanish for a while, struggling through conversations about nuanced topics, trying to find some equivalent for an English phrase that expressed what I wanted to say perfectly, and being unable to finish a whole sentence when I couldn’t remember one little word were all problems I faced when trying to speak. It gave me new appreciation for anyone trying to express themselves in a foreign place using a language that isn’t their first, especially English. Remember next time you’re talking with someone struggling with English: they’re having thoughts and experiences as complex as yours.

2. Someone will help you, you just have to ask

Whether it was just to take a picture of me and my friends, help understanding Europe’s different clothes sizes, or (as previously mentioned) exchanging a bus ticket, there are kind people willing to help you. It is scary, to already be in a different place and reach out, but you must know that there are good, understanding, and patient people all over.

3. Planning just a little will help make the most of your time

Time was of the essence our whole time here. With just a month to try and experience as much as possible, it felt like a shame to just lay around waiting for opportunities to pop up. It seems silly, but even just visualizing a schedule in your head will help you keep yourself from wasting too much time. Thinking through my day in advanced while I was in Lugo allowed me to get a chance to see everything in an incredibly short period of time. Never let yourself be overwhelmed by how little time you have. That will just waste more time. Instead, break down what you want to do, and set up a plan.

 4. You are more capable than you know

Before I left for my study abroad experience, I told myself, “I don’t travel,” and “I’m not very spontaneous.” I couldn’t imagine myself booking my own hotel and traveling alone across a foreign country. I felt like I wasn’t really one to do things on my own. I felt like I wasn’t really capable “adult-ing.” I wonder if I had let these become self-fulling prophecies.

Maybe stepping out of your comfort zone is a lot like any other skill. It’s difficult at first, but the more you do it, the less daunting it becomes, and eventually you’re an expert at it. My time in Spain forced me to be uncomfortable, but that was a good thing. I learned I could handle it.

 

The end of our program approached suddenly. In one week we got through our finals tests, had our last group dinner, and attended a graduation ceremony. Then, after saying goodbye to our families (mine gave me a sweet poster with all their signatures on it!), we left Oviedo and went our separate ways. I personally returned with a few friends to Madrid, had one last day there, then flew home.

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On a hike with some new friends, including faculty member, Francis!
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Students of “Avanzado I” with our professor at graduation!

There aren’t quite words in English or Spanish to express how thankful I am for the wild, wonderful experience I just had. But I can, at the very least, say I’m thankful for the lessons Spain taught me. I’m thankful the memories. And I’m thankful for the new friends I met, both Temple students, other Americans, and Spaniards. There’s just a lot to be thankful for. Like I said, owls are lucky.

Muchísimas gracias por leer, y ¡adiós!

Un abrazo,

– John

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