A moment that is embedded in my mind forever was on a trip to the beach in Bolonia, in the very south of Spain. As someone who grew up in Hawai’i, I spent my whole life going to the beach, but this was different. I had never been so far from home, and thus, had never swum in any ocean except the Pacific. In the southernmost part of Spain, at the Strait of Gibraltar, the waters of the Atlantic begin to mix with the Mediterranean. And I realized, treading water in the sea, that I could tell. I could tell that the ocean itself felt unlike what I had known my entire life. The water was a different shade of blue-green, a different temperature, the saltiness of it even tasted different. It struck me that I was no longer back home in Hawai’i, in the waters of the Pacific.

When I looked out into the sea, in the distance I could see the hazy form of Morocco – another world, another culture, another life, just a stone’s throw away. It was the first time, of what would later be many, that I thought to myself: Look how big the world is, and how small I am, and how lucky I am to be alive to witness it all.

It has been a bit over three months since my study abroad experience in Sevilla, and now, in retrospect, I am able to more clearly reflect on my time there and how it has impacted me.

There are many little things I miss about Spain, and my life in Sevilla:

The smell of jasmine, for one.

Sitting down at a restaurant and being greeted with a warm smile and a “¡Buenas! ¿Qué te pongo?”

Walking countless times through María Luisa park in the heat of summer, and later in the chill of autumn, as the leaves fell from the trees.

Sitting on the steps of the Cathedral, enjoying the best gelato I’ve ever had in my life.

Hearing Sevillanos say “¡Hombre!” in conversation with one another, all the time, everywhere.

My friends at la Universidad de Sevilla. (We still keep in touch, although we live in different places all over the U.S. We still send WhatsApp voice notes to each other. We reminisce and laugh and smile about the time we spent in Sevilla together, all those days and nights exploring and getting lost and finding our way again.)

How did my experience change me? I’m not sure I have an easy answer. What I can tell you are the following: When I speak Spanish in my classes today, I can hear subtle notes of the Andalusian accent in my own voice. Sometimes, I eat lunch at 3 p.m. and take a siesta during the day. I cook using exclusively olive oil now. I make a greater effort to be fully present with my loved ones, to share meals with them and to enjoy the company after – to sobremesa, as they say.

As a person, I am more open – to life, to people, to experiences. I am more curious – I want to know everything there is to know about the world! I am more courageous – because I have been brought miles outside my comfort zone and found ways to thrive there.

When people ask me what the experience was like and how it feels to be back, my reply is always this: “You know at the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, when the kids come back through the wardrobe after having lived an entire lifetime in another world? They witnessed something amazing, and then return to their normal lives where everything is the same as it was when they left, all the while being forever changed inside. It’s like that.”

Sitting here in Hawai’i, a world and two oceans away, Spain feels almost like a fantastical faraway land. Sometimes I wonder if I dreamed it all.

Although I have returned to life here, the experiences, lessons, and memories I acquired through study abroad continue influence the way I view myself, others, and life in general, in beautiful and sometimes unexpected ways.

That is perhaps one of the greatest gifts my time in Spain gave me: it showed me that even here, back on the other side of the wardrobe, there are so many reasons to say, “Look how big the world is, and how small I am, and how lucky I am to be alive to witness it all.”

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