Tuesday, December 22, 2015

See you soon, India!

Today's the day! In a few hours, I'll be on a fifteen-hour flight straight to Mumbai. How do I feel about this? Well, excited for one; this is incredibly important to me for so many reasons. But I'm also nervous, unsure of what to expect, and worried about missing my friends and everything at GW. More than anything though, I feel really, really ready for this. Over the past few days I've been home I've been thinking about this trip and all it means to me and I'm more sure than ever that I've made the right decision in choosing to study abroad in Hyderabad.

A few weeks ago, my friend Mansi and I were in my dorm room, making cookies late and night and pretending we didn't have our internships the next day. We had both been talking about how much Madrid meant to us, reminiscing over old photos and metro maps and memories of dry heat and cold sangria. I told her how sad it made me to miss Madrid. The very act of missing something suggested it was part of your past, and even when I looked through the photos I had printed out from my trip I felt weirdly detached, removed. It wasn't that Madrid meant any less to me than it did while I was there; on the contrary, it means more and more as time goes by. But it felt like it had all happened so long ago. I've been back for four months and I miss it every day, but when I look at pictures of bus rides and cathedrals and my host kids, I'm looking at my memories, at my past rather than my present. 

There is so much pain in missing something. Isn't that where grief comes from? From missing a loved one and what they meant to you and how they made you feel. From missing a relationship and knowing that your significant other will never be what they once were for you, that you've moved from a place of loving them to learning how to hate them, to learning how to feel nothing when you hear their name. In the same way, I've been grieving Spain. I hate that I don't live there anymore, that my metro is the DC Metro and not the Madrid Metro, that I don't eat patatas bravas and take weekend trips and live with four amazing people and spend way too much money at ZARA. And sure, some of these things can be recreated here, but it's just not the same. It's not my life anymore, it's not my present anymoreit's my past.

As Mansi and I stood in my kitchen talking about Madrid, I told her how missing Madrid worried me because it reminded me about missing India. I moved away from India when I was only two, but because I have family there, I visit quite often and to some degree, I think of India as home. Not a constant home in the way that New Jersey is, but a home nonetheless. Because of that, I've grown up with the ever-present feeling of missing it. I remember having a conversation with a classmate in a middle school art class about how much India meant to both of us, and how missing it manifested in the form of flashbacks. We both visited every other summer, and after the one-year mark, we'd both start having flashbacks of seemingly random images and memories—the rickshaw ride to a relative's house, the storefront of a sari shop on a crowded street, the way the highway looked on the way back from the airport, the view from your grandmother's window, the smells of the dirty streets. These aren't necessarily emotionally-latent memories, but they mean so much because they remind you of how much you miss home, miss place and the people in it. 

One of my favorite movies is Swades, a story of an NRI (Non-Resident Indian) who goes back to his village. He reconnects with place, and while the relationships he has with a mother-like figure, a love interest, and various other people in the village are all meaningful, for me the movie has always been about what returning to India feels like. At one particular point, the main character decides to quit his job at NASA and move back to India permanently. He tells a fellow-NRI friend about it, but the friend tries to dissuade him from doing so.

At this point, in classic Bollywood fashion, a song begins to play. But the movie is so well-made that this starts with a flashback just like the ones I often have. Image after image passes by and the lyrics (this website includes the English translation, too) at this point are just so poignant, so heavy and exact and they pinpoint just how the pain of missing people and place manifests. 

You see, missing India has always been a part of me. I've always missed my grandparents and the home I grew up in and the streets and the food and the sense of family and belonging. And although I lose that sense of belonging the older I get, the more "American" I feel, I can't help but think it's time to get that back. 

Because I was born there, because I could have so easily lived there and grown up there, I often wonder what my life would've been like. It's crazy to think of the hundreds of people I would never have known, as well as the countless people I could have. So in a way, I guess I'm returning to India to explore the life I almost led, to learn and grow and live the way I did in Spain, to reconnect with family and place and myself.

At the same time, I'm looking to dance again, to become better at Hindi, to reconnect with family, to learn more about the history and culture that are part of my own hyphenated identity. I've been reading the Karma of Brown Folk—which is absolutely blowing my mind, by the way—and I'm looking to consider orientalism, colonialism, imperialism, and the Indian-American experience from the other side of the world. I included this quote on my post before my trip to Spain and I'm including it again because of how relevant and true it is: "Travel not to find yourself, but to remember who you've been all along." I'll only be there for five and a half months, but during this trip, I hope to better understand who I am and what I am and what I've become and who I want to be.

Have you got any advice or words of wisdom to share? Please let me know in the comments below! Wish me luck and I'll see you in June, America!

~ V

Sunday, November 8, 2015

5 Reasons Why You Need To Start Watching Master of None

{Dev and Arnold shopping the way grown men do}
Netflix premiered Aziz Ansari's Master of None this past Friday, and ever since a friend had shown me a trailer a few weeks ago, I'd been looking forward to seeing it with perhaps a little too much excitement. It's rare to see Indian-Americans on TV as it is—that is, with a fair, accurate, non-stereotypical representation—but more than anything, I was excited to get to see a great comedian make a show that is visually appealing, explores so many different topics, and of course, makes me laugh. 

So after work on Friday, I went home and immediately started watching. Just a few hours after its release on Netflix, friends on my Newsfeed were already raving about how good it was, so even though the aforementioned friend and I had plans to start the show together, I dove right in. When she finally came over about two hours later, I was three episodes in but the show was so good, I was willing to start over. That night, I stayed up and finished the entire season, even after my friend left. Just to recap, this is five hours of television on a Friday night. But seriously, it really is that good. Here's why you should start watching if you haven't already:

1. Feminism. The show freaking embodies feminism. There's a whole episode (Episode 7: Ladies and Gentlemen) dedicated to how everyday experiences can differ for men and women, including an all-too-real fight between two characters in which the female character is frustrated with her male counterpart for first, not understanding and then, belittling things she has to deal with just as a result of having a vagina. But even beyond that one episode, the show does feminism true justice throughout.

{Dev, Brian, and their parents sharing stories}
2. #First-GenerationAmericanProbz. Aziz Ansari, the creator, writer, and lead actor of the show, is an Indian-American who grew up in South Carolina. South Asians are rarely part of the conversation on race in America, but Ansari does an amazing job of highlighting issues unique to both the immigrant experience and that of the first-generation American. He focuses on cultural duality, relationships between immigrant parents and their kids, and so much more. Since this issue is so relevant to my own life, I'm often critical of others' representations (or rather, misrepresentations) of what the experience is generally like. Suffice it to say, Ansari does it justice.

3. Modern Romance, TV edition. Ansari published his book Modern Romance this past June (how this man has time to create an entire series and write a book is just beyond me) and it focuses on well, modern romance. Ansari takes a sociological angle at what defines the dating culture today across different cities and countries, and he even compares dating and marriage today to what the experiences were like decades ago. So many of the book's themes appear in the show and if you're too lazy to pick up a book, do yourself a favor and watch some TV. Specifically this TV. This TV is good TV.

4. FOOD! I love food. You love food. We all love food, and that includes the show's lead character Dev. Each episode includes a bit on the best place to get tacos, gelato, pasta, etc. Dev's love for food is a running theme on the show, as it is in my own life. And who doesn't want to look at beautiful shots of really good food along with real-life suggestions on where to eat them, amirite? 

{Dev meets Busta Rhymes and asks him for life advice, the way we all wish we could}
5. Hybrid genre. There's no denying that this show is a comedy; it's funny as hell and centered around its humor. But the show definitely goes beyond that in the way that few shows do. I definitely think we're in a golden age for television, and shows like Broad City and Master of None are clear proof of that. They combine issues of social justice and social awareness, topics relevant to the lives of twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings and Americans and people in general, all with really well-written comedy. 

Each episode focuses on a different topic, does it justice in a way that's brilliant, and moves on. You don't get bored or feel like you're at a TED Talk, but you end each episode feeling a little bit wiser, a bit more relieved that someone else ~gets it~, and a lot more tired from laughing too hard. Comedy is such a great vessel to spread awareness, to educate the masses in a way that makes them feel good about themselves and their lives. So go ahead, watch the show. Feel good about yourself and about living the life you have.

Once you've finished Season 1 (and then re-watched it the way I have) let me know what you think! Did you love it, hate it, ehh it? Is Arnold also your favorite character? Tell me your thoughts, opinions, ~feelings~ in the comments below.

Happy Netflixing!
~ V

All photos courtesy of Netflix.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

On travel and race

When you’re born in one country and move to a second before settling down in a third, nationality becomes a tricky concept. Each time I travel, my national identity becomes increasingly less defined; although each new trip teaches me to value both India and the United States more, the experience of travel never actually pushes me strengthen my ties to the two. Rather, I am always reminded of the fact that I'm part of the world, that who I am is a result of where I've been and the experiences I've had as a result of setting. For example, with the case of this past summer in Spain, I don't consider myself more Indian or American. While I still identify as an Indian-American woman, I now think of my heart as belonging to three places—India, America, and Spain.

Because the thing is, travel allows you to compare that which you learn to what you have already known, and in that sense, a big focus of my trip to Spain was on racial and national identity—how we regard it, how we think about it, and how we talk about it, if we even do. I've been thinking about my experience with race in Spain before I even got on that flight to Madrid. I hadn't known how I'd be regarded, what my skin tone would be perceived as, whether or not it would be an issue. But it was never at the forefront of my mind and I sort of shrugged off any concerns that had presented themselves. I told myself that it was 2015 and my race wouldn’t concern anyone. 

But even though I've thought about it for so long and so extensively—both throughout my trip and beyond—I never wrote about it on here. For one, race is hard to talk or think about. And this is even more so when you’re an Indian-American, when your face is hardly represented in the media, when you have no real public role models who openly talk about race and nationality and the Indian-American experience.

Because I've grown up in the States, I've been aware of my race for as long as I can remember. I joked with a professor last year that I am most aware of my "Indian-ness" when I am around people who aren't Indian, when I am forced to realize or when I am reminded that there is something about me that is different, that there exists some sort of separation between me and those around me. But when I spend time with my friends who are Indian-American or Pakistani-American, I forget about it all. Of course, this is not to say that I live with the constant reminder of my "otherness," that I am always painfully aware of this separation. It's not that way at all; it’s not constant, and it's more subconscious, and even when it is conscious, it's not necessarily bad. 

But it's something that is important to me to acknowledge to myself, especially since I spent a lot of my pre-college years almost ashamed about or frustrated with my Indian-ness. I didn't know how to regard myself and like any kid, I looked at myself the way others looked at me. So for the longest time, I've felt like the weird little Indian girl and sometimes, I still do. I tend to be a little internally cautious, trying to gauge if strangers will look at me or think of me or treat me the way I'd experienced a lot of my childhoodor if they will see me beyond my racial or ethnic or national identity, as is often the case with people I meet in D.C.

The thing is, I'm incredibly proud of and grateful for this identity. I identify as an Indian-American woman and I love every part of that phrase. I love that I am Indian, that I have family that has taught me so much beyond the traditional, quintessential American experience, that I have been born elsewhere and speak four languages and have an entire cultural and linguistic lens through which I can view the world. I'm so grateful to be American, to have been an immigrant and to live in a country that teaches you every day through both its flaws and strengths. And I love, love, love being a woman, because I have been able to embrace feminism in a way that might have not been as encouraged had I been born biologically male. I'm grateful for each part of my identity for the variety of perspectives that have been available to me, for the ways I have been taught and able and encouraged to view the world around me and my place in it.

And the amazing thing about travel is that it makes you acknowledge it all and rethink it, too. How is race regarded differently in Spain? How do people acknowledge (or avoid acknowledging) my ethnic background, and how does this compare to my experiences in D.C. or New Jersey or Mumbai?

My first night out in Madrid, I had three separate groups of people come up and ask me what my race was. I had people guess if I was from Peru or Mexico or Ecuador, and one person even asked if I was Mayan. And although when I told my American friends about this they were shocked and a little offended, I later learned from a Spanish friend that this wasn't something he necessarily considered rude. He is from Peru but has lived in Spain since he was ten months old, and he's definitely accustomed to complete strangers coming up to him and asking about his background. It's normal to him and he considers it completely unoffensive. And when he told this to me, rather than focusing on what my response should be—both to the interactions with people asking about my race and to my friend’s experience with his own “otherness”—I just let myself consider the fact that there were multiple ways of looking at the situation, multiple lenses through which I could view the world and its treatment of race, nationality, etc.

I let myself consider that people regard race differently. It wasn't just the broad scope of questions I was asked, up to and even after establishing myself as an Indian-American, or the specificity of the questions (including but certainly going beyond the standard, "What does the dot on your head mean?”); more than anything, it was that race was talked about, that race wasn’t something that was taboo, and as a result, it was okay to be of another race. You weren’t necessarily weird or other or foreign or strange. You just were.

I've been back from Madrid for nine weeks (yikes!) but I'm still learning. Isn't that amazing? For those of you trying to decide whether or not to buy that plane ticket or select that study abroad program or take that summer off for an experience that will make you think and reconsider and grow beyond you realize, if you're waiting for a sign, this is it. Go. Do it. And when you're there, when you're in the middle of it all and you realize, holy shit I'm in Spain and I'm different and it's all so crazy and I wouldn't have done this had I not booked that flight, take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate this and how lucky you are to experience it all.

And when you're there, open yourself up and let yourself learn.

~ V

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Goodbye D.C., hello Hyderabad!

{me and my mom in Bombay circa 1999}
It's officialI'M GOING TO INDIA!!!! This spring semester, you can plan on visiting me, my falooda, and my improved Hindi at the University of Hyderabad. I am so excited for this journey and all it means to me and can't wait to blog about it the whole way through.

As some of you may know, I was born in Bombay and moved to Lagos, Nigeria and Houston, Texas before growing up in my small town in New Jersey. And even though I used to visit India every other summer, it has now been six and a half years since my last trip to my other home. Even still, I can vividly remember how each trip changed me, made me rethink views I had, made me compare the two sides of my identity and grow beyond being simply Indian or American. 

India always makes me think, grow, and feel in ways I have forgotten, and sometimes even in ways I never imagined I could be. It might be in part that I had changed so much in between trips that going to India served as a marker, a reminder of who I was. I got to see my growth and change through the eyes of family that only saw me every two years. But I think visits to India went even beyond that. 

When you're an Indian-American kid, you're always working on a balancing act, and when you're younger, you let Western culture dictate a lot of your feelings about yourself, your relationship with your racial identity and culture, the decisions you make, the borders you draw between the two parts of yourself. But coming to GW has changed a lot of that for me. Partly because I got out of my small, nearly homogenous town (which I still love), but also because I made friends who were figuring things out for themselves, too.

Going to India as a kid forces you to acknowledge that, though. You're forced to look at the decisions you've made to be this much Indian or this much American. I'm always teased by family in India about how "American" I am, or how much of my "culture" I've lost or retained. But at the same time, here, today, in America, a similar thing happens. My friends and I joke around with each other all the time about how "Indian" we are for loving Bollywood or certain foods or whatever. The term "fob," for those who don't know it stands for Fresh Off the Boat, and it becomes a sort of way to police immigrants and second-generation kids about how they've defined their culture, what parts they've chosen to keep or let go off or whatever. So either way, you're policed—whether it be by yourself or by others—about the decisions you've made.

For me, I've come to value the parts that make me who I am more than I'm capable of describing. I love that I know four languages, that I have multiple cultural and linguistic lenses through which I can look at things and make sense of the world around me. Take something as trivial as skin color for example. Traditional Indian culture favors fairer skin, while here in America it's not uncommon for people to hop into tanning beds or lay out on the beach for hours. I'm not trying to say that one is right while another is wrong; I don't know that a right and wrong necessarily exist. It's just that understanding both sides has allowed me to love the skin I'm in, quite literally. I don't mind that I turn "pale" in the winter or that I tan ridiculously quickly in the summer. Having the two lenses enables me to decide for myself who I am, what I want.

But cultural duality goes beyond that in a way that I'm still learning about and still trying to understand. In that sense, I look forward to letting Hyderabad push me; I welcome the moments that will teach me through tough love as much as I await those that will remind me what raw, unforced, unadulterated happiness feels like. And lucky for me, the University of Hyderabad offers courses in my fields—English, Creative Writing, and Film—but I know that the majority of the learning I'm going to be doing will be outside the formal academic environment. 

I've been planning my study abroad experience for months, but every time someone asks where I am going, I am almost reluctant or embarrassed to answer. A professor asked me the same question this week and I froze before answering quietly, trying to stop myself from offering some sort of bullshit explanation or justification as if it's at all necessary. But I can't ignore the fact that I feel like people look at me and assume that I chose India because I am Indian. Needless to say, being Indian-American certainly has to do with my love for and connection with India. I can't say what my relationship with India would've been if I wasn't Indian; I don't know who I would be if I wasn't Indian. But regardless of that fact, the assumption that I chose India is diluting and reductive, making my decision to be there less than what it is. Even my Indian-American friends are sometimes confused, asking why I would go to India when there are so many other places to choose from. And the thing is, I can't blame them. Because for the longest time, that was me. I was uncomfortable with parts of my identity, back before my culture became "cool" and bindis were an in thing to sport at music festivals, rather than another reminder of me being Other, another way for people to awkwardly ask me about who I was and what I was. I used to feel weird for being Indian, and sometimes I definitely still do feel like that weird little Indian girl sitting in class. But luckily, I've come quite far since that. Luckily, that's changed a lot.

And the thing is, with my relationship with India being what it is right now, I've really wanted to go back and live in India for an extended period of time, to let it shape and form and mold and change me beyond what six weeks of living in my grandparents’ flat in Bombay can do. I want to live and learn about the life I could have led and almost did lead, but even beyond that, I simply miss India, miss it with every fiber of my being to the point that it hurts and I fear being unable to recognize the country, the world, I consider my own and consider my home. I worry that it has changed too much in one direction and I too much in the other and that when we meet the connection we had will be lost, that it will no longer be mine, that I will not belong, that I will belong even less than I already did.

I feel as though I've lost a big part of me and sometimes I'm even afraid that it's too late to get it back. But you know what? I’ll be damned if I don’t try.

~ V

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What we don't talk about when we talk about travel

Spain withdrawal is very real you guys. And while this may not come as a surprise to many of you, I was foolish enough to think that coming back wouldn't be too hard, not after seeing all my friends and moving into my new apartment. But classes have started, nearly all my boxes have been unpacked, and yet all I can think of is the bus ride from the metro stop to my host family's house. Or the sun burning you in Puerta de Sol. Or patatas bravas and meeting up with friends for a quick drink at our favorite places in the city. And instead of just saying vale and accepting that my life in Madrid is no longer my present, that it's my past, I'm going to point out a few things you should know if you're going to travel abroad like me. If anything, let this serve as a warning: if you go abroad, don't ever come back.

1. Reverse culture shock is real. What do you mean I have to wait another year to drink? What do you mean my meal is going to cost $12 for a measly salad? And why is this metro so dirty and smelly?

2. Let me be painfully blunt: Americans are rude. They (we?) will not all hold every door open for you and greet you with a smile and warm hello and you can just say goodbye to cheek kisses because that won't happen. Because Spaniards are so open, making friends in Madrid is as easy as breathing, whereas the chances of you befriending that stranger sitting next to you on the Metro in D.C. are about the same as Barack asking you to play with Bo and Sunny. Ain't gonna happen, bud.

3. Some people will want to know all about your three months abroad. And it will be so cool to be able to share your stories and maybe advise them on their study abroad or travel plans as well. But ultimately no one is going to remember that time you explained the concept of veggie burgers to a new friend or saw a man in his 60s smiling at a butterfly in the most endearing way possible or whatever because they weren't there. All you've got is months and months of memories that you value more than anything and no one to share them with because...

4. Chances are, no one cares. Sure, people will ask you how Spain was. But at one point, you're just going to be that kid that went abroad and is still ranting about things that the rest of your friends can't relate to. So you'll just have to shut up and accept that it's just you, your postcards, and the little snow globe you paid too much for because you knew you'd miss Madrid, that you'd feel alone about it, and that when you did, you'd want to stare at fake snow swirling around the statue of el Oso y el Madroño and pretend you were back there.

5. You'll lose a part of who you were abroad, even if just for a minute. You'll get sucked back into your routine of being stressed and focused on to-do lists and you'll try to pinpoint what about your life abroad made you so damn happy. You'll remember to take time for yourself, to create for yourself the moments of peace and clarity your time away gifted you. You'll learn to implement changes into your "D.C. life" that are inspired by your time abroad and in doing so, you'll realize you have the wisdom that comes from losing one part of yourself and gaining another.

6. You will connect with people based solely on the fact that they know your old city just as well as they do your current one. Today I spoke to a professor who had spent a month in Madrid this summer and who asked me what barrio I lived in. Just being able to use the same vocabulary, to meet someone who knew which McDonald's on Gran Via smelled weirdly good and which smelled just weird, who knew where Chueca was and how much ZARA should always costall of that, it reminds you that you are part of a bigger world and that you're not alone. There are people who love your home and know it and miss it just as you do.

7. And for the same reason, you will find even more ways to connect with old friends. Friends who know exactly how it feels to have a city change you, once while you're there, and again when you're forced to leave. And together you can get teary over holding old Abono Transport cards and looking at city maps and other incredibly unsentimental souvenirs. And again, you will remember that you are not alone.

The best three months of my life (thus far) are over and I'm still not over it, #sorrynotsorry. Any tips for coping with the post-Spain blues? Help yr girl out in the comments below.

Hasta luego!
~ V

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Why saying goodbye is so difficult

{bus rides out of Madrid}

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a friend from D.C. about study abroad. She was trying to decide between Spain and Thailand and wanted me to share a bit about my experience. She asked me what my favorite part about being here in Madrid was and I honestly didn't know how to answer. "Ask me again after I leave," I joked.

Sometimes I forget that a part of me, however small, is actually a teensy bit excited to go back. I have a semester of only classes I want to take, rather than courses for general education requirements I need to fulfill. I have an internship I'm looking forward to starting. I have all my friends and family and a new dorm room and my city. So it's not that I'm returning to a life that makes me miserable or even unhappy.

But the thing is, my time in Madrid has been everything I expected and then so much more.

Are you in love with your life? I'm not asking if you're happy, if you're not depressed, if you like your job and friends and house and car. I'm asking if you wake up every day genuinely excited to do things, whether they're part of your daily routine or adventures that are wholly new. I'm asking if you have fun, the way you did as a little kid, running around and screaming and laughing so hard your stomach hurt.

Because I really do love my life here. I love waking up and having breakfast in the backyard, where it's quiet and sunny and kind of cool and I have a blanket, a mug of tea, and a notebook. I love spending a couple hours with my host kids and feeling kind of like a kid myself. I love exploring my city every day without worrying about assignments or due dates or schedules and just seeing where the day takes me. And I love having dinners as a family and talking long after the food is finished about anything and everything.

And again, it's not that I don't have things about my life in D.C. or home in Jersey that I love, too.

It's just that I'm happy here. Really, really happy. Happy in a way that scares me, makes me wonder if I was almost living my life wrong before and if there are things I need to change, makes me wonder if this is too good to be true and if the way I feel will fade once I get on that plane back to Newark.

That's my favorite thing about this cityI'm happy here. I go to dance classes and spend weekends in new cities and buy too many things from ZARA and ride bikes for hours in the park and eat fried potatoes dripping in oil and slathered in sauce and I love it all. And it's not as though my life here is perfect; it's not and expecting it to be would be ridiculous. I couldn't go on being an au pair forever, and I miss taking classes and seeing people I love and going to a Taco Bell that has vegetarian options. And sometimes it really gets quite lonely. But things don't have to be perfect to make you so happy it hurts.

The thing is, I don't have to deal with a lot of the crap that makes me unhappy at home. There are no stressors, be they social or professional or academic. And that's taught me what I need to cut out of my life now, how I need to develop a better outlook on my future, and how I need to better deal with stress related to school by taking time out for myself to just sit and think and breathe. But even beyond the fact that I don't have any stress here, it's also that I get to learn something new every single day. I'm constantly growing and learning and progressing and it's wonderful and invigorating to feel such a change in yourself and your life.

The takeway for me here is that there are so many changes I want to implement in my life in the States, to add what is needed and subtract what is not and to thus allow this experience and its influence to spread beyond these twelve weeks, beyond this city and country and continent and who I am in it. And I plan to do just that. But keeping all this in mind doesn't make me any less reluctant to go, doesn't make it any easier to let it all go.

But I'll be back for you Madrid. I'll be back before you can forget me and before I can forget who I am here. I'll be back and this timeit'll be for good.

~ V

Saturday, August 22, 2015

15 Things I'll Miss About Madrid

Tomorrow is my last day in Madrid, the end of best summer I've had yet. Knowing that it's almost over makes me think of all that I'm sad to say goodbye to. Here are 15 things I'll miss about Madrid.

1. The free time. I've read so much while I've been here and finally got around to starting Game of Thrones. And when you spend three hours a day sitting on or waiting for a bus or train you have free time to sit and think and reflect, which I hardly get to do during the school year. If I'm at my internship I think about work and otherwise I am constantly thinking about school or homework or my to-do list. It's nice being completely stress-free for a change.
2. The weather. The lack of humidity in Madrid is well worth the heat, especially for my hair. And the incredibly hot summers here are always better than winter. I love fall, but it doesn't make me happy to let this go.
3. The location. Madrid is in the center of Spain, so it's easy traveling to other cities or to Portugal, and the rest of Europe is a relatively short flight away. I visited thirteen cities in twelve weeks, and value this more than I can explain.
4. The people. Madrileños are known for being abiertos, open and welcoming. They are so friendly, especially when compared to the experiences I've had in many other European countries, and they're one of the biggest things I love about this city.
5. 100 Montaditos. I'll miss this chain of cheap eats. How am I going to get a jarra of cervesa and a mini sandwich for less than $3 at home?!
{la Reina Sofía}
6. La Reina Sofía. This museum is one of my favorite spots in the entire city and I've visited it nearly ten times in these past twelve weeks. It's absolutely beautiful and I'll miss escaping the heat for a couple hours in its endless halls.
{Picasso forever}
7. Speaking Spanish every day. I've practiced my Spanish so much here and I definitely think I've improved. And living in Madrid goes so much beyond what you can learn in a classroom; the lingo, the jokes, the cultureI learned all of that here and I'm sad I won't get the same level and type of knowledge back at school. 
{my life in Spain}
8. The streets. Madrid's architecture is absolutely gorgeous and often varies from one barrio to the next. There's beauty everywhere I go and I love it.
9. The balance between city and nature. Madrid has more trees than people and the mountains that surround the region provide a gorgeous escape. I'm not just looking at concrete all day and since I'm happier around nature, I've appreciated this so much. The summer also brings with it brilliant blue skies and I've loved watching clouds pass while just sitting in the park. Beyond this, Madrileños value plantlife more than Americans, and homes often have dozens and dozens of beautiful plants. And getting to see the stars here at night is nothing compared to what I can see at home. 
10. Cheek kisses. Here in Madrid, we greet each other with two cheek kisses and while this made me nervous when I first arrived (I was convinced I was going to do it wrong somehow!), I've come to love how sweet the gesture is. A friend and I were people watching a few weeks back and saw two groups greet each other. Every person in the group cheek-kissed every other in a group of maybe ten, and it was endearing to see them all take the effort out to personally great each other. 
{Plaza de España}
11. Having a pool. In a city this hot everyone has access to a pool in the summer, whether it be in their backyard or in a community. As someone who never had a pool as a kid, having access to one now has been so much fun, whether I'm spending hours playing with the kids or even just floating around and listening to music by myself.
12. The cost of living. Madrid is incredibly cheap when compared to Washington, D.C. or even my small town in New Jersey. I've been eating out, traveling, and shopping so much more than I can back in the States and am not completely thrilled about going back to being a broke college kid.
13. Learning something new every day. My weekly posts don't cover the full extent of how much Spain has taught me. I can't possibly write down every new word and phrase and cultural difference and similarity and moment that has made me grow, and this experience goes beyond what words can convey.
{la luz}
14. Not being obsessed with time and productivity. I know that the relaxed nature of my life this summer has been due in part to the au pair role and dynamic, but there's no denying the fact that Spaniards are better at looking at things such as time, schedules, leisure, and productivity. There's a greater emphasis on living a balanced lifestyle here, while my life in D.C. features the constant pressure of needing to be productive. If I'm not working or studying, you can bet I'm planning my to-do list in my head, trying to tackle all the things I feel like I absolutely have to get done. The only time that pushy little voice in my head shuts up is when I'm distracted by Netflix or a night out with friends. I'm going to miss this sense of leisurely fulfillment, when your days aren't packed completely to the point where you're constantly worried about fitting everything into the few hours you have in a day, but you still have enough to do so that you're not bored or unsatisfied or restless or unfulfilled.
{una de las cuatro torres}
15. My family. I have been so incredibly fortunate to find a host family that is as incredibly kind, welcoming, and considerate as mine. They are all so warm-hearted and I've felt completely at home here. I value my relationship with them so much and while it makes me incredibly sad to think that I won't get to see them every day anymore, I know I have a visit from them to look forward to.
Ultimately, I'm reminded how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so difficult. Hope you are enjoying the last days of summer as well!
~ V

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I'm never leaving Spain.

Today, after our last language exchange, I said goodbye to Javier and decided I was really craving patatas bravas and patatas aioli. So I walked over to a bar I had passed a hundred times, a little hole in the wall that seems like only really old people ever visit, the kind of place that hasn't been renovated in years and is dirty and old and vintage in an unironic way. And I went in and ordered the best deep fried potatoes slathered in sauce I'd ever tasted and was sitting there writing about things on my mind about Spain and leaving and learning and loving and all off a sudden I was trying not to cry. I'm 20 years old and it is in no way socially acceptable to cry in a bar in the middle of the day—especially not with only a glass of water and fried potatoes by my side. 
But I just didn't want to leave Spain and felt overwhelmed by the feeling that I was being forced to do so against my will, forced to go too soon before getting a chance to learn all that I have to learn. And what do you know, the universe decides now is a good time to play "Uptown Girl" on the crappy old TV in the bar, the kind that is too old and big to even be hooked up on the wall. And mild spoiler alert if you haven't seen Trainwreck (in which case, please get on that ASAP) but "Uptown Girl" is ~v important~ and ~eMoTiOnAl~ and I couldn't believe it was playing right at that moment. In the film, the song plays at moments of emotional upheaval and catharsis (by which I really just mean an 80s movie-esque musical number and confession of tru luv) and here in real life it played at my moment of kind of freaking out over having to leave and trying to hold it together in public. And I just stared at the TV and started laughing a little bit, and while I don't think my laugh was full-on maniacal in a somebody-get-this-girl-a-straightjacket kind of way, it must have been a little bit concerning guessing by the way the elderly couple sitting behind me me smiled at me sadly on their way out. 
And because I'm apparently a masochist I decided to listen to "Vienna" on my way back, and while I really don't understand why Vienna is waiting for me or what good it's going to do when it's Madrid I want, I do know that I've got so much to do and only so many hours in a day and only four days left at that, so that's where I'm at right now.
I mean I guess I should go back and finish my undergrad and see my friends and family or whatever. I'm just not going to pretend that leaving doesn't absolutely suck. Any advice for yr girl on dealing with this feeling? 
~ V 

Week 11: Five Things I Learned This Week in Spain and Portugal

This week was absolutely fantastic. I went to Portugal, celebrated my twentieth birthday, and went to my first bachata class. I'm kind of in denial about the fact that I only have four days left (!!!), and I'm trying to enjoy my time here without worrying about when it will end. Here's what I learned this week:

{street art, Lisbon}

1. Lisbon is perfect. Lisbon might be my favorite of the fourteen cities I've visited this summer, not including Madrid because I just can't make that comparison. Lisbon reminded me a lot of San Francisco, with its hilly streets, red bridge, cold water, and vibrant atmosphere. The weather was an incredibly perfect 80 degrees, a sharp contrast to nearly everywhere else on my trip, and I spent two days on the beach (and have a ridiculously pink sunburn to prove it) and my evenings wandering the city. Lisbon is so incredibly beautiful and I can't wait to go back.


2. What it's like to turn 20alone. I've never celebrated my birthday alone. I'm always around family and as long as I'm in the country, I spend time with friends as well. But at this point in my trip, all the au pair friends I've made have already left and rather than spending the day with strangers, I decided to celebrate my twentieth alone. And while I don't think I'd ever actively seek spending my birthday alone, I ended up having an amazing day and am glad I got to experience it at least once. I visited all my favorite spots in the city, ate all my favorite foods, and fit in a lot of shopping. After a particularly filling lunch at a new Thai restaurant near Atocha, I ended up walking around and spontaneously buying tickets to see Trainwreck. I'd never been to the movies alone and had wanted to do so for a while now and again, while I don't think I'll ever actively seek out going to the movies alone, I know I won't feel afraid or awkward to do so in the future.


3. That being said, Trainwreck is brilliant. The film features cameos from comedians like SNL cast members, Dave Attell, Colin Quinn, and Mike Birbiglia (and several athletes too, if you're into that kind of thing) and the jokes are the kind of laugh-out-loud funny where you have to check to make sure you're not laughing too loudly and bothering the others in the movie theatre. I absolutely love Amy Schumer and Bill Hader, and although the romance tale between them was predictable, I still found it adorable and liked that the film delved beyond the standard rom-com by featuring issues like fear of intimacy, alcoholism, etc. And more than anything, I love that the film was non-apologetically feminist and didn't ever slut shame. Do yourself a favor and watch this movie, please.


4. What youth looks like. In all seriousness, I know I'm not old. But turning twenty means that you're not a teenager anymore, and as a friend pointed out, this is the decade where so many of us will be starting our careers, getting real apartments, maybe even getting married and/or having kids. It all still feels incredibly far away (thank god), but I met a girl on the eight-hour bus ride back from Lisbon who reminded me that maybe it's not as far as I thought. Manuela was sixteen and incredibly energetic and vibrant and she reminded me of how I used to be. (When did I get so old?!) She was incredibly open and talkative and told me all about her family in Colombia, her puppy, and her dream of becoming a veterinarian. We bonded over being vegetarians, which is nearly impossible in Spain, and our loves for Lisbon and Madrid. She was adorable and hilarious and reminded me of the qualities I hope to keep from my ~youth~.

{Lisboa Oriente}

5. Parque Juan Carlos > Parque Retiro. It's amazing to still be discovering new spots at this point in my trip and this week I went to Parque Juan Carlos I. It's off to the edge of the city, and while it's incredibly close to where I live, I never thought to make the trip since it's never mentioned on any travel websites or anything. And although it's not as iconic or old as Retiro, I think it's absolutely beautiful and provides more shade and scenery without the big crowds. You can rent bikes and even go on a train rideall for freeand there are tons of really cool modern art sculptures, a greenhouse, and a dedication to Spain's three major religionsChristianity, Judaism, and Islam. If you're in Madrid definitely don't leave without making a trip to this park.

All in all, this week was one of the best I've had this summer. Hope you enjoy the rest of yours! Here are a few more pictures from my trip to Lisbon:

~ V

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What Color Looks Like

{los Palacios Nazaríes}

I've spent a lot of this past year thinking about depression. There are times in which I wonder if I've ever been depressed, while in others I question if I always have. I know that winters are always hardest for me. Without even getting into the emotional aspect of what the winter does to me, I know that I lose motivation and drive and passion and I'm always drained; I'm just not me. This winter was particularly hard, the worst it's ever been, but since I've never talked to a professional about it, I'm reluctant to align my experiences with any labels, so whether my depression is seasonal or not, or whether it even is depression, I don't know. But the way this manifests for me, the way the experience functions and affects my life, is multidimensional and spreads in ways I have trouble putting into words. 

It's hard to get that distance from yourself, to find a sort of clarity where you feel like you're judging yourself objectively and fairly and accurately. And when it comes to mental health, it's even harder. But one big thing beyond the motivation and beyond my general outlook on my life and my future and my friends and everything else around me, is color. I know I'm depressed when things begin to literally look bleak. The grass isn't as green, which is funny because it's both literally and metaphorically true. And beyond the fact that all colors lose their vibrance and brightness, I also can't see things clearly or sharply. It's like there's a film in front of my eyes and I can rub them all I want and even get new glasses but at the end of the day all I have to do is wait for summer, wait for the depression to pass. 

And every summer, it's the same. I go through the same patterns over and over. First I'll be walking around town or driving on the highway and all of a sudden I'll notice how the greeness of the trees is so insanely bright. It's so vibrant and in your face that I'll think it's just the way the sun is hitting at that hour or I've had too much coffee or I'm just high off of Vitamin D. But then it'll keep happening. I can't tell you the amount of times I stopped to look at the different types of flowers on my visit to the Alhambra this weekend. Have you ever seen a purple so bright? A red that popped so much against a green so vibrant it looks almost comical, cartoon-like? And then I remember, this is what colors actually look like. And I realize wow, I was more depressed than I had thought. 

And then I start noticing how much more alive I am. How much more I feel and how much more deeply I am affected by beauty and happiness and moments of peace and contentment.  How much more I value sunsets and spending time with the people I care about and watching hours pass in the backyard with my notebooks and pens and pencils, just writing or sketching or whatever. I appreciate it all more and I'm able to value it and think about it and feel it on a deeper level than I'm capable of in the winter. I'm more passionate, more me.

So I don't know if this is all in my head or if I'm depressed or never have been or still am. But I do know how summer makes me feel, how the sun makes everything a thousand times better. And I know that it's a matter of time before I slip back into that again, that sort of bleak darkness. Winter is coming. And sometimes it worries me. I'm not ready to let go of all this yet. It seems like I just got the sun and all that comes with it. I just became me again, and knowing that it's all going to go away in a matter of months makes me sad and a little scared.

But at the end of the day, I think I'm okay with it. What's the good without the bad? How much would I appreciate the summer and the sun and the heat if I didn't have winter to compare it against? Maybe it's not completely healthy or wise to be okay with it, okay with whatever winter does to me. But for now, when I'm running high off of endorphins and adrenaline and Vitamin D and Spanish air, I'm just going to take a moment to appreciate this: how much and how deeply I feel about everything in my life right now, how much this experience has meant to me and has affected me, and more than anythinghow damn happy I am. 

~ V