You know when you have that feeling in your gut that something important is just about to happen? When I was little, I used to think these feelings were special indicators of future events – I called it reverse déjà vu. As I’ve grown, I’ve come to the less supernatural conclusion that I must just have particularly strong intuition.
But someties, these feelings catch you by the wayside, and it’s only after the realization’s come to surface that you can see how it’s been stuck to you for awhile and you’ve just been blind to its meaning.
One of the most significant moments of my life happened this way. As a kid I’d lie awake at night sometimes and wonder what it would be like if I lived in another country – what if I wasn’t born as an American? If I were a Britishschoolgirl instead, what would I be doing right now? Or if I were from Zimbabwe? China? Argentina? The thought of it would make me breathless.
Then, when I turned fifteen, my family and I moved to Melbourne, Australia. During the first few months of the five years I lived there, I would wake up astonished with my situation. I – am living in Australia? Then I’d remember those night I spent wondering about life in far away places…it made sense. Of course, I was always meant to be this person, an expat, a traveler. It’s what led me to my current path as an International Studies major at the University of Denver.
The same thing happened with Study Abroad. As soon as the start of my first year at DU I was looking at my options. I considered everywhere – and I’m not kidding; destinations as diverse as The Hague and Hong Kong. I even considered returning to Australia. For a spell, I was dead set on going to the Dominican Republic. Then there was Bilbao.
After mulling over my options, I was drawn to Spain. Somewhat reluctantly to tell you the truth, but I had a feeling. Soon enough, I was swept up with the idea of living in Madrid, the pulsing cosmopolitan heart of the country. Having worked with texts by Frederico García Llorca in high school, I was charmed by visions of life in Andalucía. The whimsical paintings of Salvador Dalí made me curious to see the landscape of Catalonia. I could practically see myself surrounded by the Moorish architecture of Granada. But Bilbao? No. Who goes to the north of Spain, when you can revel in the fiery south?
But something would say to me, “I bet that’s where you’ll be going, Emily,” and inside I would sigh at the thought. My intuition was speaking to me, but I didn’t want to listen.
You see we get so caught up in what we think we should do, where we should go, how our future should look, the kind of person we should be. That takes a lot of planning and organizing and lists. Lots of lists, with pros and cons and comparisons all for making decisions on our lives. I made lots of lists for study abroad, in my head and on paper. I know a lot of my friends did too. But travel shouldn’t be that way at all. Travel’s meant to break routine and throw us out on a limb. We leave what we know and what’s familiar in order to be confronted with what we didn’t plan for, don’t we?
So, I brought my list of what I wanted in a Study Abroad locale with me to my meeting with the Study Abroad advisor last Fall. Lo and behold, after looking over my list, the advisor looked and me and said, “It looks like Bilbao would be a perfect fit for you,” more or less.
“Well, of course it does,” I said to myself.
But you know, she talked me into it.
“Go to northern Spain,” she said.
“Why?” I countered.
“Because it is entirely unlike the rest of the country. It’s lush and green. There are mountains all around. The coast is beautiful. I know you hear all about la Costa del Sol, but all the Spaniards run to the northern coast for their holidays.”
I was listening.
“The culture up to the north is entirely unique to the region. There’s a very strong Celtic presence, they even play bagpipes, which you wouldn’t expect in Spain would you?”
“No, not at all.”
“Exactly. Most people don’t know much about the north of Spain because, well, most people don’t go there. And that’s one of the best parts, you’ll be one of few foreigners studying abroad in the region.”
That piqued my interest.
Then she winced and added, “It’s true that people can be a bit – apprehensive – to travel to the Basque country, and if you ask a Spaniard what they think of the idea they’ll probably advise you against it because of the ETA, but, really, it’s not dangerous. In fact, the ETA declared a ceasefire last month and, anyways, they never plant bombs inside the Basque country, so you’d actually be much safer, in theory, from terrorist threats in Bilbao than if you were anywhere else in the country.”
For some twisted reason, it was the idea of studying abroad in a place with an active national resistance movement that got me hooked.
So, I gave in to fate. I will be studying abroad en la otra costa, with ISA in Bilbao, Spain come September. And I couldn’t be happier. In my experience, the best journeys don’t fit within our carefully considered expectations. The destination draws you in, without any preparation on your part, sometimes against reason. Get rid of expectations when you travel, you’re better without them. Instead, follow your premonitions, because they know where you are going, and I’ll bet you can’t wait to find out.
Emily Bowman, DUSA Blogger