My sister took the picture above of my mom and I on August 19th at Chicago’s O’hare airport, before I went through security. As you can see, I was crying my butt off. I was running on 2 hours of sleep because I had spent most of the night averting multiple packing crises. I remember that day as being oddly calm; nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Except, of course, for my many random bursts of crying.
I was so emotional. I felt extremely soft. The two weeks prior to my departure were filled with fun afternoons with friends and delicious dinners with my family but continuously burdened by stress. Aside from worrying about a million tedious (and frivolous) things, like should I bring three or four pair of shoes? or should I bring that warm (but bulky) jacket I bought just in case Peru temperatures drop to 40F at night like all the websites threaten or in case Canada is still cold in May?, my homestay did not get arranged until the week of my departure. This gave me many sleepless nights from both staying up waiting for emails from Spain and being stressed about not having a place to sleep (and not having much else secured in Barcelona).
I really think the Watson journey began when I apply. Each part a completely different experience. The pre-departure stage has definitely been the loneliest so far because I felt an inability to say that I was scared. And I was so scared. I was in limbo; blissfully aware of how fortunate I was for having this amazing opportunity and having so many friends, mentors, and family members who were sharing the joy with me, but dauntingly alone because all these people could only ever get glimpses and snippets of my feelings, my worries, my joy, my desperation.
All of these things crashed into me for weeks, leaving me soft. I suppose this is why on the day of my departure, I let it all out. I cried for every worrisome thought, my mom’s smile, my mom crying, my mom hugging me, my mom asking me why is it that I’m crying this time that I’m leaving home (since I’ve never cried before). Es diferente I told her. Because I was transitioning. I was in limbo with all my feelings, standing there soft and tall with a large suitcase in hand and a 20 pound book-bag on my back. At the airport, I cried and cried, glancing back at my family continuously looking for them through the crowd behind me until my moving bags on the conveyor belt forced me to finally cross over to the other side.
I’ll be honest, August 19th feels like a lifetime ago, but it makes sense considering how many people I’ve met, how many places I’ve visited, and how many times I’ve gotten lost. This month, overall, has been about me learning how to do my project, and accepting that I will have to continue to redefine what the Watson will look like for me this next year.
This post is inspired by a series of monthly posts that another Swarthmore Watson fellow in 2011, Nell, created on her own Watson blog Names Across Nations. I thought I would use my Watsoversary posts to share some sentence-long stories that summarize major events and accomplishments about my Watson journey each month.
- I almost was not allowed on my flight to Barcelona because I did not have a return ticket but with the help of my Watson letter, lots of begging, and wonderful kindness, the airline personal printed me a fake return ticket!
- After arriving to Barcelona and watching the conveyor belt turn for an hour, I accepted the sad truth that my luggage was left in Madrid; thankfully they remembered to include it in the following flight so I got it the same day.
- I’ve visited/talked to people at over 12 nonprofits, civic offices, and government organizations including: Mescladis, SOS Racismo, Espai EICA, ACATHI, Fedelatina, Oficina por la No Discriminacion, Fundacion Babel, Espai Avinyo, Ca la Dona, Casal de Barri Pou de la Figuera, Serveis d’Immigració i Interculturalitat.
- I’ve met immigrants from Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Serbia, and Venezuela.
- I took a language class for the first time – ara parlo una mica de català!
- I’ve been cooking meals for myself without using oil because I didn’t feel like buying a bottle and then having to carry it around with me.
- I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (who since then I’ve learned everything about by watching and reading every interview and speech she’s given) and God Help the Child by Toni Morrison.
- I’ve forced myself to not be so self-conscious about taking selfies. This probably sounds weird but I’m quite late to the selfie-life and although Barcelona is very touristy, which means everyone is taking pictures, I still feel a little weird posing in front of my camera in the middle of a crowded street, but I’m working on it!
- I attended the Fiestas de Gracia where I danced at 2am with sangria in hand under amazing street decorations.
- I watched a very quirky and beautifully-shot Russian film about a mailman with my suite-mate Alex and her boyfriend.
- I’ve learned that age is but a number (cliché I know) but the majority of the people I’ve met this month have been between 30 and 77 years old, and with them I’ve danced, talked over coffee and croissants, shared laughs at bars, and wondered the streets of Barcelona.
- Attended a vegan fair where I bought some shampoo.
- Went to a free yoga class (awesome) and a 5 euro trial fitness class at the beautiful parc de la Ciutadella (awful; apparently I’m not at the ‘beginner level’).
- Went on a fantastic cultural LGBTI route “Lesbians and Trans of the XX Century in Barcelona.”
- I’m learning to accept that my very American way of having structure and making plans will forcefully be taking a backseat this year.
- Found 5 free exhibitions/events that expanded my understanding of my project and immigration and forced me to think about cities, architecture, refugees, tourism, borders, citizenship, detainment centers, and age as important components to consider.
- Saw a traditional Catalan dance and parade.
- Designed my own stamp (thanks to the suggestion of past Watson fellow Miyuki) so I could make business cards on-the-go and became fearless about passing them out to people.
- Ate pork and chicken after a year of pescetarianism.