I cannot believe it is May. That is crazy with a capital K 😛 . It feels like just yesterday it was December and even still like we were just enjoying our first of many French two week vacations. This vacation (and the weeks leading up to / following it, set amidst the last days for seniors back home) have me in a slightly nostalgic mood, reflecting on how far my classmates and I have come since stepping of that plane back in september and plunging ourselves into a life in France.
During this first part of my so-called Easter break, I “capital-hopped” with three friends: spending a night in Paris, then off to Madrid and Lisbon. In Madrid, alongside some much needed relaxation in the newfound sun (taking advantage of the soft grass and the two huge parks on either side of the city), we checked out Madrid’s two big art museums, the Prado and the Reina-Sophia. At the Prado, we couldn’t believe ourselves as we questioned whether Rubens was Baroque and flocked to see Poussin’s fat babies. Thanks to our art history class, I actually feel qualified and able to comment on many paintings spanning different styles, countries and time periods, which adds additional depth to visiting art museums (beyond the cursory levels of appreciation). This feeling was further solidified when we saw one of Marcel Duchamp’s Porte Bouteilles in the Belem Cultural Center. I would never have heard of him before our art history teacher JP brought him up in class but now, my friends and I had a fan-girl moment over seeing one of his famous pieces (complete with his signature), in person. I remarked that some teenagers react like this around pop stars, but we freak out over seeing certain artists’ work in person. If that’s not indicative of how we’ve grown over this year, I don’t know what is.
Another artistic induced example of my metamorphosis hit me after we explored the Surrealist area at the Reina Sophie, containing pieces from (among others) Joan Miro. On our very first school travel trip, we visited an exhibition of his work on our last day. I remember really enjoying the colors and overall effect without being able to actually “understand” most of it. However, I chose Miro as my artist for our graded 45 minute final Art History presentation, which pushed me to learn more about his influences and the explanations behind his paintings and sculptures. I had doubted my teacher when he said the goal of the project was to turn us into, more or less, experts on our chosen artists, but to an extent that’s exactly what I feel like. These bookending experiences with Miro’s art set up a clear contrast between my artistic analysis capabilities then and now.
In addition to showcasing this new cultural knowledge I’ve gained, this break for me was a reflection of how I have grown (sadly just mentally) and matured as a person. Before this year I doubt I would have been confident enough to travel around Europe with just a few friends. It’s a testament to my parents and their faith in me (*hi parents*) that I have this level of freedom. My host mom was surprised that we had managed to live on our own for a week, especially in two countries where we didn’t know the language. If you had told me a year ago that I’d be wandering around Europe without my parents, I bet I would have been rather shocked too.
Exploring Spain and Portugal cemented for me how nice it is to actually known the local language. Similar to my observation in Berlin, I’m realizing how much we rely on the having basic communicative skills. I found it especially alienating that few people spoke even English (aka my trusty global backup language). Surrounded by so much foreign-ness, my friends and I remarked excitedly every time we heard French or English. We even spoke quite a bit of French between ourselves, especially when we hung out with a couple more SYA-ers in Lisbon and started telling people that we were Americans living in France. It’s times like that where I think I’m dreaming, deep in the phases where there’s no way this is real life.
As always, sooner or later, reality hits, this time in the form of some good old standardized tests to wrap up the year. Three SAT subject tests and some focused studying stand between me and a week in the south of france with 75 lovely humans. Like Nikki Minaj so succintly put it, “Let’s go to the beach, beach. Let’s go get away.” I can’t wait.