Carry-on Suitcase


It is my last day in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, for four and a half months. Everything is packed and ready, so much so that I could sit here right now and list off, without looking, the exact contents of my suitcase and backpack that are sitting six feet away from me. (I won’t put you all through that though). I am a perpetual list-maker and planner, which means that I may have put more thought and time into this packing job this summer than I did into a few of my midterms last year…


I have been planning this trip since before I can remember. I grew up listening to my mother’s stories of her high school years spent as an exchange student in Denmark, and vacationing in the tiny but beautiful country with the host families that, twenty years later, still consider her their own. Nothing seemed more worthwhile or glamorous to me than getting out of “boring old America” and collecting family members around the globe. When I started studying Spanish in 6th grade, I decided that when my turn came I would go to Spain- still in Europe like my mom, but where I would learn a more “useful” language. And I have never let go of that plan made by my eleven-year-old self. It has transformed a bit, of course, from a year long trip to Madrid into a semester’s stay in Alicante, a smaller city (population roughly 400,000) on the Mediterranean coast a few hours south of Barcelona. But the essentials remain. I will stay with a host family (whose identity I do not find out until I arrive at orientation) and take all of my classes in Spanish in a program that focuses on total language immersion.I can’t believe it’s finally happening!

You can see Alicante on the Eastern side of the country.

That total language immersion tops a very long list of things that I am very nervous about right now. Despite my meticulous packing, and despite even 9 my years of Spanish classes, I am very aware of the amount of sheer unknown that I am about to plunge myself into. Will I be able to understand the Spaniard’s accents? Will my vocabulary be all wrong because I’ve been learning Latin American Spanish all these years? Another big concern of mine is just the simple fact of getting around. Because I’m legally blind, buses, trains, and even street signs can overwhelm me even when they’re in familiar places like Portland or Walla Walla.  Will people be understanding and helpful? Will I get lost?

I’ll start finding out tomorrow…