by Shayla Brooks
Exploring the UNM Honors Study Abroad Program, Conexiones
Like any other travel or study abroad, Conexiones was a one of a kind, life-changing experience. But as with all adventures, the beginning was daunting. All of a sudden, the things learned in Spanish classes became irrelevant in real life situations when I realized that I couldn’t describe my most basic wants and needs. I couldn’t express my appreciation to my host family or even order food with the familiar ease it takes at home. Without my usual vocabulary, my personality disappeared and I had to be okay with boiling my thoughts and opinions down to basic (or nonsense) phrases. And, sometimes, I had to apologize for not being able to understand the thick Spain lisp or the vosotros form that is practically condemned in every American Spanish class.
But all apologies, mistakes, and gibberish elicited the same reaction out of every Spanish speaker: “No pasa nada.”
Although this literally translates to “nothing happens,” it’s normally used to express “don’t worry about it” or “it’s okay,” which quickly became the most comforting phrase to hear while traveling in Spain and trying not to offend cultural sensibilities as an outsider.
It’s amazing how quickly people can adapt to environments so far from the familiar. Now, I’m the type of person that gets easily homesick, so the first week was very difficult. But Spain is the kind of place that only gets more beautiful by the day, and that experience is hard not to enjoy.
I fell into a routine, going to school at the same time every day, going on class excursions on Friday, and planning independent travels for the weekend. Cáceres was a decently sized town, big enough for college kids to explore the shops and cruise for tapas, but not large enough to feel overwhelmed.
My knowledge of Spanish history and language was greatly expanded through discussion with my host mom and during class, but most of my personal growth happened over the weekend as we plotted our independent adventures. It was because of this free time on the trip that I will always remember the sound of Cathedral bells in Salamanca, the sight of Flamenco dancers in Sevilla, and the shared religious history of Muslim, Jewish and Catholic people in Córdoba.
There is something to be said about the bonds that develop between people with similar experiences, which is why we were so lucky to have such a good group to travel with. We saw each other every day, and helped one another through language failures and successes. I am fully confident that the communication between the Conexiones family will last past this summer, and past college itself.
Not only were deep personal relationships made, but throughout our travels we also kept an eye out for connections to home. Albuquerque’s sister city in Spain, Alburquerque, showed us that the historical ties are so ingrained in the culture of these places, that the people can never be separated. Our intertwined past can be seen even in the present. Every plaza we saw revealed the imprint of Spanish settlement in the Southwestern states, especially New Mexico. From these similarities I gained the confidence to say that the best, most beneficial travel is the kind in which you return understanding your home better than when you left it.
By the end of the trip, the phrase “no pasa nada” became less of a saying and more a way of looking at the world. I stopped worrying about being overwhelmed, or under pressure, or missing home. All the mistakes I made became okay, because there was so much I didn’t know anyway.
I learned that sometimes–when you are experiencing so much by traveling, immersing yourself in a whole new culture, a whole different population–you are so busy living life that you don’t have time to worry about the little things. And before you know it, “no pasa nada” becomes symbolic of your new outlook on life.