Stranger in a strange land

Getting there is half the adventure

If anyone on the Delta flight from Sioux Falls to Minneapolis looked, they would have seen a smile slowly creep over my face as the plane achieved liftoff just as John Denver sang the chorus of “Leaving on a jet plane,” the bright morning sun casting streaks through the cabin.

I was finally on a plane and bound for my first international experience in Spain. For five days and nights I would experience the sights and sounds of Alcala de Heneres and Madrid while attending a political science conference.

The experiences I had as “stranger in a strange land” were invaluable and I could write about each one at length. However, I decided to just briefly write down the highlights, both good and bad, of the trip.

• Flying over New York City into JFK Airport. From my window I could see the entire city sprawled out before me, including the Empire State Building and Central Park. It might seem a little corny, but it’s an awesome experience to finally see the city I’ve seen and heard about on TV, in books and in music. Taylor Swift’s “ Welcome to New York” was definitely playing in my head.

•The JFK Airport. The very first sight after getting off the airplane? A fire on the tarmac visible from the terminals. It wasn’t a plane, but it was still an alarming sight to see. JFK was also the most diverse place I’ve seen to date. From the various languages in the waiting area to the group of Orthodox Jews bound for Israel praying by a wall, it was an experience in and of itself to just wander around the airport.

• Getting lost in Alcala on the first day. I never was good with directions. After getting settled into my hotel I went out to explore the city. From trekking through the historical section of the city to visiting the natural history museum there, I was having a grand time — until the sun started to set. After finally finding my way back to the city square I noticed a group of about 100 people had gathered there. Thinking there was an event about to take place, I sat and waited. That’s when I heard english being spoken. For what might constitute as the lamest way for a guy to introduce himself to two college women “This may sound awkward, but I noticed you were speaking english,” has got to be at the top of the list. It, however, led to a great discussion with an American and a Spaniard on life in Spain. Taylor, Melissa if you ever stumble across this blog, thank you so much for making Spain seem a little bit more like home.

• Losing my passport in a Madrid taxi. The sheer panic I had after I realized I left my coat and my passport in the trunk of a taxi was a bit overwhelming. Thankfully I’m not too out of shape and managed to chase down the cab driver after about two or three blocks.

• Getting lost on the Madrid Metro. Trying to meet up with recent USD graduate and friend Katia Duszenko in the city’s center proved to be more difficult than I thought. After an hour and a half, and with the help of a half dozen good samaritans of differing nationalities, I finally found my way to the square. There were numerous times I had mini panic attacks during that night, but by the end of my two-day stint in Madrid I was a seasoned navigator of one of the largest underground public transportation systems in the world.

• Taking in the sights. On the last day in Madrid I was able to visit the Prado Art Museum and the Royal Palace. Walking through room after room and seeing artwork almost 1,000 years old has an odd effect on a person. It makes you feel small and in awe at the same time. Ending the night in a small backstreet cafe snacking on churros and hot chocolate while talking about life and politics with an old college friend was the perfect way to bring my time in Spain to a close.

These are just some of the adventures I had while abroad. I conveniently left out a few parts, including a mishap with Spanish security when I was trying to leave the country. It’s a good story and if you ask I might tell you about it.

If there’s one thing that I took away from my trip, it’s that I’m a small fish in a big pond. The world is a giant place, way larger than my little neck of the woods and I’m more than capable of navigating it. There’s still so much to see, so many people to meet and so much to do.

I’ve caught the globetrotting bug and I can’t wait to see what the future holds and where my travels will take me next.