Growing Pains: Abroad Entries Pt. 1
May 2, 2023 / Renata Salazar
Barcelona, Milan & Lake Como, Paris, Berlin
A part of myself in Austin believed escaping was the answer. I wouldn't get nervous speaking up in class anymore in Barcelona; I would go on dates with foreign men that fell in love with me because I am so approachable and open to love and spending time with someone romantically. There would be a whole new wardrobe waiting for me, untouched, never-before-worn outfits every day that made me feel new. The music I would listen to on the way to class would be in sync with my surroundings, on beat with tourists, travelers, and locals on my street.
It's been a month since I got here, and I still exhaust the same few songs.
I always need something new to feel complete. I need a black ribbon for my outfit and three new T-shirts to pair with my track pants because nothing I have matches. A furry jacket. Long stockings and brown-heeled boots for going out only. And these are just the things I need now!
Then I’ll feel complete. Then I’ll be new.
It feels like every other American is in Europe right now. I forget I’m not the only girl here; it seemed fair that Barcelona would be left for me and only me. All of them clubbing Monday to Saturday, traveling to Monaco this weekend and Budapest the next.
Even though I'm here and my keys are new, my neighbors have accents, and my walk to class faces narrow alleys lined with bakeries with meringues the size of my hand, I still feel the same; I feel like myself.
It’s my third Sunday in Barcelona, and I’m trying to remember what I do on Sundays back in Austin, but I can't seem to remember at all. My mind goes blank. If I went out the night before, that would mean the next morning was meant for sleeping in as long as my body would allow me to. I’d wake up at 10 or 11 a.m., so I would actually get out of bed around 12 p.m., then start my day by going to the gym, and by that I mean hitting the StairMaster for 20 minutes and feeling fulfilled. I would get a coffee and go to Trader Joe’s — actually, no. I would never go to Trader Joe’s on a Sunday. I miss Austin, but only for a few seconds. I’m not done here.
Every day doesn't have to be new.
Every day doesn't have to be exciting, life-changing, or character-building.
Am I wasting my Sunday? Am I meant to be exploring the crevices of this city with any free time I have? Can’t I just let my mind wander? Should everyone see I’m having so much fun?
Sometimes I look around and realize I'm living in Barcelona. I forget I'm living in Barcelona because I’m just living my life, my normal life, so why am I in Barcelona?
My legs were propped up on the couch as I was reading, and it was loud outside. When you live in a city like Barcelona, sometimes everything outside sounds like sex (I just can't describe it; it feels like everyone is having sex in this city). I started to hear rushed footsteps I thought were my roommates’. Usually, I can tell exactly who it is by their footsteps, but this time they were heavier than usual — boyish.
My eyes were still glued to the book.
I heard a deep, very French “hello.” I looked over to see a familiar French boy my roommate has over every now and then, reaching over for the pack of cigarettes on the coffee table. Naturally, I put down my book and asked.
“Where did you come from?”
He responded, “The rooom,” with an emphasis on the o’s.
“When did you get here?” I said.
“When you were in the shower… Good music,” he said while making that noise with his mouth that sounds like a wink.
I'm not sure why, but at that moment, I truly felt like I was living in Europe.
Suddenly everything is new and exciting.
I went on a date. The first one ever in the way that I was asked — naturally, but in a formal way, in a reservation kind of way. It felt like something was really happening. My roommate asked me if I had ever been on a date like that before, and I said no, not like this. We agreed on how adult-ish it was to be asked out on a proper date, with dinner and wine, in a city like Barcelona.
“That's so fun!” she said. “You're dating in Barcelona!”
Walking to school today feels especially wrong. Why am I here? I just want to have fun and it's all I can think about. All I can think about is getting ready and getting weird. Going to bed at six a.m. to wake up three hours later with a fun new story to tell. Today, more than ever, it feels like life is about catching up with friends and grabbing a coffee and a croissant on a Sunday.
It’s Monday, and I woke up at 11 a.m. feeling chaos for the first time in a while. My room was messily scattered with outfits that weren’t good enough to wear, tissues, and wrappers from months prior. In an hour, I needed to get ready, have breakfast, and mentally prepare to sit through class, when the night prior, I was in some beach town up until 2 a.m. kissing Italians with a blue wig on.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about finding purpose here, more than just finding my favorite place in Europe or having my craziest night out. I've realized that throughout my whole life, I've chosen to be cold. I read books and watch movies about people who feel. People who love, cry, kiss, make mistakes, and find themselves through others. The kind that makes you stare into walls and reinvent your life. Yes, I feel too, but I feel cold. I’m too good to make mistakes, nobody should see me like this. Nobody should see me cry, kiss, or love.
But how will I live in the cold forever? How will I ever feel?
I was never too good; I was just afraid, hiding — cold.
I want to live with love on my mind everywhere I go. I’m choosing to smile the second I wake up and walk out of my door. I’m letting go of trying so hard to achieve peace and instead letting it find me. I want warmth. I’m choosing chaos, love, touch, and everything else life should be about.
There are only a few moments where I've truly felt like the air was clean. One I can remember was this camp I went to in high school, only because all of my friends went. I don't know if the air was actually cleaner — it might have been, considering we were in the middle of nowhere — but it smelled so good. I remember just feeling so much love around me because I was with all of my best friends. We had no phones, and everything felt so special. Everything felt so real.
I’m walking down La Rambla, the most popular street in Barcelona, to run on the beach. Tourists, friends, and families walk everywhere just exploring the city, all up so early. I wonder if all of them are in good company.
The air feels really clean today. I wonder what that means for me.
Later that day
The weather is gloomy now, and once again, I'm looking around and realizing that I live in Barcelona.
It's Tuesday, but it still feels like the very beginning. The start of something.
I love seeing people smiling after looking at their phones or running to hug someone they miss. Lately, I look at everyone with love in my eyes. The sparkle in my eyes is back. I looked in the mirror this morning, and my eyes were shining; I could tell because they weren't just brown. I could see the excitement in them, the life, the love, and the people waiting to meet me. I could see the life in my eyes.
It's Tuesday, but now I feel like every day is a beginning. This time, I mean it.
I’ve been to so many places that it's hard to process each one individually.
I’ve realized I think it's impossible to appreciate something for what it is in the moment, to truly understand that this moment is one of a kind, beautiful.
A kiss on your doorstep you weren’t expecting, a walk home so sunny it feels like heaven, the first day you can feel spring on your skin, and you finally get to leave your jacket at home, drinking hot chocolate with your best friend in Paris while she gets hit on by a cute French waiter. Meeting a stranger at a cathedral in Milan with hopes of seeing him again. The Eiffel Tower. The way it sparkles, the way it puts you in a trance. There’s something so special about Paris, I think. Now every time I go, I think of going with my dad before he dropped me off in Barcelona. How all we would do was walk. How he showed me his first apartment when he lived there and his commute to the gym — the small parts of his days, the most special parts. I miss eating duck with him and real French fries, dipping my bread in Dijon mustard so spicy my eyes would water, and ordering dessert with every meal. The people in Paris are so casual and cool; they move so effortlessly. Compared to Texas, the people stand tall and firm, elegant, too. My legs feel like Jell-O in Paris, but I like it. It makes me want to stand taller.
Initially, I had no interest in visiting Berlin. I’m drawn to the beach, the sun, the places filled with romance and languages that blend into melodies, Milan, Paris, red wine, and espressos after dinner.
Berlin didn’t have enough romance for me. It just seemed gray.
On a night out in Barcelona, I met a woman from Germany: Laura. This night was one of the infamous nights where I would run away hoping to find new people and new conversations. We checked our coats together and became best friends. I knew we had become best friends because we looked each other in the eyes. Her eyes were dilated. When I asked her about Berlin, she told me it was a city that would make you uncomfortable if you were in the right places — you would be challenged. She said those not used to seeing things and doing things out of their comfort zone would feel overwhelmed in a place like Berlin.
Berlin is gray, but it is rich. It's full of history, life, and people who want more than just the day, people who rather live through the night too. People who just want to listen to the beat of the music alone.
Not sure why I’m thinking about these words, but growing pains. I’ve always been secure and confident with where I’m going, career-wise and all. When I was younger, I always thought I would be a star at 20, and settled down. Only half true now. I'm turning 21 in a few weeks, and I finally feel like I’m in my 20s. I’m a bit confused. A bit scared and randomly living abroad to learn something about myself. After a few weeks of living in Europe, I knew I wanted to discover something here, something about myself and the way to live life. A deeper purpose. A new meaning. If living here has taught me anything so far, it’s that sometimes it's okay to just exist. It's okay to go somewhere and just look.
When I travel, I’ve realized I’m there to just look, to stand still, and appreciate the beauty of something new, with no rush. I sat down in Lake Como with a glass in my hand and breathed real air. I thought about how little there is to do compared to back home, how the people who live there must walk so slowly all the time because there’s just no rush. They get to breathe clean air and drink fresh water. They don’t just feed themselves; they nourish and nurture their bodies. They get to live. I think about how I would get bored of this eventually, but how it would feel so good only to need fresh air and feel like enough.
Right now, I’m at Parque de la Ciutadella, and I can hear the pigeons cooing and the kids on their field trips. Two minutes away from the Arc de Triomphe, this is my favorite park.
I know everything will be okay. The sun is shining. This is life. ■
By: Renata Salazar
Graphics: Angela Mikela
Graphics: Angela Mikela