By Michael Saunders
What have I been doing this summer?…….. Oh man, where to begin? On May 22nd I flew to Heathrow Airport in London, England…. I brought with me a dufflebag, a backpack, and a whole lot of inexperience in European travels. I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to see or do, I just knew that i wanted to experience Europe in a way I never would get to experience again, and eventually end up in Madrid, Spain where I would begin my Study Abroad Adventures on June 16th. Jet lagged beyond belief, I spent the first few days in an endless cycle of going to bed at 4pm (because I lacked the mental fortitude to push until 4:20 or later) and waking up at 2 in the morning. Eventually, with perseverance, 4 P.M. became 4:30 and 2 AM became 3 and I was able to conquer my mis timed sleep intervals. Finally, after like 2 days, the adventures could begin!
I spent the next week traipsing through all of London, hopping on and off buses and the metro, trying to learn how to navigate through the city “like a boss”. I carried my duffle bag and backpack with me everywhere I went, reason being, I was not sleeping in hostals…. or hotels… or inns…. or …. actually any form of fully closed and covered location. I was sleeping on the streets or in train stations or on the tops of abandoned buildings…. why you ask? Well, I don´t really know… It could be because I didn´t want to be a fully fledged tourist, or because I happened to be in London at the same time as the Champion´s Cup and every Dortmundt and Bayern Munich fan on the planet was occupying every available bed in the city, or lastly and probably most likely, because I wanted to have an adventure. Touring Europe alone, with no working phone number or easily accessible wi-fi, on the streets, really learning what it means to survive/ be independent/ see what you are really capable of, with a language barrier in your face? What college age guy doesn´t want to do that? (I´m sure a surprisingly large number is raising their hand right now).
For those of you thinking it right now…. true, I didn´t technically have a language barrier to overcome. I was in London and they technically speak English. Then I went to France…. I took a bus there because I found a good deal when I happened upon some wi-fi in the street. What was France like? Well….. Legitimate of course. The country is beautiful and I was able to see quite a large portion of the city through my Couch Surfing host. Yes, I went couchsurfing.. . . How is it? To be completely honest, I thought I was going to die when I walked into my hosts suburban flat. I´m not kidding, in my adult life I have never been so scared in my life…. Come find me in person. I´ll tell you why. Anyway, I survived! and headed to Rome approximately 5 days later. . . Upon arriving, my backpack with my laptop, camera, retainer, books, clothes, and whatever else important inside, was stolen from right underneath my nose… I was a little bummed but shook it off. I spent the next few days exploring Rome on foot, running into long lost friends in front of epic monuments and sleeping under the pines of Rome on rainy nights. It was incredible.
After that came Barcelona. I have always been a Real Madrid fan, but I have to say that Barcelona is probably the most beautiful city I have ever encountered, in its own sort of special magical way. I can´t explain it, but I can definitely say there is a genuine excitement and tangible energy in the air. This time I stayed in “IN OUT” Hostel way up in the Mountains, and I must admit it was nice to sleep in a bed after so much time. It was June 4th when I arrived in Barcelona but on June 7th, at long last, I arrived in Madrid…. my future home. I spent the week before the program started, making friends, exploring the city, and discovering what it really meant to rule the night. I can confidently say, the night life in Madrid/ Spain is unlike anything you will ever experience… anywhere else….. ever…. It just doesn´t make sense. Even now, as I sit here at this computer in my current place of residence, in Madrid…. I am blown away. Maybe I will be able to grasp it when I arrive stateside.
Classes began on the 16th and I was finally reunited with Americans that I knew! Oh what a glorious feeling! I kind of felt like the Prodigal Son upon return…… when he…….or….. actually I have no clue where I was going with that…. Please forgive my horrible analogy. Then, *snaps fingers* just like that, the program was over. Everyone left me and headed back to the states, aside from a few stragglers who traversed through other European cities. It hit me, when everyone left, that I didn´t…. really… have friends anymore. I mean yeah a couple of them that I had made before the program began, but…. not the multitudes that I had grown accustomed too at SMU. I naturally decided I should go to SOL (the main plaza in Madrid) and read my Spanish English dictionary while soaking up the culture…. I had been there for maybe 20 minutes when I happened to see some Break-dancers getting ready to put on a show. I just recently got into dance and recognized many of the moves they were warming up, so naturally decided to go over to them and try to start a conversation…. 4 hours later we were buen amigos, and they told me where they would be practicing the following day. I headed there at about 6pm the following day and to my surprise found them and around 30-60 other breakers just dancing away in front of the Corte Ingles (a huge store that sells literally everything). I had thought that “Vinotinto” – the crew from Venezuela that I had met the previous day, was having a private practice, but I found out the next day that those dancers dance there EVERY day. I had, without knowing it, stumbled upon this huge group of underground dancers that was comprised of breakers, poppers and lockers, and even ballerinas. They were extremely welcoming and accepted me into the group like family.
Every day I head over to El Corte Ingles, meet my talented new friends and dance the day away. They are all so much more advanced than I, but never fail to reach down and give me a helping hand. I now have a huge, loving family overseas that I get to grow with as a dancer, and practice my rapidly improving Spanish. They usually break (dance) until at least 1 in the morning, but I leave at about 10 pm to go meet my closest friends Stuart, Justin and bboy Geeroh at Sol to help them put on the daily performances. My summer has been absolutely incredible and it is STILL not over. Each day is filled with more and more excitement, and I think today will be my first day street performing with the crew. I can´t wait!
I honestly could not love life any more than I do right now. This has easily been the most engaging, impactful and productive summer of my life, and I could not be more grateful to the Hunt Family and SMU Abroad/ SMU for making it possible. I have always known that I have been blessed, but this summer has really showed me to what extent. I was blessed to have been born in America, blessed to have parents that love me (at least I think they do) and above many many other things, blessed to have been given the opportunity to study, learn, and be my adventurous self at SMU. Now, I´m not saying that SMU is right for everybody, but if you read this far, you should either go fill out that application to SMU or start jumping for joy because you were just reminded how incredible it is to be a part of the MUSTANG NATION.