Time abroad flies fast

MADRID — A few weeks ago, the air was getting crisper and the city’s few deciduous trees were starting to change color when I started feeling a familiar pang of yearning in the depths of my stomach. It uncontrollably arrives at random moments throughout my day: my mouth starts to water and the waistline of my jeans tightens. I’d promised myself to not let it get to me while abroad, but....cheeseburger season had undeniably arrived.

I have no idea where my annual craving comes from, but every fall the weather changes and I get the urge to consume juicy, grilled patties smothered in ketchup and gooey melted cheese. However, this year hamburguesas weren’t the only American things I was craving: TJ Maxx, the Bravo channel and Cool Ranch Doritos were among the others, and I often found myself skipping out on new Spanish things in favor of the old and familiar.

For several weeks, I couldn’t figure out where all these irrepressible hankerings came from. Did I somehow acquire tapeworm while eating a chorizo sandwich? Or was it perhaps a rare mutated version of “the swine,” as my mother had been warning me about for months? I felt like I needed the likes of Dr. Phil to psychoanalyze me for any hidden food fetishes.

Nevertheless, sans a high-level psychology degree, I finally managed to figure out the root of my problem myself, and no, it’s not the fact that there actually is a McDonald’s on every corner here. I had spent over 40 minutes looking for an American food market one afternoon during my lunch break. After another 20 minutes of shrieking uncontrollably (think Backstreet Boys fans circa the fifth grade) at every item in the store, I found myself standing in the checkout line protectively clutching an $11 box of oatmeal and a $4 bag of Skittles when it hit me: I was suffering from a brutal case of homesickness.

As the semester wound down last spring, I was dying to leave AU. I had found myself in an arduous daily rut and was in desperate need of a new adventure. My first few months in Spain flew by in a wide-eyed haze — everything was so new and exciting, and I had to soak up everything I encountered like a sponge. But as the novelty began to wear off and my friend’s Facebook pictures from home looked increasingly more exciting, my itch for the familiar was apparent: not just the familiar faces and familiar food, but the familiar lifestyle.

Coming to terms with what you miss from home (and what you don’t) is just a part of the experience of living abroad (or so others tell me). While there are some things Spain doesn’t have (i.e. blue box macaroni and cheese and a decent deodorant selection), there are countless things I know I will miss once I get back to the States (the lack of good sangria and free tapas will be deeply mourned). Knowing this fact has helped me appreciate all the wonderful things this country has to offer, while of course still keeping in touch with my irrepressible American side.

Back at the American market, I stood in line still gripping my overpriced box of oatmeal before I finally snapped back to reality. First, I recognized that these feelings of homesickness will pass; in a few weeks I will be leaving, and I knew I would regret not enjoying as much Spanish food (and culture) as possible. So I put the oatmeal and Skittles back on the shelf and quickly bolted out the door.

I made it about three blocks before I encountered another McDonald’s. I once again felt my mouth water and the waistline of my jeans dig into my hips. I couldn’t resist. Flash forward to five minutes later, as I gorged my delectable double cheeseburger in a scary amount of time. Well, I guess I can start that whole experiencing new cultures thing tomorrow...

You can reach this columnist at thallerman@theeagleonline.com.

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