Experiencing Bilbao

October 30, 2017

This post comes to us from Blanche Froelich who is currently studying abroad in Bilbao, Spain. Blanche is a Visual Arts major at Bowdoin College. 

I am now one week into my study abroad experience in Bilbao in el País Vasco. I have started and scrapped this first post numerous times now, unsure how best to encapsulate all this week has been. While my future posts will have tangible specifics and information about traveling abroad, the sights of Bilbao, and the art I’m studying, these first days (and the weeks and months proceeding my departure) have been so colored by two emotions I felt that I would be remiss to not address them here.

The first of these is fear. To say that the decision to study abroad and the experience itself have been colored by fear sounds a little absurdly sinister, but it’s not entirely inaccurate. When I say fear, perhaps what I really mean is a near constant uncertainty- before last Thursday, I’d never left the United States; now I’m in Europe for nine months. There is so much of which I have been, and am, uncertain. From figuring out my financial aid to helping my parents from such a distance, to (as my aching calves are reminding me) finding the metro station when Google Maps has decided to give up. And yet, the same uncertainty that at times feels so overwhelming I’m unsure I’ve ever made a single decision correctly, has, time and time again, led me to the most life-affirming experiences and people.

Which leads me to the far more important theme of this week: profound gratitude. My first night in Bilbao, I was nearly driven to tears as I lay in bed and reflected on just where I was and what I was doing. At every turn, I’ve been with met with such kindness, luck, and the intensity of my own privilege. I hope that as this journey progresses, through good times and hard, I hope will be able to keep the gratitude I feel now close to the surface, and in the spirit of remembering this warm glow, I’ve put together a greatly abridged list of the good things that have come my way so far.

I am grateful for my father and all the work he has done to get me to a place in my life where this is possible. He is my rock.

I am grateful for my mother, who set me off on this experience with everything she could and has always supported me, no matter the distance.

I am grateful for my stepmom, who was the first to tell me about the world and lit the spark that drives me to chase joy and to explore endlessly.

I am grateful to attend a school that has given me the resources and opportunity to do this. Bowdoin’s generosity is truly unmatched.

I am grateful for the woman who sat next to me on the plane to Madrid, who gave me her name and number as we landed, assuring me I was never alone in Spain. That gift calmed my nerves and let me enjoy the excitement of beginning this adventure.

I am grateful for my resident director, Andrea, who has been so kind and welcoming. How she has the energy and patience to guide dozens of American students through this every year is beyond me, but she does it with grace.

I am grateful for my host-mom and sister, who have welcomed me so warmly into their beautiful home and somehow have the ability to decipher my Spanish and patience to repeat themselves endlessly for me.

I am grateful for my friends, old and new, both here and in the States. How wonderful to have people to laugh with and people to miss you when you’re gone.

I am grateful to call this beautiful and charming city home for the next nine months. Bilbao, you have my heart already.

There is so much more I would like to include in this list, but I’ll  finish with this. I am grateful to have the ability to carve out a life for myself that is filled with beauty, creativity, risk, fear, and joy. I am grateful for uncertainty. I am doing things that ten years ago I was convinced would always be unattainable for me.

To be studying art in the Basque Country? That was for someone braver. But I am braver. Of that, I am certain and proud. I am still afraid at times, and there is so much that is hard and unknown. But I will embrace both, and continue to be grateful.


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