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I get off of the train into the piercingly cold winter morning, anxious, not knowing what to expect. “So who am I supposed to be looking for?” I think as I nervously scan my surroundings. After a draining 20 hour flight and train ride to get to a small rural town in Spain to meet my family for the first time, I do not know whether to be excited or nervous. As I see, in the distance, two women emerging from the darkness, I automatically remember that I don’t speak Spanish! How am I going to communicate with them when all I can say is hello? Will this language barrier keep me from truly knowing the distant family I so eagerly wish to learn about? I can only hope not.
Immediately I am welcomed with a warm hug. “Hola!” I exclaim, trying to display my excitement with my limited vocabulary. “Soy Robert” I say, nervous of saying things improperly. They respond instantaneously with what seems like words spoken only by aliens. My mom, however, mercifully comes to my rescue, as I stand there in befuddlement, stating that I do not speak Spanish. I automatically see disappointment in their eyes. Disappointment? Does this mean that I will not be able to gain a connection with the very people I crave to be so close with? In the States, it’s just me and my mom against the world; we have no one to count on, no one to call, no one to invite to a Thanksgiving dinner. Adding these people to our family would change everything. We would no longer feel alone.
During the car ride to my family’s house my mother exchanges words with these women. All of them laugh, talk, and cry together. What am I doing? Looking out of the window, imagining what their house looks like. Is it one of those old farm houses? Or is it completely modern with the newest technology?” As I think about this I start to feel like I am completely missing out. The connection I wish to have with these people now seems impossible. Even if I do gain a connection with them, will I be seen as the arrogant American boy who is unwilling to be in touch with his roots and learn a language so central to his identity?
It has been a week now and things seem to be changing. Because I stepped outside of my comfort zone and dedicated myself to establishing a relationship with my distant family, I now am able to somewhat communicate with them. I listen intently to what they are saying and am able to understand certain things, based on context. Although I can only say so much with my limited vocabulary, I am establishing a relationship with my family and am learning so much about them. Now with only a day left, I sit eating with my family, feeling at home. With my cousin Iris singing a Spanish song, and her brother laughing at a joke, I feel as if I belong.
Because of this experience, I learned that nothing is impossible. If I step out of my comfort zone and put forth effort, I can accomplish anything. Whether at UF or any other college, I will give my all in everything I do and never give up.
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