I am actually sending this in my last night in Europe, but I hope it finds you quite well. The adventure has been long and challenging, but very interesting to say the least. I hope that this letter may be an enjoyment to read and that you can take a break from whatever you are anticipating for the day and read this with tranquility. I will send out one more update that will include my thoughts, pictures, and stories from my travels after Spain, so stay tooned!
God Bless and enjoy!
My beloved Friends and Family,
I apologize for not writing to you sooner, but the time since my last letter was filled with many occupying events. I would have justified myself to take a study break and write this letter sooner, but it seemed better to put the final part of my trip in Spain all together. In addition, as I write these letters there is a nostalgic feeling that is overcoming to the point that studying becomes difficult, so it was better to delay that feeling until I had finished with school. Therefore, this letter signifies that I have indeed finished my papers and finals surviving the Spanish regimen and I am officially a European traveler, as I have expanded my horizon and crossed from Southern Europe into Central and Northern Europe. Even though I am basically finished with my travels, I am going to write a brief reflection in two parts: one in regards to Spain and the other in regards to after Spain.
My last few weeks of Spain consisted of much more studying than expected, but also many fun experiences and adventures.
One of those times was a planned group trip to Granada and Cordoba, which are in the south of Spain. They are two big historical hubs of
Spain, where they have had a rich history and contain many sites that display the richness. Cordoba is a small little city that is well known
for the Mezquita, which is the ultimate bi-religion building. It was originally a Mosque of the Arabs for 700 years and then in the Spanish
Inquisition it transformed into a Cathedral. The architecture is amazing and truly exhibits the two cultures beautifully, from the Arab arches
and wall decoration to the converted center of the Christian depictions. Besides visiting the Mosque we also had a special reservation for Flamenco.
I had seen two before this one, so I must say this one just did not quite meet my standards for the typical Spanish dance, but most importantly
I was able to see a another variation. Both of those scheduled visits were quite fun and interesting, but Tom (my roommate) and I decided to
search for a true cultural experience and so we found a nice authentic Southern Spain restaurant. We continued our test of the traditional gastronomy,
which proved to be delicious and successful and we had a wonderful time talking and enjoying the Spanish environment. The next day we had our
visit of the famous Alhambra in Granada, which was a huge summer getaway for one of the Spanish Kings, where the palace winds through intricately
designed gardens along with a very appeasing and subtle architecture. If I were ever invited to spend a summer in this palace, I would accept without
a doubt, because it is simply a very peaceful and relaxing place that has a beautiful view of the city. Along with my other trip to southern Spain,
my fondness continued to grow for this olive abundant, Arab influenced, historical center of Spain.
The following weekend, Lena (a friend from UC Davis who is studying in Sweden), came and visited me. It was great to see a familiar
face and spend a weekend seeing more sites around Madrid. During her stay, we visited many of the popular and important sites of Madrid, except this
time with a twist, as we hunted for the best Spanish hairstyle. I do not want to give a bad reputation to the Spaniards, but they do have some creative
hairstyles, unlike other cultures, so the hunt was quite amusing. On the Saturday of her visit, we spontaneously decided to go watch a hockey game of
Emilio (my little brother). We arrived at the beginning of the second half and were able to watch his team win, but since he did not expect us, the best
part was seeing his surprised and happy expression to have someone watch and cheer him on. After the game, using the great public transportation of Spain,
we visited the close ancient city of Segovia. If you have ever been to Disneyland, maybe you remember the magical castle in the old park that characterizes
Disneyland as a magical place. Well, Mr. Disney decided to base that same castle after the castle of Segovia. I was surprised to see such a beautiful castle
at the end of this little town, as it contains wonderful views and great medieval aesthetics. On Sunday, after a cold picnic in Retiro Park, my Spanish mother
was nice enough to have Lena come have dinner with the family. Since Lena can speak some Spanish, we all had a good time talking and laughing and it
gave a nice culmination to the weekend. Although, as I later found out, Emilio had developed a little crush on Lena.
The rest of my time in Spain was spent studying for finals and saying goodbyes but our program tried its best to give us a Thanksgiving Day
meal before we left. I say they tried because even though we had turkey and mashed potatoes, unfortunately there was not massive amounts of food available
to stuff our faces with and no pumpkin pie. As lame as that sounds, I have grown to love certain aspects of the American Culture and Thanksgiving is one day
I truly enjoy celebrating. It is not all bad news, since Christmas is only a few days away I can relinquish that desire for home cooked food and special seasonal
food very shortly. One event that is also worth mentioning was a desert appetizer with our professors, which was fun since it served as a goodbye to the students
from other parts of the country. At my university in the states, I think it would be fun to talk with professors in a relaxed setting at the end of the class; on the
other hand, we can usually just see them next quarter. In any case, it was interesting to see students taking pictures with professors and giving hugs like best
friends. When the time finally came to the end, I was glad to be done with classes as always, but I think my comfort level had finally grown to the point that
I was living the big city life and unbelievably, even enjoying it. There was sadness, realizing that I would not be back for a while and many of those friends
I had made, I would not see again. When saying goodbye to some of the closer friends I had made, we went out to have something to eat, laugh again, fool
around again, and simply enjoy the fellowship of being together one last time.
With the technology we have today, it is so easy to maintain contact with those who live so far away, but I have found one thing to be a bit more difficult to part with which is the conversations. I say that with one person vividly pictured in my mind, my roommate Tom. Throughout the quarter, we had some really long and intense conversations, but as the time slowly ended, the conversations increased. Having a conversation via the internet simply does not compare to a conversation face to face where you show emotion and emphasis, which make a conversation alive and real. When Tom and I talked, I was challenged to explain my beliefs and reason for doing things in a manner completely different from I normally answer. I do not know what it was, but he is someone who asks the questions no one wants to ask, and wants answers no one can give, which makes conversation go to a completely new level. I have never met someone authentically searching for truth and meaning in our life as much as Tom is and I can honestly say that he has missed it. Being an opened minded person can be good until you are so open that you miss what is necessary to believe. The more we talked, the more eager I became for Tom to see God for who He truly is and not what we as sinful people display Him to be. The questions Tom asked me hurt, and made me think harder about what I believe and why I believe it. Now when I say each season of life is unique and important, I fully comprehend that these past four months were significant for things I do not even yet know, but one thing for sure is I will miss Tom Tran. Following the pattern I have laid, I would like to direct some of the questions towards you as a reader. Even though deep conversations are usually impromptu, have you had a deep conversation lately? Is there anyone you know, who you want to learn more about? When was the last time that you were challenged with your beliefs? If you cannot remember, maybe it is time to start asking yourself those questions you don’t want to ask. Take the risk and ask a friend what they believe about life. I leave you with these thoughts not to be a burden or leave a sour taste, but I think if you honestly search for truth and a deeper understanding of it, you will find it and maybe with a little surprise. Have a wonderful Christmas and let it be a relaxing and joyful time with whoever is by your side.