An eye-opening experience

 

Wherever he goes, everybody knows he is not Spanish. Because of that some people had told him that taxi drivers would overcharge him and pick-pockets would made the perfect victim of him. He tough he would be stolen, but on the opposite he will come back home with much more than he had when he arrived: plenty of friends and many learned lessons, between long nights and crazy trips.  Nick does not look Spanish at all, but after these months he feels like one.

Nicholas Richard Bray was born in Florida. He studies International Studies with a concentration in Global Development and Sustainability in North Carolina State University. This year he is having the time of his life in Valencia.

Nick assures that he met most of his friends in the ESN events. “That’s where you meet everybody”. He recognises that because he does not come from Europe, he had never heard of ESN or Erasmus until his first day in Valencia. “I saw a Facebook post about a welcome week event and the address of the street. So we just put it in Google Maps and walked down there. It was at the beginning of the semester so there weren’t so many.  There were like seven ESN coordinators and then about five Erasmus students. We got tapas. Then we went to a bar. It was a cool night”.

He will never forget that first long night in Valencia. “When I first came here I thought you were crazy”. He could not understand that people could go out until early in the morning. “But then you just get used to it. It is not everyday. And then you can just sleep. That’s when your siesta comes in. But I like it as well  because in the United States everything  closes at two, so you can’t party that late”.

His first week here was non-stop. “We did something every single night. We met people, we made friends. Here I go out every day with different people. This has changed me as a person, now I want to be more open”. He considers that one of the most important parts of an exchange program is meeting new people from different countries. “Valencia is the biggest Erasmus city, so it’s perfect”.

Nick got perfectly integrated in the Spanish lifestyle and he made many local friends. “I love Spanish people. I have only met one I don’t like. But it was because I was wearing the wrong football t-shirt. I wore the Barcelona football jersey in Natura. He asked me why I was wearing it. In my broken Spanish I explained to him that I love Valencia. But on that particular day, Valencia did not play a game, while Barcelona did play.  And I said ‘you have to support Spain, even when it is Barcelona’. So, we resolved it”. 

That was his only “bad experience”. He recognises that before coming, everybody tells you “watch out for taxi drivers, because they will overcharge you”, “they are going to try to scare you”, “watch out for people trying to pick-pocket you”, “they will give you the wrong change”… He never had any of those problems. “When I go somewhere, everybody knows I’m not Spanish and they are all nice to me. Spanish people are all helpful and friendly”.

He defines Spanish people as “relaxed”. In his opinion, the United Stated is very work-centric. “I know everybody is not the same. It is not that work does not seem important here, but your priorities are more about living life. Spending time with your friends and family, having a coffee in the afternoon. You are not so worried about getting a promotion at work or something like that”.

Nick praises the Spanish way of enjoying life. “I like the long nights, the multiple meals in the day, “tapas”…. I love walking back home from university and seeing some friends I know outside, sitting at a Café and just joining them. Where I live the city and the campus aren’t so small. There we have to drive. There is not much potential of seeing somebody you know on the road. Yes, I like it. I like your lifestyle!”

He also fell in love with the city of Valencia. He chose it, as many other students, because of the weather. But he soon discovered that this beautiful city had much more to offer than beach and sunny days.  Another of his reasons for choosing Valencia was that he prefers big cities better than smaller ones. “More opportunities, more diversity. More things to do…  Like Fallas”. 

Fallas is the most exciting party for locals and visitors in the city of Valencia. Huge and colourful figures made out of cardboard inundate the city. The last day of the party, they are burnt. Music, traditional dresses, crowded streets and firecrackers. This will be an unforgettable experiences for Nick. “Fallas were amazing. My mentor is actually Fallero and he showed me his costume. I also loved the big statues. The city was shut down for a gigantic party”.

Nick did not only discovered Valencia, but he also took part in every trip organized by ESN in UV. He went to Teruel, Requena, Sevilla or Ibiza. “Culturally it was cool to see different cities in Spain”. In March, ESN celebrated his national event in Sevilla.  More than 3000 people Erasmus students from all parts of Spain were gathered in this city of Andalusia. Nick assures that the national event was “crazy”. He also enjoyed the different city tours organised by ESN through the city. “The cathedral was beautiful to see. That building was older than my country”.

To make the most of his experience abroad, Nick decided to participate in Erasmus in Schools. This activity organised by ESN inside of his international project SocialErasmus is focused in education. Its main objective is to familiarise children at schools and high schools with the European atmosphere and its opportunities for mobility. Erasmus students go to local schools to share their cultural richness with the children, who listen to them amazed by their stories. Nick remembers the children staring at him in admiration. “They were very young, between 7 and 8 years old. We talked about the United States or about Globalization. They were constantly asking me questions about the Statue of Liberty, Obama, the dollar…  It was incredible how much interest they had in my country”.

Now it’s time to come back home. He has one more year of school and some ideas in mind. “What I really want is that the education I’m receiving could serve me to fix the problems of the world and of the United States. I want to help people. I know that sounds cheesy, but that’s what I care about”. Perhaps he  could be the president of the United States someday. “He has the most power to take action”.

What he is certain about is that his months in Valencia will help him in all his future plans. “My major is in International Relations and I have always had an interest in politics. Here I met so many people from different countries and we had the opportunity to talk about everything. It was an eye-opening experience”.

After his exchange programme, Nick is a new person. “I would be shocked if I hadn’t changed”.

María Martínez for ESN in UV