There are two meals I will never forget from my time abroad in Salamanca, Spain.
The first is from the very beginning of my study abroad adventure. All of us were enrolled in Practical Conversation Abroad, a class that our program director and assistant director taught. One of the goals of that class was to give us a cultural experience in Salamanca and help us know more about what it means to be a Spaniard. The best part of the class: we did most of our learning through excursions. We would go on field trips and then write summaries about what we learned.
Our first excursion was to get tapas. If you don’t know about this magical word, tapas are a pre-dinner snack that many Spanish people eat—after all, it’s not easy to make it all the way from lunch until dinner, which is usually served between 9 and 10:30. But tapas are also deeply ingrained in the social scene. Many people go with friends to have a moment of food, drink, and conversation.
Our program directors explained some of the customs while we hopped between several bars. We visited a more traditional tapas bar, as well as a more artsy modern bar. Some had places to sit, and in others, we had to stand. The directors explained a few of the typical foods, and then we learned about the revered Spanish wines.
This was the “meal” that informed the rest of my semester because I then knew how to order like a local. Sure, my accent sometimes gave the waiters a difficult time, but I immediately felt more at home in Salamanca. After all, people who eat tapas together stick together. (That’s not an actual saying, but it could be.)
The second meal I will never forget for a very different reason.
The date: March 12. Earlier that morning, we learned that Spain had jumped from a normal risk to level 3 on the CDC assessment scale. We hurried to our Emory Center right after taking final exams for our grammar classes. Our directors helped us book a flight back to the United States for that Saturday, two days away. Everything crumbled around us in a matter of hours as the COVID-19 pandemic tightened its grip over Spain.
The rest is history, but what will always remain in my memory is the meal our program shared that night. Our directors made last-minute reservations and got our entire group a table at a nice restaurant. I had Pluma Ibérica, a pork dish I had tried only days earlier during an excursion to a small pueblo in the mountains, and a pastry for dessert.
Given the circumstances, it would be hard not to remember that meal. It was the last time I would see many of those people. But something our program director said that night has remained with me perhaps more vividly than the meal. She offered an ember of hope, something she has a talent for doing.
She explained that in Spain when people are about to leave for a while, you should assume you’ll see them again.
In other words, instead of adios, it’s better to say hasta luego.