Columns

Simon ’16: In pain? Go to Spain.

By
Opinions Editor
Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I studied abroad in Granada, Spain, a city so unrivaled by any I have ever visited that I can definitively claim it will remain unrivaled for as long as I have breath in my body. I have also decided in earnest that I will retire (provided retirement is still feasible in 40 years) to a casa tucked away in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada where every morning will begin not a lark’s crowing earlier than 3 p.m., and any meal not paired with several glasses of cabernet sauvignon and a chain of hand-rolled cigarettes will be deemed constitutionally defective and an affront to Spanish culture. Don’t bother joining me. Seriously, don’t.

Now, at the risk of sounding basic, I am compelled by duty to say: Study abroad was totally life-changing, and culture and memories and scenic waterfalls and such! My semester in Granada taught me more about myself than any semester had at Brown. It was vastly formative, therapeutic, endlessly thrilling and did marvels to restore my waning faith in the goodwill that, rest assured, still exists in the world. But if you’re not charmed by any of that cushion-y nonsense, let me leave you with perhaps the most valuable takeaway: It was necessary.

And now, amigos, I’m going to open up a bit as to why. But just a bit! And just this once!

From the beginning of my freshman fall to the end of my junior fall, I languished heavily in what the edgier students would call dire straits. I was overwrought with stress, in a state of perpetual self-doubt about everything and lying to everyone I met that I was a vegan. Life seemed, by and large, unfair and irreversibly bleak. Was I depressed? Yes, Sherlock. Out of options? So I thought.

I knew Counseling and Psychological Services was going to do about as much good as a stale joke, and I knew making the administration privy to whatever it was that ailed me would’ve surely been met with their lording hand strong-arming me into taking a “voluntarily” leave, as is their wont. Allegedly, of course.

What I needed was a break. A reprieve? No, too short. I needed something of sabbatical proportions. I needed a proper expanse of me-time that would have zero strings attached to my academic record. Most of all, I needed to feel human again. I needed to be young and stupid, also again. In the words of my fictional grandfather whom I just now created to lend credence to the following idiom, I needed to “sow my wild oats,” preferably in a place that was above ground level and didn’t reek of a particular herb.

Accordingly, I bid Providence adieu, or better, adios, and flew to southern Spain, recovered, matured, lived and thrived. I moved into the fourth-floor apartment of my host mother who didn’t speak a lick of English, but boy dickens could that woman cook! I spent many an afternoon sunbathing and reading by the river; I happily wined and dined in cafe patios for the mere price of six euros; I learned how to dance well enough to have made my Puerto Rican grandmother kvell; I forged lasting friendships with locals, learned Spanish and lived a very “me, me and more me” lifestyle. It was wonderful. It was rehabilitating. In fact, the only difference between my time abroad and one of those resort-style celebrity rehab clinics in Malibu would have been a severe absence of plastic handle sangria in the latter.

Everything I was advised against, I did. Everything I was advised to do, I didn’t. And though both of those statements may be extremely exaggerated for rhetorical purposes, I will say that many of the self-imposed (and not so self-imposed) constraints I had amassed in both my lifetime and from inheriting 5,000 years of Jewish history were loosened if not entirely kicked to the wayside. One might say I adopted a particular rebel-with-a-cause attitude, but if we’re honest, that behavior really only tends to afflict emotionally tormented teens. I like to think I developed a rebel-with-a-pause attitude because the big guy up in the clouds finally granted me the time and freedom to indulge every single hedonic inclination that had been teeming in my conscience since the onset of puberty.

In kind, I experienced my own “Eat Pray Love,” except this was the unproduced sequel, “Eat Drink Dance Smoke Lust Repeat.” Hollywood, are you listening? Mom and Dad, I hope you aren’t!

I’m not going to pretend that I know the best medicine for relieving whatever it is that may be dampening your dumps. I’m not a doctor. And even if I was, by reason of even suggesting I know what’s best for your mental health is enough for me to still prescribe that you flip me a predominantly central finger and then proceed to tell me exactly what it is I should shove up a very southern orifice of mine. But what I can tell you, and with complete impunity, is that Europe is on the whole better than America, Spain is on the whole better than the rest of Europe, and “study” and “abroad” are befittingly the finest pairing of words in the English language since “open” and “bar.” And if that final sentence failed to leaven your tortillas, then by George find me a hat to side with my host mother’s Sunday paella, and I’ll eat it graciously.

Chad Simon demands you reach him immediately at chad_simon@brown.edu.