A View from Abroad
Ashley Mason '08

Ashley Mason '08I spent this past semester studying abroad in the tiny walled medieval town of Toledo, Spain. Looking back, it's already hard to isolate specific events; the whole semester of sketchy hostels, eating peanut butter on crackers crouched in bus station corners, incredible artwork and architecture, amusing miscommunication, and total culture shock now blur together in a whirl of experiences I thought I would never forget.

To be entirely honest, when I first got to Spain I immediately began counting the days until I would be back at Notre Dame. Dealing with Spanish food that often looked back at you from your plate, total language immersion, and living with a family of complete strangers was more than enough to make me yearn for my loft in McGlinn and stir fry at South Dining Hall.

One memory that for some reason still stands clearly in my mind was a seemingly insignificant event about three weeks after I landed in Toledo. Walking home from school in the late afternoon, allowing myself to get a bit lost, and marveling at the magical quality stone buildings seem to take on at sunset, I was startled by the ring of bells from a beautiful little church directly in front of me. On impulse, I ducked inside the cool, dark, stone interior and slid into a pew. As the Vespers service began, I felt a rush of emotion hearing the same chant melody we use for Vespers at Notre Dame in a tiny ancient church in Spain. As I left the church and found my way home, I knew that I could make this new place and culture my home, at least temporarily.

Gradually, we began to forget the dates of ND football games, find new favorite foods, and forget what life was like before you routinely jetted off to other countries after Thursday class. I missed a lot of things about the U.S. however—cheddar cheese, non-dubbed movies, private vehicles, and Folk Choir Mass. I almost hugged the first person I heard speaking English when I landed in the States (I was in New York, so it's probably good I didn't), and I was so overwhelmed by these new surroundings that were at once so familiar and so strange.

I have gotten used to Notre Dame again, though a lot has changed. My friends and I have had so many different experiences, and so many of them are abroad this semester as well. Though it was a struggle at first, I finally feel like I've carved a new place for myself here. The first week of Vespers this Lent, I felt a pang of longing for my little stone church in Spain, but looking around the loft at my Folk Choir family made me realize that I'm exactly where I belong.