A Year in Bilbao, Spain

September 4th, 2010, I was sitting on a plane thinking to myself, “Am I really doing this?” It felt so surreal. I was flying into Bilbao, straight into the unknown without knowing a single person. I already knew that I was going to live with two males, a Spaniard and a young American boy. I was nervous about this and all different kinds of things such as, will I make friends? Will I enjoy my time here? How am I going to spend a year without my family and friends?

Securing an Internship

I felt especially sick because I had been working with the Spain department director in America and the Bilbao director in Spain for almost a year to obtain an internship at the Guggenheim Museum. After a lot of hard work by every party involved, here I was in Spain, and the only thing left was to interview with the Director of the internship program at the Guggenheim. I have never felt very confident with my Spanish, so you can imagine I was horrified and sick to my stomach at the thought of interviewing in this foreign language. My director kept repeating, “You will do great; don’t worry.”

In all honesty, I just wanted to get it over with, I had already made up my mind, there’s no way I’m going to get through this interview with an internship at the end; I was giving up. This is the Guggenheim, there’s no way an American who wants to cry at the idea of speaking Spanish in an interview is going to get it.

My director walked me into the interview, at this point all they spoke was Spanish, and I sat there with my huge eyes (always giving me away) saying, “I am scared out of my mind!”  He finally left me in this room sitting across from someone who was at that moment and from that moment on the most intimidating woman I have ever met, Luz.

Luz first attempted doing the interview in Spanish and quickly interrupted me to say, “Let’s just do the interview in English,” you might imagine that she said this with some kind of sympathy but she didn’t, she was completely cold. Unfortunately, I am one of those people who wear my heart on my sleeve and from being so nervous and having such an abrupt, rude interruption, I started to get choked up and teary eyed, but I kept trying and I didn’t give up.

Mostly I want to share this moment because even though at the time it was awful, I overcame it, I didn’t cry, I spoke about my experience, and I made it through that interview with an internship at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. There were forty other interns in the program, all from Spain; I was the first American to make it in.

Our last day at the Guggenheim

One Semester Down, One to Go

By the time the first semester had passed I was so thankful that I was staying the year, those first months flew by and I still had a whole semester! I continued interning at the Guggenheim. I had an amazing experience with the USAC program. I believe that if anyone wants to venture abroad that this program is the best. There are many reasons, which I will name, but the main reason is that you feel you have a family abroad, people that understand your discomforts, your needs to travel, your moments when you miss your family, and your frustrations. Of course, I am partially biased but my USAC Bilbao family will always be the best and a big part of my life. They helped me with everything; my internship,  my land lord, locking myself out of my apartment, getting my hair done, my Spanish, getting around town, places to eat, and see.

My USAC Bilbao family

During my second semester, I was required by the Guggenheim to give a 10-minute speech on an artwork in the building. The interesting part was that I had to give this speech in front of my Spanish co-interns and completely in Spanish! I was terrified; I wrote out my speech, had it corrected by my roommate, and practiced for a good week.

The day came and due to my classes (as always) I was a little late to the Guggenheim, but I made it there to hear some of the other interns go over their pieces. Of all the times we trained, Luz usually never showed up, but I had a feeling because she knew I was to do this in Spanish, she came. So, not only was there a group of all Spanish speaking interns but there was Luz (as I mentioned before, terribly intimidating). So, here I was, my heart was pounding, my hands were shaking, and there was sweat dripping from my forehead. There was no turning back, I started and just kept trying to seem natural, which was definitely not easy.

Moments passed and there I was in a gallery, in the Guggenheim, an American, who barely could speak Spanish five months ago, talking in Spanish, it felt like a dream, a dream that I rushed to be over. Afterwards, everyone clapped for me, and once again I wanted to cry but not because I was scared or intimidated, but because I had done something in my life that I had never imagined in my wildest dreams I was capable of doing, I swallowed my doubts and my fears. It’s this crazy moment, this crazy high of “wow, I really can do anything!” Which I am forever indebted to everyone who made this possible for me.

It’s also a moment that  refers me to a quote that I think every future USAC student or anyone looking to travel abroad should read,

“If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.”

I could go on for days about all of my experiences, I had so many with the Guggenheim, with my new friends from the states, My USAC family, all my travels to places I have wanted to go my whole life, the amazing feeling of gluttony due to the delicious new foods (15 pounds later), and memories that I will always hold so close to my heart. I will always be grateful for this opportunity and to everyone that helped me make it happen. Thank you.

Kristina Hordzwick studied abroad with USAC’s Bilbao, Spain program in Fall 2010 and Spring 2011.