Testimony of a Basque Californian

After my current stay here in the Basque Country I will have lived here a total of 17 months on three different occasions.

That being said, it doesn’t feel like enough and I will keep coming back.

My friends here say that I am more Basque than American and insist that I identify as the former. Even so, I do love my Californian roots and equally value what the U.S. has offered my life.

A fall semester in San Sebastian with USAC was the first time I came over to the motherland. My Amatxi would often propose that I experience our family’s rich Basqueness. Side note: ‘Amatxi’ is what the people in the province of Navarra (Nafarroa) use for grandmother. In Gipuzkoawhere Donosti is,‘Amona’ is more common.

My second stay here was as an Au pair for three months in the small town of Aduna. My stay was shorter than I had planned because while living in the 300-person town of Aduna I began to get stir crazy, applied to a masters program at the University of the Basque Country (UPV), and was accepted.

Toloso in December

So I headed back to the states to work hard for the summer and save money for my year as a masters student in Donosti, Gipuzkoa.

After all of my experiences in the Basque country, I was happy to hear from USAC when they asked me for my advice and tips.

Here is what I feel are the must-do experiences and a little advice for anyone looking to study or travel in the Basque country.

Must do experiences while living in the basque Country

  1. Dress in costume for the fiestas or traditional Basque celebrations like Carnaval. People also wear costumes for some 5k runs that are organized. Here is the best website to find any run in the city area: List of runs in Donostialdea. It’s common for a care package to come with the ticket and the 5k usually does not cost more than 10 Euro.
  2. Eat lots of chorizo cocido (boiled chorizo), tortilla, aceitunas, bacalao, cheese, and all of the pintxos possible. Even the hamburgers are ten times better than in the states no matter where you go.
  3. Walk through the city or a Basque town with a basque local. Every time I go on a walk, whether it be in a small town or the city of Tolosa or Donostia, I prefer that it be with a Vasco. It is a small world over here and you will surely meet more locals throughout a walk alongside one as they will be greeting every tenth person that you pass. It is a wonderful experience and could make you feel more in sync.
  4. Make a group reservation at a Cider House. La Sidreria Petritegi is a great place to start.
  5. Take the euskotren to another town outside of the city and definitely visit Hondarribia. It is a medieval town just a few minutes train ride from the city. There is a wonderful hike that runs from the area of Pasaia to Hondarribia. It takes about five hours to walk and on a good day has a view of the ocean on one side and the Pyrenees mountains on the other side: The most beautiful hike.

Erika in Donosta

Some unsolicited advice

  1. Make sure to take time for yourself. Get comfortable leaving early or saying no because it helps to preserve the quality of voluntary immersion. This will also help you appreciate memories of and the times when you are active in cultural and/or social gatherings. Overall, stay involved as much as possible but exert the amount of effort which is comfortable for you personally.
  2. Don’t stress about the language learning progress. You will be acquiring at the very least a word a day whether you think you are or not. For some it could be more like five a day. Relax and find reasons to use the language and words will eventually fall into place. If someone corrects you, use it as a friendly tool. Some may laugh so just tell them, “Por favor, corregirme si puedas. Estoy aprendiendo,” or, “Mesedez, zuzentzen nauzu ba ahal zara. Ikasten ari naiz..”
  3. Fall and Spring students – bring or plan to buy a WARM rain coat and enjoy every day of sunshine that you have. If you enjoy running, get out on the beach or walk way next to the beach ASAP.
  4. On the topic of exercise, we all know that it is important to maintain any regimen that you are already accustomed to. Many gyms give discounts to students of UPV. Scope out their locations and prices as soon as you can so you don’t miss the deal. Joining a volleyball, running, soccer, or rugby group may also be a viable option for you energetic sport goers. Of course, this is all optional and a long walk with friends could serve just as therapeutic and fulfilling.
  5. The best way to get an Euskara translation: Basque Translator.

Of course, there are many more pieces of advice and rich experiences which I could pass on so I am free to email or direct message on Instagram if prospective students have any appropriate questions or concerns.

I hope to see you in the Basque country!

Erika’s email: Emeikle2211@gmail.com

Instagram handle: @rikaesque

Erika J. Meikle is currently studying a masters in Multilingualism at the University of the Basque Country. She studied abroad in San Sebastian, Spain in 2011.