Sisters, Sunrises & Flower-Scented Traditions: Mile Markers of Fall in Zaragoza

Lili S. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Sidwell Friends in Washington, DC

This past weekend marks the first six-weeks of our SYA journey in Zaragoza, Spain. September for SYA students is a time of adjustment, and not just to a new school atmosphere, but also to a new country, a new language, a new family, and a new lifestyle. While I am not able to name a specific instant in time where my new “normal” became comfortable, there are a few moments that have allowed me to claim a place and make me proud I took the leap to come: meeting my host-family for the first time, traveling with the SYA Spain group to the stunning pueblo of Alquézar, and celebrating the historically captivating Virgin of Pilar in Zaragoza during the festival of Pilares.

Meeting the family one will live with for a year is surreal (how very Spanish as surrealism began here!) Several factors heightened our anticipation before we even met our families: nerves, excitement, running off of 30 minutes of sleep after flying to Madrid, meeting the 60 American students who were suddenly your classmates for the next nine months, and, finally, taking a four-hour bus ride from Madrid to Zaragoza. Those first dos besos stepping off the bus was the moment that everything really started to sink in. Although that first weekend was filled with maybe a few too many siestas, it was also full of exciting firsts: first walk through the city, first meal with my family, first time seeing the Plaza del Pilar, first time meeting my two new sisters, first time being surrounded with constant Spanish. Even though it was still sinking in on my first Sunday night here, I could already tell how excited I was for the many more weekends to come.  

After orientation ended, we took a class trip to Alquézar, a small town in the Pre-Pyrenees, about two hours northeast of Zaragoza. This trip helped to bring the SYA family closer together, whether through hiking to ancient caves and looking at cave paintings, or swimming in a freezing-cold waterfall that reminds one of just how beautiful the world is. The weekend was devoted to getting to know people in the group and getting a taste of another part of Aragón. The best feature of the trip was waking up at 7am on Friday morning to watch the sunrise with a few friends, cameras, and some good music. As the sun began to shed light onto the medieval city, I could tell the moment would mark this new beginning we’ve all chosen to leap into. 

On October 12th, La Ofrenda de Flores, the offering of the flowers, kicks off the biggest celebration in Spain. Pilares lasts for about a week and a half, and during that time, Zaragoza does not sleep. There is constant music as you walk down the main streets, and constant traditional dances, dress, and food. Pilares isn’t just a festival—it’s a time of year. Zaragoza, the capital of Aragón, is suddenly flooded with people from all over Spain, and all other countries of Europe and Latin America as well, to celebrate the Virgen of Pilar. As thousands of people flood into the plaza to add their flowers to the ever-growing tower, thousands of others are scattered throughout the city, singing, dancing, laughing, and spending time with loved ones.  

Although the first six weeks have felt like both five years and five days at different times, and have been filled with both the amazing feeling of experiencing a city by yourself for the first time and the difficult feeling of homesickness, I already feel as though I’ve made a home for myself here in Zaragoza, and am so excited to start traveling so that I can feel that way about many more cities in Spain.

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