When I was still a wee college student, I spent one happy June “studying” the island of Mallorca, a Catalan-speaking island located a hop, skip and a jump from Ibiza.
Living there, however briefly, was easy in a way only living on the Mediterranean can be: A cool bowl of gazpacho for lunch, indulgent mid-day siestas, salt-sprayed afternoons on the beach.
During my month on Mallorca I made time for plenty of little adventures. From journeying to the beryl waters of Porto Cristo’s beach…
to exploring the narrow streets of Palma’s medieval quarter…
to staring up in awe at La Seu, Mallorca’s enormous cathedral… (and my favorite church in Europe!)
to boarding an antique wooden train to Sóller, a charming port town where we drank orange liquer on the pier…
to enduring a (hungover) sailboat ride with my friend’s host family…
to catching rays and strolling the promenade at El Molinar every day.
And then there were the things I didn’t photograph: Eating ham and cheese croquetas while watching the waves crash to the shore, buying anise and orange flower cookies from nuns, sipping Mahou as dolphins jumped through sunset-dappled waters, driving down the windy mountain roads to Deia on roads barely big enough for a horse-cart.
But what I valued most on Mallorca was simply daily life with my host family. Or rather, my host grandmother- I spent the month living with a lovely, 78-year old polyglot and mother of seven who spoke fondly of her girlhood in France and Basque Country.
We spent many sun-dappled afternoons together in her kitchen, donning aprons and cooking up fragrant batches of paella and menestra.
Everything at Mercedes’ was equally a treat and a learning experience. I loved waking up to pa amb oli, or pan mallorquín rubbed with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil and topped with tomatoes and jamón ibérico de bellota, Spain’s finest ham.
I loved my afternoon snack of homemade crackers topped with spicy sobrassada, a Balearic Islands’ specialty sausage.
Actually I loved all the food at our house: fresh off the vine nísperos (loquats), queso de cabra from a local dairy farmer, olives that the dentist dropped off, manure and feather flecked eggs from the neighbor.
I enthusiastically tried to learn every recipe Mercedes would teach me: gazpacho, trampó mallorquín, ajoblanco, tortilla de patatas, merluza en salsa verde, among many others.
One of my favorite ways to travel is to live with a host family- you simply learning so much more about the country.
Mercedes’ courtyard where she grew lots of fruits and vegetables. See the little aluminum foil figures on the tree? She used those to ward off birds from pecking the lemons.
How else would I have learned about the unrelenting heat of the Xaloc, the southern wind that blew in from the Sahara?
Or when to use extra-virgin olive oil and when to use virgin? And how you should reuse it seven times?
Or how to make stock out of a rabbit’s head? (Seriously.)
Another one of my favorite things about living on Mallorca was my friend’s amazing host family who basically adopted me during my time on Mallorca. We would spend long afternoons lunching and relaxing in the courtyard as I tried to understand the Catalan they spoke.
And on our last night on the island they played Spanish guitar for us for hours, danced and sang, and gave us a bottle of local Mallorcan fennel liquer. Spanish guitar is my favorite instrument in the world; I truly could sit rapt and listen to it for hours.
Overall my month on Mallorca gave me many things: a reconfirmed, lifelong love of Spain, an improved command of the Spanish language, a fascination with Catalan culture, a recipe book stuffed with traditional Basque and Mallorcan recipes.
Have you ever had an incredible study abroad experience?
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