Turning 21 in Spain: A Neumann Adventure

“Wanna go to Spain?” were the very words I was asked by my professor, Janis Chakars, while I was running the Neumann Players table at homecoming. He did not ask this question for no reason; this Spain trip was a new part of the CDM- 226 “Race, Diversity, and Media” class. I was very close to saying no, but I decided to take a chance and say yes. Little did I know that saying “yes” would entail that I would be turning 21 in Spain, which is a truly unique experience that few people at Neumann would get to experience in their lifetime.  

However, as an autistic person and someone with a congenital heart defect, this trip filled me with a lot of anxiety; a mixture of good anxiety and bad anxiety. My good anxiety came from all the excitement of the delicious food I would try, spending my birthday in a foreign country, and the itinerary of fun activities for the week. However, I was anxious about flying for eight hours, constantly thinking about bad things happening to me while I was away, and rooming with a person I did not know too well. The good news is everything was all right. I returned to the United Stares alive and in once piece, and now I can tell the story of how I spent the best birthday I ever had in Spain! 

That day, I wore a red dress with white hearts on it, my leather jacket, a tiara, and plenty of sparkly jewelry. I also took my time doing my makeup. I did not care what the weather was like or what we were doing; I wanted to look glamorous on my big day! As I ate a delicious hotel breakfast, my classmates all wished me “Feliz cumpleaños!” (For those who do not know, that means “happy birthday” in Spanish.) We started off the day with a graffiti street art tour. I swear, they picked the most fun day for my birthday, because the street art we looked at was nothing short of breathtaking. At the end of the tour, we got to decorate our own canvas bags! I was afraid of getting spray paint on my clothes, but not to worry, all fashion disasters were avoided, and my bag looked amazing.  

After the amazing street art tour, a few classmates and I went to the cutest cafe for lunch. I was accompanied by Devon Tamberella, Kimberly Gutierrez, Suritma Ciriaco, and Carlos Wylde-Gladbach. It was a really girly, kawaii-themed place where they gave us rabbit ears and other cute accessories to wear, and we could pose for photos in front of a wall covered in stuffed animals. I ordered a BLT and a delicious smoothie (No, the smoothie did not have alcohol in it. Trust me, we will get to that part.) The waitress had us “put a spell” on our food to make it taste good. The spell worked, and my sandwich was absolutely to die for! I took plenty of pictures and did a “vlog” for my Snapchat story. In addition to the cute cafe, we went to Primor, which is essentially like Ulta, Target and Sephora combined. Let me tell you, I probably spent way too much money there, but it was so worth it. I will say the crowds of people, various perfume smells, and the bright lights gave me a bit of sensory overload, but it was manageable; the fun I had distracted me. Primor was probably my favorite part of the whole trip.  

After an amazing afternoon, the whole class met in the common room of the hotel. Dr. Chakars sent the lyrics to “Feliz cumpleaños” in our WhatsApp group. I think you know where this is going. The whole class sang to me, and I was presented with a mug that said, “I love Madrid” and a card signed by all my classmates; I will hold onto that card for the rest of my natural life. Having everyone in your class sing happy birthday to you is a tad embarrassing, but I really appreciated that they wanted to make my birthday extra memorable and special. During this time, we also met with Helion Ramalho, one of the founders of Eye Slice Pictures. I was particularly excited about this because I hope to be a film director and script writer one day. I talked to him after the presentation, and he seemed so nice. I hope to send him one of my scripts once I complete them.  

Once the evening came, my classmates and I got ready to celebrate my birthday. I painted my nails with the nail polish I got from Primor. We all met in the lobby of the hotel and walked to dinner. I had wanted to go to a sushi place, but they had no room for us all. Instead, we went to a ramen place. I had never tried real ramen before, and it was weird I would be trying it for the first time in Spain. Nonetheless, it was delicious! In addition, Devon and I shared some dumplings; those were delicious as well. We also ordered sake, which is rice wine. My classmates and I all took a shot of it; my first drink as a 21-year-old! It was a surreal experience; as an American, being 21 and finally being able to drink is a big deal. However, in Spain, you only have to be 18 to drink alcohol. During the meal, I found the restaurant to be a tad overstimulating. The tables were close to one another, many people were talking at once, and the lights were bright. It was super overwhelming, so I went into the bathroom for a breather. I reapplied my lipstick, took a few deep breaths. After a few minutes, I was feeling fine. This was only the beginning of a spectacular night.

After dinner, we made our way to a karaoke bar. On the way there, we stopped for ice cream and waffles. The waffles had an... interesting shape, but they tasted delicious. I got mine topped with a strawberry syrup topping and Oreo drizzle. That is all I have to say regarding the waffles. Anyway, we made it to the karaoke bar, and let me tell you, it was LOUD. There was a ton of noise happening at the same time; music blasting, people shouting and singing, and everyone talking. The noise, to me, was all mashed together and felt like a wave crashing over me. Wave after wave of loud noises. It was a lot to take in at once. I ordered a Sex on the Beach drink and some water. To tell you the truth, I only ordered that because Devon ordered one, and I did not know what else to get. However, the drink was delicious.  

Despite the fact that I do theatre and sing in musicals, karaoke made me nervous. I initially held the mic farther from my mouth and stayed seated, but my classmates encouraged me to stand up and sing louder. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me, but I let loose and sang my heart out. I sang “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna, and the class and I sang “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys. People say I sounded great, but I digress. The guys at the table near us requested to play “Feliz cumpleaños” and ordered me a shot of Jose Cuervo. I only took it because the waitress poured it right in front of me, so it was safe to drink. I put some salt on my thumb, licked it off, then downed the shot in one gulp. Then, I sucked on a lemon. Let me be honest here: tequila is disgusting.

A few of my classmates and I walked back to the hotel. Upon getting there, I immediately took off my makeup, changed into my pajamas, and went straight to bed. I was super tired the next day, but I say the fun I had was so worth it. That night in Madrid was the best birthday I ever had. I celebrated with classmates that I did not know that well, but they felt like my best friends that night, and I want to thank them for making my birthday so unforgettable.