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Murphy’s Law and the Sad American Girl Circus

A group of students from the School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi recently traveled to Spain for an immersive learning experience that provided rich exposure to Spanish culture and cuisine, while affording myriad opportunities to capture their experiences in written and visual formats.

The majority of the trip was centered in Barcelona, with excursions to other locales during the four-week trip. Leading the program were professors Jason Cain, Chris Sparks, Mark Dolan, and R.J. Morgan – all of whom taught courses in integrated marketing communications and journalism while the group was overseas. 

The students enjoyed many cultural experiences, but they also put in a lot of academic work, too, writing in-depth features, gathering documentary photos, exploring international brands and exploring relevant topics in media studies. 

In a place as beautiful and complex as Spain, each day brought new experiences and amazing photo opportunities. Shared here are some of the images and travel essays the students captured on their journey. We hope you enjoy it.

By Lou Alidor

IMC student

The first photo I have of Spain is of me crying in a taxi cab. I’m sweaty, smell bad, and haven’t been able to brush my teeth since Atlanta, so anyone I speak to will die.

You might think nothing could get worse. You’d be wrong.

Because while I made it safely to Barcelona, my luggage was stuck in Atlanta for another two days.

All flights in and out of Houston were grounded because of a weather Code Red. On top of all the stress, work, and money I put into going on this trip, this felt like the cherry on top. The woman at the United Airlines counter gave me a sympathetic look that felt so fake I could see where her brain pulled up the section of the customer service script that read, “Insert empathy here.” 

She told me there was no way I could get out of New Orleans until Wednesday, which would have me arriving in Spain on Friday. It all seemed like a waste; there was no point in continuing the journey if the whole world was just going to keep standing in my way. 

I know that sounds dramatic, but so was I. I burst into tears at the airport.

Watching me run around the airport like a spiteful chicken with its head cut off must have been entertaining, but six airline desks later, the woman at Delta became my hero. She could get me to Spain that same day. I checked my bag, dropped two grand on a new flight and sprinted through TSA as fast as possible. 

I made it on the plane to Atlanta, and eight hours later, I arrived in Paris. New Orleans to Atlanta, Atlanta to Paris, Paris to Barcelona. I landed in Barcelona 14 hours later, still wearing the same clothes I started the day in on Monday. 

Wanna know what didn’t make it to Barcelona? My luggage, which the airport put on a different flight. 

There is no second picture of my first day in Barcelona because I was using my phone for other things. Growing up, whenever my siblings or I would ask an outrageous question that there was no possible way my mom could answer, she would tell us, “You have the world at your fingertips.” 

My new world involved researching how study-abroad students spend their time, recommendations on where to go, and warnings about what to avoid. I could take you through the rich details of the city, how the architecture took my breath away, and how the dogs on the street walk with no leashes making the city seem like a surreal place where people just live as they please. But I had other priorities. That’s not to say the city isn’t beautiful or that I didn’t notice, but my bag was still in Atlanta and I was more anxious than a chihuahua in a thunderstorm. 

The last picture I have of me arriving in Barcelona is of my roommate and me dealing with what have to be the flattest pillows in the world. They’re two feet long, thin as paper and the pillowcase is open on both ends like someone was indecisive about which side they wanted to shove it in. 

For all I went through to get here, I hope it’s worth it. For once, I actually do have the world at my fingertips; I also have a flat tube pillow and no socks.

II.

I would like to state to the jury that I was not lacking in time management skills the morning of our Valencia trip on the morning we missed the train. 

Everyone in my apartment woke up and dressed, packed and hopped on the Metro with plenty of time to spare. The plan failed when we played a silly little game of follow the leader to the wrong Metro stop. By the time we arrived at the train station, the rest of our group had left the meeting spot without us. Now we needed to find our train ourselves in a massive building with tons of trains. 

Like a Lego set without an instruction booklet, we put pieces together that weren’t in the right spots. When we finally got through our Lego labyrinth, the train was gone.

Woe to the Sad American Girls who missed their train. We were a pitiful sight, strewn across several seats in various states of disarray for at least five minutes. Suddenly our secret female military training kicked in and we were flying intuitively through every possible transit option available. 

Another train to Valencia? All booked. Planes? Wouldn’t make the flight in time. 

Can Lou drive in Spain? Nope. Lou shouldn’t drive anywhere. 

The Sad American Girl circus was stranded.

Our savior came in the form of a taxi driver named Danny, who accepted 400 euros to take us to Valencia. 

Was it safe? Definitely not. 

Would we most likely be kidnapped? For sure. 

We loaded up and shipped out.

To add more flare to this story, I’d like to mention that I was in extreme pain the entire road trip thanks to a nasty case of tonsillitis. I was fine, eventually, after an unhealthy dose of Spanish Ibuprofen, but being a hypochondriac I was convinced I might be dying in the passenger seat of the cab. 

The hills of Spain are beautiful, but treacherous. The pressure from the changing altitudes made my ears pop and my chest hurt. On every hilltop my throat would light up with an internal explosion that gave me vertigo. I wished I could do some time traveling, like when I was a kid. I’d sleep in the car before a trip and wake up somewhere like my grandparents’ house or Disney World. 

Looking back, I think my mom drugged us with Benadryl, but I wouldn’t have minded that on this trip because it started to rain.

There was no way Danny could see through the windshield because I couldn’t and we had the same view. The road was winding and he took every turn as if hydroplaning wasn’t a possibility in Europe. 

Most horror movies start with some type of “What could go wrong?” scenario. Then the group splits up, and one by one they get murdered by a guy with a chainsaw. 

I think about what could go wrong in almost every situation; thousands of timeline options run through my head faster than I can comprehend them. The only way to counteract to the anxiety I inherited from my mother is the ADHD I got from my father. It’s a helpfully unhelpful signal in my brain that gives me a constant need to keep moving. So when plans fail (and trust me, they fail), I can’t dwell too long before moving on to the next existential crisis.

This “What could go wrong?” question spun through my head as if our taxi had already flipped and rolled across the interstate. I’m up front and buckled. I’ll have the airbag and probably survive, I reasoned. But my taller roommate’s neck will twist the wrong way when it hits the headrest, and the roommate sitting in the middle, unbuckled, will most likely go flying through the windshield. Valencia placed third last year in the Spanish race for most car crash deaths; seriously, what could go wrong?

The rain ended without a violent, life-altering, movie-worthy event. An eerie fog settled in over the cities we were passing, and the lone houses in the middle of the wilderness had us commenting wistfully that, “Yeah, we could live here. It would be so great, so peaceful.”

Then in true college student style, we transitioned to “Yeah, we could throw a great party out here.”

We got to Valencia and passed Danny his euros. The world moved on like the whole messy adventure never happened.

III.

What would have to be going on in your life for you to come to the beach fully clothed?

This girl is lying flat on her back with her knees sticking up from where her heels dug into the sand. Her flowy dress keeps blowing up in the wind from the waves before her. She’s most likely flashing some poor fish or crab a view of what’s under that black flower-printed fabric.

Despite this assault on the innocent eyes of the local sea life, she seems relaxed. Sunbathing on the Barcelona shoreline, where the sand is brown and more like tiny pebbles than sugar grains, the waves reach for the sky. I envy her ability to lie there alone with her thoughts and be okay with that.

Nothing could disturb her except maybe the sellers. 

To be completely honest, they’re also disturbing me. Men walking up and down the beach in tank tops and shorts with drinks in their hands. Their grating voices call out, loudly advertising their goods, “HOLA! MOJITO? HOLA! WATER?”

Between the women who forgot their bikini tops, the children digging holes and the couples being overly affectionate, the beach was too crowded for them to maneuver very well; everyone was only a towel’s width apart. And the sellers used that space like a highway, voices overlapping each other. They stood and screamed behind us, and I can tell you nothing has ever made me want to buy something as much as knowing I would then have something to throw at them.

One man I didn’t see coming stood directly behind me, effectively blocking the sun.

“Hey pretty lady, so sexy. Tattoo? Henna? Meow.”

I ignore him but watch as the fully-clothed girl shooed him away like one of the unrelenting pigeons surrounding us, not a fellow human being. She tossed a section of her bleached hair over her shoulder and flopped back down. It was a moment, a segment in time, a second in her day she’d probably forget about, so there was no point acknowledging it more.

Then the tide comes in. The girl’s dress, once meters from the ocean, now brushes the edge of the foam cascading off the elephant-sized waves in front of her. She waits until the breaking waves send water almost up to her knees before she stands.

A man runs over in the brightest pair of swim shorts I’ve ever seen. Red, orange, yellow and pink neon colors stripe up his legs as he shakes the water off himself like a dog. He offers to take pictures of her. She poses like no one’s ever taken a photo of her before, ankle-deep in cold water and unsure what to do with her hands. Her dress has capped sleeves and cinches at the waist, something meant to look both conservative and flattering, but it’s slightly too big for her. She was lying on what could have once been a white sweater but is now tan and I’m sure the knit rows of yarn will hold onto the smells of the beach for many washes to come.

The couple is gone, and no one is in front of me, making me realize that I, too, have let the tide sneak up on me. Several people were closer to the water in front of me half an hour ago and now the water threatens to touch my toes that are currently buried in the rocky shore. 

I live on the beach in Alabama, the mighty Gulf Coast, where the sand is sugar soft and white and the water is crystal clear blue. The beach here is harsher, louder and rougher in every aspect. How anyone could find this relaxing is beyond me, but the girl in the dress and I both had our moment in the sun, and once we were no longer wilting like sad little plants, it was time to leave.

The most significant difference between us is that I came ready for the beach. Even if I hadn’t lived on one my entire life, I still would’ve known to be prepared; I wore a bathing suit and brought a towel, as did everyone else. It made me wonder, and I had half a mind to ask her, “Where did you come from? Why are you here?”  

IV.

The number 555 is considered an angel number, at least according to the internet. Its meaning is for you to prepare for adventure and that your life is about to go through a transition that will give you a newfound sense of freedom. 

I read this load of bologna sitting in the living room of my Barcelona apartment at 555 Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes. Looking around the room, you wouldn’t expect this place to symbolize any kind of new adventure in my life or anyone else’s. 

The fake flowers, pink chairs, and the art on the walls make the place look like somewhere made for college girls, but the way the couches are covered in furniture protectors show the owners doesn’t trust us. This room looks nothing like an adventure, but there’s a window four feet away from the couch. Outside the window is a city with Metros, bendy, opulent architecture, and people yelling at each other in Spanish.

Barcelona is like nowhere I’ve ever been before. I grew up in a city full of culture and life. The birthplace of Mardi Gras isn’t New Orleans, it’s Mobile, Alabama – my hometown. From the French wrought iron gates to the old Antebellum houses, Mobile has so much history, beauty and unique appeal. Most people spend a lifetime looking for such a place to call home. 

I hated it.

Listening to the radio growing up, so many songs mentioned that the artist is more than where they come from. How they’re bigger than the town they grew up in and how they can’t wait to leave and go make something of themselves. 

Lately I’ve hated my hometown, how it’s changing and the people in it. I’ve spent so much time wanting to run away from the whole state that despite going to college six hours away, I still felt restless, like there was more I could be seeing and experiencing. 

I came on this trip because I wanted to see the world. I was ready for a change, ready to see and do things that few people back home get to experience, and the number 555 in my address suggested I was in the right place.

Murphy’s Law says if something can go wrong it will go wrong. That’s me. But whatever. It makes things interesting and I’ll always have exciting stories to share. 

But sitting here in my white bed in my white bedroom in Barcelona, with a window and a picturesque view of a brick wall outside, I think maybe all the struggles I went through on this trip have made me okay with returning to America. 

I get it. “Are you for real, Lou? You spent thousands of dollars and flew halfway across the world to see France, Spain, cultures older than your whole country, and it made you miss Alabama?” 

I could spend a whole lifetime beating myself up about it. About the internships I turned down, the job I quit, the family I left, and everything I worked and fought for to turn a December meeting in Farley Hall into a real trip. A trip to see the crumbling ruins of a Roman circus, smell a different type of sea air, taste food from the recipe’s origins and put my feet on ground I’ve never stood on and likely won’t get another chance to for years.

But being ready to go home doesn’t mean I didn’t get what I wanted from this trip. I got the adventure, freedom, and change that the number 555 promised. 

I’ve always had this restlessness, constantly bouncing my leg because if I stop moving I might explode. But after hopping on a plane and running as far away from home as possible, I feel like the bees in my bones have been tamed. I’ve learned to see the value in being content. 

It’s my choice how I define where I am or who I am; I can be in Spain and enjoy what it is for what it has to offer me and I don’t need to be desperate for it to change me or make my trip mean something more than it does. 

I’ve grown to see beauty in the sun setting three hours later than I’m used to, watching it from the rooftop at a bar in a city that speaks a language I don’t fully understand, but I’ve also grown to see the beauty in where I came from. 

It might be common knowledge for other people, but I had to fly halfway across the world and change as a person to learn how to be happy where I am. 


Adam Brown
Adam Brown
Sports Editor

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