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I stared down at my bowl of coarse, mushy oatmeal as everyone surrounding me at the table began to devour their overflowing plates of eggs, bacon, and French toast.
This is going to be a long ten days, I thought.
The summer between my junior and senior year, I traveled to a small suburb of Madrid to live and work for a Spanish family, both to experience a new culture and to enrich my knowledge of the Spanish language. Because I normally maintain a very active, busy lifestyle, the slower and more relaxed pace that my host family assumed was very new to me. Even though I was involved in developing a new ESL program at the local school and was busy nannying six kids, after a while the days seemed to feel dulled by the same routine. Three weeks into the experience, however, I realized this boredom was a blessing in disguise. When in my life would I ever have this much free time again? I was determined to challenge myself and try as many new things as I could, like going on a date with a Spaniard who spoke no English, or running all the way to the top of a nearby plateau.
One day, I was browsing Instagram and stumbled upon the account of a 18 year old girl who is famous in Australia for her vegan cause. After pursuing her posts, I advanced to her YouTube account and watched a few of her videos explaining why she is a vegan and how this diet works in her everyday life. Obviously, I was a little skeptical; this ‘lifestyle” as she called it seemed so extreme. However, a few days later, after thinking it through, I reasoned, “I’m all the way out here in Spain, trying to learn to understand and appreciate another family’s culture. What is so different about this?” So, after further researching, I decided to commit to ten days of Veganism. No meat, no dairy, no animal products, nothing.
Day one was the most challenging. Because I didn’t know a whole lot yet about veganism, I was under the preconception that it was going to be a boring succession of oatmeal and salads. Enduring this limited meal plan for a day, I was determined by nighttime to find a better approach. Back on YouTube: that night I watched dozens of vegan “vlogs,” and suddenly this lifestyle fascinated me. Not only did I learn why Veganism is beneficial (for both the environment and for our health) but I also learned how interesting and diverse vegan dining could actually be. I inaugurated the “vegan challenge” thinking the ten days would be restrictive and boring. Instead, I discovered that with a little bit of time and research effort, I could grow to understand and appreciate a culture and lifestyle that I was previously unfamiliar to.
From that point on, added the goal of trying one new vegan “meal” each day. I sampled everything from Curry to Pad Thai to “Nicecream.” Ten days turned into two weeks, and eventually, I just decided to keep the veganism going for the rest of the trip. The decision proved challenging at times, such as when we went to restaurants or ate at other people’s houses. Finding a balance between maintaining a lifestyle while still not disrespecting someone else’s was a lesson I had to learn through those remaining weeks. But by the end of the trip, I felt extremely satisfied with what I had done and decided to continue eating vegan as well as I could. Now, months after returning from Spain, I can confidently call myself a vegan. I am not always perfect; sometimes I just cannot say “no” to a little cheese pizza, but for the most part, I have committed myself to this healthy lifestyle and hope to share its delights with others.