I was the first of the three University of Richmond women living in my apartment in San Sebastian, Spain, to walk through the door to our new home.
My roommates yelled up through the window to ask what I thought.
"It's um ... nice," I replied.
I am not sure exactly what I was expecting, but I can tell you this was not it.
When the door opened, it revealed a long, very skinny hallway with six doors lining the walls: one for the kitchen, one for the bathroom, one for the living room -- with a velvet couch with a pattern that looked like a mix between Native American art and Grandma-style floral -- and three for each of our bedrooms.
There was no open space. There was nowhere to move or even to eat. All of my hopes and dreams and ideas of the first time living in my own apartment quickly disappeared.
The three of us mustered some nervous laughs as we became accustomed to our new home because we didn't have much to say.
Everything was just so tiny.
Let me tell you that now we are in love with our little "piso" and couldn't be happier with it, but we needed the help of our Italian friend to realize that we weren't living in a dump.
Alberto is his name; he is from Rome and is constantly entertaining me with his quirky Italian ways here in Spain.
When he saw the apartment, he told us we were crazy for complaining. He explained that we were only upset because we didn't understand the difference in culture.
People in Europe are used to skinny hallways and smaller rooms because, unlike us, they spend little time in their homes.
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They live outside, with other people in the bars and streets and parks and beaches. When I looked around I realized this was so true, and these people living their lives outside is actually what gives Europe its alluring energy.
The street I live on is testimony to this. It is named General Artheche, and it is the picturesque square you dream of when you think about living in Europe.
No cars drive on the two blocks of pavement and the three bars below us are always full with friends, families and children playing in the street until at least midnight, and longer when the weather is warmer.
When we open the windows in our apartment, the noise of their socializing reaches our ears, and you can't help but want to be a part of it.
I have grown up in a small Midwestern town where there are not very many outdoor places to just hang out.
We use our homes to socialize; during the days my friends would come over and hang out in my room and at night we watch movies or have big dinners and we are all accustomed to classic house parties.
But what if we were to view our homes as just a place to sleep, shower and sometimes eat?
For one, it opens up your schedule like you wouldn't believe. If I were to take out the time that I spend on my couch or taking a nap or sitting around my room, I would be forced to go out and DO something.
Especially when I am living in a place like San Sebastian, there is never a shortage of things to do.
You can take a hike to the top of either mountains enclosing the beach, or take a ferry to the island of Santa Clara for a picnic lunch.
You can ride your bike to the old town and walk the streets of shops and pintxos bars or sit outside one of the bars with a cafe con leche or glass of wine. There is no end to the possibilities.
I know that not every place is as beautiful and picturesque as this beloved Spanish city, but you do not need a beach or a mountain to get out of your house.
Richmond has so many options such as going down to the river, walking around Carytown, visiting the Capitol of Virginia (my grandmother dragged me there last year and it was actually really pretty), finding a cool park to play a pick-up game or reading a book.
Second, you experience so much more. If we were to open our eyes and try not to fall in a routine, our lives would be so much more exciting, wouldn't they?
I find at school I live my life in a limited number of places. I am always either in class, my room, D-Hall, Tyler's or the Cellar, the gym because I have spent so much time in the previous three places, in my friends' rooms or with the families for whom I babysit.
If I would break away from this routine of moving between these few places then my life would not only be more interesting, but more exhilarating as well.
Lastly, it's healthy. By avoiding my house, TV and fridge, I would be living a healthier and more active lifestyle.
In San Sebastian my favorite form of exercise has been running along the water and ending up at a breathtaking rocky end to the beach.
I feel like I'm seeing the city in a new way everytime I run, and the exercise is easy when I have such beautiful landscapes to look at.
Even when we go to the gym here, the running machines are all facing a window instead of television screens. If we actively take part in nature, we can tap in to all of its inspiration, even to live a more healthy life.
This concept is not in any way revolutionary, and I know that many people, even in the states, do have an outgoing attitude and are not at all couch bums or locking themselves away, trying to hide from the sunshine, but I do think that we all can lose perspective sometimes of how much time we do spend in the comfort of our own home.
If we can find a way to mix up our routine once a week and get out to try something new, then maybe our lives will begin to take on the same sort of exciting energy that surrounds and invigorates the people here in Europe.
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