This past June, I returned to San Antonio from a study abroad program in Spain. I spent 10 months living and studying in Madrid, where the most generous and loving host-family I could have hoped for cared for me.
In the center of the city, the Puerta del Sol, there is a marble plaque embedded in the street that reads Km.0. This marks the center of both Madrid and Spain, and it is the point from which roads in the country are measured. There is a myth that if you step on the plaque, you are destined to return to Madrid. Before I left, I made sure to step on that plaque. I did this to feel an enduring connection with the city that had become my adopted home for almost a year. After so many months of becoming accustomed to an unfamiliar city on an unknown continent, I began to feel that it was San Antonio that would be foreign.
I realize that what I experienced in the final weeks leading up to my homecoming was only a taste of the more momentous change I would go through this coming year. In August I returned to Boston for my final year of university, I graduate in May, and will then enter the uncharted area of my map until now only vaguely referred to as “adulthood.” In those moments, that Km.0 mark seemed to me a convenient marker for my own life – a point of departure from which I could measure all progress.
My time abroad was the most dynamic and eye-opening experience I have had in my life. It presented an opportunity to see the world and encounter diverse cultures and peoples. I traveled to Eastern Europe, Northern Africa, the United Kingdom and throughout Western Europe. It was an adventure more expansive and freewheeling than the one I took when I chose to attend university at Boston College in Massachusetts. I am often asked why I chose to leave San Antonio – my answer is that I would have loved it too much to leave. But I think the more important question is why I love it enough to come back.
“San Antonio is a city on the rise” has become an ubiquitous saying. Our elected officials and prominent community members never cease to remind us that we are on our way up, that there is much to look forward to, and that the future is bright. None of this is false, but I think that, as important as it is to look forward, we ought also to take a look around.
I came back because San Antonio today is a city at the intersection of cultures, on the forefront of innovative technologies, cybersecurity, cutting edge in culinary arts and cultural promotion, exploration and education. San Antonio today can hold its own against any cosmopolis on the globe, and is a city of both advantage and opportunity. My time abroad was spent visiting some of the most internationally recognized and acclaimed cities in the world, but at the end of it all I chose to come back.
One of San Antonio’s contemporary challenges is how to convince others my age to do the same – learn the lessons of the world, the valuable teachings of exploration, and then use them to benefit our city and our community. I believe the answer to why I chose to return to San Antonio can be a small part of San Antonio’s larger answer to young people like me who are asking why they ought to come home.
I spent my few weeks at home with my family and working for a local consulting firm founded by San Antonians and rooted in the idea of business engaging with the community to mutual benefit. OCI Group is a social purpose consulting firm deeply concerned with retaining San Antonio’s young talent, and my internship was arranged by the Ambassador Program of the City of San Antonio, which provides internship opportunities to college students in and from San Antonio with the ultimate goal of mitigating brain-drain and demonstrating the immense amount of opportunity this city holds for young professionals.
When I stepped off the Km.0 marker in Puerta del Sol, I knew my next destination was San Antonio – my family is there and I was on summer break – but I know that it will be my destination once I step off the stage at graduation because of the city it is today, not solely because of the potential it holds tomorrow.
I may one day, years from now, return to Madrid, walk through Sol, watch the street performers and dodge passengers rushing to and from the metro. I may again marvel at the great cities of Europe, hear clouds of languages float through the air and sate my wanderlust. I may have a few more adopted cities by that time; because the world is my home, San Antonio is my home.
Top image: Antonio Frietze sits at Montserrat in Catalonia, Spain. Photo by Antonio Frietze.