Tales from abroad: Spain
“A por ellos” was a chant that I grew to know very well this past summer. The words translate to “go defeat them,” a sort of Spanish equivalent to Pittsburgh’s “Here We Go” for the Steelers, but in this case, these words were meant to inspire the Spanish National Soccer Team in the 2008 Euro Cup. Much like Steelers paraphernalia during the Super Bowl, “a por ellos” was everywhere, as were pictures of Spain’s “heroes,” such as Torres and Casillas. But my study abroad wasn’t focused on the excitement of Spain’s success in the Euro Cup; although as a big soccer fan, I was ecstatic to be in the country at the time.
During my seven-week stay, which included six weeks of class and one additional week of travel with family, I learned a lot — and not just in academics. I attended New York University in Madrid with my twin sister. It had been one year since we had been separated for the first time in our lives, so we thought, why not reunite in Spain, explore a new country and a new culture together, and also get a course or two out of the way?
Upon arriving in Madrid, my sister and I headed to our homestay to meet our “señora,” or our homestay mother. Once we reached the apartment, we were happy to find our señora, Maribel, ready and waiting for our arrival. She was a very kind, warmhearted woman, who spoke so fast that my sister and I felt a little dumbstruck after she had explained her policies and showed us around her apartment. Although we had both studied Spanish for six years, we were amazed to find out just how tongue-tied you can get when put in a real-life situation — we were no longer in a classroom where the safety net of speaking Spanglish could help you; I think it was at that point that my sister and I really understood where we were.
As Maribel prepared dinner for us, she introduced us to many of Spain’s specialties. Spanish tortilla, a type of omelet with potatoes, was my favorite. Other nights, she prepared fish or chicken with rice. Staying with Maribel was a great experience. During dinners, she would sit and talk to me and my sister. Being able to talk to her was a great way for us to practice using our Spanish — we talked about many things, from school and soccer to recipes and Maribel’s daughter’s upcoming wedding.
As far as classes went, both of my classes were in English. One was called “Masterpieces in the Prado Museum,” which focused primarily on the influence of Spain’s vibrant culture and customs, and on artists whose work had been displayed in the Prado. What was really unique about this course was that every Thursday, class was held in the Prado Museum, where what we learned in the classroom and observed on the slides came to life. The second class I took was called “Media Ethics, the Law, and the Public Interest in Spain.” This course explored censorship, politics, the judiciary system, terrorism, women, minorities, and other issues that relate to ethics in Hispanic nations. I found this course interesting since it helped me develop a better understanding of what influences daily life in Spain as well as what makes the Spanish people who they are.
Aside from academics, I learned a lot about the Spanish culture and lifestyle. After class, my sister and I explored Madrid, stopping in different neighborhoods before returning to our homestay. During the weekends, we had the opportunity to travel with some friends to various cities all over Spain, including Segovia, Toledo, Salamanca, Granada, Cordoba, and Barcelona. We traveled by bus and Spain’s high-speed train, the “AVE,” meaning bird, to get to each of these cities. By traveling this way, we were able to observe the unique landscapes of Spain. Some areas were very mountainous, others very flat, and still others were very hilly. Through our travels, we quickly learned that Spain is a very diverse country that holds tremendous educational, religious, and artistic significance.
If the opportunity had been available, I would have liked to spend an entire semester in Madrid. Being abroad is a great experience that opens you up to the language, culture, and lives of others. It is through experiences like these that, as Youssou N’Dour, a Sengalese singer once stated, “[people can] see that, far from being an obstacle, the world’s diversity of languages, religions, and traditions is a great treasure, affording us precious opportunities to recognize ourselves in others.”