December 2, 2013
If there is one word you could use to describe exchange, it’s different.
The first day I got here, I got off the plane in Madrid without problems, and found my parents, again without problems. It’s strange to think that changing your entire life can go off without a hitch, but it did. That day, we went back to the house, but made a stop at a churreria, where they basically ordered a bunch of churros and liquid chocolate. LIQUID CHOCOLATE. That kind of set the theme for the day, as that made me sleepy, and I when we finally arrived, I closed the windows (which can become blackout windows by pulling this string) and slept for 20 hours.
As the first few weeks passed, I kept noticing the big differences in between the American culture and the Spanish culture. How they were not punctual in any way, they had this thing called sobremesa, which literally does not translate, and it’s just a time that they sit after dinner or a meal, and talk FOREVER. But, there were also lots of great big things, the fact that they have incredible bread, and that the people are generally very laid back and relaxed. It’s also nice to see an incredibly old culture, because ours is, relatively speaking, a baby nation and in turn we don’t have the grand architecture of places such as Spain and the rest of Europe.
Spaniards like to play a lot of soccer, and they have 5-a-side courts all over the place, with futsal courts as well, and a lot of polideportivos, which are basically gyms with every sport you could imagine. The people take great pride in being Spanish, except for the people from the Basque Country, or from Catalonia, but don’t put things like their Spanish flag in their front yard, nor do they sing their national anthem in school. They think that’s too cult-like. But, I digress..
Where they hang out is quite different, they normally don’t just like go over to someone’s house to stay the night, nor do they just go to have lunch. They will meet in bars, or go for coffee. Also, they don’t do very much during the week unless it’s planned ahead, because their parents worry about their studies much more than in the United States. But all in all, you can always find something to do.
One of the major differences I’ve noticed so far is the education system. In the US, even if we don’t like the teacher we have to maintain a certain level of respect and cordialness in class, because not only is it a big part of their job and they demand respect, they really want to teach. Here, it’s more or less their job, and in turn they garner very little respect from their students, which is disheartening. School is also a bit unorganized, and a lot of teachers just miss a lot. They also have close to no practical lessons, it is all theory, which is extremely different from the lessons in the states.
But, all in all, I am enjoying Spain more than I could have ever imagined, and I still have so much time to go until I have to think about coming back.
Til next time, Ciao, au revoir, hasta luego. Dios te bendiga.
March 13, 2014
Life is change. As time begins to change, we gradually realize that, while there may be a few constants, we are constantly moving, constantly evolving. To me, the middle part of this exchange has been the perfect exhibit of that change. From the changing of families, which in and of itself is a strange feeling, to holiday traditions that you don't know about.. you're made to adapt.
Let me start with the changing of families. It's not a bad thing by any means, because it lets you see a different point of view in the same society that could be completely different. Different rules, different speed of life, different manner of living...everything. But the biggest surprise to me was the fact that, one day I was going about my life with a different family and then the next I was with my new family. And it almost seemed as if to those around me, nothing had changed. My life had just changed drastically, yet everyone else seemed to just go on. I was kind of left with my jaw dropped, as even my new family kinda just kept going.
One of the best things about this middle part is finally being accustomed to almost everything. Every now and again, you'll still make one of those glaring mistakes. But for the most part it seems as if I´m now an official part of the society, and they always tell me "Eres uno de nuestros", which is just like one of us. The first time they told me that, they were really surprised by just how happy I was to get that compliment.
Another great thing is finally being able to think in my host language. Spanish is now a good bit easier for me to rattle off then English is. People never think I'm American, as in from the US, they know I am a foreigner from my accent, but they always ask me if I am from Latin America. It's a great feeling honestly.
Being an exchange student absolutely has its perks, because as much as it is a difficult thing to do, people want you to have a good time in their country. Thus, you get invited to most things, you make a lot of friends, and you experience more than an average person because well, you're a novelty in this new country. You come to accept the fact that some people will never take you seriously because of this, and that a certain resentment comes from some people. But, that is life.
An exchange year is more than just a year in your life, it's many experiences, the passing of much time, crammed into one period of time, and it´s almost overwhelming at times.. But I couldn't ask for any more.
April 28, 2014
Exchange is an extremely clarifying event in a young person's life. Things become clearer right from the start, and you gradually gather information about both yourself and your surroundings. You become a bit polarized in some aspects, as you see the great and the awful things of your host-society, but also much more rounded as a result of the knowledge that differences are just changes and they neither have to be good or bad.
But, let's start with the interesting stuff.These last few months have been some of the most incredible of my life. My eyes have now seen things that I could've only imagined just a year ago. My latest grand trip was to Italy, Brescia to be precise. The first trip in Italy was to Lake Garda, which was beautiful by itself and moreso because of the town that capped off the peninsula, Sirmione. That day, I experienced real Italian gelato for the first time and I have to say.. I can never return to regular ice cream again. The next day, we went to Verona, the setting of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and it was just about every bit as magical as I thought it would be while reading the story.From the colloseum there, to Juliet's balcony, to just the old castle high above the city, it was incredible to be in a place so well preserved in time. It's also mind boggling to be surrounded by structures that literally date back farther in time than your enti re country. Bergamo was our final destination, and it's basically just a town in which the aristocrats lived during the Renaissance and now stands as the epitomy of architecture of that time in Italy. Europe in general, I suppose is much more like the last two sentences than I had ever really thought before coming here.
To be completely honest, even the towns and architecture in Spain, and Europe in general, is just a lot more complex and detailed than ours. For example, I went to Cartagena with my host family a couple of weeks ago, and although the town was destroyed around 60 years ago in the Spanish Civil War it still is as intricate and beautiful as it is said to have been before. I feel that the Spaniards take a lot more pride in their buildings and what they have to offer to outsiders than we are. People generally go to Cartagena for the beach and the port there, but to me the thing that really grabbed was the mountain behind my family's house there. On top of the small mountain there is a castle that is now abandoned, which means that you can scale the mountain and just hang out on top of the castle for a while without anyone bothering you. Just you and nature for a good while.
But, every place generally has its positives and negatives. Spanish culture and Spain in general is interesting, but it has a few quirks that, depending on who you are, can be to your liking or not. One thing that seems to be becoming a lot more common in this generation of Spaniards is a huge lack of maturity. This can be seen in many facets of their lives, such as the small amount of respect the have for their teachers, to their constant feeling that they "deserved to be dealt a better hand". I know this are small things, but they all kind of add up and get aggravating after a while. Also, one thing that any American will realize when they go on exchange is that EVERYONE has an image about our country, whether that image is a good one or a bad one depends on who you talk to. It's kind of draining after a while, because they have such strong feelings toward a country that they know very little about. For instance, today we were studying the dropping of th e atomic bomb and my teacher (who is a great man, and knows what it is like to be a foreigner in a different country) told me to hold all the comments I felt necessary until the end of the lesson. I sat and listened for 40 minutes as the majority of them kind of sad that we are really proud of that decision and that we're glad it converted us into the power that we are in the world now. It shocked me, and kind of hurt to be honest. I kept it short after they all finished because I didn't want to say anything out of spite, but basically what I said was "Saying we are proud of that decision is ignorant. We view it now, and are almost ashamed. Being proud of the bombings would be like saying that Spaniards are proud of the bombing of Guernica." They all kind of looked on with a look of shock, as if I had just like insulted their country. But all of the mistakes we've ever made, or that our government has ever made is magnified in the view of Europeans i n general.
Another thing that is still evident in Spain is a bit of racism. Probably a result of the fact that, before around 30-40 years ago there were no foreigners in Spain. But to me, many people look at me funny because of the color of my skin, because they know I'm from Latin America. They feel like we owe them something, that they are superior, and that we barely speak Spanish. It is pretty shocking how many people feel that way, to be honest. It also happens with the Africans here, and especially the Magrehbis(moors).
But, in the end, generally things are alright. You have to make the best of any situation you are in, because if not you will not be the happiest you can be in life. I officially have less than 80 days in this country, and despite all its flaws.. I don't know if I'm ready to go back quite yet.