For my STEP experience, I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain through the Fundación Jose Ortega y Gasset. I took a class studying Madrid as a global city, analyzing immigration and waves of different cultures that have come through and occupied Madrid throughout the centuries. In addition to exploring Madrid, we were able to take excursions to Segovia, Toledo, and Aranjuez.
While in Spain, many of my world views were broadened, particularly with regard to Spanish values and way of life. The Spanish often will take a break from their day to have coffee and a pastry, enjoy a large lunch, or even take a siesta. While this type of behavior is typically seen as lazy or unproductive in the United States, in Spain, it is embraced. Overall, I felt that the Spanish do not put value on a person based on how much money he or she makes or how productive that person is at work. Instead, they cherish personal relationships and place value on people based on their traits that make them good friends or family members. I realized that I really resonate with these Spanish values, and I hope to implement them into my life back in the United States.
I first began to realize this different lifestyle in my first week in Madrid, while enjoying the Buen Retiro Park in Madrid. Within the park, there are beautiful gardens, walking pathways, and even a large pond to take boat rides. It was a Tuesday afternoon, a standard work day in the U.S. yet the park was full of Spaniards, enjoying the day with family and friends. Some families looked like they were making a day at the park, while other groups of people in suits looked to just be taking their lunch break in the relaxing atmosphere. Regardless, the park served as a place where Spaniards were able to socialize and enjoy the company of others as well as the setting.
Another example of this people-centered attitude came when our class toured the main plazas of Madrid. Simple observation of the architecture and organization of the city, one is immediately aware of the very open nature of Spain’s infrastructure. Most restaurants have outdoor seating areas, and many apartments above the streets have balconies. It is as if the Spaniards take every opportunity to be connected to the heartbeat of the city. I think these observations reflect the very social nature of Spaniards and proves the importance of interpersonal relationships and quality time spent with others in Spanish life.
My true epiphany of the inherent differences between the culture of the United States and Spain dawned on me during a lecture towards the end of our trip, one of our last class sessions, where we had a discussion with a group of several American Spaniards. Most of the individuals in this group were wives of military officers who were stationed in Spain, but a few were individuals who had traveled to Spain, fell in love with the country, and decided to stay. Among the major topics discussed by those leading the discussion were the importance of family values in Spain and the importance of interpersonal relationships in general. One speaker mentioned how instead of facing difficulties somewhat alone as many often do in the United States, the difficulties of Spaniards are shared by their network of support, mainly their families. Overall, a person’s sense of self is almost distributed amongst the people who mean the most to them. I think this mentality would help a lot of my peers at Ohio State who feel alone as they face the immense pressures to do well in school, to get a job, and to achieve at the highest level. Perhaps people would be a lot happier if we shared a Spanish mentality that it is not these concrete things that make someone who they are, but rather the deeper, more intrinsic parts to one’s being that cannot always be vocalized.
As I mentioned before, I really resonated with the values of Spanish culture: that a person is more than the things they accomplish, the money they make, or the titles they hold. As someone who wants to go into medicine, dealing with all types people on a very personal basis every day, I think it is important to understand that all people have immense value in this world, regardless of their societal standings. I have really come to value my relationships with the people in my life and I think that will carry over into my personal life going forward as well as in my relationship with future patients. I am positive that I would not carry these ideals had I never gone to Spain, and I think the world can learn a lot from this vibrant and beautiful culture as we work to tackle big issues in the future.