Iberian Nights: Family, Heat, and Castles

Picture it: Sicily 1936

Picture it: Spain 2017

A handsome young man in his early twenties disembarks from a flight in Madrid. As he steps outside to inhale the Spanish air the heat parches his throat and causes sweat to cascade from his brow. With his luggage in hand he hails a taxi to carry him to Toledo. Stepping out of the cab he looks around and takes in the ancient city. Beautiful stone towers reach towards the sky, a great wall surrounds the city, and the Tajo river wraps around the wall giving Toledo the appearance of a city straight out of Game of Thrones.

I literally sometimes pretended that I was in the world of Game of Thrones! (Fun fact: Some parts of the show were actually filmed in Spain.)

I’m guessing you’ve figured by now that the aforementioned handsome young man is moi. This summer I spent a month and a half studying Spanish literature, art, and culture at the Fundacion Jose Ortega y Gasset. The purpose of my project was to experience life in a culture different from my own. I wasn’t expecting such a culture shock. I always figured that outside of language there wouldn’t be a significant difference between the way most Americans and most Spaniards live. An example is that Spaniards have a different concept of personal space when talking with someone. It was not uncommon for them to stand really close while conversing and I had to actively resist the urge to take a step back and create more space. I also had problems with confidence in my Spanish speaking abilities. Until this past summer, most of the interactions I’d had with Spanish came in the form of a class room lecture or a book. I was presented with very few opportunities to use the language naturally and in a relaxed setting like home.

I also learned a valuable lesson about family. Families seem to be a lot closer in Spain. Instead of staying at the Fundacion I decided to stay with a host family. I had a mamá, Angeles, and a papá, Luis. They also had a son that lives in Madrid that I met once and a daughter that I often saw at the house, although she and her boyfriend had a house of their own. There were constantly guest that flowed in and out of the house every week and although the three bedroom apartment wasn’t the largest, there was always room for family. Late night dinners were always a family affair, with everyone gathering around the table laughing, joking, and jubilantly shouting so quickly that I sometimes struggled to keep up with the conversation. I learned the beautiful lesson about keeping family close and always making time and space to commune with one another.

My study abroad experience and the STEP program have offered me the opportunity to meet the incredible people that I have. It’s also allowed me to see a part of the world that had only existed in the form of maps and books and movies. Being able to travel to cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, and Malaga (my favorite destination) has been a transformative experience. I feel like a better world citizen and a more well-rounded student. I had a chance to experience first-hand the beauties and troubles of Spain and its people. This study abroad trip was an amazing experience. Go Bucks!

P.S. Hold on to your phones and wallets in Barcelona and Madrid.

*To see more pictures from my Iberian adventure follow me on Instagram @rtj_1996