My STEP Signature Project was an education abroad experience in Madrid, Spain. The trip was part of Ohio State’s Global May program and I was able to study and live in Spain for a month.
While in Madrid, not only did I learn about the history and culture in Madrid and across Spain, but I learned more about my identity as an American and my view of the world. I had never been out of the country before and being able to live in a place whose history goes back thousands of years was amazing. As I studied Spain’s history and culture, I realized that America’s history is relatively modern in comparison and my identity as an American has a lot to do with the ideals of freedom and liberty that the democracy was founded on. As for Spain, however, their democracy was only founded in the last 50 years so a Spaniard’s identity is not rooted in a democratic ideology like an American’s. My view of the world transformed in the sense that I realized that each country has an identity that its people hold, but those identities are not all ideologically based like the United States, despite maybe having a longer history.
Prior to completing my STEP Signature Project, I was only able to imagine what life in another country looked like. Adjusting to a Madrileño way of life had its challenges, but by the end of my month in Madrid, I felt like I had transformed and it was difficult imagining my way of life back in the United States. The way of life in Spain is much less fast-paced than in the United States, where we always feel like we need to be working and be busy. I realized that Americans and Spaniards both try to get the most out of each day, in very different ways. Americans typically try to fill their days with as much as they possibly can do, where as Spaniards will take the time to enjoy and experience a few things.
One of the key aspects in becoming accustomed to life in Spain was food and meals. Meals in Spain are big, long social events, unlike they typically are in the United States. Service in restaurants is slow, but this is normal. Although it was hard to adjust to receiving slow and not always friendly service at restaurants, I realized that the time I spent sitting down at meals with my classmates and instructors allowed me to get to know them well and discuss our experiences for hours. Although we bonded and got to know each other little by little each day, the long meals we had helped cement our relationships and experiences together and I am very appreciative of that.
An experience that really made me consider American policy against Spain’s was when my class visited the Red Cross in Madrid. A representative told us about Spain’s immigration policies and what the Red Cross does to help immigrants coming to Spain, specifically those from Africa. Spain’s immigration policies are more open than those of the United States, despite the fact that Spain’s economy is much weaker than the United States. Although Spain’s more open policy might not represent the ideals of all Spaniards, it is a great contrast to the “Build the wall” culture that has a strong presence in the United States.
Another aspect of my STEP Signature Project that allowed me to transform was just being in Spain in general. Living in a country with such a deep history is incredible. Visiting monuments and buildings that predate the United States by hundreds or thousands of years is humbling. Learning to navigate and live in a country in a foreign language was transformative as well. Although the United States does not have a national language, in all the places I have been to in the United States, I have never not been able to use English. However, I have been studying Spanish for the last six years and although it was difficult sometimes, I appreciated the chance to be able to use and practice my Spanish-speaking skills. It made me appreciate the language more than I had while learning it at home.
The experience and transformation that I had through my education abroad is significant for my future career goals. I am studying to be a nurse and I think that my experience in Spain is very relevant to that. As a nurse, I will be helping people of many different countries and cultures. I believe that part of what makes being a good nurse is being able to understand the experiences your patient has gone through and the life that they have lived. Having now lived in a foreign country for a month, I think I now am able to appreciate and understand different cultures more so than before. Along with this, I am also studying Spanish and I hope to be able to use my skills and knowledge to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients so that they can be more comfortable with the care I give them.