Archive for January, 2011

The Influence of the Arabs

January 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Bear with me for a moment: Does anyone else feel as though there’s a difference between knowing something and understanding it? For instance, one can stare at a sheet of paper before a history test and be able to write down the date of an event, know the basic shape of a continent, or perhaps the funamental beliefs of a certain group. A week later, you won’t be able to recall the details, but you’ll maybe still remember the gist. Then, one day, some prompt forces you to retrieve this information, in the context of something new, and you suddenly understand it much better than you ever did in the past. Perhaps I’ve explained awkwardly, but this is sort of how I felt when I went to Andalucía; it was something that I should have always known, and yet it is a connection I only truly understood upon arrival–Spain is heavily influenced by the Islamic culture.

Hold onto that thought for a while, and I’ll talk about my trip.

Well, after a super early bus ride, we arrived in the old city of Granada. We ate lunch and met up later in the afternoon with our professors and with our knowledgeable tour guide, Fernando. Our first stop was at the Capilla Real (the Royal Chapel – wiki), a charming little place with a rich history and a few very interesting works of art. Though it had some interesting paintings, by far the coolest thing about it was that it contained the tombs of King Fernando (Ferdinand) and Queen Isabel (Isabella), monarchs from the 15th century. Royalty, especially of their magnitude, deserve illustrious  graves, and such places of rest they do receive. Fernando and Isabel are both decorated very ornately, their marble countenances wearing grand clothing, carrying staffs, and sleeping peacefully. Fernando informed us that generally it is only kings who are adorned with lions, yet both Isabel and Fernando had the lions at their feet. In reality, Isabel was far from a ceremonial figurehead. She was Queen of Castille and León, and famously met Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colón) when he sought financing to sail West (a bit more on this later). Actually, to call Fernando and Isabel equal, we learned, might be understating Isabel’s role in government. Upon closer inspection of Isabel’s tomb, one discovers that her head contours into her pillow significantly farther than Fernando’s head into his. The sculptor suggests that her head is heavier, filled with more intelligence than Fernando’s. Isabel was clearly an important figure in Spanish history. Underneath the marble statues are five caskets (Ferdinand and Isabella, as well as daughter Juana la Loca, her husband Felipe el Hermoso, and their son Miguel). You walk down a set of stairs to catch a glimpse of the coffins. Miguel was only a child when he died. The tiny casket is a bit heartbreaking.

The Tombs of Fernando and Isabel -

While the Chapel was nice, Granada’s beauty was truly revealed the next day. We began the next day by taking a taxi to the very top of Granada–which happens to be amidst the Sierra Nevada mountain range–where we got some incredible pictures, one of which is seen below. Walking back down, you get a sense of the things that a foreigner might expect to see in Spain: little houses piled on top of one another, with narrow, zig-zag, cobblestoned roads. It is here that you start seeing the Arabic influence. On the walk down, there were lots of Arabic shops, selling Hookahs or little crafty purses. One of the salesmen, who sold Thea and Mónica a coin purse and wallet, said that he was one of a number of people in the region who spoke Arabic better than Spanish. I’ll place a gallery at the end of this post with more pictures.

Me in Sevilla, España

After walking back down from the summit, we visited La Alhambra. While initially constructed by Muslims for Emirs, the area was overtaken by the Catholics in the late 1400s. The entire place, really sort of an association of lots of cool buildings as opposed to one palace, includes the Gardens of Generalife, and the Palacios Nazaríes. Though it was used for formal business, Fernando told us that some of the more ornate areas were for the Royal Family to relax without needing to worry about politics. One can see why–it was beautiful. Not only were there lavish gardens, but the lovely Arabic architecture. Oh yeah, and the view:

Sevilla, España - Click to Enlarge

The above picture, and a few others available in the gallery, were taken from the highest tower in the military area of La Alhambra. Interestingly enough, the prettiest view came from the least attractive building. There was a small army outpost in La Alhambra to protect the city, and it was designed for function, not beauty.

I’ve also included some other really cool pictures. They sort of go without explanation: just very intricate and ornate, geometric pattern. A beauty in simplicity and pattern, I think.

Also at La Alhambra was a short Henri Matisse exhibit. He spent time at the palace, and quotes exist where he expresses how the place inspired him. In the was one of his famous still life paintings (below) as well as a charcoal sketch of his famous The Dance. I have no pictures of my own as cameras inside the exhibit were prohibited.

Matisse was inspired by La Alhambra -

Additionally, Washington Irving spent time at La Alhambra. Plaques and pictures commemorating him can be seen at various places in the city, including at La Alhambra itself.

Washington Irving wrote in these rooms his stories of La Alhambra in the year 1829

The following day, we went to Sevilla. We got a much needed late start (much needed for me, anyway) and met in front of the Fuente de la Plaza Virgen to begin our guided tour through Los Reales Alcázares. Alcázar was overtaken by the Spanish as well, becoming one of the Royal Palaces as well. It is laden with beautiful gardens, as well as impressive artwork. While all that remains throughout most of the place is just the careful etchings in the wall, there are some places where the original colors can still be seen. As is also the case in La Alhambra, all of these designs used to be painted, and I can only imagine just how beautiful they must have looked in their prime. This is another place where the pictures do more justice than words–more geometric patterns, more pretty Arabic influence. I ought to mention that I here managed to drop my camera onto a marble floor, so I don’t have as many pictures as I would have liked. I’m really kicking myself at having accidentally made the subconscious decision to prohibit myself from taking pictures of the room where it is said that Queen Isabel met Cristobol Colón prior to his departure for “India”. I’m still mad at my butterfingers… anyway, check the gallery for photos.

Seville Cathedral - Magnificent work of art, structurally and internally -

That night, we went to the Flamenco museum, a dance which turns out to have much more history to it than I ever imagined. For example, the shoulder movements in the dance come from Africa, the hand movements are from the Middle East, and additional influences come from Latin America. In fact, some of the songs verbally chanted by Flamenco singers are in Arabic. The Flamenco is a perfect embodiment of the coalescence of the cultures, an idea that was really reinforced in Andalucía on the whole. In the museum, we saw numerous examples of the dance, and were even given a lesson in the dance. I hope that video of that awkward event never surfaces for everyone else to see, but it really was pretty fun.

The Flamenco -

The next morning was our last day of scheduled DiM activities. We visited the Seville Cathedral. Hopefully I can find and add some pictures from other Dukies’ facebooks shortly. It was a grand place, containing huge structures in gold, and some that were only available to be seen by appointment. The coolest part was seeing the tomb of Cristobol Colón, which apparently contains only a few of his bones (and also some bones of another, unidentified person). We also climbed the tower of that building, and I will definitely be adding pictures of that view when I find them. Sevilla, from that perspective, seemed as though it had no streets–just a mass of buildings and cathedrals.

After the DiM activities ended, Thea, Mónica and I remained in a hostel for a few days. We generally just explored, and at night went out. My last night, we went barhopping with a large group from the hostel, which resulted in meeting many people from all around the world. I met an Australian, two Canadians (one of whom spoke four languages natively), a few Americans, a Dutchman, and a Belgian. It’s fun to hear the stereotypes about America from foreigners. “No, now that you ask, I have never worn a Cowboy hat.”

Back to the beginning: this trip really gave me a lot of perspective on just what it means to be Spanish, or to be in Spain. For one, and this may be more obvious to you folks than it was to me a week ago: Europe and Africa are really close together. Gibraltar, the bottom part of Europe that I mentioned in my last post, is only 15 km away from Morocco. Catholic and Arabic cultures are in close proximity to one another, and I suppose it is natural to think that there is some line between them. There is no line. Instead there’s a gradient, and Andalucía is the gray between the white and the black. My trip to Granada and Sevilla was truly something special. I thought to myself, wow, I’ve killed two birds with one stone here. Not only did I experience Spanish culture on this trip, but also Arabic culture. How embarrassing to have such a thought. In reality, Arabic culture is part of Spanish culture. And vice-versa. This was a moment of enlightenment for me–a sort of, “Chris, you big dummy, this is Spain.” Andalucía was much different than I had anticipated, and in the most wonderful of ways.

This upcoming week, school starts, so I’m not sure exactly when I’ll have interesting things to report again. Additionally, I’m going to start carrying around a notebook to both record new words that I’m learning (people tell me what words mean and then I forget them later). Random note aside, I’ll post on facebook when the new post is ready. Enjoy the photos!

Categories: Culture

To see the things you see in textbooks…

January 23, 2011 1 comment

Universidad CEU San Pablo -

Thursday the 20th was another relatively tame day. We took a tour of CEU (it is normally referred to as such, and is pronounced: SAY + the “oo” in pool) where we walked through a lot of the buildings and got a small feel for the “campus”. I say campus, though it’s nothing like a campus that I’ve ever been to. At Duke, we have a true campus, with lots of green space and a spiderweb of sidewalks crawling across it. There’s room to throw frisbees, or hold large parties on the quad, etc. At CEU, as is the case with all of the schools in this area that are all interspersed among one another, the school is part of the city. There are no lawns, and in fact to get to a lot of the CEU classroom buildings, you walk through or by sections of other schools. Though it’s a private school and the buildings themselves are quite nicely furnished, I admit it has something of a community college feel. I think it’s a trade-off–to be in the city of Madrid is exciting, but you sacrifice a bit of the American/Duke college feel that is more common at home.

I was, however, happy to see that there are places allotted for athletics. There is a caged area with a basketball/street soccer court as well as several padel tennis courts. Padel is like the tennis version of indoor soccer–bound by walls and played on a smaller court. It’s fast, and very fun to watch. Additionally, there is a small gym with weights and treadmills that I’ll probably try to get some use out of. Given the amount of food that Lili puts on my plate, it’s probably a good idea to use this area as much as possible…

Group picture in front of the Museo del Prado

The next day was an exciting one. We went to the Museo del Prado, the number 1 most visited art museum in Spain, and number 9 in all the world. Our group, now including the recently arrived Mónica, met at a nearby Starbucks at the Banco de España metro stop.

When we got to the Prado, Carmen, who gave us the tour of Madrid earlier in the week, led the way through the museum. She truly is magnificent and endlessly knowledgeable, telling detailed stories of the history of Spain with a passion and charisma unrivaled by anyone else so far in this country. As she taught, she walked us through the museum, continuing her narrative chronologically as we went. It was like receiving a condensed summary of Spanish art in a few hours, starting with early paintings from the inside of stone chapels, moving through to the ages and ending at the start of the modern era. As she showed us the paintings, she gave them meaning. Through works such as La Trinidad by El Greco, we learned (or re-learned) the concepts of Romanticism, such as a lack of symmetry and freedom with the expression of emotions.

La Trinidad - Click to Enlarge -

From there, we moved to the exhibit of Diego Velázquez, and displayed in prominence, his Las Meninas. This work is probably the most famous at the Prado, is one of my favorite “obras” of all time, and is very open to interpretation. I like it because of its complexity. It is if we are viewing the scene from the point of view of the king and queen, watching Velázquez paint our point of view of the scene. We show up in the mirror, so that we are included in the painting, and Velázquez figures out how to paint all of this from his position. I won’t belabor my interpretation of the painting too much, but suffice it to say that I find this work of art brilliant and captivating–a totally different kind of genius than a scientist, but equally impressive.

Las Meninas - Click to Enlarge -

We also saw a lot of Francisco de Goya‘s works, of which my favorite is Saturno Devorando a Su Hijo. This painting depicts the god Saturn eating one of his children as it had been foretold that he would have a child who would overthrow him. It’s a very gory painting, I suppose, but its story (and parallels one might be able to make between the painting and politics, etc.) make it a very interesting work.

Saturno Devorando a Su Hijo - Click to Enlarge -

Another one of Goya’s that I hadn’t seen before is called The Dog, a sad little puppy who is half-obscured by some unidentifiable something. It’s just sad, but I don’t know why.

The Dog - Click to Enlarge -

Talking about these things, I remember a lot of the excitement I had in my art history class in high school, and it makes me look forward to taking my Spanish art history class here.

Yesterday, the 22nd, I woke up late and watched Los Simpson with the family, then went with the Duke in Madrid crew to the Casa de Valencia, a restaurant that is known for its paella. Afterward, we attempted to watch the Duke basketball game at an Irish bar called Shamrocks. Because it wasn’t available, we instead rooted against Ohio State. They won anyway. Noteworthy: they served caipirinhas there.

Today has been relatively relaxed. Tomorrow, early, the DiM crew leaves for Andalucía, the southernmost province in Spain. We are going to visit the cities of Granada and Sevilla. I hopefully will be able to update this while I’m there, and I’m really looking forward to my time there!

I thought that in this post I’d include some other random things that didn’t truly fit into my narrative:

1) Madrid has Metro stations everywhere. I don’t think it’s possible to walk around the city without accidentally falling into one. Seriously, click that link and look. However, it turns out that this is incredibly convenient. I have an Abono Transporte, which gives me unlimited access to the Metro, the buses, and the trains. This really makes the city accessible for me, but I think it’s a small trade-off. Every time you take the Metro, you have lost the experience of walking through the city.

One of many: El Corte Inglés -

2) For every Metro, there are almost as many El Corte Inglés stores. I had never heard of them before coming here, but they’re like malls/supermarkets/Walmarts and they are absolutely pervasive. If you go to Madrid, you’ll know what I mean. They. Are. Everywhere.

3) I think I’m destined to become a Real Madrid fan. Watching soccer here is very exciting. As I write this, I’m watching Madrid play against Mallorca. Benzema just scored, in fact. Just now. My host family strongly support Real, and I don’t have any particular allegiance to anybody at the moment, so why not be a Madrid fan while I’m here? I know this will annoy Jeff…

4) I learned last night that Luis Ramiro, a Spanish singer that Jacob Hanger introduced me to before I left for Spain, is playing a concert (and I think releasing a new album) here in March. Only 15 euros for a ticket. I have to go. I love all his songs, but perhaps his most poetic is Relocos y Recuerdos. Luis sings of an Argentinian girl he met at a bar in La Latina. I’m going to visit that bar.

5) Fun fact about Andalucía: while it is the southernmost part of Spain, it doesn’t contain the Strait of Gibraltar. That spit of land technically belongs to Great Britain. Check it out.

6) The use of vosotros here is really widespread. Especially when you’re in a group, you’d be surprised how often you hear it. However, from one non-native speaker’s perspective, it’s not that bad. With context involved, you can figure out the verb tense, and then whenever you hear an -áis, -éis, or any sort is -ís sound at the end of the word, you can generally assume that they’re talking to the whole group. Same thing with -ad or -ed or -id: it’s a command given to the group. I post this mostly because I’ve gotten a lot of questions about vosotros. I must admit, though, it did worry me a bit before getting here.

7) I bought batteries for my camera. Hopefully I’ll have my own pictures to use for the next post instead of Google Imaging absolutely everything and having to stalk Megan’s facebook.

I’ll update again soon!

Categories: Culture

First Few Days

January 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Upon arrival at my apartment, I met my host family. I first met the man of the house who introduced himself as Pepe, my señora’s husband. He’s an older man with small eyes and a very grandfatherly feel, kind of reminding me of the grandfather in the Pixar chess match short film (if you’ve seen it). He is absolutely as nice and as helpful as can be. He grabbed a fair amount of my luggage and helped me to carry it to the elevator and up to the fourth floor.

Lili, my señora, met us at the door. A short lady of red hair, she is the perfect complement to Pepe: adorable. I noticed quickly that she speaks Spanish at light speed. In fact, both Pepe and Lili were a bit difficult for me to understand at first, but in our first conversation I implored them not to slow down. After all, the only way I’ll learn to speak Spanish with Spaniards is to let them speak as they speak. She showed me to my bedroom, which contains a bed, three huge cabinets, a hamper to throw my clothing, and a bedside desk. It’s approximately the size of a single at Duke, so I was more than grateful. We then went to the dining room where I had my first experience with food prepared by a señora in Spain.

To Lili, the word full (lleno) is beyond comprehension. In Spain, we eat three meals a day, just like in the United States, but each meal is ginormous. I had eaten a small snack on the plane, so I wasn’t particularly hungry upon arrival, but Lili had desayuno waiting for me. As I ate, she asked what my favorite foods are, what time I like to eat, which foods I avoid, and between bites I responded to the best of my ability. Her sincerity in making me happy was evident from the very beginning, and for that I am beyond grateful. I would later realize that she takes everything I say to heart: I mentioned that I like eggs and toast for breakfast, and the very next morning she put eggs and toast on my plate. By the time I was finished, I was completely stuffed. This is something that, with Lili’s food, became and remains a trend. In fact, I’m always still full from the last meal by the time the next one rolls around. It’s as if she plots to fatten me up like the witch does in Hansel and Gretel, but she’s too damn nice to try to kill me.

I also met the other members of the family. Jorge, their son of about 40 years of age, and their daughter, María José. The two of them are equally pleasant to be around, though they are more busy than their parents. Upon arrival, I also discovered that there’s another American living here, Caleb, who goes to Boston University.

My first night in Madrid, Caleb and I met one another BU student for drinks at a bar. It was this first night that I learned of the custom in Madrid of giving tapas (like appetizers) to the customers who ordered drinks. The first time they were given, I got my wallet out because I thought I was expected to pay for them. It’s a nice little touch that they add here.

The next day I went to the school for the first time. Here, I attend the Universidad CEU San Pablo, a mere fifteen minute walk from my homestay. The first day we were there was rather uneventful, so I won’t go into too much detail. Basically we talked about how not to get robbed in Madrid (keep your wallet in your front pocket, no loose backpacks, etc). It was a chance to meet the professors–Eva, Nuria, and Marcos–as well as the other students–Thea, Megan, Gloria, Sikoya, and Carmen. Mónica, the last student, hadn’t arrived yet by this point.

Arco de la Victoria -

The 19th was a far more exciting day. The class took a tour of Madrid, and we got to really experience the city. It was a tour by bus, directed by the magnificent madrileña Carmen. We scooted past many interesting landmarks, fountains, and the Arco de la Victoria. The tour concluded at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, where Real Madrid plays (read: dominates). At the end of this post, there’s a gallery of pictures I stole from Megan’s facebook since I didn’t have batteries for my camera. In the future, I’ll put my own pictures up.


Estadio Santiago Bernabéu -

For the more important landmarks, we got off the bus to see them up close. The first stop was at the Royal Palace (el Palacio Real). It is a grand structure–perfectly symmetrical, and very awe-inspiring. It is guarded by ceremonial soldiers, and we had the good fortune to witness the changing of the guards (much like that of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in DC).

We also took our first group picture in front of the nearby Royal Theater.

Group picture in front of the Royal Theater. From left to right: Megan, Sikoya, Me, Carmen, Thea, Carmen, Gloria, Nuria

We also stopped at the Mercada de San Miguel, a famous food market that sells all sorts of shellfish, breads, wines, sweets–anything you can think of, they probably have in one form or another.

Our longest stop was at the Plaza Mayor. A grand, square plaza encapsulated by shops with artists on the plaza working as we perused. We spent some time talking in one of the bars, sharing sangría and paella.

We left the plaza and walked briefly through the streets of Madrid. They have lots of Mesones, and all with a specialty of their own (whether it be anchovies, cheese, or beer). We also stopped by the Restaurante Sobrino de Botín, the oldest operational restaurant in the world. The tour concluded on the bus, driving some more through the city.

After the tour, we all went our separate ways. I came home and was bombarded with more food, and then I decided to take a siesta. To those still in America: please try to see if you can get the siesta implemented there before I come back. I’ve grown accustomed to it already, and to have to return and live without it will be a major change for the worse for me!

I intend to write another (shorter) post to catch everything up to speed to real life. It will probably be up sometime today or tomorrow. For now, check out the gallery below (thanks Megan!!). Hopefully these will hold you all over for the moment. ¡Hasta luego!


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Categories: Culture

En Route – Goodbye, America! ¡Hola Madrid!

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Still in my first week, I am kind of in awe. I think the most effective way to write this blog in such a way that others can experience what I experience is to write it narrative-style, chronologically. Here goes…

My journey toward Madrid started around a week prior to my plane flight. I wanted to send myself off with some degree of style, and I decided the most exciting way to do that would be by spending a carefree week in Durham with some of my most beloved Blue Devils. It is an interesting experience to be at Duke without homework–and one that I doubt I’ll ever experience again. I spent most of my time hanging out with friends, partying, and generally making it really awkward for everyone who said bye to me at the end of the previous semester. I’m very, very glad that I got to see some of my favorite people in the world one last time before spending a lot of time away. It is worth noting that many of the people I saw I won’t see again for a year, as they will be traveling abroad for the fall semester–among this number is my brother.

To everyone I spent time with during the week of January 9-16th, thanks so much! I miss you all! To Felipe Madrid, you’re a champ for driving all the way up from Florida to Ohio to take me over early. One of the two things you’re incredibly good at…

So, the day arrived where I actually had to get on the plane, and said some final goodbyes. I was a bit late getting to the airport, but I still had time to say goodbye to a few friends and Jeff at the airport. Walking through the security was when it actually finally struck me that I was leaving the country–as I had been saying all week long with a high level of conviction, it didn’t really feel real yet.

My experience on the aircrafts was not particularly eventful. First a tiny step over to DC then a puddle hop to Madrid. The plane full of an interesting bunch. For starters, it was only around 15% full, and of that 15%, most were students. It was an Irish airline, and I remember finding it odd that I was riding an Irish airplane, manufactured by a British company, from the United States to Madrid.


Aer Lingus, an Irish company of all places... -

The plane had TVs with complementary videos, etc., giving me something to do during my sleepless night on the plane. I’m not sure I could have slept if I had wanted to. I was really quite nervous, and by this point it was very real.

Upon arrival to the Barajas airport, I got off the plane and went through immigration with little issue. On a side note: I purchased a cell phone while in the airport. Word to the wise, never do this! The cell phone that I purchased was not only overpriced by around 30 euros, but I also received an international phone number as opposed to a Spanish phone number. Additionally, when I tried to call customer service to correct this, I was on the phone for 20 minutes on hold, and they charged me minutes for the call. Wait till you get out into the city to buy a cell phone, you can wait an hour or two. Trust me.

I arrived at the airport at approximately 7:00 AM on the 17th, Madrid time. I spent a bit of time in the airport getting money exchanged and planning my way to the homestay’s apartment.

Barajas Airport

MAD - Barajas Aeropuerto -

Getting a cab was my first real time (after the cellphone failure) speaking Spanish to a native speaker outside of a learning environment. It was a bit like trying a new sport. From having practiced it in gym class, you sort of understand the gist of the game, but your first match is a bit rusty. We talked of lots of things, mostly about my lack of a Spanish background. He told me of the city, of its immigration issues with undocumented inhabitants (something I was totally unaware of previously) and of their health care system, wherein it seems they are able to rely on quality health care for thirty euros a month. He was very proud of it, indeed, and was shocked at my stories of living in America without health insurance. It was a very monumental moment for me. Though I will always remember what we talked about, the more important and shocking thing to me was the fact that I was speaking a different language and actually stumbling my way through an entire real conversation. It was heartening–I thought for the first time that just maybe I might be able to get by here.

The Apartment Where I Stay

The entrance to my apartment - Google Street View

The taxista dropped me off in front of my new apartment complex, and wished me a wonderful stay here. I rang the intercom to get in, where I met my host family, thus concluding the travel part and beginning the “living here” part. Next post, I’ll describe my first impressions here. As for now, I need to go to sleep.

Buenas noches a todos. Os echo de menos, pero aquí estoy bien.

Categories: Culture

¡Bienvenidos a Madrid! – An Introduction

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

I know it is my blog, and that sort of grants me permission to say whatever I want, but I beg your pardon as I say the following.

Holy shit.

That’s more or less how I feel right now. Over the course of the 7 hours required to fly here, my life changed just as did the continents under my feet. It is an unlikely journey, and I come here totally unprepared for what comes my way. Never before have I left the United States, and never before have I been in a strange place where I barely speak the language. I’ve decided to chronicle my time here: my struggles, my adventures, my new friendships– my experiences. I write this blog to help my friends keep up with me and see what I’m doing. I write this blog to satisfy my mother, who is worried sick about my being so far away. Most importantly, I write this blog as a hip new style of journal so that, ten years from now, I can look back on my experiences in Madrid and say, “What an adventure.”

Madrid, España - Google Maps

Reading beyond here is not really necessary, particularly if you know just a tiny bit about my past. I thought it might be interesting to establish a bit of who I am prior to describing my journeys so that my perspectives of Madrid and of Spain and Europe can be better understood. What must be said is that I’m a fish out of water here. It’s an exciting new world, nothing the likes of which have I ever experienced.

I was born in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, right outside Chicago. When I was an infant, my moved to Urbana, Ohio, where I have lived ever since. The Nashes, a family now consisting of my two parents, Jim and Kathy; my twin brother, Jeff; and my younger sister, Sarah, moved there due to the safety of the city and the proximity to my mother’s side of the family–advantages that few families would argue with. Safety and proximity, however, do not distract from the fact that Urbana is a very simple city–fewer than 14,000 residents and far fewer excitements. The county fair held annually is rivaled perhaps only by high school football as the most social and stimulating activity, which speaks volumes about its energy level. It is a place that resists change, struggling to pass new levies for the financially-strained school system, and finding its limits inhabited by the same families for decades and decades.

Along these lines, one should not expect Urbana to be a very diverse place. It isn’t. The city is 91 % White, with a small minority of African-Americans and only 1% Hispanic. Needless to say, cultural diversity was non-existent in my childhood–rather, it was something that you might read about in a book but never see. Of course, gaining a global perspective of the world is, indeed, incredibly difficult when everyone around you looks, walks, talks, and eats exactly like you. When I was younger, I was bound and determined to break free–to experience life outside of U-Town and outside of Ohio. I wanted to be a citizen of the world.

Why Spain? In junior high, some of my peers and I began to take foreign languages. My brother and I both chose Spanish (over the only other offered language, French) due to its utility in the United States. Taking a new language, I discovered, gives one the ability to perceive the world through new eyes. Not only do you find that thoughts and ideas conveyed in an entirely new and creative way which forces you to think, but also you gain the ability to speak to people you never would have had the opportunity to communicate with in the past. The Spanish people are now people I can get to know–that’s exciting!

Now that I’m here, it doesn’t totally seem real yet. So much is different, and I will certainly describe them in future posts, one of which I still intend to start and/or finish tonight. I think the most prominent feeling I have right now as I write this blog post is one of being totally out of my comfort zone. I realize that life will be totally different here. Little things, from when I took my shoes off in the house and my señorita gave me an odd look, to big things, like speaking Spanish so poorly that I overpaid for a cellphone in the airport that didn’t even have a Spanish phone number. When people look at me strange on the Metro, as if they already know I’m a foreigner before they even talk to me, I realize that life is going to be totally different. Yet this I embrace. Culture shock (and, hopefully, subsequent assimilation) here I come!

Categories: Culture