From Denver to Grand Junction

I began my latest journey a few days ago, as the wheels of Montana (my so-called airplane) lifted off San Francisco International’s runway. My flight would take me to Denver, CO where I would meet my boyfriend, Tyler, and his loving and efficient travel-companion-father. I arrived late in the night and was greeted with the freckly smile I missed and love. That same grinning boy brought us to a stinky, dirty extended-stay hotel (He booked it luck-of-the-draw style) but I didn’t mind. (I told him I wanted us to stay in shit-holes together, but for him to get me the best. He laughed knowing that I was mostly serious.) Anyway I liked our beginning, as it marked the start of all kinds of living. In just five days we’ve stayed in two motels, one fancy Sheraton and one tent–the one that will be our pop-up home for the months to come.
On the first morning, the three of us searched for The Grubbery to have breakfast. In the middle of an industrial park, we found our meal. After hearty pancakes and omelets, we walked through prairie dog paradise– Tyler’s first dream of the west: realized. Then we said our goodbyes to Mr. Miller at the airport topped with circus tents (my guess is they’re for cooling).
We checked into our hotel and took over the parking lot so we could organize the car– our other summer home. The streets of Denver that night were full of musicians and artists performing for tourists who did not like the rain. We returned downtown the next day for the Pride festival, which was full of people: happy, friendly people. And I wouldn’t attribute that just to the event– Colorado seems to me one of the friendliest places on earth (Look out, Walt). We left Denver after getting the chance to walk through the art district, which was full of Westword Music Festival-goers, young people and friendly “hello’s”; I’ll fast-forward through our long search for a campsite (short version: naive to think we could check-in to a campground on the weekend in one of the most desired outdoor areas in the country? yes.) and skip to our arrival at Idaho Springs, CO, where the gold rush began. We had iced mochas and a chat with the woman running the small town’s museum (She came from Medina, NY and never went back).
Sylvan Lake State Park sits in the center of White Water National Forest, suitably named after the flowing rivers that weave through the mountains. We arrived at Sylvan Lake on Sunday night and set up our campsite, and we brought only the food we could eat in two days. Our first dinner was a potato mash: 8 red potatoes, one cup of greek yogurt, olive oil, garlic, and the greens of our rainbow carrots. We wrapped the potatoes in foil and baked them over fire, then mashed everything together in my cast iron skillet. I might dare to say they were the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever chewed.
Sunday morning we hiked through the greenest mountains I’ve ever seen. Everywhere I looked was green, save the dirt path that led us along the river and the blue sky above. When we weren’t climbing up and down along the mountainside, a beaten dirt path led us through a sea of grass that swayed in the wind and glistened in the sun. The rocks that lined the ice-cold river made a perfect spot for lunch: half of an avocado sandwich, half of a ChocolateP.B.&BlackberryJ. with almonds.

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Cultural Icons

NO8DO is Sevilla’s motto. Walking down the street, you will see it written on newspaper stands, manhole covers, buildings and souvenirs sold in kiosks. I didn’t find out the meaning of this motto until a few weeks ago, but it may have been for the better, since when I did learn it, it meant so much to me.
The symbol in the center represents a knot of wool, called madeja in Spanish. With the knot (reminiscent also of the infinity symbol) in between NO and DO, Sevilla’s emblem signifies “No me ha dehado,” meaning “She has not left me.” This little cultural gem describes perfectly the sentiment that is Sevilla. Sevillanos are born in Sevilla and stay in Sevilla. They don’t say they are from Spain or that they are Spanish, they say they are from Sevilla. I know that when I return to the Bay Area and to Allegheny, Sevilla will never leave me. The experiences I have had and the relationships I have made with the kind people that live here (and stay here!) will always be a part of me.

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Global and Local

I agree in many ways with what McKay Jenkins has to say in his article “Why I’m Not Preparing My Students to Compete in the Global Marketplace.” He touches on the dangers of imperialism, which always poses a threat in light of this globalization that faces us today. If we are too quick to focus our attention overseas, to problems in foreign countries, we are making a quiet assumption that they are graver than those which contaminate our own backyards (literally and figuratively speaking).
Something I’ve learned from living abroad for these last months is how difficult it truly is to integrate into a new culture. The transformation from being an outsider looking in, to becoming a part of a community and understanding the sentiment behind even the slightest gesture, is wonderfully challenging. It is also, I’ve learned, incredibly crucial. To understand the problems that face a society, one first must understand the people within it, and how they view the problems they face. To simply possess an academic understanding of, say, the effects of deforestation in Southeast Asia does absolutely nothing in light of this problem without some level of cultural understanding.
As a philosophy major interested in social welfare, I chose health care and Social Security as the topic of my final paper in Spanish Society class. Spain has one of the most universal health care systems in the world, even providing free healthcare to tourists and undocumented immigrants in Spain. Well, amongst the economic crisis that this country is facing today, Spain’s Popular Party decided to change this law, requiring immigrants to pay for health care (with a few exceptions). Nevertheless, hundreds of doctors, and six out of 17 regions of Spain, pledged to ignore this new law and continue to provide health care to immigrants despite any lack of documentation. To an onlooker, this might seem crazy, considering Spain’s economic struggle today. For me, this reaction is so obvious in light of the culture I have become to understand little by little. Nearly everyone in Spain is being affected by the economic crisis, especially in Andalucía which as a southern region is poorest of all. Despite these circumstances, I continue to see people helping other members of the community that are even the slightest worse-off economically or just the same. There is an ideology deeply rooted in Spanish culture that creates a connection between people, and this connection thrives despite what the government determines as law.
Thus, learning to “compete in the global marketplace” is not so helpful after all, since more importantly we must learn how to understand each other as people.

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Reading Difference

“Golbal citizenship” is certainly a phrase getting thrown around these days, as our international relations become more complex, and are boarders less rigid, every day. In Michael Byers’ article, he breaks down the various definitions that ‘global citizenship’ can exhibit. In doing so, he demonstrates the many ways in which one can interpret global citizenship and thus how to be a global citizen. In a world driven by economic factors, it is often that corporations (and therefore people) forget what it means to be a citizen of the world. Byers points out that “citizenship is as much about obligations as it is about rights” and gives examples such as “to pay taxes, to serve in the military, to obey laws and respect authority.” For me, the obligation of a citizen, local and beyond, is to create a community in which every member has access to well-being, since we all depend on each other no matter our economic position.
Byers concludes his article with the notion that we must develop our own ideas about what it means to be a global citizen, in order to converse and debate the meaning of global citizenship and avoid the ideas put forth by often class-priviliged individuals. By partaking in such a discussion, one is already exhibiting characteristics of a global citizen, by considering the implications of the term and the consequences of such implications. In doing so, one communicates with other members of his or her community, or better yet, with people from different cultural backgrounds. During my travels this semester, I am constantly meeting young individuals doing exactly this kind of work on a personal level. Interacting with other travelers from all around the world, these travelers are having conversations in which they would be unable to partake with citizens of their own nations. These conversations are building relationships on a small scale between members of many different communities. By hearing different perspectives, listening to different ideas about our world´s experiences, travelers bring home a broader understanding of what it means to be a member of the global community, and that of many different local communities. This is exactly the kind of personal experience we should embark on in order to develop qualities of a global citizen and thus create a better world.

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Memories are funny

Memories are strange. They are at the same time so irrelevant and so crucial to every passing moment. Memories are made every second, and lost just the same. And sometimes they come back, like magic, into a moment in which you are a different person, time gone by. Yes, memories are strange.
They are especially strange being created and forgotten in another country. I wandered through the streets of Sevilla after class today, which is easy to do since the roads make this city a maze, and I found myself under Metropol Parasol, or las Setas (mushrooms), the largest wooden structure in the world. The first time I saw this grand architecture was my first night in Sevilla (a great adventure in itself). I was with two new friends, one in my program and a girl in another whom she met on her flight here, and a Spanish guy leading a hostel pub crawl that took us along. After a local’s tour of Sevilla’s Wednesday-night life (and don’t let the American idea of Wednesday night fool you– the summer streets were quite alive), we suddenly emerged underneath these huge wooden parasols, beautifully lit. I thought back today, as I sat underneath their shade, how long ago that moment now feels. While I won’t dare say I remember how I felt then, I have this vague memory of this feeling of astonishment and joy. That night, las setas were a discovery, a surprise. Sitting under them today, knowing exactly where I was situated in Sevilla, in relation to my classes and my homestay and my favorite bakeries and bars and parks, las setas took on a whole new meaning in my life.
I continued to walk, and like I was reading a scrapbook, I would pass one place after another that brought back moments from the past. I walked by a little cafe that I have never entered, but in which has the smallest men’s bathroom one may ever experience; I know this because I was walking around Sevilla with two Germans I met in Cádiz who needed to use the restroom, and upon leaving couldn’t stop laughing hysterically for minutes. I passed a vending machine that sells candy, beer, and waffles that I have walked by many times with different friends, almost always noting its incredible and hilarious service. Around every corner of the streets that always seem to stump me with their labyrinth-like qualities presented something that sparked a memory of my time here these past months.
Maybe I was having a particularly nostalgic day, trying always to somehow comprehend the fact that I am living in Spain. It’s coincidence that today marks the one-month-left, as my departure from this temporary home that is Sevilla is set for high-noon on December 12th. With a ticking clock, every day includes great expectations. I can barely get a hold on all the experiences I’m having; how can I possibly retain all the memories I want? I’m striving to engrave each one into my brain like Spanish grammar, but they are flying at me at light-speed. It is scary to think that even the slightest detail of this adventure will be forgotten, and for this I am clutching onto each moment, studying my emotions and surroundings like vocabulary on a test. Without these sunny walks filled with images that remind me of the snippets of my experience abroad, what will spark these fantastic memories and remind me of all I have learned? These are intimidating thoughts. I often want to go home just to be able to absorb all of this. But one thing is true, which I must remember during my clenching of time: each memory– whether it live at the tip of my tongue or in the depths of my heart, or whether it slip by, forgotten forever– every single moment has changed my experience, and every one has changed me.

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Deconstructing Privilege

I definitely agree that the opportunity to study abroad is a privilege, and one that many young people around the world do not have. Upon my arrival in Sevilla, I experienced much of the same disillusion that Talya Zemach-Bersin describes in her article. I had gone from traveling around Europe freely for two weeks to a bus full of Americans being shuttled from one Spanish monument to the next, and all the while I felt ridiculous. I embarked on my study abroad journey to understand a different culture, speaking the language and immersing in daily life; to my disappointment, I was touring Sevilla through the windows of a bus, full of English-speaking students who for the most part weren’t even listening to the tour guide. This was a slap-in-the-face of how privileged of a group we were, and an early sign of the difficulties of immersion that were to come.
The students in my program all come from private universities in the states. Within days we were all planning weekend trips around Spain and Europe, able to afford such luxuries; the economic privilege was obvious from Day One. But as we began our cultural realities classes, learning about Spanish culture in a classroom setting, it amazed me how much our privileges as Americans were influencing our interpretations of life in Spain. There are stereotypes about Americans, as with any group of people, that I was aware of before beginning my study abroad, and more that I’ve learned along the way. It surprised me how many of these stereotypes were being confirmed by our group, and how little effort we put in to preventing such affirmation. Our privilege is so deeply engrained that often it is nearly impossible to grasp.
However, while I do agree that we are incredibly privileged to be studying overseas and experiencing other cultures in the way that we are, I do not agree with Zemach-Bersin’s statement that we can never be citizens of the world. I think it takes incredible humility and awareness to be able to step away from one’s own culture to interpret another without such ignorance and separation that she (rightfully) criticizes. However, being a global citizen is not about “blending in” perfectly with every culture; it is about empathy and letting go of one’s judgements about another culture based on one’s own cultural standards. Zemach-Bersin’s criticism falls into the same trap she is criticizing, by separating the American experience from those of another nationality’s; we all face differences, some much greater than others. Privileged as we are, Americans studying abroad have the chance to appreciate the differences we all experience as citizens of the world.

“American Students Abroad Can’t Be ‘Global Citizens'” From the issue dated March 7, 2008 By TALYA ZEMACH-BERSIN

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Language between friends

I watched a video in my listening class during my first week in Sevilla. Cruzcampo is the prized beer of Andalucía, and you’d be a crazy Sevillano not to like it. The commercial shows many of Andalucía’s delicacies until the end, when the dramatic voiceover says, “Cruzcampo: made of Andalucía.” If you watch, you’ll see a pretty Spanish girl holding a sign (colorado means colored, not referring to the state), and she covers the D. The Andalucían accent, luckily for us American students, is not only fast but also eats the D’s and S’s at the end of a word. During this chalkboard moment, the narrator exclaims that this way of speaking is ‘not an accent– it’s a language between friends.’
I was walking home from tapas with my friend this afternoon, about to point out that I was jealous of the accent a woman in passing had, and that I agreed with our friend who had said the other day that he wants the Andaluz accent, despite the fact that outside of Spain he wouldn’t be easily understood. Before I could point out my envy, I thought about this commercial and suddenly understood the profundity of Cruzcampo’s marketing strategy. Despite their wanting to sell beer, Cruzcampo really hit the small head of a big nail. Upon arriving in Sevilla, I was overwhelmingly trying to pick up on any word I could understand, often returning friendly conversation with confused glares. Slowly as my Spanish improved, I became more excited each day to actually converse with locals and better understand the culture. But I have recently realized, it is not only the words in a language that create a culture; the way in which members of a community communicate is incredibly forceful in shaping the relationships we have with one another and thus the way we choose to live our lives. There is so much more to language than words.

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Productive Dislocation

Nearly every day I encounter some form of dislocation, in which I feel so distant from the people around me to whom Spanish customs are so natural. But also so often, I experience a moment in which I understand something about Spain, whether it be quite small, that opens my mind and allows me to make connections that were once just questions—or not even thoughts at all— when I arrived here.
A few weeks ago, early on in my time abroad, I had a class assignment in which fellow students and I had to interview a Sevillano about some aspect of Spanish culture. My group decided to interview my host-father, who is an artist and educator, about art in Sevilla. My friends and I arrived at my homestay and walked up the steps to my floor; I was excited to have this conversation with my señor and more so to introduce my friends to my host family. But when we opened the door and I went to introduce them to my señora, she was frantic! She told us to go upstairs into my room and then eventually to go to the studio to interview her husband, all without saying hello to my classmates. I was very stressed and didn’t understand the situation; later that night she told me not to bring people in the house, as I had surprised her and the three children I live with.
It was not until much later that I truly understood this event. I kept thinking about my home, in which friends would be greeted and talked to and their company welcomed. My friends were just as surprised as I was by the frantic lack of welcome. However, as I continued learning about Spanish culture and reflecting on all the experiences I’ve had, I realized that the home is something much different than it is in the states. The home is for family, for taking care of, for personal time. It isn’t that Sevillanos don’t enjoy the company of others—that is certainly not the case. People in Sevilla very much enjoy talking to others, whether they know them or are just in passing. But the home is not the place for it. In Sevilla, there are plazas and gardens everywhere; my professor once joked that there are more bars and cafes than there are people; the streets at night are packed with friends, new and old, talking over tapas or drinks or simply just talking. I learned from this experience that relationships really matter in Spanish culture, but they matter in different ways. The family is greatly important, and the home is a sacred place where family can be together.

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We speak Catalan

Barcelona is a big city to conquer in one weekend. I went with a girl from my program and another, the French girl whom we met in Cádiz, to a concert. We arrived just on time, like true concert-goers, two hours late and just as the band was coming on stage. WhoMadeWho put on a great show, creating a different vibe in this intimate venue (which pleasantly reminded me of San Francisco’s Warfield) than at South Pop. My friends and I made our way to the front row and at the end of the show, the guitarist reached out and shook my hand; I like to think he remembered us from Isla Christina, since we saw them after that show and told them how amazing their performance had been.
Friday was rainy, but we began our day with a free walking tour led by a Swedish man living in Barna (not Barça, he warned us—that’s the fútbol team) for the last six years. He took us to the Ramblas, a street filled with shops, famous for being famous; a mural that Franco installed as a middle-finger-esque gesture to the Catalans (Franco despised Barcelona, so he built an incredibly ugly building in the middle of the old town center, on which he placed another artistic battle: a mural created by Picasso mimicking (more like making fun of) the style of Juan Miró); he took us to city hall and the parliament, explaining the Catalan Independence flag and pointed out the many statues of Saint George killing dragons (the dragon is a symbol of religion, so this Saint was admired for defeating religions outside of Christianity); we walked down the Avenue, after which Picasso’s first cubist work was named: The Brothel of the Avenue.
After getting accustomed to the area, Kait and I explored little on our own until the evening when we ran (late again) to a bar at which we would learn how to make paella, a very traditional and delicious Spanish rice dish. The chef led us to a great market to pick out the seafood, stopping for fresh juice and to point out all the animal parts that we don’t dare to eat in the states. We went back to the bar for tapas and then he began his instruction; he explained the peppers and spices and the order of which to add different types of seafood—it was really great (and hot! Paella is cooked over three rings of fire in a huge flat pan). While we waited for it to cook, the bartender taught us how to make sangria, and we returned to enjoy the fresh seafood paella that I now (sort of) know how to make. After a nap at the hostel we went out for crepes and had a nice conversation with the woman working at the café, despite all we had heard about Catalans refusing to speak Spanish. Cataluña has a strong desire for independence from Spain; the official language is Catalan, which is more like French than Spanish. The Independence flag hangs from balconies all around the city, and there are some who prefer English to Spanish. This isn’t true for every Catalan citizen, but I definitely felt the distance formed between Cataluña and the other, more Spanish-feeling cities I have visited.
We chose a good weekend considering the rain stopped for the most part, and this weekend only included Mercat de Mercats: A series of tents filled the old town square with local tapas and cava (Catalan Champaign); we had coques twice because they were so delicious, and the vender made clear that they were not pizzas. We visited MACBA, Barcelona’s contemporary art museum, and the famous Picasso museum. On Sunday we spent hours at the Sagrada Familia, a beautifully wild work of Gaudi’s architecture that is still being built today. Gaudi spent forty years on this project, knowing he would not live long enough to see it completed. That didn’t seem to bother him though, as he didn’t want to take on the project alone. Gaudi wanted the input of future generations; he laid out his ideas and visions but encouraged the interpretation and contribution of later decades. After a weekend of art and architecture, my friend and I enjoyed café con leche in the same café that was like home to Gaudi and Picasso—the same building in which they spent their leisure and probably came up with the ideas that would change the world forever afterwards. I love the connections of art and history and the present that are so deeply rooted in Spain.

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The Cádiz Charm

Cádiz is the oldest city in all of Europe. It was the last city to secede in the Spanish civil war and the first to fall under Franco. Now, it’s a beautiful town on the Atlantic coast known for its seafood and nice beaches. I spent last weekend in Cádiz in Casa Caracol, which I’ve ranked as top two in my experience. We wandered all over the old part of the city (the modern half is pretty ugly in comparison) and walked down a long pier to the castle of San Sebastian. On the shore, someone had created its replica as a sandcastle, the best one I’ve ever encountered (I later found out from other friends who decided to sleep on the beach that the creators slept there too, guarding their masterpiece).
Back at the hostel that night, my friend and I began to prepare our dinner; cooking is always fun since we don’t get to cook or even choose what we are eating each day. As we began, one thing led to another and suddenly we were making pasta with five other people. All cutting vegetables and chorizo and boiling water, we learned each other’s names and origins, kissing cheeks and bumping into each other in the small kitchen. Suddenly there were 15 people sharing this dish around the mosaic table, and every one of them was content, enjoying the meal and the company, not caring about who made or brought what. It was a communal moment like I had never experienced. This compassionate vibe sugarcoated the whole weekend, and the hostel quickly felt more like a home. The terrace, filled with hammocks and plants, made a great environment for talking late into the night, in many different languages at once, as people passed a guitar around and others helped by drumming on their laps or tapping a wine cork between their lips (try it, it makes a nice sound).
We met two German vegans traveling around Europe and later South America. We went with them to the central market, a huge spot for fresh vegetables and seafood. For their meals, they greatly enjoyed nineteen mangos or three giant melons or whatever large quantity of fruits or vegetables they felt like having; they were a fun and incredibly free couple of travelers to meet. We also met a French girl who was celebrating having just completed her Masters degree: the first European philosophy major I’ve met yet! It was exciting to talk to her about her studies and the commune she lives in right outside of Paris.
Cádiz is also experiencing the highest rate of unemployment in Spain. One girl who has been living in Casa Caracol for the past month joked that the people of Cádiz are largely out of work because the beach is so beautiful for spending one’s days, and it doesn’t cost a thing! It was quite a cleansing trip to Cádiz, enjoying tapas and fresh vegetables, the beautiful beaches and beautiful people.

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