Experiencing International Exposure

I’m waiting for the metro, tapping my foot anxiously. On this particular morning, I had left my apartment at 8:03 instead of 8:00. So despite my attempts to speed walk gracefully through throngs of slow-moving Spaniards in the one block to the metro, I still missed my train, the first of two that I take on my daily commute to campus.  I checked my watch, sighing heavily before leaning back into the metal bench, thinking, “It will be a miracle if I make it to class on time.”

As I sat there, contemplating how to efficiently outrun the rest of my fellow commuters and slide through turnstiles with ease in the next leg of my journey, a crowd of passengers from another metro line emerged from the tunnels. A flash of red hair caught my attention and I stood up in disbelief. “¡¿Profesora?!”

Here, in the heart of Madrid, thousands of miles away from anything remotely related to the United States, I had stumbled upon my favorite Georgetown Spanish professor, the same one who wrote my recommendations for my study abroad applications. As I stood there dumbfounded, mouth hanging open, I was pulled into a warm embrace. With my fellow commuters looking on with mild interest, I regained my composure and managed to form cohesive sentences in Spanish. At the end of our conversation, we made plans to tomar una café at a later date, and with one final hug, she was off.

I sat there, smiling to myself, for a few minutes. I could not believe my luck, let alone the irony of the situation. Running into my favorite professor while abroad, is not just a coincidence, it’s indicative of my study abroad experience on a whole.

When I chose to study abroad, I thought about all the great exposure. My list of what to expect included delicious new foods, Spanish wine, marvelous sights, and fantastic new friends. And I have been far from disappointed. Who knew croquetas came in so many flavors?

Interestingly enough, what I didn’t expect was to see so many familiar things in a new light. To gain a different perspective on the same topic, so to speak. And I’m not just talking about ice coffee*.

Take for example, my family. I grew up with my aunt, uncle and cousin living abroad. I have always looked forward to their visits to the States and having my cousin, who is only a year older than I, go to college in Connecticut, has been fantastic. But, I have only seen one side of my family.

Here in Madrid, I am able to see how my family really lives and why they chose the European way of life. I have had the opportunity to meet with the friends that have made foreign cities, home for my family, to see the apartment where my cousin grew up in Munich as well as their new home in Madrid. Essentially I am seeing the same familiar people in a wildly different context. And it’s a lot of fun.

But besides becoming closer with my family, overall, gaining new perspectives on such an international platform affords me the opportunity to change my worldview. To add to my own experiences and make my own conclusions.

For instance, prior to my life in Madrid, this summer while studying in Barcelona, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in Catalan culture. To me, Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, represents a unique aspect of Spanish culture, a city striving for international recognition and parting with the traditional and emblematic standards of Spanish society. Yet, upon arriving to Madrid, I have been exposed to an entirely different attitude towards Catalonia. With my conservative Spanish Abuela leading many an emotional discussion on the topic, I have learned that many madrileños see Catalonia as a problematic autonomous community, bent on separating from the nation and with a severe distaste for anything related to the capital. With all of these viewpoints and opinions to sort through, I now find myself constantly reflecting upon the political, social, and cultural differences between Barcelona and Madrid and whatever implications they may have.

Experiences such as these have made studying abroad not only a pleasure, but an opportunity to challenge myself on a personal and even academic level. If I had not been exposed to such diverse and unique locations, I think that my own opinions and growth would have suffered from lack of insight and awareness.

So, to sum it up, yea, I’m gonna take my professor up on her offer. I can’t wait to see a side of her in an environment outside the classroom and her office hours.  But, more importantly, I look forward to adding another perspective to my ever expanding worldview. I’ll let you know how it goes.

*In Spain, iced coffee traditionally consists of hot coffee served over ice cubes as opposed to in the United States where iced coffee is a pre-mixed delicacy.


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