Studying abroad is by far the most enriching thing I have ever done in my life. For the past semester I have been in London, aka the best city on earth. I say that, because it literally has everything you could possibly want in a city. Looking back on the semester it was one of the best times of my life. Going to a country where you do not know anyone or anything can be rough, but in London they speak English, which makes life a lot easier. While in London I studied at the University of Westminster, located right in the center of London, the students and professors are very helpful with anything that you need, just like in the states. I was able to go through the program of ISA, they sat everything up so all I needed to do was show up in London on the date specified and they would take care of the rest. It was a very stress free experience. The history there is amazing, the buildings have amazing architecture, and the city does not seem to even have been effected by the war. While I was abroad I had the opportunity to visit France, Belgium, and Germany. Since London is so close it is very easy to get to all of these places either by air or train. Even though I went and visited those countries London topped all of them. While I was overseas talking to everyone back in the states is just as easy as when you are home, almost everywhere you go has Wi-Fi. I have been back for just a week and I already want to go back. The past 14 weeks have flown by and I wish they didn’t. While abroad you don’t think about when you will be coming home because you are having such a good time with new friends and the new culture you have just been introduced to. If you have the chance to study abroad anywhere do not think twice about it, take advantage of the situation. Trust me it will be the best time of your life!
Nothing Comes Closer To Home
The title of this post may be a Stoufer’s jingle but it has complete relevance, here. After months of living in a different country and years of living in the states I’ve decided that…(drumroll please)…home is what you make it, honestly. I’m not saying that from the standpoint of “you can find a family anywhere” but with the perspective of how we view our homes.
In Spain and a lot of the other Mediterranean countries, it is not uncommon for the people walking in the streets to keep to themselves; no head nods, no finger flips, no wrist waves. Just straight faced, runway-worthy walking. I would probably think I did something wrong if a stranger and I crossed paths and I acknowledged both of our existences but they simply looked passed me in the states, particularly in my Ole’ Kentucky home. At first, it’s easy to look from the ethnocentric perspective – the view that your home country’s ways are superior – to make the generalization that Spaniards are rude and don’t know old-fashioned, southern hospitality. And truth is, they don’t know southern hospitality, but they have their own version.
The essence of the Americas is one of exploration, liberty, and freedom. We’re known as the guys with the “frontier spirit” and manifest destiny- to spread from coast to coast and such. Remember that song from elementary (or grade school for you private, catholic folk) “this land is my land, this land is your land, from california to the new york islands.” It has a lot more implicit meaning than I ever realized. Sure, we’re not a perfect society and we have had and still have our problems but despite this we are a open society where PERSONAL space is at a minimum. We’re quick to share, quick to greet, quick to befriend. This land belongs to all of us and it makes up our “ home” in its totality.
Just because I’ve spent a few months here doesn’t make me an expert or local by any means but between my classes, my personal experience in my homestay, and the accounts of Europeans I have spoken with, I have a little bit of an idea of how it works here in Espana. Remember when I said that the Spaniards keep it a little more on the straight faced side compared with us Americans? Well, Spain’s place in the history of the world has afforded it a little different view of society. They are a people who look at the history for their answers more so than the future or event the present. Thus, it’s kind of important for them to have a history with you before they go on exchanging all the pleasantries of a familiar friendship. The Italians, French, and Spanish are sort of famous for their kissing-as-a-greeting and their bypass of the tradition hug. Well, it turns out that the hug or “abrazo” is reserved for special relationships. Neat, huh? And all this time we thought they just moved really fast in relationships. What more? A common perspective is actually that American “friendships” can be a little superficial and surface. After all, how much can you really know about someone you just met? Here, time spent together and a common knowledge of one anothers backgrounds is a contract of a solid relationship in itself. In this case, actions speak louder than words. In Spain, the home isn’t necessarily everyone you meet but those with whom you have taken the time to build something special.
There are advantages and disadvantages from all perspectives, as with most things in life, but there is no wrong answer here. Now, however, I will stop to think about the differences in perception of personal space and how relationships function in different parts of the world. Furthermore I can apply this learning to the different cultures represented by the salad bowl that it the U.S. Also, I will reflect on the amount of time and effort I put into my relationships in the states and how I’m building “my home,” while continually sharing the “frontier spirit” and letting everyone, no matter where they’re from that “this land was made for you and me.”