I’ve had class all morning, and I have an exam for my art history class – taught in the Prado museum – in a couple hours. I should be studying, or perhaps packing for my trip to the south of Spain that begins tomorrow, or even napping, since I fell asleep on all four trips I’ve taken on public transportation today. Instead, I am sitting as close to the radiator in my room as possible with a mug of tea and cookies. And jonesing to write about what I think is possibly the most fascinating part of my study abroad experience.
I’m participating an intercambio, or exchange, with a group of four students who are studying English at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and we met for the first time on Saturday afternoon. The program is pretty simple: we hang out and visit sites related to our group’s theme and then blog about it together in Spanish (me) and English (them). We chose “Cultural Diversity” for our theme. As we were chatting in both languages over tea and coffee at the appropriately international Van Gogh Café, we confronted the sheer massiveness of our topic. What is culture, anyway? As for diversity? We all had different ideas.
After much debate, we settled our focus on nationality, religion, and social groups. We picked about eight different places we want to visit in the city, which is perfect since the more of Madrid I see the better. I’m really curious to see how we all react to the various places, especially since some of us have already expressed discomfort at entering certain areas of the city that seem marked by social boundaries. I can’t wait to explore and learn more about the social demographics that live in my temporary home. Regardless, I know we’ll have a good time. I’m so happy to have finally connected with a solid group of locals, because to be honest, I’ve found it difficult to make friends with Spaniards. Not because of the language barrier or cultural differences, but because there seems to be an invisible wall. I’m afraid of being obnoxiously over-friendly, since Spaniards can be a reserved bunch, though unfailingly kind.
I’m excited to contribute to my companions’ lives, too, since California apparently has an exotic flair to some. One of them told me that she thinks of movies, the beach, and the TV show “Pimp My Ride” when California comes to mind. Justified, but there’s more to us, too…Here’s to cultural exploration and new friends!