Global Reflection, Sobered Appreciation

Last Wednesday, one of the biggest strikes to hit Europe in response to the current economic crisis swept across country borders, affecting Spain, Portugal, and numerous other European Union member states.  Since I’ve been in Madrid, there have been a handful of riots, protests, and strikes—why was this one so magnified?  After all, Spaniards have been struggling with a 26% unemployment rate for quite some time now.  Looming budget cuts were the culprit, proclaimed unavoidable by the government and “suicidal” by labor unions and protesters.  It seemed that the victims of this economic depression have cried “enough is enough” enough; it was time to escalate their revolt.  Personally, I didn’t witness the strike first hand, since classes were cancelled and we were urged to stay put.  In fact, even when I stepped out to go to Starbucks for some study time and a vanilla latte; things seemed to be running smoothly.  The only sign of abnormality was the delayed metro, which kept my friend hostage for 45 minutes.  Friends of mine who did make it to a strike location cited mothers with baby carriages peacefully showing their dissent from the damaging economic policies.

Fortunately for the sake of accuracy, this is a personal blog and not an article in El Mundo (a prominent Spanish newspaper), because this is hardly representative of how things actually went.  Hundreds of international flights were cancelled, metro lines were limited to perhaps a train per hour, and some of Madrid’s most utilized plazas were infiltrated by strikers and effectively unusable.  Unfortunately, violence also pervaded the scene, street fires and physical police action accompanying the rowdy crowds.

When I think about these strikes in light of the other global atrocities—drought in the Sahara, horrifying violence in the Middle East, the list goes on—I can’t help but feel sobered.  In spite of America’s slow recovery from the economic recession, I feel safe with my belief that my basic rights are protected.  No nation is perfect, but in my little bubble of a life in the states, I feel protected, as I do in my home stay here in Madrid.  Still, knowing that the violent photographs I see on the news were taken just a few metro stops away makes me reconsider the way I view my world—perhaps it isn’t as big as I once thought.  You see, it’s one thing to read about stories in the news, but it’s an entirely different thing to talk to the people who are actually affected.  My host mom shakes her head in frustration when the economy is brought up on the news, making America’s less than 8% unemployment rate seem petty compared to Spain’s 26% (make that 50% for recent grads).  In this way, studying abroad really is the ideal way to gain a better understanding of our world.  While we are witness to the pangs of daily life, we are still protected by IES guidelines.

So, as I pass the “one month left” bittersweet countdown to moving out day, I meet a more complete knowledge of the place I’ve come to call home.  I’ve visited Palacio Real, I’ve tasted my fair share of tapas in el Mercado del San Miguel (and am not afraid to overstay my welcome), and I’ve successfully discovered how to make Spanish tortilla (courtesy of the complimentary IES-provided cooking class!).  Now, underneath the global economic crisis that is often clouded by rhetoric, I see the beating heart of a people unwavering in their dignity.  I greet my final month in Madrid with the never complete, but always expanding, appreciation for my intercontinental home.