What Have I Learned About the World?

Reid Larsen
June 1, 2017

My last post in Spain on my last day here. It’ll be a while before that fully sinks in but I’ve come a long way since I arrived in January. This trip has made a big impression on me and I have a lot of new views on the world because of it.

Firstly, after being exposed to it, I have a new appreciation for Spanish and European culture, but at the same time I am now more aware of many of the great things the United States offers. I love Spanish menu del dia and coffee after a meal, but I’ve missed the politeness of American waiters. It’s great learning Spanish in the dorm, but I miss living on campus and the school pride that comes along with that. It’s such a privilege to be so close to so many countries and cultures, but I miss getting around by car and blasting music with the windows down. And while I enjoy the laid back and open nature of people in Spain, I’ve grown to appreciate the focus and drive of the American people. This leads into the realization of just how strong the United States economy is and how great it is for finding a job; the American Dream is real. The job market is so tough in Spain that many fully educated and hard-working engineers cannot find work and are forced to live elsewhere. As an engineering student in the US, it is common to get and internship over the summer, but in Spain, student internships are basically non-existent.

I’ve also started to realize just how big the world is and how much I don’t know. It seems the older I get, the less I actually know. Coming into college I thought I had my life all figured out – I wanted to make medical devices, get a masters, and settle somewhere on the east coast. Now I’m not sure if I am even going to go into engineering as a career or if I’m going to live in the United States. I didn’t think that hard about what life outside of US was like – that the rest of the world might not think America is as important as we think we are. Or how people of all cultures lead as dynamic and interesting lives as anyone; of course I knew that, but this trip really helped me understand the nuances between different cultures. For example, Spaniards publicly show their affection more than any other culture I’ve seen. My first impression was that that was just a weird part of their culture or even that they were overly sexual. But now I realize that this is likely due to a number of other factors, like that they often live with their parents until marriage so they show affection outside of their house. Or maybe it’s in response to the previous suppression of all outward acts of affection during the reign of the Spanish dictator Franco. Whatever it may be, it’s easier to see now that you or I could easily turn out the same as anyone else given the same circumstances. From my home town in Acton, it was more or less expected that I’d go to a four year college and get a steady job afterward, but had I grown up in a small town in Ronda Spain, I could’ve easily been the farmer who gave me directions today. Given that, how does one write off an entire group of people? An entire country or religion? To me, travel is by far the best aid in pushing aside bias and understanding people better.

My last and biggest take-away from my time here is to switch it up. As the famous quote goes, nothing great was ever accomplished inside one’s comfort zone. I’ve written about this before but that message really hit home this trip, especially this past week. I traveled solo for the first time and got a lot better at being alone without feeling lonely, something I’d been trying to do for a while. I also started to realize that places don’t change a whole lot. As my friend was saying good-bye to the receptionist in our dorm, she told us “come back whenever, everything will be the same here in a few years anyway.” It dawned on me that even in fancy, exciting Madrid, not a lot would be different in the coming years. My friend’s brother was visiting that week after studying in Madrid for a year in 2015 and he echoed the same message. Because of that, I’ve decided that I don’t want to spend too much time in any one place, in any one room, doing any one thing. For me, the best way I’ve found to grow and have the most fun is to mix life up.

With that said, it’s been reinforced that people are by far the most important part of life. This trip wouldn’t have been nearly as fun if it weren’t for the incredible people I met through IES Abroad, my dorm, and my travels around Europe. Whether it’s the quick friendships, fast and intense for just a couple days, strong friendships during my time in Spain, or the friendships I made that will last a lifetime, they are all important and made this trip all that it was. I’ll end this blog with the same sentiment as the last one because I want to reiterate how thankful I am for everything and everyone. Thank you to all the people I met along the way. Thank you to my friends here in Europe, both the new and the old that visited. Thank you to my brother Trevor for traveling with me on the best Spring break of my life. And finally, thank you Mom and Dad supporting me through all of this and visiting me here in Spain. This has been the best chapter of my life and I owe that all to you guys.

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Reid Larsen

<p>There&rsquo;s nothing like late night, deep talks, and solving the world&rsquo;s problems. In Madrid, I&rsquo;m looking to learn as much as I can, get to know as many people as I can, and get outside my comfort zone as much as I can. Come join the adventure.</p>

2017 Spring
Home University:
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
Engineering - General
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