Semester Abroad: Fall 2012
I had pretty much given up hope when I got the email that my passport finally arrived at the LA Consulate. I was already a week late for the program, and after another day I would of had to withdraw completely. Which meant taking a semester off of school, losing lots of money I did not have to lose, and missing out on a dream I had been holding on to for the past year. With prayer, many phone calls, and lots of luck I was able to board the flight to Madrid to study abroad my fall semester junior year.
My mother is a singer and my father is a jazz musician, through their professions they have had the opportunity to do extensive traveling, hearing their stories and snippets of their excursions I'm sure was the spark for my passion to travel outside my neighborhood since youth.
This passion is what made making it to New York from Los Angeles such a huge deal to me coming out of high school. I was a young man embarking on a journey of my own, an endeavor outside the comforts of my accustomed roof, lifestyle, and city. I was to live in a new city very far from home, an idea of immense excitement for me, and incredible fear for my grandmother. Feelings that would be intensified threefold when I found out I was going to live in a new continent.
When I realized that through the co-op API program it would be possible to take the next step in my dream of traveling, and make it out of the country for the first time in my life, I jumped at the opportunity. I suggest for anyone interested to pursue it wholeheartedly, the process is less difficult then it may appear, and potentially much more affordable then usually imagined. Growing up I never thought I would be able to afford something like that fall semester at 20, but if you do it right it can be done.
With my families and API'S incredible support I was able to make it to Calle de San Bernardo and put my bags down at my residencia in the capital of Spain. I lived right off of Gran Via which is the equivalent of Broadway, a 10-minute walk from Sol, which is the exact heart of the city. I was bombarded with new stimulus. Abuelas casually smoking cigarettes, businesses closed during peak work hours, endless tapas, incredible architecture, and conversations I couldn't understand. Mueseo del Prado, parque del retiro, Palacio Real, locations I'd only read about mesmerizing me in person.
As a political science major I approached the trip with much academic curiosity. I was interested in seeing how American government is viewed from a different perspective, as well as how the culture and history of the Spanish people effect the way in which they are governed, and how the political structure and policies effect the people. One of the first things I noticed walking to my new home was all of the anarchy signs, when I was there their were many strikes and some social unrest. The rich were getting tax breaks and the poor were out of work, a dangerous combination. The feeling I got from conversations with the people is that their is a lot of mistrust between the government and the people, especially the youth (50 percent unemployment for those under 25) as well as distrust in the stability of the representatives since the years falling the fall of Franco has seen many ideological changes in office, making the people often distrustful of what their government can and will do for them, in spite of this however the Spaniards were very welcoming, beautiful, and happy people in my experience.
I was able to meet very interesting people and travel to places I hadn't even heard of. The royal monastery of El Escorial, the city of Santander, Toledo where I went inside my first cathedral and saw the coolest antique swords in existence. Seville, in the south of Spain, Almeria and one of the pueblos blancos of Andalusia with my bro Cris, beautiful town overlooking the water, painted all white, where I drank home made vino with his family.
Barcelona with their beautiful beaches (while I was there they were petitioning for their independence due to the economic conditions of Spain and a plethora of historical reasons) I was even able to make it to Paris all because of the API program.
Before my arrival in Madrid as a black man I naturally had some additional concerns, stereotypes that may be projected on to me from portrayals of my identity from the media they are exposed to, while I did experience many curious stares and some questions of if I was from Compton and if Los Angeles life was actually like Boyz in the Hood, as I mentioned before a majority of the people I encountered were extremely embracing and pleasant, and if they had questions they were largely out of curiosity and were far from malicious
It may seem cliché to say that traveling "expands your horizons and life outlook" but traveling expanded my horizons and outlook on life. It made me have an understanding of something that I only understood intrinsically beforehand; that no matter color or creed, food choice or dancing style, occupation or governmental authority, at our core people are the same. We want the same things, and are pursuing these same goals in different cultural contexts; happiness, authentic connections, and acceptance being the common pursuit.
That being said I was able to make incredible friends from around the world, see people and places I would never have been exposed to other wise & grow immensely in a short 3-month period.