Culture


 

I’m getting worried.

 

I have been told that the culture shock upon returning to America is stronger than the shock upon coming to Europe.  And I understand why.

Tour Eiffel

 

Just this week I saw the Mona Lisa, ate lunch under the Eiffel Tower, studied Las Meninas in person at the Museo del Prado, and am soon heading to Barcelona to walk among the architectural masterpieces of Antoni Gaudí.  On my walk to school in Madrid I pass a palace and the former hunting grounds of the Hapsburg dynasty.  On my walk to school at Marquette I pass Real Chili.  How will anything at home compare?

 

Familiar territory is comforting.  I will be glad to be back among people that speak my language—that should prevent 30 euro miscommunications at the dry cleaners.  And of course I miss friends and family. 

 

But unfamiliar territory is thrilling.  Wandering around foreign cities not knowing what I will stumble upon next is my favorite way to pass the time.  The long, complicated history of Europe intrigues me, and the culture agrees with me (though I am still too Type-A to siesta for 2 hours every day.) 

 

It was in talking to some Spaniards one night that I discovered a solution. These students were surprised that I had never been to Seattle or San Francisco or Yellowstone National Park.  I haven’t skied in Aspen and I have never taken a Greyhound bus.  There is so much of America that I have yet to experience.  And in Milwaukee, when I’m missing the warm mediterranean climate, I can always walk to the lake to visit my Spanish friend Santiago Calatrava.

Exhibit Brochure

Last Wednesday I went to an exhibit at El Centro Cultural Conde Duque in Madrid called “La Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de Madrid en La Segunda República.”  The “facultad” is the building at the Universidad de Complutense where the Marquette en Madrid program is based, and “La Segunda República” was the Spanish government formed in the 1930s before the Spanish Civil War.  It was a liberal government for its time, one that allowed women to vote, attend college and hold their own jobs.  

The University’s story actually started before the Second Republic.  King Alfonso XII decided that Spain needed a modern University with a large campus, similar to those in the United States.  When Alfonso abdicated the throne, the Republic continued the University’s construction.  The architects looked to Berkeley and Harvard’s campuses, and also to Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs,  for inspiration.  The campus was incredibly modern for its time, and so was the educational system.  International students were attracted to the University, and a study abroad program was created.  A group of women from Smith college were the first American students at la Universidad de Complutense.  Complutense students could study abroad as well.  At the exhibit we met a woman who attended the university during the 1930s, and had gone on an “Ancient Civilizations” class cruise through the Mediterranean!  

The exhibit ended on a somber note.  The campus became a battleground during the Spanish Civil War.  The Filosofía y Letras building was used as a fort by the International Brigades that volunteered to help the Republicans (those who supported the Second Republic) as they fought off the Nationalists (Francisco Franco’s supporters).   The building was destroyed, along with hundreds of books that were used to barricade the windows.  We know how the story ends:  Franco won the war and instated a dictatorship that would last until the 1970s.  Though the Facultad was rebuilt, many of the aspects that made the university so modern and unique disappeared along with the Second Republic.  

I was surprised to find that the building that I have been studying in for over a month played such a major role in Spanish history.  Today the walls are covered in graffiti and students buy Heineken in the cafeteria between classes, but I can imagine it before the war, with brand new desks and stained glass windows, and I feel as if I’m carrying on a tradition that started long before I was born.  

I am back in Madrid after spending my long weekend in Toledo and Seville.  I traveled to Toledo by high speed train in 25 minutes, but the bus ride to Seville was 6 and a half hours.  The trip was well worth it, though.  Seville is exactly what comes to mind when I think of Spain.  Orange trees line the streets, buildings are painted in bright colors, people dance flamenco in the streets, and it was WARM.  

I’m sorry to everyone back in Wisconsin, this will make you incredibly jealous, but it was 72 degrees in Seville.  

The city is also very bike-friendly– we rented bikes and rode along the Guadalquivir River and through el Parque María Luisa and la Plaza de España.  Later on we also toured the Cathedral (the 3rd largest in the world and the supposed resting place of Christopher Columbus) and the Alcázar, a palace that King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía still use when they travel to Seville.  The accommodations there are likely better than those of our hostel, which was lacking one window pane and a decent shower.  Its redeeming feature was the rooftop terrace with a perfect view of the Cathedral tower, la Giralda.  And one bed cost only 11 euro per night!  Plenty of money left over for helado and sangria…cuando en Sevilla!

My first few days living with my señora, Emmy, have been an adjustment. Not bad by any means, just different. Today I spent an extra hour confined to my bedroom, because I couldn’t find a pair of socks or slippers to wear in the house, thus, I was soxiled. No matter, there was toast, tea, and orange juice waiting for me when I emerged.

Obviously my vocabulary has increased, but I’m still trying to adapt to the culture. It’s very easy to forget you are in Madrid. It’s a beautiful city, like most I have seen, and it is very accomodating for English speaking visitors. I sometimes get lost in that aspect until I take a look around and realize it’s the little things that make it special. It wasn’t until I gave my dinner waiter a big smile and a waive that I realized I have a lot to learn. Apparently, Spanish culture tells us that smiling at strangers either means you are dumb or trying to hit on them…would have been good to know at the time. The spanish people in general seem to be very blunt and sarcasm, which is usually my language, is hard to pick up. Hoping to keep learning these helpful hints and more…

For more than 30 years, students from around the United States have been attending the Marquette University Study Center in Madrid.

The Marquette Study Center makes its home within the Universidad Complutense de Madrid — one of Spain’s largest and most prestigious universities. Here students learn how to integrate into the campus life through daily contact with Spanish faculty, students and staff.

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This blog chronicles the thoughts, experiences and reflections of these Marquette students as they live and learn the Spanish language and culture in the heart of one of Europe’s greatest cultural capitals.

To learn more about Marquette’s program in Madrid click here.