By Genna Abele
This summer I fell in love with Spain. I could go on and on about my experience, but I will keep it brief and give you the flavor of my Spanish immersion.
Thanks to my Yale-supported study abroad program, I experienced amazing excursions all over Spain. We saw the windmills from Don Quixote, watched the running of the bulls in Pamplona, and walked the end of the spiritual Camino de Santiago. In all, I was struck by the wealth of history and rich culture in Spain. Almost everywhere we went, intricate thousand-year-old buildings were interspersed with stark modern architecture. History was present in every nook and cranny, each with its own story to tell. From Astorga, a small town that made some of the first chocolate in Europe, to the Alhambra, which contains both Muslim and Christian palaces, Spanish cities and villages brim with diverse history and intriguing anecdotes.
Highlighting my summer was my host home. I lived with a Spanish woman named Tury in her apartment alongside the river in Leon. Tury was everything I could have wanted in a host mom: she listened patiently as I practiced my Spanish day by day; she explained nuances in the language, like the difference between despacio (slowly) and despacito (very slowly, as in the song “Despacito”) by walking around the kitchen at different speeds; every morning as we left for class, she said goodbye with “Adios, guapas!” (“Goodbye, gorgeous!”); she was caring and witty; and she was a fabulous cook who made us giant bocadillos (sandwiches) for our weekend excursions. Leaving her was one of the most difficult parts of leaving Spain, although she assured us we were always welcome.
Additionally, I really enjoyed the Spanish daily schedule. While breakfast takes place around the same time as in the United States, Spaniards eat lunch at two or three in afternoon. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, and often includes three or four courses plus dessert. Dinner is much lighter and eaten around ten at night, although dining at eleven or later is not uncommon. This later meal schedule made the day longer, and I used the extra time to socialize, study, or sight-see. Sleep, however, was sparse. And although some take a siesta (nap) during the day, by no means is that tradition universal. Many Spanish people joked that they simply need less sleep than Americans do, while others said that they adjust by sleeping late on the weekends. Overall, I found the Spanish schedule refreshing, particularly when I managed to fit in a siesta!
Spanish politics are complex. With new rising political parties, widespread corruption, and independence movements, the political landscape is changing rapidly. Students at the University of Leon and other young people around the city are extremely concerned with the high youth unemployment rate. Students expressed concern about whether their college education would be worthwhile and whether they would find a job that matched their skills and level of education. Others shared that the large number of young people leaving Spain to find jobs elsewhere in Europe threatens the health of Spain, which already faces lower birth rates and an increasingly aging population.
Other concerns occupy the Spanish people as well. The issue of Catalonian independence was often discussed and frequently in the news. Spain is composed of seventeen autonomous regions, but Catalonia, a wealthy northeastern region, has pushed and continues to push for full independence as a republic. This past June, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont announced a controversial referendum to decide the question of independence for Catalonia. The Spanish government, however, asserts that Catalonian secession violates the constitution and promises to halt the referendum. Opinions on this issue are widespread, with many, if not most, opposing full Catalonian independence. As the October referendum approaches, debates surely will intensify.
In all, my summer in Spain exceeded expectations, and I just cannot wait to go back! From the people to the history to the art to the food, I loved it all. ¡Te amo España!
Genna is a Junior Global Affairs Major in Berkeley College.