by Abigail Carney
This summer Tiffany Ho, like many Yale students, went abroad. Unlike many other Yale students, she’ll be studying abroad in Spain again this spring. A JE sophomore, she originally decided to participate in a summer program because she wanted to improve her Spanish to a level of native fluency. However, even with a language pledge, she found the five week program “disappointing”: language immersion was hardly possible surrounded by so many English speakers. So, after her program, she chose to stay in Spain and “shovel shit” on a horse ranch for a month. There she had to speak Spanish.
The ranch was in Tobarra, a small community called a “pueblo.” The nearest town was a thirty minute drive away; the nearest city, an hour. Most residents in Tobarra had grown up there—and most would never leave. Tiffany was “miserable” her first week on the ranch, so her mom suggested she fly to Paris. The work, she said, didn’t seem like it’d get better, but Tiffany ultimately stayed in Tobarra because her bosses needed help. They were a couple who’d been the best Spanish breeders in Britain and chose to come to Spain so that they’d have real competition.
There was one full time employee on the ranch, a seventeen year old French-Spanish boy in love with motorcycles. He’d dropped out of school when he was thirteen or fourteen but brushed off Tiffany’s questions about school. Education is “not a big deal in Spain,” she told me. That, she said, was the biggest difference between Spain and America. But other differences abound.
Men in Spain, as in most other countries, had a different idea of masculinity than Americans do. Reportedly, many shaved their legs, took care with their clothing, and were much more vocal than, say, your average Yale male. Sometimes this translated into slight aggression. In Tiffany’s experience, the blonde and blue-eyed girls were never at peace from the advances of guys around her. Tiffany, who is Asian, encountered some racism. In Tobarra, it was not an issue because “they’d never seen anyone with different skin before; they almost didn’t know how to be racist.” During her program, however, in areas all over Spain, she was pointed out and stared at because of her black hair and dark eyes. She remembers being called the dark skinned one or “China.” Because of this nonacceptance, Tiffany doesn’t think she could ever live in Spain permanently.
She will return to Spain for the next six months. She’s partly drawn by the ranch with which she eventually fell in love. She has made friends with the locals and wants to see them again. There was something valuable and calming in the manual labor too, she claims. Life on the ranch has a slower rhythm than that of her two native cities, Hong Kong and LA. Not that, at times, Tiffany completely fit into the ranch. She recalls that one day she “was bending down to scoop horse shit, and wearing pink Calvin Klein undies.” Her boss, a very sarcastic man with a potbelly, happened to catch sight of her sophisticated choice in underwear. He started prancing up and down the stable singing, “Oh, I wear Calvin Klein, I’m an ****.”
Abigail Carney is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.