Pieces of home

Michael Bennett ‘17 working hard to hold up the Roman Aqueduct in Segovia, Spain.

Photo Courtesy of Michael Bennett ‘17

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A Lafayette student details their experience abroad in Madrid, Spain

By Michael Bennett ‘17

Contributing Writer

 Just over a month ago, I boarded a plane bound for Madrid. I was apprehensive as I watched the lights of the eastern seaboard fade into the darkness of the Atlantic Ocean. Would I, as an American, find a place for myself in this bustling metropolis? How was I supposed to cope with an environment where for the first time in my life my native language was not the primary language used? When I arrived at my new home and tumbled into an exhausted sleep, these questions still swirled through my mind.

A month into my stay here in Madrid, I’m not even close to answering most of my questions, but I’ve made some progress. I’ve overcome a severe case of culture shock. I’m no longer stunned to see people driving like Manhattan cabbies and parking on the sidewalk. I have come to anticipate, if not to appreciate, the performers who treat fellow Metro riders and me to guitar, accordion and vocal concerts. I’ve even gotten used to see people smoking on every street corner. So far, I´m pleased to report, I´ve avoided smoking, playing the accordion, and driving crazily.

But I have found other small ways to immerse myself in Madrid´s life and culture. Drawing on my knowledge of Spanish, I crack cheesy jokes and discuss my tastes in music with my host mother. I can drop into local shops and chat with the owners. I can even read most of the advertisements I see, or at least read enough to understand the gist.

One thing I try to do every day, which has proved tremendously entertaining, is to keep my eyes open for Americana. Much to my surprise, I found out that unlike US foreign policy, American popular culture is often welcomed enthusiastically in other nations. I’ve ducked into bars with walls covered in vintage advertisements for Coca-Cola in English, and walked past a number of people wearing Yankees hats. On my daily walks to the Metro, I pass massive posters advertising movies like “Cincuenta Sombras de Grey” (“Fifty Shades of Grey”) and “En el Bosque” (“Into the Woods”). I’ve been greeted in taxi cabs and supermarkets by speakers throbbing with songs by Pharrell Williams and Katy Perry. While I came here to expose myself to a new culture, it’s comforting to encounter these small slivers of home.

So far, I think I have most enjoyed encountering places and people from different cultures during my stay here. I’ve played basketball with peers from Kurdistan and shared lunch with friends from Libya. I’ve visited the beautiful city of Segovia, where I got to see—and even to support—a Roman aqueduct. On a whim, I even tried out for the school play – Dead Man’s Cell Phone – and found myself cast in the title role.

While I am only one month into a four-month semester of studying here, I already feel that the experience has been a fulfilling one. I’ve seen how a different part of the world lives, works, and relaxes. I’ve learned things I would not have predicted, which to my surprise has included things about the country I thought I had left on the other side of the Atlantic. Most importantly, I’ve expanded my own worldview by taking new opportunities and launching myself into the unknown. All in all, I´ve had a wonderful time, and now I do think I can answer that last question I had as I flew to Madrid. Yes, studying abroad was the right choice for me.

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