School is Pretty Much the Same

Yes, I still have a full schedule of classes while studying abroad, and there isn’t much of a difference between the classes I have in Spain and my classes back in Oklahoma. Actually, the classes are very different, as I am an accounting major, but the atmosphere and coursework are essentially the same. One class Monday and Wednesday, three classes Tuesday and Thursday, but the classes are all 2 hours each. This kinda drags, but the little break in the middle eases our pain.

However, back in Oklahoma, I don’t go to school in a 15th century palace. Yes, a palace. It has been renovated to accommodate students and faculty, but sometimes I find myself awestruck by the sheer idea of it. Also, back in Oklahoma, there isn’t a cacophony of cars, people, and construction that I find in this new urban environment. Sometimes I can’t hear my professor over the sound of a jackhammer or electric saw.

Furthermore, the most frustrating difference I have encountered is the language barrier between the students and professors; even the classes taught in English. I can tell the professors are extremely intelligent and passionate about their subjects, but since English is their second, or third, language they do not seen as if they are able to get their point across exactly how they want. A good portion of the class is spent among “um” and “uh”. It is even worse during discussions. The professor will ask a question and we, the students, will respond with vocabulary that they aren’t familiar with. They usually dismiss the answer as incorrect, but go on to explain exactly what the student said, but using different terms. one of the most interesting things is that the language barrier is eroded when non-native english speaking students, such as the Chinese or Brazilians, interact with the professor. They seem to know what the professor wants to hear.

All in all the experience is great, and I am learning more than I could have asked for; inside and outside the classroom.

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ASA: Street Food Fair

For our second major event of the year, the Arab Student Association organized a night dedicated to the celebration of common, delicious dishes from across the Arab world. All of the food was homemade, featuring a spread of hummus (pun intended), foul, kushari, falafel, and awama. I had the honor of making the hummus; never before had I blended so many chickpeas in one go! During the event another ASA board member and I were responsible for putting together the falafel sandwiches, which included hummus, fresh and pickled vegetable toppings, and of course the quintessential fried chickpea balls.

I had never previously tried any of the other dishes, and this event was as much a learning experience for me as it was for many of the attendees. I love the food of the Arab world and was extremely excited to try these dishes, all of which I found to be delicious. I was particularly taken with kushari, an Egyptian dish that initially appears to be a mix of discombobulated elements: rice, macaroni noodles, lentils, tomato sauce, and fried onions. It originated as a dish of the masses because of its ease to prepare and the relative cheapness of the ingredients, but has since become the national dish and can be found anywhere from food carts to high class restaurants. Foul is a savory fava bean spread that I found to be wonderfully spiced. Awama is made of fried balls of dough soaked in a sweet syrup, and they were absolutely addictive.

We had a huge turnout at this event, and the tables were constantly filled with people talking, eating, and laughing amongst one another. It was a beautiful, joyous scene, and a reminder of the power of food in bringing people together.

The lineup of food!

Falafel gangsters

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La Casa de mi Amiga (10/5/19)

This weekend I got the opportunity to spend time with my friend’s family. I was so excited because I was actually able to see what it’s like to live in a Mexican household and see the differences between American family dynamics and Mexican family dynamics. Before I start, I want to express how humbling this experience was because though I come from a low socioeconomic background and experience many hardships, there’s always someone worse off and being there this weekend showed me that even more. Though my friend’s family didn’t have much, they were so grateful and happy for what they did have, which warmed my heart and made me more humble for the things I have. I don’t have to think about growing my own food or where my water comes from or have to build my own house. I find that many people I’ve encountered in America don’t truly realize their privilege, until they see someone who’s less fortunate, but even so I still don’t think many people realize how BLESSED they are. Family is so important to people here in Mexico, which is so different than America. My friend’s abuela said in Spanish “Once you’re 18 in America, you’re on your own, but here no! Family will always be there,” and I couldn’t agree more. I know with my family dynamic It was necessary for me to be independent at a very young age because I had to take care of myself, but here family takes care of family as long as you live. I think that can be a good thing, but also hindering because eventually people need to learn how to be independent. Aside from that though, I love how important family is to Mexicans because it’s something I’m not use to. They treated me like their own, which was very shocking because one, I’ve never had a family dynamic like this, as they practically took care of me and two I’m very independent, so it was very different for me. Having the opportunity to observe their family dynamic was extremely humbling.

In addition to the family dynamic, I was able to observe their religious dynamic too, as Catholicism is very important to them. Every time they saw the Virgin of Guadalupe, they did some sort of hand gesture across their body to show appreciation. Everything we did seemed to have religious ties to it, which was so interesting because I’m not use to having religion be an everyday thing in my life. You could also see the gendered roles take place in the household, as the mom and grandma were always doing domestic work, while the grandpa and father were out working, just out in general, or hanging around. I think Catholicism plays a big factor in sustaining gendered roles in Mexican culture because of its male centered beliefs. I found it interesting how there was blatant sexism, yet I’m not sure if that’s a topic spoken about much. They also talked to me about struggles of immigrants, and it actually made me tear up a bit. It’s just crazy to me how immigrants from Mexico are negatively portrayed and depicted in the U.S media/politics. They are people with families who just want a better life, and it angers me how they are treated, but let me not get into politics! It just showed me even more of how privileged we are being American. Overall, I truly enjoyed my experience because I felt like I learned and grew a lot. Her dad took us to nearby towns where we visited churches and the lagoons, and I went to their town fair. I loved the people and the calm atmosphere. I am truly blessed to have had this experience because now I have a second home all the way in Mexico. 

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Normalizing Conversations About Mental Illness

The past two weeks, I have been struggling quite a bit. I struggle often when the weather changes, despite all of my cognitive knowledge of how much I LOVE fall. Coincidentally, I just started the birth control pill. I have felt incredibly dejected, tired, and it has been hard to do normal day-to-day actions like get out of bed. I cried at almost anything. Everything felt negative. There was this heavy weight on my chest, as I tried to continue on as normal. Ignoring my emotions made me feel like a fake. I skipped two full days of classes to sleep. I wanted to be alone, as if my condition was contagious. I felt congested with emotion and sadness.

Usually in times like this, I absolutely abhor small talk. I makes me feel as if I’m hiding a large part of myself. I feel disingenuous when I say that I’m “good” or “okay” when someone asks me how I am doing. This time, I have allowed myself to open up. At work, one of my boss’ significant other asked me how I am doing outside of classwork. I initially said that I was good, but then I let myself go. I told him I have been kind of down due to a new medication and the change in season. He told me, “Yeah, I don’t really do well without a lot of sunlight.” I felt calmer and safer just for a moment. This very normal description of Seasonal Depression was refreshing. It fit in all of society’s restrictions on what conversations are acceptable, but it felt so much more honest and open.

Earlier in the week, I took to social media to share with the “close friends” distinction on instagram that I needed some stress relief advice and help with seeking therapy. I received more thoughtful conversation starters than I had anticipated. Friends reached out with their own past and current experiences, and I had productive conversations with them all. They were supportive and uplifting. My partner reached out to me too, just to say that he was proud of me for sharing my struggles with others, saying that, “vulnerability is vulnerability whether it’s in front of thousands or a few.”

While, I am by no means cured, I feel a little fraction of the weight lifted. I felt more open to the idea of help and with the idea of sharing my pain with others. With every interaction, I felt a little bit more of myself. Authenticity and honesty are some of my characteristics that I value in myself. It has meant a great deal to be able to share about my experiences, even the darker ones.

Salamanca, Spain

So I finally made it. After a year of paperwork, bureaucracy, and luck, I finally made it to Spain. A little over one week has passes, so I wanted to reflect on all that has happened since I believe the first week sets the tone for the rest of the trip. The three main points I want to hit are my home-stay, my group, and my city.

First, the home-stay was sold to me as this incredible experience that provides unparalleled integration. That may be true, but they neglected to tell me how excruciatingly difficult it is when neither the host and hosted speak the same language. The first couple days were difficult, but I am slowly beginning to relax, and my elementary Spanish is starting to surface. On the bright side, my host mother is very patient and helpful when it comes to communication.

Next, this study abroad was facilitated through ISA, a third party liaison, so there are 11 people in my group from all over the country. We are mostly comprised of upperclassmen and women. I am one of three boys on the trip, but this seems to hold true for all other study abroad programs that I have seen. Everyone gets along, but there are some noticeable fractures among the group already. People are beginning to pair off and do their own thing, while other people in our group think we should all be together whenever we have free time. I believe we should all venture off to find our own way while maintaining contact with our immediate program. Aside from that, petty drama is beginning to occur more frequently, but I know this is unavoidable. So far, everything is just fine.

Finally, the city itself, Salamanca, is completely breathtaking. This city is completely different from any other place I have been in Europe. The streets are immaculate, the people are kind (but rarely speak English), and the architecture is awesome. Something distinct that I have noticed is that all of the older buildings, such as churches and the main cathedral, are made of sandstone. This gives the city a nice golden hue, and the buildings seem to glow during sunrise and sunset. Furthermore, the city is extremely affordable, and there is just about any shop anyone would need.

All in all I’m extremely happy with this program, and I can’t wait for whats to come.

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