The picture above is a portrait of of Lisbon. While it is not the best picture, it will serve it’s purpose. This was taken from the highest vantage point of the city, and my group was specifically taken there for the purpose of this picture. We could capture the vast entirety of the city. The bridge, the harbor, the seemingly endless orange-roofed buildings. These pictures are quintessential to any study abroad program or short vacation, but I would like to take the time to explain why I find these pictures to be self-serving and hollow.
While these pictures are beautiful and seem to fully capture the experience of a new city, I feel as if people have the need to take these pictures to prove a point. Usually, they find their way to social media in an attempt to say “hey, look where I’ve been and what I’ve done”, but in reality this was the first stop of a very limited guided tour. The lack of exposure to the city is not the issue of the photographer, but tour companies understand that these pictures are highly valued among tourists and their online constituents.
Furthermore, I do not want to come off as condescending. I am just as guilty as everyone else, but I wanted to highlight the importance of actually experiencing the city rather than capturing it. Those sprawling streets are where people live, love, and grieve. Take the time to get lost in the unfamiliar labyrinth of alleyways. Confront the vulnerability of your senses.
I’m not saying that people should not take these pictures. Rather, wait until the last moment of the trip to capture the landscape. It will be much more meaningful.
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.