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Highlights from Princeton in Spain 2014

Students Share Their Stories

“I asked the students in SPA 310S to write journal entries recording their personal reactions to their most interesting, puzzling or significant experiences in Spain. They had to to reflect about their fears or expectations, their rewarding or frustrating experiences or findings, their cultural and linguistic observations, etc. From the onset, class diaries became an invaluable record of my students’ cultural learning and their impressions of a new environment. Very often they gave us an opportunity to bring into the classrooms questions and observations that otherwise would have probably remained unvoiced.”  - Alberto Bruzos, Director of Princeton in Spain

Lydia Cornett '16

This weekend, I had the opportunity to visit Madrid, the capital and largest city of Spain, for two days. To me, Madrid is like the New York City of Spain -it has all types of people, all types of place to go, and is constantly bustling with activity! The architecture of the buildings in Madrid is an unusual mix of old and new -for example, in the Puerta del Sol, old, grand buildings like the Post Office or the famous Tío Pepe sign sit right next to businesses like Starbucks or McDonalds! Although it has a modern infrastructure, the historic feel of the city is very well-preserved.

I think I got a great taste of both the cultural and political atmosphere of Madrid in just two days. For example, in visiting the Museo del Prado and the Royal Palace, our class got a feel of the incredible amount of history -both artistic and political/ceremonial- that Spain possesses. The Royal Palace was extraordinary. I couldn't even begin to fathom the amount of rooms, staff, and history in the Palace! Although I loved the beautiful chandeliers and grandiose decor of many of the bigger rooms, my favorite room was one that was home to four Stradivarius violins: 16th and 17th-century violins known for having the best sound in the world. In the magnificent Buen Retiro park, I saw just how diverse Madrid really was -there was everyone from a Malaysian street artist to a Ukranian ice cream vendor to an American family in a paddleboat! (In this park, we also ran into a Princeton family -the Dad was class of '80 and the son had just graduated- which made me appreciate how small our world is!) Finally, when we walked back to our hostel, we got to see an organized anti-monarchy protest. It was quite interesting to see this demonstration, especially with the recent abdication of the king. The protestors were pursuing a referendum that could abolish what they saw as an outdated system.

Vira Tarnavska '17 

I have never taken an art history class before, and it took me by surprise when I realized in Spain that I really enjoy it. (Actually, I’m almost certain that I’m going to take an art history class in the spring semester). I loved El Greco and Velazquez, but as soon as we started learning about Picasso and Dalí, I was overwhelmed with excitement and couldn’t wait to see their work in the museum. I’ve always admired both of their work, but honestly was never really able to appreciate it well because I just did not know enough about their style, background, and themes they incorporate in their paintings. After hearing about both of these artists and their work in class, I was ready to go to the museum and see their work in a way that would finally allow me to understand it more.
Seeing Picasso’s "Guernica" was honestly a dream come true. I had no idea that it looks so different and is so much more powerful in real life than it is depicted in any book. While I’m ecstatic that I was able to have this opportunity to see such an essential piece of art in person, I was just as excited by the fact that I was able to understand what this work is about and know about its’ context. Suddenly, analyzing and understanding art, something that seemed so impossible and foreign only a month ago, became something that I enjoy doing and look forward to everyday in art class. Since we only spend about two days in class learning about one artist, there is obviously still so much more to learn and discover about that artist’s work. I’m positive that after this trip and even until spring semester, I will make an effort to learn more about these artists on my own during my free time. Taking this class in Spain has not only allowed me to see the work of some of the most renowned artists, but also discover a new interest! 

Kamber Hart '16

This weekend was unreal. Saturday we took a tour of Madrid and while we were driving around I couldn’t help but notice that Madrid is almost like a cleaner and more beautiful NYC. Even though Madrid is much older than NYC, all of the areas that we toured seemed newer and much better maintained as compared to New York. I don’t know if it is because people have more respect for the city or just because the streets are wider and the sidewalks larger. It could also be because they clean the streets every day or because much of the city had to be reconstructed after the war. Regardless of the reason, Madrid is a beautiful place and a spectacular city.

I also noticed the quality of all forms of transportation. The Madrid metro is beautiful for lack of a better description. It is so clean, well lit, and just really an enjoyable method of travel, definitely much better than any subway I have experienced in the US. Also, we took the bus back to Toledo this morning, and it was a really pleasant and well-run experience. I am really impressed by the ease of transportation here. In the US, the northeast has a really good sense of public transportation, with the systems of trains, busses, and subways that let people get around easily. However, the transportation in the northwest of the US really doesn’t feel as nice and accessible as it does in Spain. Traveling is a calm experience, which contrasts the stress of Penn Station, or just about any US airport I have visited. The frantic and crowded US airports contrast the Madrid airport, which was so spacious and beautiful. I was shocked by the quality of Madrid-Barajas, given that it seems to be so far outside of the city. I don’t know if we have just been really lucky, or if this is an actual trend in Spain or Europe, but I really do like traveling here.

Jeremy Zullow '17

I’ve fallen in love with Toledo and I don’t want to leave. Corpus Christi was so much fun, and I am glad I got to experience such an important religious festival. At this point, I can’t help reflecting on how amazing my experience has been. There is less than a week left, and I just don’t want it to end. I have had so many fantastic opportunities to experience Spanish culture, food, history (both new and old), and I love the lifestyle. Aside from the eating times, I have found every aspect of daily life to be really enjoyable. I especially love the relaxed approach that people seem to have regarding businesses and meals – take 2 hours or so for a meal, have a conversation, and enjoy the moment.
More than anything, I am appreciative of the fantastic opportunity I’ve had as a student in the Princeton in Spain program. Most importantly, the program has felt less like a series of classrooms, and more like Spain has been my classroom. Everything that we learn in class is directly applicable and observable outside. There are two ways in which I really felt that I was constantly learning, and that I wasn’t actually taking a series of classes each day that ended at their allotted times.

First, as I mentioned, everything in our classes have been applicable to everyday experiences or experienced outside of the classroom. That is to say that the society/culture component has enabled me to break down stereotypes and better understand what I’ve witnessed and experienced. It has allowed me to put so many things in a different, more enlightened perspective. It would take too long to list everything, but I think that this component of the program was so great because I could go out and have the chance to determine for myself whether the things that we studied held true. That way, for example, I was able to directly see conflicts between old and new images in Spain and was able to better understand the context of the protests in Puerta del Sol and Barcelona. The art component was similar, in that I had the opportunity to go to a world-famous museum each Friday and study some of the paintings that our class had covered. There is a huge difference between learning about a painting such as “Guernica” and seeing it in person. That goes for all the paintings I’ve seen throughout the course. The museum component was fantastic, and it was a much more relaxed atmosphere.
Second, it hasn’t felt like I’ve been taking classes because I feel so immersed in the moment. Every day feels packed with experiences – because it is. My one full day in Barcelona seemed to make enough memories to last a trip! Corpus Christi was an amazing experience because Toledo’s traditions are beautiful and compelling. It is so fascinating to see so many traditional aspects like that in what I once considered to be a top-10 modernized country (another observation made possible by our discussions in class). Aside from that, I find so much beauty in Toledo. I love the city (as I already mentioned and probably have mentioned in every other entry). I especially love the torreón, as it is both a beautiful and relaxing place to work. This has been a fairly stress-free, welcoming, positive, and social environment.

Jennifer Liu '16

I would have to say that one of my favorite parts of the trip was my homestay. It was such an incredibly valuable and special experience. I feel like I have made a connection that I will have for the rest of my life. When I left their home, my homestay family told me and my parents that we should come back, stay in their home, and travel throughout Europe. My parents told my homestay family that they should come to the US and stay with us. I hope that one or the other happens!

I cannot believe how much my Spanish has improved! For me I could really tell during our final ethnography presentation. For this presentation since I was a little short on time I did not plan out what I was going to say as carefully as I usually do when I don't want or stumble over words. However, I found that I was able to talk more freely and improvise more in Spanish which was a new experience for me. Also, I could tell today and yesterday when I was having conversations with taxi drivers and waiters in Madrid that I am much better at conversational Spanish now.

Finally, I am so thankful for the opportunity to have taken two classes in Spain! I feel so informed about Spanish culture, history, politics and art now and it was so incredible to be able to learn about all of this while in Spain. I'm really looking forward to continuing my studies of Spanish language and culture at Princeton.

Erika Kirgios '17

Today felt like a love song to Toledo. Before meeting my mother, I walked around the city by myself for a bit to say goodbye. The city felt mine, I belonged and I was no longer a tourist. It was a bittersweet moment because until then I had still been in the transient state of almost-gone-but-still-here which made me feel as if the program were not really over. I can’t imagine not coming back, though: this city means so much to me that I have to share it with those I love. Taking my mother around today was wonderful, showing her the Fund and the places that meant so much to me, from the beautiful Catedral de Toledo to the little street corner in front of Navarro where I sat with Rebeca and Ramie for an hour just talking.

Leaving tomorrow will be so hard, but I know that I will still be in Spain for a week and I have so much more to discover. This month has just ignited my desire to see the world, to know places I have never known and to try to make a home for myself and discover where I fit best. I have always imagined myself living in Europe for a few years and then settling down in America, and now I’m not sure. For someone who is a perpetual planner, it is both a terrifying and exhilarating feeling to realize more fully how open the world really is to me. I have also decided to learn Portuguese so that I can (hopefully) travel to Brazil with my mother next summer and maybe get an internship there. I feel as if there are so many people left for me to meet and there is so much the world can give me and that I can, hopefully, give in return. Joining Princeton in Spain was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I hope to never lose the friendships I made here, and it also convinced me I may want to get the Spanish certificate because I’m realizing how much the Spanish department will feel like home. I’m horrible at goodbyes, so maybe when I leave Toledo I will just have to say “Hasta pronto,” and hope that I really will see this place again soon.