Stepping out of my comfort zone and studying abroad in Valencia, Spain has been one of my biggest accomplishments yet. As we move into the final days of our adventures here, I cant help but to reflect on the all that I have learned through my internship, classes, and even random excursions that I would go on during the weekends. In the last five weeks I have learned about the different social and cultural perspectives that exist within Valencia which is what ultimately shapes the way of life here. Through social interactions, delicious dishes, and getting lost (yes it has happened many times!), I have allowed myself to learn about things that are considered to be the norm not just within Spain but also in Europe as a whole, along with traditions that are completely different to what I am used to.
Before coming on the trip, I had made it a goal to improve my spanish while studying in Spain for six weeks. Although the spanish language consists of many similarities, I was aware that Castellano (Spanish) has its differences compared to the Spanish I grew up speaking with my family. As soon as I arrived not only was I surprised by the different pronunciations to words (z=”th” sound) but it also became a big part of the culture shock I experienced. In many ways I am grateful for the support system I was constantly surrounded by to help me practice Castellano. Bringing together my previous knowledge of the language while learning the way it is spoken here in Spain was useful to balance out my language learning experience. As I facetime with family and friends from back home, they could hear the difference in my spanish, which is interesting because even though it feels like I have learned so much in such little time, I have not recognized this difference on myself. Maybe I will realize it once I am back home.
If there is one advice that I can give to the future students joining the program, it would be to take risks. Try different foods, get lost, dance your ass off. Step out of your comfort zone and become immersed in the culture. There is more to see than what is portrayed on the media back home!
As we head into our fifth week here in Valencia, it seems strange to think about saying goodbye. It feels like just yesterday that we were wandering the unfamiliar streets and experiencing the culture shock of being in Spain. There are still many things that are unfamiliar to me, however I have began to feel truly comfortable here. This vibrant city and its incredibly rich culture will stay in my mind for the rest of my life, and this is one experience I cannot possibly forget. I will miss the train ride through the countryside every morning, and the people of Torrent even more. It seems that just as my relationships with my coworkers at the museum have become strong and I now see them as friends, but now I have to say goodbye and head back to the US. Not currently sure what is the best way to say farewell to these amazing people, but it feels as if a card or a letter won’t be able to convey the gratitude I have for being welcomed so warmly into this new culture. I will have to give them all of my contact information, and keep in touch to tell them about my time at school. One thing is for sure, I am going to prepare a detailed farewell for my coworkers in Spanish since I don’t have the vocabulary to make it up on the spot. I am truly grateful to these people and I want to have prepared exactly the right words to let them know that (they don’t speak any English). As I spoke with my family on the phone last weekend I told them that I was feeling a strong sense of homesickness, and that I missed everything back in the US. However the advice that they had for me was to try to appreciate things during these final two weeks even more, because the second I return home I will begin to miss things here in Valencia. I will take this advice to heart in my final days here, because I may never have this kind of opportunity in my life again to live fully immersed in a culture as rich as Spain’s.
Is it just me or does it seem like once we hit the half way mark of this trip somebody turned the dial up and increased the pace of time? I mean, week 4 just came and went at the blink of an eye and we are now coming up on our fifth week here in Valencia… The feeling is bittersweet. Homesickness comes in waves and I’ve dreamt of being able to again communicate effortlessly with the public. However, I already sense the subtle, yet meaningful impact that this trip has had on me as an individual and I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience. I’ll save the details of this for a later blog post. This experience has been eye opening – to say the least – and I’m looking forward to making the most out of these remaining weeks.
The internship that I have discussed in previous blog posts has taught me some invaluable lessons about the society of Valencia and the culture that they hold so dear to their hearts. Eixam does a great job acting as an investigator and facilitator of important data that pertains to real life issues and concerns of the Valencian population. Yaiza and team seem committed to helping give the people a voice that can be herd and felt by public administrators, local businesses, and the city’s policy makers. It is an uphill battle, one that offers many challenges and obstacles, but it is a necessary one to fight. Attempting to create a more egalitarian society through the likes of research is trying and those who embrace it deserve praise. The hard work, diligence and commitment of this organization (and others similar to it) makes them a true inspiration. Their work sends shockwaves across the region, and although it may not yield immediate results, the meaninfulness and longterm benefit of the role that they play in Valencian society is unmatched. From the outside looking in, as a mere visitor of this society, I must forewarn Eixam and other organizations a like of the potential social, economical and political threats of following in the footsteps of Catalonia in seeking withdrawal from the central Spanish government. If anything, maintain a good relationship with both entities and sit back and watch the situation unfold. There will be much to learn from this situation. Also, to be mindful of the ramifications of global warming. Although Europe does take an overall better approach in maintaining our ecosystem than we do back in the US, I do believe that the effects are still being felt around the globe and that this will surely lead to significant changes that will demand for some exploration in the near future. I do believe that this organization is in a good position to begin examining issues of this magnitude, although, they should continue to expand their practice and look to broaden their horizons. Obviously, there can never be enough funding, so I would just propose that they simply keep on the path that they currently are on and keep using their quality of work to push for more funds and a wider network within the region. I sense that this organization is poised to take on an even bigger role given the adequate resources.
Yesterday at my internship at the museum I had the opportunity to conduct multiple informal interviews with local artists from Valencia. They were holding an art exhibition for these artists, where they are able to celebrate their work together and share some of the culture of the region. The organization Torrent D´Arte collaborates with the Museu Comarcal De L´Horta Sud to provide a platform for these artists to share their work. Although I am not fluent in Spanish, I was still able to ask them lots of questions about their paintings, and where they draw inspiration from. One of the painters Francisco told me that he only paints locations in Torrent because this area is very special to him and it inspires him to paint. I was also able to observe them while they painted, and Francisco showed me how he uses multiple layers of watercolor paints to create texture. All of the artists were very open with me, and had no problem with me taking pictures and asking about their artistic processes. I am learning that the people of Spain are not just friendly, but they love to share their culture with outsiders and welcome us with open arms. These local artists are just one example of the special inside look that I have been allowed into the culture of Spain, and I feel honored to have the chance to talk to these people. They were excited to share their paintings with me, but even more excited to learn that I wanted to interview them and share their passions with a larger audience.
Yesterday I rented a bicycle for the next two weeks in Valencia. In so doing, I fulfilled my vision of living and working in Valencia. The bicycle is the perfect way to travel in this city. I cannot tell you the joy that I feel as I ride down the long bicycle paths that honeycomb the streets of Valencia, running parallel to both pedestrian and automobile traffic.
When the students saw my newly rented “bici” after class,
One told me “Professor don’t hurt yourself” as I narrowly turned around, just missing the cement wall near the university. :). Another asked if this is like re-living childhood. It really is – and this thought brings to mind a sociological concept that I have been noticing every day in Valencia: Habitus.
Habitus refers to embodied “positions and dispositions” that organize our world view (Bourdieu 1977). Habitus is a conservative force in our lives and in our bodies – bringing us back to the feelings and memories from our earliest societal interactions – typically with our families. How we feel and react when we encounter a new situation is shaped by our habitus.
I have watched the students work hard at their internships and encounter new foods, new languages and new situations. During this all, I noticed frequent references to those conditions of their childhood or early life calling to them. Despite Valencia’s reputation for phenomenal food, one student said to me, “I’m sick of rice – can we just have some plantains?”
This call from our personal past surfaces in unexpected ways while spending time in another culture. In so doing it helps reveal who we are. For me – the bici – brings an embodied sense of freedom in the world and memories of flying through my childhood neighborhood.
Polibienestar is the essence of an organization that thrives off the cooperation of others. This applies to in the office as well as outside in society. In the office, I witness co-workers constantly interacting with each other and bouncing ideas off the walls. They collaborate until they have all their thoughts together and return to their stations only to flush out the rest of their ideas. However, they never close themselves off from a conversation. The warm atmosphere and inviting attitudes provide a comfortable environment for any person (especially me, who does not speak the native tongue) to engage. So, how does this relates to the bigger picture of the outside world? Let me tell you!
When I think of reality, I believe in endless opportunities for any person who is willing to apply themselves. It does not matter what a person is trying to pursue, if the time, effort and passion all coincide, then most goals are possible. My favorite example of this would be my parents. They came to the USA because of the Vietnam War. They lost all their possessions and were separated on the boats they were on. In order for them to build a life in a brand new country, they struggled to prove to themselves that there is no such thing as hopelessness. Now we hit the present times, where my brother and I were granted a life full of opportunities. This story is just a small portion but, explains the ideology that nothing is impossible as long as you put your mind to it. There will be times when a person struggles or a person succeeds but it is always necessary to take the best out of it.
This is where Polibienestar plays in the big picture. They may be a small organization out of Valencia however, they work to solve major issues such as immigration healthcare with other organizations across the world. Similar to how my parents put themselves out there, Polibienestar is not afraid to go out to international conferences to present their concerns and collaborate with others. They are always adapting and evolving their ideals to match the social/health concerns in Valencia but, are not neglecting the state of problems outside of their region. They improvise constantly on models and methods that can be applied to any region suffering from the same concerns such as education for refugee children. There is no such thing as the outsider, but rather, the soon to be connection.
This is my third week at my internship and I have integrated myself as part of partial team even if it is only temporary. The organization Polibienestar is a organization that thrives off the individuals within it and prospers when everyone is able to collaborate their thoughts and work together in order to achieve the objectives the company has set out. In terms of leadership, Jorge Garcé is the director of the entire organization and shows his aptitude when the time calls. My interactions with him have been very because he is either out in the field or trying to get proposals approved for his workers. From those interactions I have had with him, he presents himself as a friendly figure who is always willing to help. I do not get the “bossy” attitude from him at all but that may just be because I am just a temporary intern. However, when the time comes for him to take control and facilitate, he does an incredible job. During their monthly group meeting, where they discuss the progress the company has made in terms of projects or proposals, he facilitated the conversations in a way where his employees were able to express what they thought about anything related to the organization without fear. This relates very much to the idea of a focus group where he mediates for others to voice their opinions but, he also puts his own input in as well.
The reason this spoke to me is because one day, I hope to open my own acupuncture clinic where it would involve a collaboration of many specialties including Physical therapy, Massage Therapy, Spa, etc. I want to create an organization that is able to provide all types of services to a patient coming in and have them feel welcomed. Not only the patient, I want all the employees have the “want to be there” mentality rather than dreading everyday. Therefore, I connect strongly with how Director Garcé manages his organization. I hope over the next few weeks, I am able to observe a lot more.
Now that I have been working at my internship for just over two weeks, I believe to have a decent feel for its management. For starters, the organization itself is called ‘Eixam’, and according to their official website, they are, “an applied socioanthropology company specializing in methodological engineering”. They work directly with local companies and organizations in Valencia by providing them information and data that will help them gain a better understanding for some of the issues surrounding the tourism, pharmaceutical, or commercial sectors. In this particular case, the management of Eixam is really just one woman; Yaiza Pérez Alonso. Yaiza acts as the organization’s overseer and is responsible for planning and executing research on both the quantitative and qualitative level that will provide these institutions and/or companies with tangible data that best suits their interests. In her front stage performance, she has presented me with a very kind, laid back and welcoming persona; one that has made it extremely easy for me to adjust to this unique and unfamiliar situation… Without this, I can imagine that the transition may have been a bit more challenging. Yaiza has been nothing but helpful and accommodating in getting me acclimated to the Valencian culture and working through the significant language barrier that exists between me and my counterparts at the internship (herself included). Patient, diligent, professional and understanding is my first impression of Eixam’s management and I could not be more pleased with my experience so far. She does a good job balancing professionalism with friendliness; her upfront, genuine personality promotes a productive work environment. It is clear who is in charge at the organization, and I don’t mean to say that in a way that makes it seem super hierarchical or anything like that. More so, in a way that speaks on her leadership abilities. Yaiza has made a good impression on me thus far, and I am confident that she will only continue validate this notion.
As I enter the third week of this internship, the schedule has settled in and I am eager to put my utmost effort to make the most out of it. When I was coming into the trip, I had no idea what I was going to encounter on this journey. Then as I was introduced to my placement in Polibienestar, everything started to mesh together. This organization has welcomed me with open arms and has been patient and understanding of my circumstances when it comes to overcoming the language barrier. They have adapted to speaking mostly English with some Spanish mixed in to help me along my path to learning the language.
In terms of working as a cohesive group, I have never seen a group of individuals that worked so well together. Rather than just seen as colleagues, the members of the organization seem more like a family who are there to support each other. Back in America, a type of organization like Polibienestar occasionally has set roles where the boss would dictate whose doing what and relationships would be nothing more than work related. The members here however, break those boundaries and are genuine people who enjoy each others companies. That is why when I entered the organization as a temporary intern, they did not shy away from introducing me. I was baffled by how my colleagues got along so well with each other. They are always talking to each other whether it was about work or personal life matters. They are always connecting over certain social issues and how to address them successfully. They are always had their jobs on their mind but never strayed away from a conversation. This is meaningful to me because in the future, I hope to open my own business aka an Acupuncture clinic. I want to create an environment similar to Polibienestar where people are able to express their emotions whether its anger/frustration or happiness. I want people to come to work with a eagerness to seize the day.
I am thankful for this placement and looking forward to learning more!
Now that the first two weeks of this trip are in the books, its safe to say that I am now, more so than ever before in my life, acclimated to a culture other than that of US. I have visited countries outside the US before, but never to this extent, or in this much depth. The routine and language of the Valencian culture has been something I have embraced fully and have made an outstanding effort towards adopting. It has been a refreshing experience so far and I plan on continuing to push myself over these next few weeks to really exploit this opportunity. A big challenge for me, outside of learning the language, has been learning to do the bulk of my eating around midday. My routine in the US was a sizable breakfast, small lunch, and a large dinner. I still haven’t completely gotten used to this new eating schedule here, but I have made significant strides and am getting close to being fully adjusted. Oh. And while we are on the topic of food, I might add, the dishes that I have eaten here are absolutely delicious! There is a new place in my heart for Fideua and Paella.
As for the language aspect, over this past week, I have made the decision to rejoin the optional language course that was so kindly offered to us for free by the University of Valencia. At first, since I did not necessarily “need” the credits – why I placed need in the quotations will become clear in just a moment – I felt that the course was too much of a commitment and was taking too much time taken away from the experience in Valencia. From this abroad trip, I only technically need 6 of the 9 credits being offered (3 for each course) so where the language course was the most time consuming and the only “optional” course, I made the rash decision to drop it and just make it an effort to learn as much Spanish as I could on my own time while having some more free time to enjoy this beautiful city… The choice seemed like a no brainer at the time, however, the decision weighed heavily on me. It did not take much time for me to reconsider my choice.
Upon meeting some great people in my internship program who do not speak much, if any, English, I had a sudden change of heart. Admittedly, I was already feeling a bit of regret in my decision to drop the course, but once I received this reality check, it really put things into perspective for me. I knew that learning enough of the language on my own time to be able to effectively communicate with these people in a 5-6 week time frame was an unrealistic feat. I knew that I had to act fast if I wished to rejoin, so I reached out to Prof. Tom a couple days later and informed him of my desire to rejoin the course. Fortunately, he, as well as the university’s language teacher, were both accepting of my wish to come back and I’m now back in. I am happy with my current position and am as motivated as ever to learn the language.
These last couple weeks have been a unique experience. I’m intrigued by what these coming weeks will hold.