I don’t feel like there is any way to say goodbye to my organization that will truly capture my level of appreciation for the opportunity I have been granted with over these last few weeks. I mean, I’ve gotten the chance to contribute towards social research in Valencia, Spain… think about that for a second. It all seems so surreal at this moment in time. I’ve gotten a chance to explore the culture and society of this region on a deeper level than the normal tourist/visitor. Not to mention all the new people I have had the pleasure of meeting – I will be sure to keep these connections alive and stay in touch with those who have had a positive influence on me. With all that being said, admittedly, I feel like the time is right to return back home. The experience has been refreshing and it has been a good trip all together, however, I miss a lot of things back home and am looking forward to reuniting with them. I’m sure a week or two back into my normal routine I will be thinking, “Damn. What I’d give to be back in Valencia right now”, but as of right now, I’m looking forward to getting back to the states. I’ve learned some invaluable lessons on this journey. There’s something about being exposed to another culture and way of life that makes you reflect on and rethink the lifestyle that you have been conditioned to back home. Pulling yourself away from any situation and viewing it from an outsider’s perspective always teaches you something new about that situation and this is how I feel about life back home in America. I will return with my refined outlook and try my best to carry on all the positive aspects of this culture that I have adopted over this last month and a half. Surely, the memories generated throughout this trip will be ones that I reflect on for the remainder of my life.
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.
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.
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.
Jet-lag, fatigue, excitement, restlessness, uncertainty, nervousness — a mixed bag of feelings ran through my body and mind as we took our first steps on Spain’s soil. Upon landing, I was coming up on my 26th hour of consciousness – aside from the measly 15 to 20 minute spurts of sleep I experienced for the first hour or so on our plane ride over – and slowly felt my attention span dwindling; my level of patience was plummeting, and I was being unforgivingly reminded of just how valuable sleep can be to the human brain. I was eager to begin our journey, just as much I was to settle in at the residence hall and take an enormous nap after what was my longest day of traveling to date.
Meeting our mentors and Carles for the first time at the airport was a pleasure, and they assisted in making our transition into Valencia a smooth and effortless encounter – something I’m sure we are all tremendously grateful for. Their kindness, in hindsight, was a sign of things to come. Even though there has been a slight language barrier between the locals of Valencia and myself, I have been able to effectively communicate with people and recognize the astounding level of hospitality that people of this region hold. I have yet to feel unsafe in any scenario *knocks on wood* and the people here have been very patient and welcoming when speaking with me. I may not yet be able to engage into deep conversation and find out intricate details about people’s personal lives, but I am certainly able to navigate my way throughout Valencia and get by on a day to day basis. I look forward to learning more about the area, as well as enhancing my Spanish through my every day encounters.
Now that the jet lag has seemed to wear off and I have established somewhat of a routine, I am beginning to love this experience and am optimistic for what the future of this trip holds for not only myself, but for all of us in this program. Admittedly, there are still times where I miss home and I miss my loved ones, but in the back of my mind, I know that these six weeks will go by quickly and I will be back in the United States before I know it. So, I am just taking this experience in stride and learning to appreciate every second of it; whether good or bad. The challenge of adapting to a new culture and language is refreshing and something I will reflect on for the rest of my life.