I would not have necessarily considered myself an introvert before my time as an exchange student in Valencia. Afterward, however, I can say that it was a fully wholesome experience and that the exposures I gained in Valencia were ones unique to me and my journey. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to experience this program with fellow classmates during the short six weeks that we were there. Six months ago, I would never have believed it possible for me to be able to explore a culture and entirely new region while studying and living with locals alike. I learned many things from being able to work with professionals during our internships to studying in classrooms and having weekly tours with classmates and sometimes locals. Often when I was not in class or doing coursework, I was looking for something to do when the opportunities were endless. Many students including me explored the old city or went to historical museums, monuments, and locations. There were times of course when the best thing or the thing I needed most was to be by myself but most times afterward I would regret having spent most of my time huddled up in my hotel room. Alongside tourist attractions, and eating at new and different locations the most fun I had was when I was with my groups of friends at the beach, at home-stays, or simply just walking through the streets of Valencia. If I had any advice to give to my past self or other students participating in a program like the Valencia exchange I would say: Get Lost! Leave your comfort zone! Meet new people, and make the most of your time in a new place. Say yes to that friend or go say hi to that person who you haven’t met yet. I have had so many experiences during this trip that would not have occurred if I decided to stay in or say no to that friend.
Initially, I was scared to try and form new friendships or talk to strangers but after the first instance, I realized that wanting to form connections is human and everyone around you wants to feel a connection to something. Although I could not explore the entirety of Valencia, I appreciated that I could begin to locate landmark locations just by walking or commuting by bus (although Google Maps never left my side). The most useful tool I had, even in the heat, ended up being my feet. Although I enjoyed watching others fly by on electric scooters and my occasional bike ride by Valensbi rental it was often walking that would get me from point A to point B. Traveling to other cities in Spain was also something I didn’t decide to do until the end of the trip. I would consider travel experiences however vital to my understanding of international travel and figuring out what to do when I was in unknown places. I tended to learn more when I headed into things alone and ended up for the most part doing that as often as I could. Go to that show! Go to that festival! Say hi to that stranger and make the most of what you have because with time it might soon be over!!!!
Think outside the box, color outside the lines, break the cycle, break the rules, lose your security blanket!
In July 1996, the City of Arts and Sciences was founded and It was constructed on the former river bed of Turia. The project was designed by the Spanish architects Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela. Spain has many hidden historical gems such as churches, castles, and other marvelous architecture that stood the test of time. But, it is not only the past you can travel to in Valencia. You are able to see the City of Arts & Sciences and see work that was done for the future. The cultural and architectural complex was built on a river bed that suffered catastrophic flooding in 1957. Flooding left the land flat and dry for many years. It cost 1.2 billion euros to build and water was to be a main element for the complex, length of green alongside it and its beautiful futuristic designed structures.
Timeless Structures and the Future
The City of Arts and Sciences and Sociological Imagination
My time in Valencia was full of people-watching, culture, curiosity, and illumination. Along the way I began to ask myself questions about the locations and art around me and how they came to be. I was using my sociological imagination in order to see the context in which the structures and developments interacted with the community in Valencia (citizens and tourists). Thinking this way allowed me to better identify and question various aspects of Valencia, as opposed to living passively within the city during my time as a study abroad student. Spain is one of the leading destinations in the world for tourism. In Valencia the economy for tourism gives opportunities for growth within the community through jobs and business. Tourism also helps preserve and foster traditions and pride within communities.
Across the street from Primark, a mural was painted in order to convey the debate between fast fashion and its affordability. This mural displays hard labor and violation of workers rights in order for retail brands and supply chains to sell bulk clothes for cheap. It made me question how ethical big box stores like Primark are across the world. Regardless people may need cheap options like these in order to afford clothes because of racial, societal, and social inequalities.
I love walking. If you ask anyone who attended this trip, they would all explain how insufferable I was about walking. Even if the sun was blasting and the temperature was above 30 degrees C ( I still don’t know what that means but I know it’s hot), I would choose to walk. The culture of walking in Valencia is different than in the States. People always filled the streets, people choosing to walk or bike over other forms of transportation. The best memories I have are walking from class after a long day with my fellow amigos, or just aimlessly around the old city after my internship to kill a little time. Walking through parks and random streets taught me more about the Valencian culture than taking the bus. Seeing how people interact, unleashed dogs, and different signs, I was able to view the culture while being in it.
Valencia is especially great for an unplanned stroll. Everywhere you go there are restaurants, coffee, and art that paint the streets. with the many people and the constant sound of music and laughter, it makes walking feel less like a task to get somewhere. I often opted for no headphones just to hear the noise around me; the cicadas screeching, the birds tweeting, the cars speeding, and the bikes squeaking. Every step was worth it.
Walking was usually the slowest mode of transportation, however, I felt like I was in no particular rush. I was perfectly okay with taking a ‘less than 40-minute’ walk.
Spain and their love for togetherness and community/things I found troubling.
I made a little snippet on YouTube about San-Juan festival and how the band brought everyone together.
Another presentation of joy in Valencia community happened when some friends and I went to Poblats Marítims on the beach to get paella. When we were there, someone randomly turned on a big speaker and everyone joined in and danced. It was so beautiful how they can party anywhere. I mean anywhere. I had to dance too because the DJ really knew how to get people up on their knees.
I have said some positive things I noticed in Valencia. Now, I am going to talk about the bad things that I found troubling to me as a black-African girl. Two-weeks into the program, I needed to change my hairstyle so I started looking for places where I could find proper hair extensions that would help me. I could not find any. This is because there are not a lot of African people in Valencia. To get what I needed, I had to go to Barcelona, which was quite pricey. I found that troubling that I cannot embrace certain parts of myself in the city of Valencia.
I am a super big animal person, and this trip definitely fueled my love for animals. To start off, people walk with their dogs unleashed all the time. That meant the dogs were free to roam and come up to as they pleased. I definitely got a few pets in at those times but I was also jealous because my dog was never that good off leash. The Bioparc was probably one of my favorite places I went this trip solely because of how active the animals were. There was a section where the lemurs were just allowed to free roam. My classmates and I also spent almost an hour looking at the gorilla because he was moving around and doing a lot. The elephants were also really cool. We got to see them super up close and they did a bunch of stuff. I had wanted to go back to the Bioparc at some point during the trip, but I never made it there. Hopefully in the future I can go and see it again. The last thing was the cats in the garden next to the Museum of Fine Arts. There were so many of them and I wanted to pet them all. I could have spent hours in that garden just watching and petting the cats. I wanted to go back with food and water for them but I never got the chance to. I’m glad I got to see them though, because seeing stray cats like that isn’t normal in America. At least, where I live stray dogs and cats don’t really exist, because people will pick up any animal they see as soon as it looks lost. I still want a cat but my mom is allergic. However, I am glad I got to spend so much time with the cats before I left.
Honestly, I was originally not going to go on this trip and participate in this program. I was a big homebody and didn’t really like doing things outside of my comfort zone. There was also financial factors that contributed to that, but that is a whole different story. I was someone who had a very hard time making friends and talking to people in a general setting. Therefore, being in a new country where the main language was a language I didn’t speak very well made me nervous. When someone has social anxiety, their brain provides all these negative scenarios on how people would react to them and what they think about them. I didn’t want to be put in one of those negative scenarios my brain came up with especially in a place where I wasn’t familiar with the culture or the social norms. When I got to Spain, I noticed that it wasn’t much different from America, except that the people there had a staring problem. I think it was because we looked different and sounded different, and as a result, they weren’t accustomed to that, but it was still a huge turn off for me when it came to interacting with people. I didn’t want someone to give me a hard time because my Spanish wasn’t good, or I didn’t want them to make fun of me because of that, but to be honest, I realized how similar this was to the reverse in America with non English speakers. I could understand how frustrating it was when you couldn’t get your point across, or when people made fun of how you spoke their native language. That was one of my biggest takeaways from this trip. Overall, I think it went pretty okay when it came to my social anxiety. I didn’t do anything that I knew would be out of my comfort zone except for maybe a few times when I had friends with me. I don’t know how this trip affected my social skills over all, but it was definitely a good experience for me and was beneficial to me in becoming more comfortable socially.
Graffiti is bad for society. It stains beautiful buildings made by old European contractors and expresses the general public’s feelings. I mean just walk through the beautiful streets of Valencia, Spain. The historical streets of beautifully built buildings with Immaculate architecture, and bam you take a small turn, and you see the horribly inappropriate graffiti of.. a phone with a cat wallpaper?
No, I swear it’s bad, like further down that same street, and I turned to my right, expecting to see a beautifully blank wall, and poof, I was met with… a small house with a quote that translates to “to travel is to return.”
Okay, sure these exact pieces of graffiti aren’t proof, but just walk through the old city, and you’ll see what I’m trying so desperately to prove. Just take a nice stroll through the old city, and look anywhere, literally anywhere and you’ll find yourself looking at a horrid piece of… social commentary (3). Wait hold on, what is happening here. Further, down that same street, there is another piece of graffiti that is, dare I say, touching? (4).
No no no, Graffiti is bad right? Like maybe the cat in the first picture was an evil gang symbol that brings distraught into the city, instead of meaning that the cat was trapped behind the picture which could relate to a deeper meaning related to our obsession with picture taking. Or maybe that house promoted laziness and wasn’t trying to prove a deeper meaning within travel. perhaps the soldier and the angel fighting for an arrow were promoting violence? Or maybe graffiti is good? Maybe it allows an outlet for people to express their creativity?
Graffiti is good for society. Especially noticeable on most walls in Valencia, Graffiti allows for humans to perform their enate trait of creativity. Something that I rave to my friends and family about when they ask me about Valencia is the sheer authenticity that Valencia holds. The people here express themselves genuinely, and their expression can especially be seen through the art splattered on the walls. When walking through the city, I was constantly taking pictures of the random graffiti on the walls. I absolutely fell in love with the different splatters of colors and the deeper meanings that everything held.
The first time I went to the beach in Valencia I was very shocked to see so many women topless. In the United States it is very frowned upon for women’s breasts to be showing even when breastfeeding a baby. In Spain women being topless at the beach has become so normalized and ingrained into their society that girls and women of all ages feel comfortable taking part. The last museum that we visited as a group there were many paintings and statues which depict women in various stages of undress. I think this connects to Spanish culture and their comfortability with their bodies.
One of the major differences I’ve noticed about Spain compared to the United States is the emphasis on their meals. The Spanish believe in the importance of sitting down, enjoying your meal, and socializing with others. I saw multiple signs similar to this one throughout my stay in Spain. I also heard of cafes that didn’t allow people to use their computers while they’re eating. This was sort of a culture shock for me. In the United States, you’re always on the go. Everything is rushed, your sleep, your free time, and your meals. In middle school, we were only given twenty-two minute lunch periods. In Spain, many people sat and ate (and often drank) for about an hour at a time. I prefer this attitude to the one in the United States. Meals are important, and taking time in the day to socialize is as well. This picture of a sign in a restaurant represents this aspect of Spain’s culture. By not having wifi, people are less likely to be on their phones, and more inclined to talk to the person eating with them.