Students Share Their Stories

Christian Rodriguez '16

RodriguezToday SPA 310 went to El Prado museum and we looked at the astounding art of El Greco and Velazquez, which we had been discussing and studying all week. I thought it was simply amazing. In the museum I was able to see these elements that are called “arrepentimientos” clearly, which I had struggled to see in slides and pictures of the packet. It was truly amazing because I felt connected to the past. Velazquez corrected his paintings and hid his corrections from his contemporaries. But chemical reactions now make us privy of his ways. The professor often describes him as neurotic and I think she’s used the right word. A true perfectionist, I bet he obsessed over his art more than anything else in his life…(children, wife, hunger, etc). Nevertheless, seeing the arrepentimientos really struck me because I couldn’t believe that I could actually see the subtle corrections that I had not been able to see...and they were clear as day!
In addition, the art was splendid in regard to technique. Even as a novice of art, I can appreciate (at least I try to) the talent and ability of El Greco and Diego Velazquez. The paintings they were able to create have fantastic color and depict their subjects breathtakingly. Drawing is difficult enough...and for them to paint the people, building, and other content in the way they do… is incredible. I can easily say that their work makes me want to venture into painting…. On another note, the first week of classes is officially done. I have learned a lot about Spanish culture in and out of class this first week. I am excited for the rest of my classes because I have really taken a lot away from each class I’ve had here in Toledo. So far everything is excellent!

Allie Mendelsohn '18

MendelsohnIn the vein of unexpected compassion amongst employees of mass transport companies, a miracle occurred on Renfe today. Twelve of us arrived in the Madrid Atocha train station at 6:20 for a 6:40 departure to Valencia — lingered for ten minutes debating the pros and cons of purchasing food — decided not to — and arrived at the gate with ten minutes to spare only to realize that there was a security line. Ten of us got through. Two of us (Katrine and I) didn’t. So at 6:33, having learned that we (I) had printed out the wrong tickets and that the tickets that had been emailed to us were invalid, we sprinted back to the printing station, aggressively defending our place in line, and then told a nearby employee we had five minutes to print a ticket and make a train and asked (begged) him to help us.

And this is where things got weird — cause he did. Not only did he immediately print our ticket, but he gave us a pretty cool running escort through the station to the front of the security line, and maybe emotions were running a bit high and I’m being overly grateful, but I was downright amazed. That would never have happened in a train station in the United States. As I imagined the reaction a Penn Station employee would have to our situation (“We’re about to miss our train!” “Why?” “Our own stupidity!”) I laughed, and then collapsed into my seat.

Christian Rodriguez '16

RodriguezToday I went to the procession that occurred throughout the city. I saw it from one of the corners of the cathedral. I enjoyed seeing all of the different participants in the procession but especially the military members. Seeing them made me think of how much contradiction is within Spain. I feel as if Spain tries to remove Franco from its collective memory yet there it was integrated into Toledo’s Corpus Christy, a big holiday for the city from what I’ve heard. This seems to be a trend, as much of the readings have been discussing how the Spanish have some desire but act in direct opposition to that goal, often due to some constraint----attitude, physical or economic. It has made me very curious in what others in foreign countries do.

In the US, it seems as if everyone chase after what they desire and that no one needs to tell anyone to pursue their dreams. It almost seems as if Americans don’t think twice and just go after it. On this I need to reflect some more before making some sort of conclusion….  More in general I’ve enjoyed my time here in Toledo, it has been very exciting to speak Spanish in a different context and to continue to build my vocabulary. I have also enjoyed meeting the locals because they seem to have different energy, and I can almost see that their paradigms about the world are very different when interacting or making eye contact with them…. I want to continue to meet locals and make more connections so that I can understand more about the people of Spain, their habits, mannerisms and way of life.

Reva Abrol '18

Toledo and Madrid: Differences in urban and town culture

AbrolWhen some of my friends and I visited Madrid this weekend after our trip to Museo del Prado on Friday afternoon, I noticed several differences between the environments of Madrid and Toledo. Although Madrid and Toledo both attract a significant tourist population every year (for Madrid, a result of mainly urban appeal and for Toledo, a result of mainly historical appeal), Madrid seems to have a more diluted native culture.

The restaurants in la Puerta del Sol are more Americanized, many featuring menus in English and foods like mini-hamburgers that rarely reflect the authentic heartiness of traditional Spanish cuisines, and the people of Madrid themselves can be more ruthless, with pickpocketing a much greater reality as we saw when Marni’s wallet and Jot’s phone got stolen by a band of young teenagers.

Although there are numerable attributes that might shape such cultural differences between Madrid and Toledo, I feel that the most considerable factor is the urban environment itself. In a big city, people are less intimate with one another and thus, more susceptible to crime; urban populations seek out global cultures in their food and fashion, struggling to find common ground among their own differences. Having experienced both Madrid and Toledo, I find that I prefer the less urban and more open environment of Toledo. Though the streets are narrower, they’re also safer and more welcoming, and are starting to feel a bit more like home.

Cameron Bell '16

BellI’m sitting on my bed and the light breeze and gentle rays of sun calm my spirit while the birds sing. I’m in a relaxed state that I haven’t been in a while. This has been a difficult year, and this past week was especially so (beyond coursework, just U.S. national events weighing heavily like Charleston). And yesterday was a long day with a nice trip to Segovia; my quads are now a little sore from walking up all those hills. Today I had all these ambitions plans to study for the art final and create the study guide, but I just feel no motivation. I think when I was younger and at Princeton I would force myself to work through my lethargy, but today I think I’m just going to surrender to my subconscious (or perhaps conscious) desire to rest.

So as I surrender to un descanso hoy en día, I realize that one of the aspects of Spanish culture that I have really come to appreciate is the pace of vida: las siestas, no take-out at restaurants, slower waiter service, smaller tables (seats about 4 people max), staying out late with friends, drinking in moderation, stores and businesses either being completely closed on Sundays or having limited hours of operation. To me, all of these practices indicate an enjoyment of life that is oftentimes lacking back in the States. Here in Spain people enjoy their time, both with themselves and other people. They make rest a priority in a way that energizes them to enjoy the night, not as an escape necessarily with binge drinking and hardcore partying (like the States) but just to have a good time with good food, good wine, and good company. This aspect of my Spanish experience has been perhaps the most enjoyable. After the year I’ve had, I began this summer with the intention to rest purposefully, to detox, and just take care of myself. I didn’t think, however, that that rest would begin while in Spain. I expected a lot of work, lots of excursions, and little time to really rest because I’d be soaking up all Spain had to offer. But, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the type of rest I sought was already integrated into the daily Spanish life.

So today I surrender, and embrace the sun, the breeze, and the calm. I will rest and enjoy myself. Especially given that this is the start of my last week here, I’m not trying to be stressed. I want to savor the moment, savor this feeling and carry it back with me to the States: it will the best souvenir I could ever hope for.  

Divya Rohira '18

RohiraToday, we began learning about Goya’s life and works in art class. Before beginning the program, of the five artists listed in the curriculum, I was least excited to learn about Goya, not because I disliked him or his works, but just because I didn’t know much about him. I had already heard and learned so much about the other four (El Greco, Velázquez, Picasso, and Dalí) that I was looking forward to learning even more about them. Rather close-minded, I know – but for a while, Goya was just a stop in between Velázquez and Picasso, a break between the real meat and potatoes of the course. Now, even writing that out feels a little ridiculous and silly.

Goya’s paintings have fascinated and enraptured me in a way that El Greco’s and Velázquez’s never did. Perhaps that’s because El Greco and Velázquez painted subjects and topics that I could never really personally connect with, both being much more focused on Catholicism and Spanish royalty, respectively. Or maybe it has something to do with Goya’s relatable story, how he wasn’t a prodigy and never had the raw natural talent of the other two but still managed to become the best painter of his time through perseverance and passion. Whatever the reason, Goya’s paintings somehow resonate with me and hold my attention, reminding me of something that Profesora Araceli often says (paraphrased, of course): “Once your eyes have been opened to art, they’ll never close again.”

Reva Abrol '18

Leaving Toledo

ToledoLeaving Toledo today was pretty difficult (in an emotional sense, not a physical one - our taxi driver Javier is one of the fastest drivers I’ve seen). Even though we only spent a month here, I feel as though I’ve learned so much. Rather than take the time to recount a specific moment of culture shock or describe the context of an interesting Spanish word that lacks an English translation, I’m using this last journal entry to reflect upon some overarching themes.

Aside from improving my conversational and academic skills in Spanish inside and outside of class contexts (probably the most important accomplishment by far), my time in Toledo made me a more open-minded eater, a more considerate family member, a more independent traveler, and a more culturally aware individual. I tried rabbit for the first time at dinner (although the thought of my uncle’s pet rabbit made me feel immense guilt); I kept my room spotless out of respect for my host family’s home, to which my actual mother can attest is usually not the case; I took the public bus system and likely walked the perimeter of the city several times - and only got lost a few; and even as I encountered some unusual social customs, such as restaurant bills without individual item prices and my host father’s demands for me to put my shoes on whenever I entered the kitchen (even though at my home in New York, I always walk around the house without shoes on), I generally met them with positivity.

Although I definitely met some of my experiences with feelings of frustration or confusion at first, the challenge of approaching my problems with an open mind and the luck of being surrounded by classmates who were trying to do the same helped me grow so much as a student and informed global citizen; overall, I immensely enjoyed my time in Toledo and hope to visit again sometime in the near future.