Spain: Saying Goodbye

Though my last two posts have focused on exciting side-trips, most of my time in Spain was spent in class. The combination of those classes and the necessity of using Spanish in most situations caused my Spanish abilities, and my confidence in them, to improve a lot, which was my primary goal for the summer. Outside of Spanish, I was also able to learn an extraordinary amount about art history, Spanish history, and literature. I’ve been able to go to art museums and truly analyze the paintings, visit monuments and understand their significance, and recognize Spanish literature and analyze the contents within. After two months of intensive coursework and restless exploration of all that Alcalá and Madrid have to offer, I’m exhausted. I’m going to miss Spain, and all of the excitement I’ve had here, but I’m also ready to go home to rest and reflect before the fall semester begins. This blog only scratches the surface of my experiences, and I’ve failed to mention many of the ups and almost all of the downs. Without delving too much into minutiae, its not only my Spanish and my knowledge gained in class that have grown on this trip, but also my comfort zone and my self-confidence in stepping outside of it and navigating a foreign country on my own. To conclude, here are some final pictures from my second month in Spain.

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A few weeks ago, I went on a side trip

 to Valencia over the weekend. In my program, we only have classes 4 days a week, so we were able to leave Friday morning. We would have left Thursday night, but that day I had the opportunity to see Martha Graham Dance Company perform in the Teatro Real de Madrid. Martha Graham is often called the “Mother of Modern Dance.” Seeing her company perform live has been a dream of mine for many years, so finding out that they were performing in Madrid while I happened to be studying here was one of the happiest coincidences I’ve realized in my lifetime.

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Spain: Month 1

I’m writing this on the patio of my host family’s home as my first month in Spain draws to a close. So much has happened in the past month that it’s difficult to decide what to include here. I suppose I’ll start with some basic information about the program that I’m in. I’m studying at the Instituto Franklin which is a center for North American studies at the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares. The institute is located in the heart of Alcalá, a small city—and UNESCO world heritage site—located 30 minutes outside of Madrid. It’s primarily known for its university (which is thousands of years old and a center of academic achievement in Spain) and for being the birthplace of Cervantes. Since my classes are located in the institute, all my classmates are other US students studying abroad. The classes are still conducted entirely in Spanish, though I’m sure the professors speak more slowly than they would in a class of fluent speakers. This month I’ve been taking a class on the history of the great Spanish painters and an oral communication class about the traditions of Spain. I’ve also been staying with a host family, which has been a bit of an adventure in and of itself.

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An Announcement and an Explanation

First the announcement: I’m going to Spain this summer! I’ll be there for all of June and July studying at the University of Alcala and staying with a host family. I’ll be writing at least two posts a month while I’m there, so look forward to plenty of pictures.

Now for the explanation: at the end of last semester, I had written a few blog posts and only posted one, and when I finally got around to posting the rest, the website stopped working for unknown reasons. I ended up emailing that semester’s posts to my advisor to show they had been finished. The tech issues resolved themselves sometime this semester, but despite having all of these blogs saved on my computer, I never got around to posting them until now. So that is why all nine of the last blogs were posted at the same time. I will try to be better about this in the future!

The Ornatrix (Book Review)

The World Literature Today April book was called The Ornatrix by Kate Howard. At its core, this is a novel about beauty and the pursuit of beauty. It takes place in 16th century Italy and follows the life of Flavia, a dyer’s daughter who was born with a bird shaped mark on her face. Her mother held the belief that beauty was goodness and goodness was beauty. Heaven was, above all things, beautiful, so Flavia’s mark was a curse from the devil in her mother’s eyes. As a result, Flavia was hidden from the world and scorned by her family. In a jealous rage, she sabotages her sister’s wedding and is sent to a convent as a punishment. Ultimately, she gets wrapped up in the world of Renaissance beauty, where the pursuit of perfection in the form of cerussa (white face paint made from lead) has some very disturbing consequences.

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Salsa Ball

I first heard about the Latin Dance Club soon after I arrived at OU, and being both a dancer and a Spanish language learner, I was naturally curious. Unfortunately, my schedule hasn’t permitted me to attend any of their regular meetings so far, but several weeks ago they hosted a Salsa Ball in the Union. They had a quick dance lesson right before the ball where they taught us the basic step and a right turn. The ball was a lot of fun. I haven’t been able to dance as much this semester, so I was really happy to be moving again.

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Just Another Jihadi Jane (Book Review)

Our March book in World Literature Today was Just Another Jihadi Jane by Tabish Khair. It follows the story of Jamilla and her friend Ameena, two British girls born to Muslim immigrant families that choose to travel to Syria and join ISIS. The story is told from Jamilla’s perspective and is written as if she were telling the story to a reporter. It starts in her childhood, and you see her grow up and befriend the more rebellious Ameena. Feeling ostracized from the culture around them, they turn to the internet to find acceptance. Eventually, they become radicalized and make the decision to join the Islamic State. I don’t want to spoil any of the events that happen once they arrive there, but needless to say, it is heart-wrenching. Continue reading “Just Another Jihadi Jane (Book Review)”

Latin Americanist Lunch

In this post I will be talking about an international event I attended, but first an announcement: I officially declared a Spanish minor. As a Spanish minor, I started receiving emails from the department about different events relating to Spanish going on around campus, and I quickly RSVPed for April’s Latin Americanist Lunch. The Latin Americanist Lunches—hosted by the Center for the Americas in the College of International Studies—are monthly lunches, open to the public, where an expert lectures on a topic relating to Latin America.

On the day of the event, I showed up at Farzaneh hall having completely forgotten the topic of the lunch, or perhaps having never looked it up in the first place. So I was fairly surprised to look up from my plate of food and find the words “Erotic Mysticism” projected on the wall. After I endured a brief moment of panic that I had ended up at a radically different lecture than had I intended to, the presentation began. Continue reading “Latin Americanist Lunch”

World Literature Today and A Gentleman in Moscow (Book Review)

I joined a new internationally focused organization this semester, the World Literature Today book club. World Literature Today is, according to the OU website,

a literary magazine founded at the University of Oklahoma in 1927. It is also a humanities center on the OU campus that hosts two annual literary festivals, and offers hands-on internship opportunities, scholarships, and courses dealing with literature and magazine publication.

They also host a book club which meets monthly to discuss a modern novel of international focus. I first joined during their February book, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. It follows the life of the fictional Alexander Ilyich Rostov, a former Count who, in 1922, is spared death or a gulag sentence because of a poem he wrote that was widely regarded as a key piece of revolutionary literature, attributed to bringing many people to action. Instead, he is sentenced to house arrest in the hotel where he lives. The Hotel Metropol is located in the center of Moscow, across from the Bolshoi and the Kremlin, and it is the premier hotel in all of Russia. The book spends the next 30 years inside the Metropol, using the hotel and the interactions of its guests and employees to show the changes in the Soviet Union during this time.

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