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MIT student blogger Anelise N. '19

Siete Ciudades de España by Anelise N. '19

A very busy IAP

This IAP was my first time ever outside of the United States!

El Mirador del Valle–the most beautiful view of Toledo. Photo credit: Rachel Lily Terry, the amazing photographer of our travel group :)

For me, IAP is the best opportunity I have to go abroad. College is one of the most convenient times to travel, but being an MIT student can make it pretty hard to spend time in anther country. It’s difficult to justify spending a semester across an ocean when MIT already offers the best engineering classes in the world. Plus, more and more summers are being reserved for internships.

So starting this year, my plan is to pack my IAPs with as many study abroad opportunities as I can!

The Plaza de España in Sevilla

This year, I ended up applying for the IAP Madrid program offered by the Spanish department. You spend 3-4 weeks taking an MIT Spanish language or culture class, taught by an MIT professor, for MIT credit. Except that instead of taking classes in Building 26 and living in your dorm, you’re studying at the Instituto Internacional in Madrid, living with a Spanish family!

El oso y el madroño: the mascot of Madrid

At first I was hesitant about the program for two main reasons. First, I took AP Spanish in high school, which means I technically speak Spanish, which means I should be signing up for the Clase de Conversación y Composición, a conversation class taught entirely in Spanish*. But, that was three years ago, and I’ve never taken a college language class. I ended up interviewing with the teacher of the class, the incredible Profesora Margarita Groeger, and she said I was ok to go for it!

*There were three Spanish classes taught in Madrid this year—the Spanish conversation class, a Spanish II class, and a Spanish culture class taught in English (which Crystal took—go look at her amazing pictures of Spain here!).

Second, there’s a pretty hefty program fee. What I didn’t realize at the time was that basically everyone who applied for a scholarship from GECD received one in the full amount needed to cover the program costs. So aside from travel outside of Madrid, for me the program ended up being essentially free. I was on my way to Madrid!

Stonework on the walls of the Alhambra, Granada. Isn’t it amazing?

The conversation class met four times a week for three hours per day, from 10:00-1:00 in the afternoon. In the span of less than four weeks, we crammed in a semester’s worth of Spanish. It was by far the best language class I have ever taken. We students would be assigned writing, reading, or listening for homework—for instance, watching a movie, reading a short story, or writing a composition—while classtime was spent almost exclusively in small groups, chatting about the material we had covered the previous night. That’s right—a class where basically all you do is socialize. Which is perfect, because when learning languages, verbal communication is, in my opinion, the most important and the most neglected aspect.

Although the program was academic in character, there was also time for a lot of cultural exposure. After class, we were free to get lunch at the local barres, explore el Parque del Retiro, tour El Palacio Real, or take the metro to any corner of the city. The other three days of the week were ours to spend how we pleased—more often than not, traveling. During January I chose to stay in Spain, but people from my class wandered as far as Paris, Ireland, and Morocco!


Fountain in the Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona

Going to Madrid has been one of my most impactful experiences so far at MIT. For the first nineteen and a half years of my life, I’ve lived exclusively in one country—and last January, I tried to explore another. During our three-day weekends, I visited seven Spanish cities: Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, Valencia, Barcelona, Granada, and Sevilla. My Spanish improved astronomically: I didn’t realize it at the time, but my level of fluidity has increased dramatically after even just a month of constant practice. I was introduced to the foreign language department at MIT: after this IAP, I was inspired to pick up where I left off learning French in high school, and I hope to be trilingual by the time I leave. And, most unexpectedly and perhaps most importantly, I made a really close group of friends while traveling abroad.

IAP Madrid was great because I met people who I normally don’t cross paths with, because they’re in different majors or different years or buried in the back of enormous Corse VI classes. And the challenges and excitement of traveling together in an unknown place made us bond really quickly. I came back from Madrid with a whole new friend group that is going to stay with me throughout my time at MIT—for me, that’s really valuable.

Just yesterday, a bunch of people from my IAP class, including Profesora, went out for a lunch reunion and spoke Spanish the whole time!

At the end of IAP, everyone in my class wrote a reflection about their time in Spain. As I was writing my reflection, I realized that the most memorable moments from the trip were not always the most beautiful or exotic. Small things, like buying a SIM card and reading a metro ticket—the things that took me by surprise and reminded me how far away from Boston I was—were some of the most breathtaking moments I had in Madrid. So for mi presentación final, I wrote about my ten most “Iconic” memories or experiences.

And yes, this is in Spanish! But I wrote the picture captions in English, so keep scrolling and at least enjoy the photos :)

  1. Mi anfitriona, Shawany La primera persona que conocí cuando vine a Madrid fue mi anfitriona, Shawany. De inmediato, ella me trató como una hermana. Ella me mostró el vecindario cerca de la casa, me explicó cómo conseguir una tarjeta de transporte público, y me dio la dirección de la tienda donde se puede comprar las tarjetas de SIM.

    Shawany y yo tenemos situaciones muy diferentes. Ella es un inmigrante de Brasil que se mudó a España para conseguir un trabajo y hacerse veterinaria. A pesar de tener casi mi edad, Shawany ya está casada y trabaja jornada completa. Pero también tenemos algunas similaridades. Nos interesa de hablar entre nosotros sobre las culturas diferentes que hemos experimentados, y las dos estamos aprendiendo español. Discutimos a menudo y compartimos fotos. Ya, después de sólo un mes de conocernos, ya la echo de menos.

    From left to right–me, Shawany (my host from Madrid), and my roommate/fellow MIT student Kathleen! Shawany was the first person I met in Spain. We are the same age, but come from totally different backgrounds. She is a Brasilian immigrant working in Spain so that she can study to be a veterinarian. But we bonded over discussing our different cultures and our quest to learn Spanish together. I was really sad to leave her!
  2. Comparando mi tarjeta de SIMMi segundo día en España, compré mi tarjeta de SIM—completamente en español. Fue la primera vez que participé en una conversación sobre un tema más o menos técnico con una meta específica, y logré comunicarme para conseguir lo que necesitaba. Estaba orgullosa, como, gracias a mi conocimiento práctico de español, podía vivir y sobrevivir en este país. Desde ese momento, he tenido muchas conversaciones similares—por ejemplo, cuando tuve que negociar un reembolso para unos billetes de autobús, o cuando llegamos a nuestro hotel a medianoche y ellos nos habían arreglado un cuarto en vez de dos. Siempre me siento como el español es una superpotencia que puedo usar para abrir más del mundo.
    My second day in Spain, I bought a pay-as-you-go SIM card from a Telefónica representative—totally in Spanish. This was quite possibly my proudest moment in Spain. It was the first time I actually used Spanish as a means to a specific goal. Communicating in another language felt like having a superpower.
  3. Puerta del Sol

    El anochecer de mi segundo día, caminé de mi casa a Puerta de Sol y fue en ese momento que disfruté por la primera vez del ambiente de Madrid. Vi los bailarines en la plaza, la arquitectura magnífica de la estación, las tiendas llenas de gente, el grupo de mariachi cuya música resonaba por el espacio. Esta mezcla del viejo y el actual, el tradicional y el extranjero, me introdujo a Madrid como una ciudad con una vida social tan rica como su historia.

    Puerta del Sol is the beating heart of Madrid, and was my first real introduction to the thriving nightlife and cultural richness of Madrid.
  4. Segovia–un microcosmo de la España

    Segovia fue uno de mis lugares favoritos de España. A pesar de ser sólo un pueblo, fue como un microcosmo del resto del país. En el Acueducto, Catedral, y Alcázar de Segovia, podía ver las huellas de los romanos, los mudéjares, y los cristianos que habían ocupado la España. Vi la arquitectura gótica y mudéjar. Aprendí sobre la historia religiosa e imperial del país. Me asombra que la identidad de España es el producto de siglos y siglos de trabajo y desarrollo por grupos diferentes, y que casi cada edificio anciano requiere una novela de historia para explicar su significado. Ojala que tuviera más tiempo en España para entender toda su historia.

    15942771_1099638400161938_2140008874_o.jpg 15935383_1099462826846162_385690346_o.jpg
    Segovia, a little town 20 minutes from Madrid by high-speed train, was one of my favorite sites of my visit. Like much of Spain, its roots stretch back to Roman times, and its architecture is a breathtaking blend of Christian and Moorish aesthetics. It amazes me that nearly every building in Spain requires a novel of history to explain its significance. That depth of history is something I miss in the U.S.
  5. La parte estresante…
    We made it to Valencia eventually!

    La segunda semana, organicé un viaje a Valencia para mi compañera de cuarto y yo. Era estresante tener la responsabilidad de reservar los billetes de tren y los hoteles, pero descubrí una independencia que nunca he tenido antes. La libertad de decidir de viajar a otra ciudad y después poder realizarlo fue un poder increíble. Me siento más confidente y más capaz después de este viaje.

    grupo.jpgTraveling is fun, but stressful. My friends and I did a lot of organizing on this trip, and we made a lot of mistakes…like the time we ordered bus tickets for the wrong day, or almost booked a hotel for the wrong weekend, or weren’t sure if we ordered tickets for the Alhambra or had just given our credit card info to an online scam artist. But the sense that I could pull up my computer, make some plans, and be out of the city within a week was really powerful. I really feel like I gained a lot of independence.
    P.S. We had bought the Alhambra tickets ;)
    From left to right: Rachel, Nick, Serena, Magnus, me (with my eyes all closed), Kathleen, and Jiyoung. I assume photo credit goes to Rachel because she looks like she’s taking the selife :)

  6. Mi billete de metro…no está en español Cuando llegué en Valencia, miré mi billete de metro y descubrí a mi sorpresa que no podía leerlo—¡las palabras estaban escritas en catalán! ¡Había una lengua entera, parecida al español pero a la vez completamente distinta, que no sabía entender. En ese momento, me di cuenta de la magnitud y la riqueza de las poblaciones de la Tierra. El mundo tiene tanta diversidad–más que puedo experimentar en mi vida entera. Eso me inspiró a continuar de viajar a cada oportunidad de aprender lo más posible. El semestre de viene, definitivamente voy a continuar de estudiar una lengua.
    We spent a day in Valencia, a beautiful beachy city on the Eastern Coast of Spain. When I first showed up and looked at my metro ticket, I realized I couldn’t read it…because it was written in Catalán. Catalán is also spoken in Barcelona. That blew my mind. I’ve put a lot of effort into learning Spanish, but there are four widely-spoken languages in Spain alone. The amount of effort I would have to put in just to communicate with the full swath of the Spanish people is insane. In that moment I realized how rich the world is, and how little of it I’m ever going to be able to grasp. That’s a really inspiring feeling.
  7. El parque famoso de Barcelona


    En Barcelona, mis amigos y yo caminamos a Parc Guel. Desde la colina, pudimos ver la ciudad entera—fue una de las vistas más increíbles que he visto en mi vida. Después, entré en el parque artístico. Mi parte favorita fue poder tocar el banco que rodeaba la plaza central, con sus colores y texturas diferentes. A diferencia de un museo, donde sólo hay que mirar el arte, me sentí como un participante en esta exhibición. Eso fue mi parte favorito de Barcelona porque me sentí involucrada en la cultura y la belleza de la ciudad.

    16106730_1106813242777787_1045743536_o.jpgThis is Parc Guell, one of the most iconic sights in Barcelona. My favorite part of the park was the undulating bench that surrounded the central arena, a snaking multicolor mosaic made out of textured pieces of pottery as big as the palm of your hand that you could walk around in a circle and feel the texture. On a hill nearby the park, you could get a beautiful 270 degree view of the entire of city of Barcelona, the ocean in the background, the Sagrada Familia jutting up from the landscape. It was the most beautiful urban view I have ever seen.

  8. Churros

    Sólo tengo una pregunta—¿porque no hay churros así en los Estados Unidos? Los churros de España son para mí un símbolo de todas las cosas que simplemente no se puede experimentar en mi propio país. Por eso, hay que explorar otros partes del mundo para disfrutar completamente de la vida.

    16144907_1107845046007940_1299262682_o.jpgSpanish churros con chocolate put American churros to shame. 10/10 the best thing I ate in Spain.

  9. Lo más importante son los amigosPara llegar a Gradada, teníamos que tomar un viaje en autobús de 5 horas. Pensaba que el viaje sería largo y desagradable, pero lo disfruté mucho debido a la compañía de mis amigos. Fue la primera vez que las siete personas en nuestro grupo viajamos juntos en un coche, y conversamos y reímos la mayoría del viaje. Voy a mantenerme en contacto con todas las personas que conocí aquí.
    These are some really cool people :)
  10. La bailarina de Flamenco
    A street dancer in Sevilla. The beauty and strength of her movements were breathtaking.

    En Sevilla, encontramos en una esquina una bailarina de flamenco. De inmediato, estaba muy impresionada. Sus movimientos eran fuertes, equilibrados, energéticas, confidentes. Quería tener la misma actitud en mi vida que ella mostró en su baile. Tuve una experiencia similar cuando vi por primera vez las paredes del Alhambra; me quedé boquiabierta a la complejidad elegante y abstracta de los diseños. Mi viaje a Granada y Sevilla me enseño que la cultura no es necesariamente algo hereditaria. Hay arte que es un poco más universal—puedo aprender o disfrutar de la belleza y contribuciones de personas que vivían hace siglos, o al lado opuesto del planeta. Es tan importante aprender del canon de conocimiento de los otros.

    The flamenco of Sevilla and the architecture of the Alhambra are some of the most beautiful pieces of art I’ve ever seen. I was amazed that artwork created by people who lived continents or centuries away could resound so much with me. It just goes to show how important it is to look beyond just your own culture to appreciate all the beauty there is in the world.

Espero que ustedes hayan disfrutado de las fotos!

PC: Thanks Jiyoung!

(Psssst: if you know any friends who wouldn’t say no to a month exploring Madrid, you should tell them about the program, and tell them to apply for the scholarship! It’s a super awesome program that not enough people know about :)