CIEE MADRID LIBERAL ARTS PROGRAM - NEWSLETTER #3
2016 commemorates the 4th centennial of Cervantes' death, the famous author of one of the most important books ever written, Don Quixote. For this reason, this year has been labeled as "Año Cervantino" (Cervantes' year) to encapsulate all the events and activities related to this important writer all over Spain. Cervantes was born in a little town not far from Madrid, Alcalá de Henares, site of one of the oldest and most prestigious European universities (where CIEE has a summer program). Thus, it was the perfect occasion to visit the town as a complement to our previous daytrip to La Mancha following the steps of Cervantes' character.
Students were surprised by the charm of Alcalá; its quiet streets surrounded by ancient buildings invited them to travel back to the 17th century when the novel was first published; its welcoming population showed their pride of this little city that played an important role, culturally speaking, in the past. The group visited the university's old buildings, the old corral de comedias (one of the oldest theaters in the world), and the house where Cervantes was born in 1547 and many other sites that resulted in a happy discovery for the group of students.
Pedro Almodovar is the most well-known Spanish filmmaker outside of the country. Winner of two Academy Awards, his films are studied in many universities and are the subject of many International conferences. Thus, attending his new film release was a special occasion for our students who love movies. "Julieta", Almodovar's latest motion picture, is a story where women have an active and protagonist role - as is common in all of his films - but also an excellent portrait of pain, guilt, and remorse. Based on three short stories by Canadian author, Alice Munro, the movie is a good example of Spanish idiosyncrasy portrayed by a series of female characters that show the intensity of human relations in Almodovar's universe
Communication across cultures is more difficult than what it may seem at first. Students arrive in Madrid confident with their Spanish as the key tool for an effective communication. Soon, they realize that language is not enough, there is a lot of non-verbal language that they don't understand or misinterpret; cultural dimensions that are unnoticed can create misunderstandings or false expectations, leading to frustration and stress. Thus, a course like the CIEE elective "Intercultural Communication and Leadership" helps students to understand the unseen elements of Spanish culture while comparing them with their own. They learn to appreciate different perspectives, approach reality suspending judgement and be open to difference in a new way.
This course, taught in Spanish, makes them work in reflecting on the study abroad experience and how it makes them mature and grow personally, acquiring the skills that will help them to lead in multicultural environments. The course mixes classes at the CIEE study center with activities outside of the classroom, like visiting Madrid’s largest cemetery as a way to learn about the concept of death in Spanish culture, the traditions linked to it, the idea of the eternal rest and the link to religion, the display of status through tombstones, etc.
Visits to the Royal Palace, LGTBQ quarter, markets, and an ethnic immigrant enclave help them learn not only about customs but also to be more aware of signs of identity and different approaches to daily routines.
Given the successful workshop that Founder and Director of Pygmalion Branding, Javier Iglesias, offered to our students last semester, we invited him again to help students to work on their resumes and cover letters, as well as become familiar with numerous resources for job hunting. The workshop helped students to use new tools to transform a job application into an effective presentation of a qualified job candidate. Working on their cover letters and resumes was also a big part of the session, where the group had the opportunity to learn how to include their study abroad experiences, not only in academic terms, but also as new acquired skills and strengths. Students were very happy with the session finding it very useful for their future plans and taking away a deeper knowledge that will help them when applying for a job.
The good weather invited us to go out and enjoy the outdoors. We all rented a bike and went to the area of Madrid Rio, the new park of Madrid along the Manzanares River. This area used to be a highway and several years ago it was rebuilt underground to use the area as a recreational park, full of sports tracks, green areas, fountains, and a long path for runners, roller skaters and bikers. Next to it, the Matadero de Madrid (the old Madrid slaughterhouse) is now one of the alternative cultural spaces of the capital of Spain, with it amazing movie theater, its exhibition rooms and an excellent offer of theatrical performances. Students visited it learning about the transformation of Madrid, remodeling old abandoned spaces to convert them into areas where young people, like our students, can have access to many cultural and recreational resources.
There is no doubt that our students have a strong interest in urban art. When we take them on tours, they are always asking and photographing all kinds of examples of art that seem to offer a bigger connection with them than the one they can find in art galleries. Therefore, we organize an interesting activity to help them understand much better about urban art and graffiti. For the first half of the activity, they met with urban artist, JEOSM who explained the regulations about painting in the street, the different types of urban art and some of the most famous works in Madrid. After the students got a better perspective and knowledge on the subject, they were invited to paint their own graffiti. To avoid any legal issues, they painted it in the artist studio, allowing their creativity to flow while using spray cans and templates freely.
At the end of the activity, all students received a book about Madrid graffiti as a present to remember their "contribution" to this extended way of artistic expression.
Every year, when the semester comes to an end, we organize a "Re-entry" workshop. This is a very important event for all of our programs since it provides very useful information to the students about reverse culture shock and helps them to prepare their return to the US. Students always assume that returning home will be easy, they do not expect that they could face some distress dealing with mixed feelings and finding themselves out of place even being in their own culture. The workshop guides the students through the necessary steps to lessen the transition linked to the return, helping them to reflect on the things they want to do before leaving and be prepared for what they might experience once they are back. Through a series of exercises, activities and alumni testimonials, students approach a reality that is completely new for most of them and found it of great help.
Time flies and the Spring 2016 semester is over. Students are done with finals and use their remaining time in Madrid to do all those things they haven't done yet or to enjoy their favorite spots and activities before they leave the country. As a way to celebrate a fantastic semester, we took the group to a final activity to the Amusement Park of Madrid. It was the time to be together for the last time while having fun and laughing endlessly. But we also met at the study center to have some snacks and play our Madrid cultural jeopardy, to test, in a fun way, how much they know about their host city, which is always a popular activity. To put the final note to the semester we prepared the following video summarizing their semester in Madrid/Spain which will help them cherish their memories of an unforgettable time.