Friday, December 7, 2012

Olivia Castillo in Madrid

PT Student Olivia Castillo (Class of 2016) is currently studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. Read her passionate account of the beautiful sights, people, and lifestyle of Madrid!

Why did you choose your site?

I chose Madrid, Spain for a number of reasons: I love the Spanish culture, there’s so much to do in this city, and I knew I would have a home away from home at SLU Madrid’s campus.

What did you anticipate? Were you nervous? Excited?

Unfortunately, I think my hopes and anticipations interfered a little with my sense of reality in that I anticipated myself to be a lot more comfortable with the Spanish language than I really was. Although it has not come as naturally as I would have hoped, I am so glad that I am here in Madrid, where I am truly immersed in the language. In the Spanish speaking countries I have traveled to other than Spain, I always try and speak Spanish, but I am always in such a commercial area that I can just “cop out” and proceed to talk in English. Especially within my (only Spanish speaking) host family location, I have truly enjoyed the challenge of learning and improving my Spanish language skills here.

I was really excited to be away from my normal environment—and have a real change in my life. The slower paced, Spanish way of life is great for a typically busy student at SLU. I’ve been able to enjoy things that I may not have time to do while in the states.

What surprised you the most about your experience? What about the other culture surprised or shocked you?
What really surprised me were the Spanish hours of operation. They have a daily “siesta” that takes place in the middle of the workday. Usually, from the hours of 2-5:30pm, all businesses will close up shop and enjoy a large lunch and maybe even a nap. After their daily siesta, the doors open once again and stay open well past 8:00pm. This newfound lifestyle surprised me, but it was a good surprise. I love that I can go to school, spend some time around Madrid, and still run my errands even as late as 9:00pm. I tend to be a night owl, so this way of life is great for me.

What did you see that impressed you the most?

I have truly loved Retiro Park in Madrid. It’s the largest park in the city of Madrid and there really is something for everyone there. I always see kids or teenagers playing soccer, couples canoeing in their row-boats, or families walking through the elegant gardens.

El Rastro is also a really great experience. This is a Sunday market that gathers just about the entire city into about a one mile block radius. It’s packed full of people, trinkets, souvenirs from Madrid, cheap scarves or purses, and even antique paintings or furniture. Some things may be seen as “junk,” but I really see culture and character in the antique items the Madrileños are trying to sell.

Retiro Park

Retiro Park

El Rastro

El Rastro

Can you describe some of the food that you loved best? Any food experiences that didn’t go as planned/well?
I love paella! It’s a typical Spanish meal which I would consider very similar to a stir fry made with rice, green beans, peppers, seafood or chicken, and much more. It’s nice and warm, and some places serve to your entire table. If you bring a table of 5, they will bring out a monstrous size platter of paella for all of you to share! It’s a fun, tasty experience.

Did you make friends with some of the people native to that site? What was that experience like? Did they make you notice things about your own culture that surprised you?

I was actually able to make a whole bunch of friends from Madrid—my entire ESL class. A fellow SLU student, Kacie Black, and I enjoyed teaching English as a second language to adults residing in Madrid. As well as being such caring, genuine people, they truly worked hard to master our sometimes-complicated English language.

They did make me notice a few things about our own culture. I would say that our American culture has a very large impact on the people in other parts of the world. My roommate and fellow SLU student, Colleen Maxwell, conducted a sociology study addressing the opinions of the Madrileños concerning politics in the United States. Her research suggested that the majority of the Madrileños surveyed were very interested in American politics because they felt it had an impact on their life here in Spain.

Aside from the students in my ESL class, I found other Madrileños to be very helpful in my everyday troubles as a foreign student. When I needed help finding the peanut butter at the grocery store, a Madrileña appeared out of nowhere and immediately became the liaison between the grocery store employee and myself. Explaining to the employee “peanut butter is actually really popular in the United States,” I was quickly able to satisfy my craving. I will also never forget the time when a Madrileña walked me all the way down the street to get me to the right location, after I clearly misunderstood the man behind the counter at the bank. And to top it all off, my host mom Mary Paz is wonderful! I’ve loved being surrounded by what seems to be so many genuine Spaniards.        

ELS Class

How were your classes? Did you have the opportunity to take a class that fit into the culture of that site (such as art history of Spain, etc.)?

I have definitely enjoyed my class schedule this semester. The PT course load is very manageable this semester because of the break off of the sciences! I am taking a Latin Rhythms and Dance Class where my classmates and I learn to dance the Merengue, Salsa, Bachata, and Tango. I have loved having the opportunity to show our new dance skills in a popular Salsa Club in the city. The dances we learn are truly part of the current Spanish culture. As well, I liked learning of the backgrounds of each of the dances.

Interestingly enough, our dance professor is also a physical therapist. She works in an outpatient clinic a few days a week where she especially treats dancers, actors, or other art professionals. All of the PT students in the dance class were able to observe one of the therapy sessions.

Would you recommend that other PT students study abroad? Would you recommend your site to them?

I strongly recommend that other PT students study abroad. Knowing that we’ll have a busy professional career ahead of us, it is important to take advantage of the opportunities given to us to see the world, take some time off, and learn something new. I strongly admire Saint Louis University’s encouragement to PT students to study abroad. Although I strongly recommend the SLUMadrid Campus, in my opinion, any abroad location will be worthwhile, no matter where it is.

Fiesta National de Espana (October 12th), which commemorates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s first arrival in the Americas

In front of the Royal Palace

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