On January 4th I left Houston to begin my semester abroad. After a few nerve-racking snags at the beginning of my trip (no amount of planning can foresee an airport parking meter swallowing your mom’s credit card), I settled in for my two-flight trip to Spain. Fourteen hours of traveling felt like a long time, but I made it feel a little bit shorter by reminding myself that the limited legroom and airline meals would be far outweighed by the semester I had ahead of me.
When my flight landed at the airport in Madrid, I met up with another Temple student, Faith, to make our way to the hotel where the group stayed during our week-long orientation. We spent the rest of the day meeting other students in the program and exploring the area around the hotel. We arrived on the day before El Día de los Reyes, which for children in Spain is similar to Christmas Day in the United States. The decorations and activity both added to the excitement of our arrival and showed us how culturally important the holiday is in our host country.
During our orientation week, the group visited famous sites in Madrid and several nearby cities, and our tour guide Jerry explained a lot of the history and cultural significance of the buildings and art we saw. One of the places we visited was Segovia, which still has an aqueduct that was constructed around 2,000 years ago, when the city was part of the Roman Empire. I found it difficult to wrap my head around how old it was, but long-standing structures are a common theme in Spain. The wide variety of art and architecture reflects the country’s long and complex history, which I hope to understand better by the end of this semester.
We also spent a day in Toledo, the city that appears in many of the paintings by one of Spain’s most well-known artists, El Greco. Before we began our tour, we stopped at an overlook to view the city from the same perspective that El Greco used during the 16th century. Toledo is a great example of Spain’s many cultural influences, as its most prominent architecture includes its cathedral as well as Islamic-influenced bridges and buildings.
During our six days in Madrid and the surrounding areas, I learned more about Spain’s history than I anticipated. The orientation week wasn’t just a history lesson, though, because with each tour or visit to a historical site I learned something new about the country’s culture. Both in class and in everyday conversations since I arrived in Oviedo, I’ve heard people make references to some of the artists, works, and historical periods that we learned about from those tours. While visiting some of the most famous places in Spain, I felt as though I was beginning to orient myself in the history and culture of the country that I’ll be getting to know more closely for the rest of the semester.