Vuelta: Took Flight
By Lauren Velazquez of FIU
Lauren Velazquez is a sophomore at Florida International University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Biology on a pre-med track; aspiring to become an Anesthesiologist. Lauren loves to explore, which gives her the opportunity to not only gain new knowledge but a new perspective. And she is able to do this through John Bailly’s class: Spain Study Abroad: Miami y España: Ida y Vuelta.
Studying aboard has been an unforgettable experience, that has not only shaped me but has altered my perspective in many aspects. You are thousands of miles away from the place you call home and those who you call family. Growing up, in school we are taught that Spain is where it all began, where the Americas were “birthed” from once they were discovered by the Spanish. In many ways, many different things in the Americas were shaped and influenced by the Spanish; even if we want to disagree. Going to Spain was seen as something deeper to me than just taking a class in Spain to experience the food and the beauty the country has to offer. Being in this country was a breath of fresh air to me, offering a landscape I had never witnessed before. This is an opportunity for not just to gain knowledge but to grow as a person. Although we were with friends and a professor we were still alone at the same time. You were free, independent with no worries in the world except for what is the next thing you are going to see. As someone in your twenties in Spain; the possibilities are endless. Young and hungry for an adventure, this trip was the perfect opportunity to seize and give just a taste of what else there is for us to see in the world. Spain study abroad was just a sneak peek.
It is known that some way, somehow the Spanish have influenced the Americas in many different ways; since they are basically the founders of the new land. An example in my scenario, is that I always thought that croquettes were a Cuban dish and that they created. But come to find out, they were Spanish all along! As someone with Cuban origin, I was transported back to my actual origin: where my family had been and started before going to Cuba. I took it as a chance to find myself and who I am and what I derive from. Before this trip and during this trip there were moments where I was left in awe due to the information I found out. Foods, culture, music, and religion that I believed were from Cuba; really had been originated in Spain. It was very shocking to see how comfortable and at home I felt in a foreign country I had never been to before just because there is so much in common with where my cultural identity stems from. Right before arriving to Spain, I found out that my great grandma was Spanish, and she migrated to Cuba. Learning this made me extremely excited to explore and learn about where my family tree comes from. One of the most touching moments I encountered was in Seville visiting Tore del Oro. This was where everything came in and out of Spain from the Americas. From produce, materials and even people. When I heard this, I immediately imagined my great grandparents hopping on a boat sailing off to Cuba after they went through el Tore del Oro where they kept documentations. In that moment, my mind took me back in time; I imagined an extensive line of people wrapping around the tower with so many things in their hands. From objects, food and even animals while waiting for the green light to hop on a boat to the Americas. On the other side of the tower is the water; here I imagined I would see people directing the boats as they arrive back home from the Americas.
A crucial factor in this trip was getting to know the history of the buildings and neighborhoods we visited. Having this knowledge shapes the way you observe your surroundings, the interpretations you have as well as the interactions you experience. Every place that was visited had a meaning. During my visit, I had many moments when my imagination took over as I learned information about the places we went to and buildings we saw as a class. Every place we visited left me fascinated. I feel as if every corner you turned you see their history, the good and bad (portrayed as good) as well as the pride and passion for their country. In was specifically seen in Barcelona with the flag of Catalunya. Before visiting Barcelona, I was completely clueless to the fact that they independent from Spain. Catalunya has their own flag that is inspired from the Cuban flag. It has a blue triangle with a white start, with red and yellow strips. The story of how the red strips happened resembled a fairy tale: “Louis dipped his fingers in Guifré’s blood and dragged them down the shield.” said Robert Hughes. But again, the inspiration of making it look the way it is came from Cuba and the desire they have for independence. The passion Cuba has to reach independence is seen around the world and Catalunya had the same passion. It was remarkably interesting to see how different they are from the rest of Spain despite being a part of the same country. Their pride, passion, and love for being part of Catalunya is shown by its people: representation of their flag, claiming to be from Catalunya (not Spanish), as well as speaking Catalan. This is what shocked me the most; the fact that they even have their own language. It was intriguing to see how separated Catalunya was from the rest of the country. In a way, it felt like I left Spain to a different European country.
I came to learn that there are many different tales that the Spanish have for how some things came to be. These tales are tradition to them and their identity. It kept me on my toes waiting to see what was going to be the next tale being told by Professor Bailly. There was even a tale on why the rocks in the mountains of Montserrat look the way they do; they were sawed by Angels that came down from the heavens. Hiking Montserrat and getting up on the rocks carved by Angels was one of the most unforgettable moments on the trip. I have never been one to be athletic, or into sports and much less into outdoor activities to be completely transparent. Before that moment I never saw myself as one to hike, or to even get on top of a mountain, due to my fear of heights. But this trip was a trip for adventure and before leaving Miami I was determined to get over my fear and try something out of my comfort zone. During the journey, you are surrounded with nothing but nature: trees, twigs, leaves, rocks, birds and even the sound of the wind. This is a change of scenery compared to what is experienced back at home. Being disconnected from everything with just one goal in mind: get to the top. On the way up there were many moments when I cursed my life away (although it really was not that bad to get to the top) but at the same time appreciated mother nature and the way I felt embraced and safe with how she surrounded me. Once I arrived at the top, I have never felt so free spirited in my life. I was so proud of myself; I had doubted myself the whole time thinking I could not have done it. In that moment, looking over the rocks, being able to see miles and miles into the distance: everything stood still. I had done it, I was there; anything was possible, and anything is possible. To me this was one of the most impactful experiences on the trip. It showed me that I have the ability do whatever I set my mind too, which is an important and very useful skill for someone in their twenties. These were one the moments and experiences I was hoping to find on the trip to Spain with FIU.
The country was also heavily influenced by religion; there were two dominant religions that were seen in the history of Spain: Jewish and Muslim. Before the inquisition, these were the two religions that were not only running the country but have influenced almost everything in Spain. The architecture in Spain has relied heavily on Islamic and Moorish influence. Many of the arches and styles used by the Islamic people that lived in Spain before, are the same buildings that are praised by the Spanish. Some of the most beautiful buildings that carried the most history was those that were Islamic. While on this trip, one of the biggest changes of perspectives I have had was my thoughts on the Muslim religion. Their mosques had the most beautiful tiles as well as words on the walls. All about loving life, trusting God, having faith. None of these words match what the media portrays the Muslim religion to be like. On the media, they show us that is all violence and hatred. In reality, it is the complete opposite. On the trip, some of our classmates were Muslim. This made the experience even better because we were able to have more of a personal connection with the religion when learning about it. We have built relationships with these people, and they have expressed their thoughts and beliefs; which again did not match what the media portrays. Once again, there was a drastic change in my perspective while being on this trip. My experience with the Muslim religion is not even close to what others believe it is. It is such a beautiful religion that I think everyone should be open to learning about and accepting it; create their own moment and experience before agreeing with the judgement of the media, which is not always right.
Whilst being in Spain, I learned that art is also a very large factor in their history. There are many amazing and powerful artists that came from Spain that have influenced artist styles. These artists are also very important to the history of Spain. Two of the most influential artists were Picasso and Diego Velazquez. It is said that Picasso was the artist that invented and spread Cubism. This style of painting was significant because it brought the idea of time and motion to painting. Before this, everything was still: only one moment from one perspective that was being captured. With Cubism, there was more than one moment captured at once. This made it possible for the audience to form their own thoughts and perspectives on the piece instead of a fixed portrait. One of the most famous pieces is: Guernica. This piece had traveled before it got to its home in Spain. This painting was a representation of the effect the bombing in Spain caused to its citizens. This horrific event is now one of the most powerful paintings. Seeing this piece in person truly was life changing. To start, the size of the painting is extremely overwhelming; it seems to grasp you. And just when you think you have looked at it long enough to see it all you have not, there is always more that Picasso must show you. There are many different aspects of the event that he shows you; it is up to the audience to distinguish what is outside and what is inside. It is seen how not only women, children and men were affected but even the environment around them. Just looking at the painting made you feel consumed by it and as if you were present in the moment. You were able to feel the emotions; the pain that was felt by the mothers that lost their children. The fear that the people felt in the moment of the event. As well these were one of the moments that will stick to me, I have never had art make me feel the way the bombing of Guernica by Picasso made me feel.
Overall, studying abroad in Spain was an unforgettable experience; full of adventure and beautiful memories and a beautiful class.