Today, I watched as the new Hillsdale freshmen class said goodbye to their parents at convocation. After hearing my classmates and friends give their advice to an anxious group of new freshmen, I tried to imagine what had been going through my head as I had said goodbye to my mom just two years ago. I can see it now, just like it had been yesterday, clearly in my mind. My mom, who had decided to come with me all of the way from CA to settle me into college in MI, was in tears. As the embarrassed new freshman that I was, I realized that I was one of the only students who wasn’t crying. I was embarrassed because I was not in tears over leaving someone whom I was close with, because I hadn’t thought that I would miss my mom too much, and I was almost glad that I would have time away from my parents to be able to live on my own. Now, looking back onto that memory, I can tell that I have changed substantially. Change in the very best sense.
Over the course of my freshman year, my pride was challenged. I was no longer the super-star on the basketball team. No longer was I the talkative girl in AP Gov who had always seemed to know the answers. Nor was I still the girl with the biggest family. Coming to terms with this situation showed me that I had the opportunity to rebrand my name at this school. I started to understand that it didn’t matter where I came from, whether my family was large or small, whether I came from a close family, or a broken one, whether I was popular or socially inept in high school. What did matter was my willingness to learn, and how I treated the people with whom I came into contact. I realized that this small change in scenery–I still was in the United States of America, everybody spoke English, and many people had similar Judeo-Christian beliefs–was large enough to erase the connotation of my name. Through this experience, I was able to start empathizing with other people who had had to leave their homes and create a new one.
During my sophomore year, I really started to miss my mom. I noticed that I really wanted to be like her in many was. Throughout my childhood, I took the sacrifices and the Love from my mom for granted. I expected her to drive me places, to cook me incredible meals, to buy me clothes and shoes, and to be there for me whenever I messed up. But, because she had never said “no,” and chosen herself above me, I never expected anything different. I was not the only one who was blessed enough to receive her attention and care. Seven other people in my family received the same amount of sacrifice and Love–my six other siblings and my dad. Outside of the family, with the remaining time or energy, she always had tried to act justly, and show Jesus’ Love to others. These qualities, because of their physical absence from my life at college, vividly stood out to me in my memories.
It was not until after I came back from my months in Spain that I realized how difficult it must have been for my mom to acclimate herself to another country, with a different language and overall way of life. At least I had moved within the US when I went to college. But my mother had to adjust her lifestyle in a completely different way. She valued the things which really mattered–the way she valued her faith and her treatment of others–and let everything else fall into place. She created a home with her husband, in which she has served tirelessly and endlessly, always making sure her loved ones have everything they need, and even much more. She realized that cultural norms, or following the mob, really comes last in the priority list to making her family feel loved, and ensuring that they know that their Creator Loves them even more than she.
Today, as I watched the new Hillsdale freshmen class said goodbye to their moms at convocation, I envisioned my first goodbye to my mom. At that point, I could never have foreseen the amount of knowledge I would have gained from two whole years at Hillsdale on my own, and even more invaluable lessons from my adventures in Spain. I look back to that moment and laugh at my ignorance and pride. But I also glance at my progression in my relationship with my mom throughout the years, and smile. Boy, I am so lucky to have a mom who has loved me and will continue to love me forever. Now I know that our reunion over Parent’s Weekend will be overflowing with emotion, and I can’t wait to embrace the blessings which will fall upon our relationship.
The first time I tried to write about Spanish culture, I hadn’t really fully experienced Spain. I tried to give my followers what I thought they wanted. After two whole weeks in Spain, I thought that I could give an accurate description of the traditions and customs with which many, if not all, Spaniards identify. But, now that I had been in Spain for three months, I have realized that my report was made prematurely. I hadn’t stewed in the Spanish fragrance for long enough to soak in any understanding of their Mediterranean life. Now, after coming home to the US after being in Spain for three months, I recognize that I still probably am not qualified to evaluate their whole culture, and what defines these people. But, I hope that I can share some of the cultural norms and attitudes that these people have in common.
The first thing that really stood out to me is that the Spanish people are really practical. When they work, they really work. And when they take time off of work, they don’t think or worry about work. Half-way through the summer, my leg had been bothering me. I thought that maybe I had torn something, and wanted to see a doctor just in case. After I called the office, asking for an appointment, I was scheduled in with a muscle specialist for just the next week. After my preliminary appointment, the doctor scheduled me to get an MRI the following week. Each visit was quick–at the preliminary appointment, the doctor asked me questions, checked my leg, and right away set-up my appointment, and at the MRI appointment, the doctor doing the procedure gave me an answer immediately after (nothing was seriously damaged). At both visits, the doctors were eager to help and there was hardly no wasted time. I have no doubt that these doctors also took time off from work. In Spain, there are countless little cafes in the towns. During the summer, tables are set up outside so that people can enjoy their drink and a little snack outside. After breakfast, and before lunch, these cafes are filled with customers. And at night after dinner again. Spanish value friendship in such a way that they will meet with different friends at these cafes many times a week, if not every day.
Along with being practical, and setting aside time for friends during the day, the Spanish are overall outwardly friendly. When you walk into a small store or building, if you don’t say good morning or afternoon, people usually think you are not from the country. When I went to city councils with my host mom, whenever we would walk through the door she would say, “Buenas” (short for good day), and everybody, or almost everybody would respond. Not only is this a nice action, but it shows that you have entered, and it lets the people working now that you have arrived. In this way, it works as a conversation starter, a way to show everyone else you’re friendly, and a way to announce your presence and position in line.
In Spain, and I think in the rest of Europe, gasoline is highly expensive. Many households just own one or two cars, and try not to drive if they can help it. At one point, the gas here cost twice as much as it did in California. Therefore, many people take the bus. It is quite simple to use the buses, and this form of public transportation is rather common. Because of the culture of openness, the buses are hardly ever quiet. When people walk in, they say hello. And if you live in a small town, many of the people on the buses will have the same schedule, so after a couple of trips, people will make friends and talk.
I have really enjoyed my time in Spain. I have fallen in love with the culture and the people. I realized that most of the time when I thought somebody was giving me a dirty look, they had only been curious because I looked different. But after I said hello and talked to them, asking for directions or commenting on the day, they lit up with a smile and shared a story or two with me. If I asked for directions to something they didn’t know, they would shrug their shoulders and then tell me where else to go and wish me luck. I think that sometimes, the outsiders that people had come in contact with destroyed their image of the outsider in general. Sometimes American travelers aren’t the nicest or most thoughtful. These especially obnoxious travelers may have made fun of the Spanish culture, or may have purchased things from the illegal clothing stands on the beach, supporting the Spanish gangs. So only being exposed to this version of a traveler has tarnished their view of other peoples and cultures. But once you break through that preconceived notion, Spanish are generally welcoming and accepting. Because of this, I have made many friends in Spain. From the gym, other Au Pairs, the Church, and friends of friends, these people have greatly shaped my experience in their country, and have helped brand Spain on part of my heart.
This weekend, I hopped on the bus and visited Madrid. When I arrived, I was immediately stunned by the size of everything. All of the buildings were very grand, and the streets were wide and long as well. For the past two three months, I had been living in a small town with small streets and such, so this was quite a welcomed change. My plans for the trip were small–I wanted to see Toledo, watch a Flamenco dance, go to a Bullfight, and tour the King’s castle, but besides that I did not have any expectations from my trip.
During my trip, I visited Toledo, which was the episcopal seat of Visigoth Spain. The town was about a half an hour from Madrid, and walking around the town did not take too long as well, making the visit really accessible. Built on a hill, the town realizes a close-to-Platonic vision of the medieval town, with the city protected by walls and an outside river. At the center of the city, a Cathedral strongly stands. Before the Muslim rule in Spain, a Catholic church lay at the same exact place as the Cathedral now. When Muslims took over Toledo, they tore the church down and replaced it with a mosque. In 1085, the city was reconquered by Alfonso VI, King of Leon and Castile. The mosque was converted into a Catholic Cathedral, which was then recognized by Pope Urban II as the primate cathedral over the rest of the kingdom in 1088. Then, in 1222, the Pope authorized the construction of a new Cathedral. This Cathedral is the one which people see today. Built in high gothic style, the Cathedral was grand and beautiful. On the outside, the Cathedral draws attention with its spires and dome, and on the inside, it inspires the sinner to pray with high ceilings and beautiful artwork. My favorite part of the Cathedral was a statue of Mary smiling down at baby Jesus. Her face was filled with Joy, and was depicted as much more emotional than many other statues of her and her child. After visiting the Cathedral, my friend and I had a traditional lunch, choosing our meal from a menu of daily specials, and starting and finishing with gazpacho and flan.
At night, my friend and I saw a Flamenco dance. We went to a cafe which hosts the dances, and watched what could be shortly described as a lot of yelling, stomping, and arm flailing for an hour. In a longer description, the dancers all took their turns and improvised a routine. A classic guitarist laid down the music, while a caller sang for the dancers in almost a Turkish way. The dance itself was similar to tap dancing, but each dancer personalized their routines with their looks of determination and the style of their arm movements. Each dance was a mixture of speeds, moving from slow bodily movements and meditation, to rapid and crazy movements.
On Saturday, I walked around the center of Madrid. I visited the Cathedral, the Palace, and numerous plazas. The Cathedral was beautiful. On the outside, it seemed a little plain, with stone statues, but on the inside it looked completely different. There were many chapels made especially for certain religious orders. The ceiling had really neat art and wood work. The Palace was unexpectedly gorgeous. I had to wait in a line for more than half an hour, but it was definitely worth it. I saw armour from numerous kings, and some really neat rooms, with golden and silver decorations. What really surprised about the palace was its size. Everything was so big. In one of the rooms, we saw a huge table for the special dinners, and it was neat to stand there and see everything how it was in the past. The Plazas were also neat and large.
On Sunday, I saw a Bullfight. I was really excited because I had read and studied so much about Bullfighting in my Spanish classes, and I was finally going to be able to witness one in person. When we arrived to the arena, many stands were set out selling candy and seat cushions for the audience. Everybody seemed like they too were really excited to watch the fight. In the arena, people were preparing the circle for the fight, painting white lines which gave the bullfighters a way to see the distance to the gates for safety. The actual bullfight was really neat. But it was hard to watch for two main reasons. The bullfighter placed himself in many dangerous situations. These bulls, which were considered small, were huge! They looked so strong, with their huge muscles and bodies. They also seemed hard to read, acting in spontaneous ways. Every time the bull came close to the bullfighter, I got nervous. The second reason why it was hard to watch was for the bull. Sometimes the bull would really strong and live in pain for awhile instead of dying right away. It was the job of the bullfighter to kill it completely by stabbing a knife through the head after he already had been stabbed by a sword through the heart. But sometimes the bull would keep on fighting while it struggled through the pain, and it was impossible to get close enough to stab it in the head with the knife. It was difficult to watch it suffer in this way. I have heard both arguments about Bullfights. People advocate for keeping bullfights as it preserves parts of the history and tradition of Spain, but watching this event also gave reason for people advocating its termination, as it is painful for the bull.
Overall, my experience of Madrid was a complete one. I ate Spanish food, saw major places in Madrid as well as Toledo, watched a Flamenco dance, saw a Bullfight, and hungout with some locals. I greatly enjoyed my visit, and this weekend will add to my difficulty in leaving Spain just next week.
This week, my friend and I went to the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria in Poblet, Tarragona. This monastery, which was only about a half an hour drive from Tarragona, was spectacular. The whole drive to the monastery set up grand expectations for the monastery itself, and they were met and exceeded. From the outside, the monastery did not seem large at all, but after passing through the surrounding walls, we were surprised by the size of the monastery. Large walkways, tall ceilings, and tall and thick walls brings to attention the beautiful Romanesque architecture. But, instead of being decorated in a really ornate way, the builders of the monastery had focused on simplicity, so as to not create a distraction for the studious monks. It was in this simplicity, however, which demonstrated beauty.
In 1150, the monastery was founded by monks of the Benedictine order. This monastery is one out the three Cistercian monasteries which belonged to the Crown of Aragon. While we took a tour in the monastery, we were surprised to see the tombs of many of the Kings and Queens of Aragon in the church. The remains of Edmundo de la Croix, Alfonso V of Aragon, Enrique de Trastamara, Martin I of Aragon, Francisco Roures (archbishop of Tarragona), Juana of Aragon, the children of Pedro IV, and other children can be found in tombs in two arches in the church, among others. On the outside of these tombs, sculptors designed full-life images of them, to remind the public of who had been buried there.
During our tour, we noticed that some of the statues were damaged, while others looked like they were unblemished. The tour guide told us that in 1835, the Prime Minister during the rule of Isabella II, Mendizabal, ordered the closing of all of the monasteries in Spain, and opening the land up to the public. The added property was seen as a source of wealth to the country because the monasteries were not compensated for their loss, but this decision just ended up in vandalism to the monasteries with heartbreaking loss to paintings and other valuables. In 1935, the land was returned back to the church. And in 1940, Italian monks of the same order came and reoccupied it. Ever since the reopening of the monastery, the monks have been working to replace the stolen and broken pieces.
Now, the monks work and study throughout the day. The monastery is the home to twenty-seven professed monks, one oblate, two novices, and one familiar. Throughout our visit, I was in awe of all of the rich history of the monastery. The silence and tranquility helped make the experience a peaceful and meditative one. I couldn’t help but envy the monks in their peaceful study environment, away from all of the noise of the world, but still in contact with other people and visitors. I’m sure I will take back some of the things I learned from this visit, and value moments of silence in the future.
In the south of Catalonia, many people would recognize Salou right away. During spring break, many tourists from England come and party the entire week at the elite clubs in this city. They totally embrace the Spanish schedule of staying and waking up late. In addition, in the summer, the beaches are packed with sunburnt tourists, leaving behind trash and other unwanted pollutants in the water. Even though this city does have appeal (there are many nice cafes on the sand by the water, and there are many good restaurants), just one city down along the coast hosts a calmer, and I’d argue better, experience. Cambrils, a city with great camping spots near the sea, clean beaches with at least some waves, and a family friendly downtown area, among other things, is sure to paint a better picture of Spain. With more locals enjoying the many beaches, you will be sure to get a more accurate representation of Catalonia’s unique culture.
Cambrils has a great appeal for active people. With many water sports available along the coast, you can enjoy the sea and workout at the same time. There are places to rent kayaks, wind surf, paddle board, and parasail. In addition, many of the large sidewalks have bike lanes, and these are always used. In the mornings and afternoons, plenty of runners run alongside the paths.
If you want a vacation filled with relaxation, the downtown area is perfect. You can go shopping in the many clothing, jewelry, and shoes stores. During the summer, these stores put out their summer clothes on sale so that many of the tourists buy many clothes. Also, like Salou, you can find plenty of good restaurants. In the downtown area, restaurants line the sidewalks. In the evenings, families and friends dine in the outdoor areas of these restaurants, with a view of the ships in the port. After dinner, you can have dessert at the many ice-cream places, gofre restaurants (a really good type of waffle), or creperias.
Besides sports, the beach, and restaurants, Cambrils has some rich history as well. In the city, there are old Roman buildings. In addition, there is an old watch tower set up in the middle of the port, which was built in the 17th century to keep watch over pirates. The last pirate attack was in 1799, and the tower right now forms a part of the Cambrils History Museum.
If you are looking for a tranquil, family-friendly place to relax, I highly recommend visiting Cambrils!
Jessica De Gree
Jessica teaches 5th grade English and History as well as 11th grade Spanish III at a Great Hearts Academy in Glendale, AZ. In addition to teaching, she coaches JV girls basketball and is a writing tutor for The Classical Historian Online Academy. Jessica recently played basketball professionally in Tarragona, Spain, where she taught English ESL and tutored Classical Historian writing students. In 2018, she received her Bachelor's degree in English and Spanish from Hillsdale College, MI.