¡Buenos días a todos! My name is Christina Igl and I am a senior majoring in Arts & Humanities and Spanish with a minor in Peace and Justice Studies. I am currently studying abroad in Valencia, Spain for the duration of spring semester. While I am taking classes and earning college credit, the learning that I have found most valuable has been outside the classroom. Through this program I am immersed in the Spanish culture by living with a Spanish family, participating in community festivals, events, and organizations, while also interacting with Spanish students my age.
Spain is a culturally diverse country with an equally diverse history. This diversity is easily visible in all facets of life in Spain. Everything from the architecture to the daily customs are shaped by influences of the Visigoths, Celts, Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Muslims. Cathedrals are built on top of mosques that were built on top of cathedrals and so on. Spain is currently divided into autonomous communities with their own political power and language (even though Castellano Spanish is still widely spoken). These autonomous communities are further divided into 50 providences, each with their own history and traditions.
So why am I sharing this?
I am living what I learned in my studies at Michigan State. Spain’s past is still incredibly visible in the present. Of course, Spain is not the only country whose past affects its present… it’s much easier for me to observe, study, and discuss this concept in Spain than in my home country. I have the opportunity to see Spain as an outsider, maybe causing me to be more objective in the connections I make. As time passes, I find myself becoming more of an insider in the Spanish culture, which in turn, helps me to look at culture in the United States with a more critical eye. I have something to compare it against.
Language study is another area where my coursework, experiences in Spain, and policy in the United States intersect. A variety of languages are spoken in the United States and this variety is a hot topic in politics. There are arguments for and against making English the official language and placing restrictions on what foreign languages are allowed to be spoken within the U.S. borders. Spain is a wonderful case study for this situation. There are multiple co-official and recognized languages spoken in Spain such as Castellano, Gallego, Catalán, Aranés, and more. Spain is able to maintain plurality of language, politics, and culture and still be one country, a feat not easily accomplished, but achievable. Through living in this wonderful country, I have seen peace and justice in action.
There is no way to capture all that I have learned on this study abroad program, no way to measure the critical thinking skills and expansion of my view of the world and my place in it. I do know that I will be taking these skills with me beyond graduation and implementing them in both my professional and personal life. Culture is such an important aspect of interpersonal relations and an essential way to achieve peace and justice in the world is to have an understanding of how culture functions in our lives.