Non incautus futuri

A Washington & Lee junior and Marine Officer Candidate in Spain

Archive for September 2011

Parents Visit, Homesickness Ensues

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My parents came to Spain!

This is no small feat, since Alicante is a little over 4,000 miles from my house in Raleigh, NC. My folks spent a few days in Madrid, and then took a train to Alicante. It was a really good time — we sipped coffee in el barrio, walked along the palm tree-lined explanada, went up to the medieval Santa Barbara castle, and generally just bummed around.

I have to say, the experience seemed a little surreal at some points. I think it’s natural for people to build little boxes that they place their lives in. People like order, and one of the best ways to create order is to compartmentalize. So people have personal lives and work lives. In my case, I’ve got my life in the United States and my life here in Alicante. I’ve got all my friends back home in the one box, and my friends over here in the other box. And along with people, I’ve got ideas and experiences — they go in the boxes too.

Having my parents in Spain completely shook up all those mental boxes. It was fun, but it wreaked havoc on my mind. Dinner with my host family and my actual family was particularly confusing: I had to transition from speaking/thinking in Spanish to speaking/thinking in English. My host mom would ask me something in Spanish. I would respond, and then recount the conversation in English to my real Mom. Then my dad would tell a story in Spanish, and my brain was forced right back into the other language mode. This went on for several hours.

Since coming to Spain, I’ve experienced a little bit of culture shock, but saying goodbye to my folks was really the first time that I felt a bit homesick. Still, it’s much better now — and I’m only in Spain for a few months. There’s no time to waste being homesick — hay que aprovechar mi tiempo aquí en Alicante. I’ve got to get the very most out of this incredible experience that I can.


Written by Lee

September 28, 2011 at 09:41

Posted in Spain

More Pictures from Spain

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At the suggestion of my friend Amanda, I’m posting more pictures! These are from all over the place — Madrid, Toledo, Alicante, and Valencia — but I never had a reason to post them before.





Written by Lee

September 21, 2011 at 05:06

Posted in Spain


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So, I’ve reached that part of the program where I get to take a real class, with real Spaniards!

TV informs me that my fellow students will all look like this.

Before I could sign up for my UA class, I had a weeklong observation period where I’d show up, audit the class, and figure out if it was going to work out. One particular day, I was auditing a class called “Analysis and Redaction of Spanish Texts.” I figured it was some sort of survey of Spanish literature. Anyway, here’s how it all went down:

5:20 PM: I successfully find the building and then the classroom. I feel accomplished. My successful use of the Campus Map has redeemed my navigational disgrace in Toledo. I go inside the classroom — I’m the first one there. Perfect. I pick a seat in the back.

5:25: People are drifting in. One girl, then a bunch of girls. Then more girls. I have a good feeling about “Analysis and Redaction of Spanish Texts.”

5:30: The classroom is FULL of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life. There is one other guy in the class, but he appears to be with his girlfriend. Several of these women cast glances my way. I am not sure if it is because I am something of an oddity in this female-dominated room, or because I am extraordinarily handsome. I decide to believe the latter.

5:31: I like this class.

5:35: The class has begun. The professor gives a little slideshow and talks very quickly. I lean forward and listen as carefully as I possibly can. It takes a lot of energy, but I’m catching about 95 percent of what he says.

5:50: The professor has handed out worksheets. No big deal.

5:51: The worksheets are in valenciano. It’s a dialect of Catalán, a regional language quite different from Castilian Spanish. WHAT??!

5:55: The students around me are working busily. I stare at my paper and sound out the words, trying to find Castilian meanings for the Valencian sentences. Llengua de parlants o oients reales (pot haver-hi una certa abstracció). Presta atenció a l’oral colloquial.  I have no idea what this means.

6:15: The girl next to me is helping me read. I feel like Adam Sandler in “50 First Dates,” except I really can’t read. I am the classroom dunce.

6:16: I don’t like this class.

The other class I observed, Contemporary Hispanic-American Literature, went much better. There were about 80 students in the class (bigger than any W&L class I’ve ever had — there were people spilling out into the aisles!) and many of them were foreigners (several Italians, a couple Americans, some French, and a Belgian to my knowledge).

The entire two hours were spent with the professor lecturing. There was very little student input, which apparently is typical in Spanish universities. But the material was fascinating and the professor seemed really knowledgeable. She speaks really quickly, but I’m able to follow about 98 percent of it. I think I found my UA class…

Written by Lee

September 19, 2011 at 14:26

Posted in Spain

Spain is Different: Part I (The Spanish Barber)

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For a while now, I’ve been making little notes on the ways that Spain is different from the United States.

Spain has a different flag than we do!

DISCLAIMER: I’m trying to stay away from stereotypes here, so keep in mind that anything I write is purely anecdotal, based on my limited experiences here in Alicante. What is true for one person or one city may not be true for a whole population or a whole country. But I do wish to share some of those experiences I’ve had. So I will be recording these in multi-part posts entitled “Spain is Different.”

Some of the differences between España and the United States are blatantly obvious. Their cities are older, they have a different language, they drive cars less and walk more. I want to stay away from the big things and talk about some of the smaller cultural indicators. Like, for example, my first haircut here in Spain.

People who know me well know that I can’t stand when my hair gets long. “Long” for me is actually quite short for most people (my dad once remarked after one particularly short haircut that I looked like I was headed to Parris Island, or prison). But anyway, long hair drives me up the wall. So this week, I went and found a peluquería, or a barber shop. The place was unremarkable, more or less like any barbershop I’ve been to: two barber’s chairs and three chairs sitting against the wall.

But the cut was very different. Whenever I get a haircut in the United States, the barber whips out the electric clippers — ten or fifteen minutes later I whip out my wallet. That didn’t happen here. There was nothing hurried about the cut I got from Manuel, the Spanish barber. I sat in the chair, and he chatted animatedly about his former life as a truck driver in Europe. He used the clippers on the sides of my hair, carefully using another clipper to even the hairline and slice away tiny bits of hair around my ears. Then he used scissors on the top, starting from the side and working his way up. He was cutting only about a centimeter of hair at a time, and I was concerned that he wasn’t going to cut enough. He told me that he was going to cut more, he was just making it even. Indeed, he did the entire upper portion of my hair in this manner. Out came the clippers again, and he made minute adjustments. Then he started all over again…

Several times, he stopped cutting my hair to watch television.

He chatted with customers.

He chatted with the other barber.

He chatted with me.

He asked what America was like, where I lived, what I thought of Spain, was it very different from the United States? I remarked that this haircut was quite unlike the haircuts I got back home — that my haircuts were usually only with the clippers and that they took less than 15 minutes. At this, he looked scandalized. “Aquí en España, es más artesano,” he said. Here in Spain, it’s more of an art. “I am sculpting your hair,” he added.

Almost an hour after I took my seat in Manuel’s chair, I emerged from the peluquería. It took a long time, but I think I got one of the most even haircuts I’ve ever had.

Here, nobody seems to worship at the altar of efficiency and productivity like in the United States. The cultural focus appears to be about quality of life and social interaction, not on material acquisition and economic advancement. Being something of a stickler for punctuality, I don’t know that always sits well with me (read: sometimes it drives me crazy!). But in this case, it was actually really nice.

Written by Lee

September 18, 2011 at 07:32

Posted in Spain

Photos from Valencia

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It’s been a little while since I posted — things have been really really busy here. I promise I am working on a few posts with some substance to them!

My program took a guided tour to Valencia. Valencia is the 3rd largest city in Spain, and it is beautiful. The architecture is incredible, the city is bustling, and the paella is excellent. We went to the city’s central market, and then to the aquarium (largest in Europe, second largest in the world!) I am definitely coming back to this city (we only had a day trip here). Here are some shots from Valencia:

Written by Lee

September 17, 2011 at 15:38

Posted in Spain

Ten Years

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NOTE: This post is a bit heavier than anything I’ve written thus far on the blog. It isn’t about how much fun I’m having abroad, or how much I’m learning. I’m writing about 9/11.

Ten years ago, a small group of determined and motivated fanatics fired the opening salvo in their war against America and our liberal institutions. They did this by hijacking four civilian airliners and crashing them — and their human cargoes — into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and (by the grace of God and the valor of the passengers of United Flight 93) a Pennsylvania field. Just like that, everything changed. Just like that, we were at war.

I was in the fifth grade on the morning of September 11th, 2001, but I can recall exactly what happened that day. We were in class, just starting our day in a Long Island elementary school, when a boy named Daniel Fourman came in late. A helicopter had crashed into the World Trade Center, he said. We shrugged it off. A tragic accident, surely. Hopefully the building wasn’t damaged. A half hour later, the principal told us what had happened on the PA system. Shortly after that, the parents started arriving in droves.

9/11 was a tragedy, but in the wake of its horror came hope and determination. Long Island has never had the reputation of being a very genteel place, and its people aren’t really known for being soft-spoken or courteous. But something changed, at least for a while, after 9/11. People were kinder. They talked to strangers. You could drive around a whole neighborhood and see a flag on every garage door. Uniformed cops and firefighters couldn’t walk into a pizza parlor or a bar without someone paying their tab.

The aftermath of 9/11 also produced great Americans. For them, “a plastic flag in the car window was not their response to the murderous assault on our country.”* No — instead, they loaded themselves into the breech and went to war. Someday, I may have the honor of joining them.

It’s a little hard being so far from my country on this momentous anniversary. There is a surprising amount of coverage of “11-S” (once-ese) on Spanish TV, but I would give a whole lot to be back home for a little bit. I’d like to go to a candlelight service. I’d like to see an American flag. I’d like to be in uniform on Brown Field. I’d like to be with my family.

Since I’m in Spain, I’ll have to settle for finding a church or some other quiet place to pray. I want to ask for the courage to honor the victims of 9/11. And I want to pray for the strength to avenge them.

* This is borrowed from a Veterans’ Day speech by Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly, USMC. It’s worth reading: Honor and Sacrifice

Written by Lee

September 11, 2011 at 03:41

Posted in Marine Corps

Photos from Alicante

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Here are some of the shots I’ve taken since getting here:

Written by Lee

September 7, 2011 at 08:35

Posted in Spain