Yet I’ve noticed a certain a casualness in the Spaniards. The way Antonio tosses the napkins and utensils onto the dinner table, as opposed to setting them down. Many commuters lean against the metro door with a single bent knee. Sunglasses are acceptable indoor accessories. A waiter will show me to my table with a flick of the hand. A bartender says “dime,” (dee-may; “tell me”).  It’s hard to exactly articulate this cool casual air, but many of my American peers recognize it.

–Will Kaplan

"Impresiones Primeros," copper plate engraving by Will

“Impresiones Primeros,” copper plate engraving by Will

As an artist and a writer, Will invites us to see the world from his perspective–it is not an opportunity to be missed. His blog, Marking Madrid, sketches (ha) a dynamic and vivid picture of daily life in Madrid, incorporating his artwork as well as his observations of everyday particulars and pleasures. He is studying on our Skidmore in Spain program and cataloguing his cultural immersion, notably in terms of his language progress: through a series of short posts entitled “Palabras Unicas” (“Unique Words”), he offers insight into the challenges and thrills of delving deeper into a language and, in effect, a culture. Here’s what Will had to say about his experience thus far:

What class year are you? What is your major/minor?

I’m a member of the class of 2017 majoring in English and minoring in studio art.

Is your program related to your focus of study? If so, in what ways? How is it shaping the way you interact with your studies? If it is unrelated, what inspired you to go on this program?

An English major studying in Madrid confuses people, myself included. All the same living in another language has taught me so much; learning Spanish has informed my thinking as much as my speaking. This second language opens my perspective beyond the patterns of my native English.

I chose Spain because it seemed like a culture distinct from my own. Indeed it has been. From my listenings to Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain,” Spanish culture seemed old and traditional. Yet Spain has proven dynamic, flexible, open, which is maybe how it’s survived so long.

Have you encountered language barriers? If so, how have you maneuvered through those situations? (Any funny lost-in-translation moments?) If you live in a city where English is not the first language, have you attempted to learn the native language?

I haven’t (yet)  made a huge fool of myself trying to speak Spanish. Still, the circumlocution used to find the right word can be amusing. My host family chuckled when I used “piscinita” (modifying piscina: pool to create “little pool”) instead of puddle (“charco,” they corrected).

One must be inventive with a limited vocabulary. Taking the long way to articulate my thoughts in Spanish translates to a more creative mastery of English.

What is the living situation on your program? (Homestay, apartment, dorm-style, etc.) How has that impacted your semester and your interactions with the host culture?

Living in a homestay has helped me immerse in the culture. Nightly dinners with host parents Antonio and Luisa give me such a rich taste of daily life. The conversations, the rituals, and the simple details of living in a home are so omnipresent and subtle that they’re difficult to describe.

How is blogging for the Skidmore OCSE office going so far? Does it play a role in how you interact with the city at all?

Those small but illustrative details I can articulate, have been flushed out in full through blog-posting. The obligation to present and reflect on my experience has been a positive force, pushing my observation and participation. When I can think of a few words to describe, sitting down to write it opens the thought wider. Writing is a process of discovery. The responsibility to write has made me explore my experience on a deep level.

How is studying abroad supplementing your education here at Skidmore? In what ways do you think your experiences abroad will enhance and fuel what you learn on campus?

Amidst all my ruminating on the my present experience in Madrid, it’s hard to imagine the future at Skidmore. Undoubtedly the initial on-the-ledge feeling of exploring a second-language city has made me more confident. When I returned from my spring break in Holland, I felt a new ease and appreciation for  Madrid as my home. I expect a similar feeling returning to my real stomping ground on campus.

I of course feel an intense need to soak in my time in Spain. Accordingly, I’m trying to stay present in all moments. The ability to open my senses to my surroundings, and to put aside clocks, phones, and tight schedules will carry over at home, I’m sure.

While challenging, often times draining, studying abroad has been invaluable. The privilege to participate in another culture has been an ineffably incredible experience, one that will continue growing the more I reflect on it.

Thank you!

Read more about Will’s experiences and explorations here!

"Madrid Moderno," by Will

“Madrid Moderno,” by Will