I am in a hotel room in Madrid just two blocks away from the Prado (thanks, Mom!) which I am very much looking forward to visiting soon. Jason should be on his way here from the airport, and I enjoyed sleeping in a little this morning before doing a bit more sink laundry (ah, travel! When else do I get to dry a bra using a hairdryer?) and sitting down to blog properly about the past week.
Yesterday was the expected wash of tears and good-byes. I find that a lot of experience at saying good-byes to people I spend a brief, intense amount of time with has rendered me far less emotional and certainly less demonstrative of my emotions than others. There are definitely some people I enjoyed getting to know this past week and others that were a heck of a lot of fun to be around, but we will all move on and go back to reality. At least I will in three weeks. I still, luckily, have a few more adventures left this summer.
While pleasant, this PI was, naturally, different than the one I went to previously. The presence of the Master's students really affected the program. I think this change is actually a good illustration of Spain's economic situation - the business professionals sent by their companies were largely replaced by young adults who can't find a job and so, living at home with parental financial support, are instead working on their fist, second, or third Master's degree.
Of course, the family situations are also cultural - during one group activity Christine asked that anyone who left home at around age 18 raise their hands. Almost all of the Anglos did, including me. The Spaniards reacted with vocal astonishment and disbelief (I wish I could transcribe the "poof" of air from the cheeks and lips with a hand-shake-off gesture that they use for this expression!). Then she asked how many people are still living at home. About a dozen Spaniards raised their hands, this time to the surprise of the Anglos. The closeness, literally, of families in Spain was a much-discussed topic this week. The Spaniards I talked with in one-to-ones couldn't understand my mobile life anymore than I can imagine living in the same neighborhood as not only my parents and siblings, but also my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. The Spaniards all acknowledged that it was an issue, that the unwillingness to leave their hometowns for employment elsewhere was a big part of the economic disaster, but few of them seemed open to the idea of being the first to leave.
In addition to the illustrative change in attendees, the overall youth of the group also changed the social dynamics. The eight Master's students knew each other very, very well, which set up an imbalance from the start. Where before everyone was on equal social footing as strangers, now we were divided between those who were friends already and, well, the rest of us.
A bit to my surprise, I found my high school insecurities flaring up at the presence of a group of young adults who were not only clique-ish, but also good-looking, dressed to the nines, and European. I was apprehensive about doing one-to-ones with them, worried about what we could possibly find to talk about for an hour, worried that they wouldn't want to talk to me.
Which was, of course, ridiculous. Gema, a mid-twenties woman with short skirts, high heels, big earrings, and all of the traits of the girls who wouldn't give me the time of day in high school spent the hour talking about our shared passion for art history and her conflict between doing what she loves and doing "real work" as her parents called it. Carlos, a mid-twenties man in pink shorts, a shirt unbuttoned halfway down down his chest, designer sunglasses, spiked hair, who sat at an angle so he could stretch out his legs and sling one arm over the back of the chair oh so casually; Carlos was fascinated by my observations of body language in the group and we argued over whether handwriting analysis has any scientific merit. Even Juan, the most popular, outgoing, clownish young man with a perpetual beer bottle in hand, spent the hour entertaining me with tales of his sexual exploits in previous Pueblo Ingles programs (the Master's students complete four within 10 months as a part of the degree. This was their last one).
I wouldn't say I am friends with any of them now, but they stopped being an unapproachable group and became individuals I knew and who, to some degree, knew me. Which made me wonder if this could happen in high school. If every student spent an hour speaking face to face with another student - not working on an assignment, but actually talking about themselves or their families or politics or tv shows or whatever; if you had an hour to spend talking with a kid who was completely outside your circle of friends, would the social categorizations and divisions change? Would it be easier to change who you sit with in the cafeteria and harder to make fun of someone you actually know?
I don't know. The rigid divides of high school might not be completely surmounted by a simple conversation, nor do I know how such a thing would be organized. But, as Nadia pointed out at our "graduation ceremony," the relationships and camaraderie of this week happened because it was a week about communication. 45 adults dedicating a week of their lives to becoming better at communicating is unusual, especially between so many different countries and cultures, but it's why doing Pueblo Ingles is so satisfying and so worthwhile.
(It's Sunday now, by the way. Jason actually arrived before I finished that entry, and I wrapped it up instead over breakfast at the restaurant in our hotel. Next up, the tale of our Saturday!)