59 F
Oxford

In Observing Others I Found Myself

A group of students from the School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi recently traveled to Spain for an immersive learning experience that provided rich exposure to Spanish culture and cuisine, while affording myriad opportunities to capture their experiences in written and visual formats.

The majority of the trip was centered in Barcelona, with excursions to other locales during the four-week trip. Leading the program were professors Jason Cain, Chris Sparks, Mark Dolan, and R.J. Morgan – all of whom taught courses in integrated marketing communications and journalism while the group was overseas. 

The students enjoyed many cultural experiences, but they also put in a lot of academic work, too, writing in-depth features, gathering documentary photos, exploring international brands and exploring relevant topics in media studies. 

In a place as beautiful and complex as Spain, each day brought new experiences and amazing photo opportunities. Shared here are some of the images and travel essays the students captured on their journey. We hope you enjoy it.

By Alex Canterbury

IMC student


I.

Walking off the plane in Amsterdam, feeling that good stretch of relief in my leg muscles, I was in a different country mentally almost as much as physically. 

After checking to make sure my transfer gate to Barcelona existed, I visited the nearest café. Browsing the selection of food and drink was my first real immersive experience of Europe. I did my best to communicate my order and then plopped down with my friend Don at the minibar. We were going to be spending the next month together on this study-abroad adventure, and I was excited for all that was to come.  

While we drank, I partook in some people-watching. 

Not a word of the Dutch language can be translated in my brain, so I observed the body language of the couple sitting a few stools down. All appeared well with them. A glowing aura of contentedness lathered their area; pleasant emotions were projecting amid soft smiles and two half-finished glasses of Heineken in front of them. Later, when their glasses were empty, the smiles got bigger. Mid-afternoon in the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport was no time for a siesta; it was a place to let off some steam. 

I hit my connection and, a few hours later, finally reached my final destination. Barcelona-bound no longer, I’d arrived. 

I saw Español everywhere, on everything, for the first time in my life. That was quite wonderful to take in. The sole remnants of the United States of America seemed to live within the group of 20 or so girls and two professors on this journey. I got to know many of them personally while we waited for our ground transportation.

Pau, our Ecuadorian taxi driver, delivered us to our temporary residence. I got out of the cab, turned to grab my—oh my goodness there it was. 

Just a football field’s length away, impossible to ignore, stood La Sagrada Familia, Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudís magnum opus. 

The Sagrada is, well, a church. A massive, towering church that blocks out the view of almost everything around it, and they’re still adding on. Giant cranes were swinging in motion as I stood there taking it all in. 

Construction started in 1882 and the estimated completion date isn’t until 2026. Funding issues were the original problem, but the Spanish Civil war also distorted Gaudí’s intricate vision. Once completed, the central tower, representing Jesus Christ, will kiss the sky at 566 feet, more than twice the height of Paris’s famous Notre Dame. Staggered around this center spire will be 17 others, each representing various religious figures.

It was hard to tear my attention away, but our study abroad representative was ready to give us a lengthy rundown of our new apartment. She spoke so fast, with no noticeable breaths in between, that it seemed she might be a cyborg, built and designed to inform and educate American travelers on the culture of Barcelona.

The whole thing felt overwhelming.

Her summary was so long that it made the United States seem even more obscure and barbaric. She emphasized the city’s focus on recycling and conservation. Though Barcelona is in a drought, it felt like their efforts toward these issues were generally taken even more seriously during the good times. The cleanliness of the city supported that claim too. 

Back home, where resources are plenty, we don’t seem to care so much about such things. I can only hope that Alabama becomes more like Spain in this regard. I’d like my future children to be able to live comfortably.

Nightfall finally fell. Cigarette smoke engulfed our table as we sat and attempted to comprehend the menu of the nearest restaurant from our apartment. The lovely La Bendita

I’ve never tasted a more delicious calamari dish.

II.

A few days later, I again found myself at La Bendita with friends, ordering those same unforgettable calamari.

Cardboard lanterns hung above some tables, including mine. If you gave them a little push, they’d swing a bit. Clearly the front half of the restaurant was for show with windows covering the street-facing entrance. Looking in, a mural was painted on the right wall and a display of wine was stored on the left. A pig with angel wings floated above a pair of green hands. The red thumbnails of these hands faced the red wine across the room. 

Everything was tidy. 

As the visible diameter of my eyeballs expanded in anticipation of the dish being laid before me, I noticed my sleep-deprived waiter. The Pyrenees mountains could’ve been sliced to pieces with the weight of his eye-bags. His hair was trimmed neat. Black curls resided on top of his skull, slowly fading down to a buzz just above the ears. His olive skin was dressed in black apparel, head to toe, and just like the other employees, he was a fine English speaker. 

The restaurant was located directly below my apartment and all of us, these employees and myself, were going about our daily rituals a hundred feet from the Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family.

From that first moment stepping out of the taxi, I’d yet to get the giant church out of my head (or sight, for the most part). Millions of visitors each year feast their retinas upon the facades and unique architecture that make up the iconic structure. Various styles like Gothic Revival, Art Nouveau and Catalan Modernism distinguish the UNESCO world heritage site as one to check off the bucket list. What’s just as impressive resides inside the Catholic church, as the interior features classic Gaudí colors on stained glass windows.  

As I slurped my calamari, a noisy “Barcelona City Tour” bus inched by outside. Every bus had layers of color displayed over a geometric pattern. There was a light drizzle outside, so the top deck seating was sparse.

A table of young American women were seated near the back of the restaurant, the powder blue petals of their tapas plates reflecting their camera flashes. Instagram was their main topic of discussion.

“When should I post?” asked a marble-eyed blonde. She had a red stain on her white shirt, most likely from the sangria she was sipping. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail and held together by a light brown bandana. American.

The waiter prepared himself an espresso shot. He had a long night ahead of him.

III.

Today our group itinerary read: “Free day to recover from travel.” Once I woke up after achieving a decent night’s rest, a feeling of adventure pulsed through my mind. I was still tired and recovery was an option, but I decided on solo day of wandering instead. Mental recovery is sometimes just as important as the physical.

I grabbed a croissant de crema and some fresh-squeezed orange juice from the café downstairs and developed a plan: two stores, one restaurant, one museum. 

As the metro pulled up, my observation skills heightened. There was nobody for casual conversation, only strangers I could glance at. Smells of public sanitization assaulted my nostrils. Cute, elderly Catalonians sat side by side on the train wearing blank faces. Most people had blank faces. The tourists and all their bags were the few bearing expressions. 

I cued up “Subterranean Homesick Alien” by Radiohead in my head as the Metro jolted forward. I was indeed an alien, slightly homesick, underneath a massive city. 

My obsession with the brand SSSTUFFF required a second visit to their brick-and-mortar store. 

Moments after my first arrival, I knew it was probably the coolest store I’d ever been in. If someone had told me I’d find a clothing store in Barcelona with an Asian supermarket theme, I don’t think I’d have believed them, but there we were. 

And now I was back. A Welsh employee by the name of Elliott (or ELLLIOTTT, as I imagined it) was showcasing the latest and greatest that the inventory had to offer. 

Featured at the front of the store were interactive shirts. I found a black one with a thin, rubber snow globe of New York City on the front and a purple one that featured Los Angeles but had flowers instead of snow. 

I picked something fun and tie-dyed. 

IV.

I spent most of my month abroad in Spain, but on our free long weekend, I hopped a flight down to Marrakech. I was taken aback by my experience there, and thought about how it opened new doors to my identity. 

I must admit, homesickness isn’t something I’m too familiar with. No intentions of superiority come with that statement, just curiosity. Old friends, new friends, hangout spots and my piano — all essential components of my normal identity – had now been disregarded for weeks, and I didn’t feel bad about any of it. 

Arriving in an impoverished country like Morocco was eye-opening. Except for a mosque here and there, none of the buildings were any taller than those that make up the Square in my college town of Oxford, Mississippi. Studying the faces of Marrakech’s inhabitants led me to conclude that these folks obviously didn’t have access to much hygienic care or medical treatment. 

And yet, I don’t think we came across anyone who wasn’t at least bilingual. Even the localest of locals knew far more English than we did Arabic. 

“Hello, welcome.” 

“Thank you.” 

“How are you doing?” 

That was the bare minimum. 

But I  knew zero Arabic upon arrival. I knew zero Arabic when I left. Never in my life had I felt so foreign. I was an alien again. 

On the third day, Sunday, American First Lady Jill Biden happened to be in Marrakech as well. 

She was speaking in support of local efforts to empower women and young people, awarding cash grants to non-profit organizations. At the Moroccan government’s National Initiative for Human Development, Biden was showered with Argan oil and other goods and clothing popular in East-African culture. 

It was probably the closest I’ll ever be to a president or first lady, and both of us were thousands of miles from U.S. soil for the interaction. 

As I walked the streets, I noticed most clothes were worn for practical purposes. No effort at style, no fashionistas. Animals in cages lined the streets. Traffic infrastructure was just a suggestion. A homeless man yelled at me. 

I liked it.

Why was I not just okay here, but more at ease than I was back home, or even in Barcelona? These new, unfamiliar surroundings seemed to have increased my wellbeing and lifted my spirits.

I thought about how my ex-girlfriend used to describe how she felt about New York City. 

“In a place like that, you can be anyone you want to be. There is no judgment. Some lunatic will be out in the street, and no one bats an eye.”

Marrakech was resonating with me in much the same way. This was somewhere I could be anyone I wanted to be. I could wear anything, say anything, and dance along the street to music I couldn’t understand. This was some new zone, some headspace of confidence and identity, and I had somehow stumbled upon it. 

I expected a change in mentality, but not to this extent. 

“I feel above myself,” I wrote in my journal. “Being here, I’m like a new person. My demeanor and charisma haven’t changed much, nor my dialogue, but I’m somewhere I’ve never been, and probably won’t ever be again, and that’s awesome.”

Putting myself in this new environment gave me so much perspective with a glimmer of hope for my future well-being and confidence.


Adam Brown
Adam Brown
Sports Editor

Most Popular

Recent Comments

scamasdscamith on News Watch Ole Miss
Frances Phillips on A Bigger, Better Student Union
Grace Hudditon on A Bigger, Better Student Union
Millie Johnston on A Bigger, Better Student Union
Binary options + Bitcoin = $ 1643 per week: https://8000-usd-per-day.blogspot.com.tr?b=46 on Beta Upsilon Chi: A Christian Brotherhood
Jay Mitchell on Reflections: The Square
Terry Wilcox SFCV USA RET on Oxford's Five Guys Announces Opening Date
Stephanie on Throwback Summer
organized religion is mans downfall on VP of Palmer Home Devotes Life to Finding Homes for Children
Paige Williams on Boyer: Best 10 Books of 2018
Keith mansel on Cleveland On Medgar Evans
Brian K Tidball on