It’s 2:34am and I should be asleep before my flight to Barcelona tomorrow morning but instead I spent the past hour talking to a friend back in Boston about their significant others. We talked about the current mentality that our generation has regarding courtship, chivalry, and respect— people seem to rush into relationships because they’re lonely and expect sex like it’s a God-given right. My friend went on to tell me about how her mom and dad’s love story from their adolescent years.
Liu was the daughter of a factory worker who fought for her chance to go to high school. The eldest of several daughters, she as an average-at-best student who started at the bottom of her high school class and worked diligently for three years ending in the top 1% of her class. She eventually went to the top regional university in China. Thousands of miles across the world, he was the son of a Princeton-Columbia educated lawyer studying abroad in China while at Dartmouth undergrad. The two of them met on a bus…passed by each other on the streets…went separate ways…reconnected years later and dated long distance for 7 years. They’ve been happily married for almost thirty years and have two children.
I’m not doing their story any justice because there are so many missing details but listening to how they courted each other for 7 years on two different continents— it was better than any Nicholas Sparks novel. My friend then told me her own story about her Hong Kong/Singapore/Boston romance. Two lovers born in the same cities, moving at the same time to new cities only to meet after 18 long years. Maybe it takes going abroad to find love, but I wouldn’t bet on my own Lizzie McGuire adventure.
What I find culturally fascinating about Madrid is that kids my age don’t seem to have the same hookup culture that Americans do. Roughly 70% of adults 19-29 live at home with their parents and most people that age don’t have cars. It’s really hard to being home a stranger to have sex with them in your parents’ house and there’s nowhere else to do it if you don’t have a car. The saying, “If there’s a will, there’s a way!” certainly is true here because the repercussions of the ailing Spanish economy keeping kids at home is that many twenty-somethings are coupling off out of convenience. I find this whole economic/social/psychological chain of events to be fascinating, how a recession affects sexual behavior.
I also love that families are still close knit here in Spain. While wandering the streets of Barcelona I came across a man and spent some time talking to him about the family dynamic. He has a 26-year-old son who still lives at home and has moved to a new law firm as a lawyer and in a few years maybe he’ll move out. The man himself has never lived more than a 10-minute walk away from his parents’ apartment. You don’t hear that very often anymore in the US because kids go away for college and they stay leading families to spread apart.
My observations thus far are a big part of studying abroad. My program director Susan was correct in saying that studying abroad and integrating into a culture has to be an active process. You have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations, get lost, talk to locals, figure out why things are the way they are. I only have nine weeks left in Spain and I plan on enjoying every moment and maybe, just maybe at the end of my time here I can say that Spain has changed me.