In light of the US election, I have been thinking a lot about community, specifically about the Tufts-Skidmore Spain community and how it has evolved over the last few months. Before I got to Madrid I was incredibly worried about how cliquey the program would be having heard several people lamenting this fact. Though closer friendships have naturally formed among certain people, the cohesive community that we have created this semester is astounding. The program itself has built in resources aimed at nurturing community – be it amongst the students, staff and the students, the students and the mentors, or the students and the host family/other Spaniards. Between the mentor meetings and activities, IFG and dinners like Thanksgiving – we are constantly forming and developing relationships amongst ourselves.
Without a doubt IFG (intercultural focus groups) has been one of the most significant contributors to the way I perceive the Tufts-Skidmore Spain community. There are two sets of IFGs, all student IFG and students of color IFG; I love these meetings, and the leader, Genesis so much that I frequently attend both. IFG is a space where I feel incredibly comfortable to talk, to feel, to question or to sit and listen in reflective silence to other people. Specifically, I found that SOC IFG created an opportunity for me to explore my own experience in Spain, one that like everything else is influenced by race. But more than the heavy, complicated and necessary conversations that we have, these meetings also created a platform for me to get to know people who I had no previous relationship with – other than the standard we-are-abroad-together-and-therefore-are-friendly friendships.
After the election, Genesis organized an impromptu “IFG” where students came, sat in a circle on the floor, brought massive amounts of junk food to share and talked about their feelings for about two hours. Sitting there in that circle hearing everyone share their feelings either through coherent sentences or profound silence, I was struck by the love and unity I felt resonating throughout the room. It was incredible; it was the antithesis of all the hate that has been circulating in the digital and physical world. I am not usually one to share my feelings (in fact I frequently forget that other people read these blog posts), but the fact that I am able to open up to people who I have known for only three months is an incredible indicator of the warmth and acceptance that each person on this program exemplifies. I’ve grown to accept that Enrique calls our grammar class a familia and I think that he is right, we certainly have become a family of sorts.
More than just being there for each other, there have been two separate occasions where I have seen the program rally together in solidarity of causes bigger than our little family that congregates at Monte Esquinza. The first, was near the beginning of the semester where almost the entire program – students, staff, and professors turned out to take a photo in solidarity for Indigenous People’s Day. And the second, the #LoveTrumpsHate demonstration we as students organized in Sol this past weekend. For many, the demonstration and all the work that went into it behind the scenes was a necessary outlet to express our shared frustrations at the degradation of American society and of course, a way to be present and stand in solidarity with our friends and family who are living a reality of hate, fear and anxiety that we are simultaneously far away from and unsettling close to. I am so grateful for the people that I have met because of this program, and will be very sad to see the majority of them leave next semester – but me getting another semester in Madrid will definitely ease the pain <3