IFG leaders Lucy, Eli and Génesis

They say the best things in life are free, and I think they’re referring to things like love, sunshine, and Fridays. Generally, I agree with “them,” whoever they are with the power to write timeless maxims, but I would propose that they add one more item to the list: Intercultural Focus Groups. Thousands of miles from the people I love, hours after the sun’s descent, and three whole days from Friday, I have happily sat in IFG on Tuesday nights all semester without forking over a single penny. Or euro penny, or however money works here.
And I mean, fine. One could argue that my parents already paid 3,116,131 euro pennies for me to study on the Tufts-Skidmore Spain program this semester, so maybe I’m slightly stretching the definition of free by applying it to IFG, but hey! I took Intro to Econ last fall, so I can assure you that at this point, tuition is a sunk cost. It’s enormous, but it’s done and dusted. IFG is just a cherry on top.
Actually, it’s more than a cherry. It’s several plastic sleeves of chocolate cookies (including gluten-free ones!) placed in white bowls on a long rectangular table in the program center’s cozy library, and it’s the people sitting around the table, too. To be frank, I’m not a big fan of chocolate, but I am a fan of the people sitting around the table. That’s why I keep returning to IFG. For the first several weeks of the semester, the program mandated that every student attend these meetings, and I understand why. We discussed the themes that dominated our days as we got acclimated to Spanish culture; we noted cultural differences big, bigger, and biggest (restaurants charging for water, people speaking very directly, and elevators not having door-closing buttons, respectively).
For what it’s worth (something like two euros), restaurants won’t charge for water if you’re careful. If you master the phrase “un vaso de agua, por favor,” you’ll be spared the indignation for paying for that most vital of fluids. Let me speak directly, though: no force on earth can spare you the agitation of waiting for a Spanish elevator to close.
The average wait time for the closing of a Spanish elevator is about four weeks, and conveniently enough, that’s how long it took for the program to feel confident that all of us students knew more about Spanish life than just paella and bullfighting. They gave us the go-ahead to spend Tuesday nights on our own, but the next week, as 7:10pm drew near, some inexplicable, irresistible force tugged me toward IFG. At the time, I called it procrastination on my literature homework. At this point, I can better name the force. I call it good conversation.
For me, the forces behind that force are two Tufts graduates from the recent past: Génesis García and Lucy Fell. The thing is, those might not be their real names. They might actually be superheroes – English teachers in local schools by day, IFG leaders by night. Admittedly, I’ve yet to see them wear capes; Génesis prefers oversized sweatshirts with leggings, and Lucy sports a soccer jacket, but they possess the extraordinary power to tackle tough topics with grace. In the most recent session, for example, we grappled with the weight of expectations; we compared how we had anticipated spending our semesters with how we have actually spent our semesters. In my case, I confessed that I had intended to speak not a lick of English here.
Little did I know that IFG sessions would be conducted exclusively in English, and littler did I know that I wouldn’t mind. Since the sessions became voluntary, attendance has dwindled to the point that now, a reliable cohort of some four or five students shows up for the weekly cookie/convo combo. I like the intimacy, though. When Lucy jokes about her teenage crushes that didn’t pan out, she makes us laugh without needing to raise her voice even a little. When Génesis replies that you can’t have a relationship with potential, it takes her but a moment to catch the eye of each of us in turn. There is truth in her words, and there is conviction on her face. We temporary philosophers nod in reflective appreciation, and when I say that my semester is better for having attended IFG, I mean it very seriously.
If the best things in life are free, then here’s some free advice. Based on what I learned in IFG this week, expectations can be unproductive. Sure, they give us the illusion of control by shedding some artificial light on future uncertainty, but inevitably, reality will diverge from the comfy figments of our imagination. Thus, future students of the Tufts-Skidmore Spain program, I leave you with this: Come to Madrid with few expectations, and more than anything, go to IFG.

Intercultural Focus Groups (IFG)

                                   IFG Orientation Workshops

As fulfilling and transformative as studying abroad may be, it certainly doesn’t come without its challenges. Tufts-Skidmore’s Intercultural Focus Groups (IFG) are community-building spaces that help students during their first month of the program to develop intercultural tools, skillful attitudes and self-care practices that support your ability to engage cultural difference ethically and mindfully.

IFG is a space for all students to share the joys and challenges of studying and living abroad, and to gain deeper insight into your own heart and mind. Sessions are designed to facilitate your adaptation in your host country, and to give you the opportunity to acquire the tools necessary to be an effective and compassionate intercultural agent. IFG helps you develop transferable relational skills that you will take with you wherever you go, for the rest of your life.

IFG Affinity Groups

Student of Color (SOC)  / Queer & Questioning (Q&Q)

Our identity-based Affinity Groups, which meet throughout the semester, are intended to be a space of support and connection where Students of Color and Queer & Questioning students can discuss questions, concerns, and personal experiences throughout their semester in Madrid. Understanding that students of minoritized identities undoubtedly have unique experiences abroad, these sessions aim to acknowledge the specific conditions they may encounter here (both positive and restrictive), while also working towards developing wholesome habits and attitudes in response to challenges. Above all, these spaces encourage connection, compassion, joy and freedom!


¡Meet Joe Joseph! IFG Leader 2019-20

Joe was a Fulbright scholar in Madrid during the 2017-18 school year and returned in 2018-19 as a Fulbright mentor. He currently works as an English Language Assistant in the public school system in the Comunidad de Madrid.  An alum of the University of Chicago, and an engaged social justice activist, Joe is thrilled to have the opportunity to guide and support  Tufts-Skidmore Spain students in their intercultural journey in Madrid. Joe leads both the IFG Orientation Workshops, and the identity-based Affinity Groups. We are fortunate to have Joe on our team this year!

Joe invites you to watch these videos by Taiye Selasi and Derek Sivers on intercultural life:


“Don’t Ask Where I’m From, Ask Where I’m a Local”


“Weird, or Just Different? (The opposite may also be true)”