Guest blogger: Yiliu Zhang ’13

My name is Yiliu Zhang, a freshman planning on majoring in political science. I am spending my IAP in Madrid, Spain, as a participant of MIT’s IAP-Madrid program. Every weekday morning, I have Spanish class for three hours, and then I’m free to explore the city. Learning a language is a nice break from working on problem sets! In the evenings, my fellow program participants and I typically eat dinner with our respective host families. Afterwards, we head out to experience Madrid’s nightlife, which begins and ends much later than in the United States.

Yiliu in Granada in southern Spain

Last weekend, Yiliu and six others toured Granada in southern Spain. The town is most famous for the Alhambra, a Moorish fortification and palace. Pictured, Yiliu against the backdrop of the city, where the homes are whitewashed to cool the houses during summer.

My host family only speaks Spanish to me, and my Spanish listening and speaking skills have definitely improved as a result. And my host grandmother’s cooking is phenomenal! Her tortilla Española and cauliflower cream casserole are amazing.

As an MIT student, I am fortunate to study in an institute of science and technology. I’m also excited about opportunities in the humanities such as the IAP-Madrid program. My classmates and I made the best of our allotted time to fully experience the Spanish culture. The highlights of the trip for me were visiting the Prado museum (seeing Velázquez and Bosch paintings especially), visiting the Reina Sofia contemporary art museum (Picasso’s Guernica was very impressive), walking through the city of Madrid, admiring the Moorish fortification Alhambra in Granada, and discussing American foreign policy and Spanish economic issues with my host mother and host grandmother.

Some of the IAP-Madrid participants

Some of the IAP-Madrid participants.

I truly believe you have to immerse yourself in a culture to genuinely love and understand it. For me, studying abroad in Spain has been as much about discovering the Spanish culture as expanding my perspective. For instance, my host mother and I had a long chat one night about the field of humanitarian law and international development. Also, my host grandmother loves to berate Zapatero, the Spanish president, whenever I mention politics. When I was shopping in a store owned by a Chinese immigrant, I had an interesting conversation about being a Chinese immigrant in Spain. Even though the museum artworks and the public parks are gorgeous, I think the people I’ve met in Spain have affected me more.

In short, I feel more like a global citizen after immersing myself in the everyday life of the Spanish people.