Madrid: now and the futureMadrid, Summer 2011

Twenty four days into my abroad experience, I discovered a Spanish establishment essential to my survival. The herbolario, (literally, an ‘herbal store’) tucked away just two blocks from my apartment, will forever be remembered as the first and only place in all of Madrid that I found and purchased tofu.

Rereading my above paragraph, I can see how that moment could be mistaken for an insignificant one. It’s easy to take for granted how simple it is to both ask for and find those obscure, specialized food items in American grocery stores. Trying to describe tofu in my non-native language to various people who may or may not have been familiar with the concept of a meatless diet almost outweighed the benefits of having it. Being a vegetarian in Spain has been a challenging experience, and up until today, it has been one of the last factors that has restricted Spain as an ephemeral, short-term location in my mind. As silly as it sounds, knowing than it’s possible to maintain the strict dietary aspect of my lifestyle here has awakened my mind to the idea that Madrid could be my home in the future, perhaps in permanence.

This sentiment can be traced to a handful of other moments on my trip. In grammar class the first week, Beatríz asked us to translate our resumes, and to turn in our attempts for further corrections. Opcional, she wrote next to the assignment on the white board. This homework was irrelevant for those of us in Madrid for the common, one-time, cultural immersion experience. Instead, it asked us to consider whether or not we wanted to pursue a future in Madrid, and how far we were willing to go in doing so.

This is not a matter I take lightly. Over the past few weeks, I’ve begun to consider the potential benefits to living abroad. On one hand, this type of decision seems to be on track with my career plans. Although I’m entering my senior year as an English and public health double-major, I still have no idea whether I’ll end up pursuing public health service work, health writing, or simply writing poetry in the future. What I do know, is that my manner of work will most likely fall into the freelance category. In America, this means my chances of getting healthcare coverage are slim to none. It’s far more likely that a company will offer benefits to a full-time employee than a part-time, and unfortunately, freelancers fall into the grey area in between. If being a PH major has left me with any lessons, it’s that I never want to have to worry about whether or not I can afford to see a doctor. In Spain, citizens are offered universal coverage (with virtually no out-of-pocket payment) guaranteed under the single-payer system, a system that was scoffed at and eventually rejected in the US senate. I know enough about world health care to know that no system is flawless, but with the future in my mind’s eye, I know that Spanish healthcare is most likely to be the best fit for someone in my field of work.

There are negative factors to consider as well, one of which I witnessed firsthand. Over the past month, protestors have been peacefully (yet with an impactful presence) coexisting in the Plaza del Sol in Madrid. The participants, primarily ages 18-30, are protesting (among other political matters) the 43.5% unemployment rate among Spanish youth. Comparatively, the youth unemployment rate in the US was 19.6% as of May 2010. While neither poses a positive post-grad environment, the situation in Spain seems far more ominous and uncertain than that in the US, at least to me.

Then of course, there is the matter of the value of various trades and services in different cultures. Nearly all poets live in near-poverty in the United States, even those most well-known. In countries where services such as healthcare are considered a basic human right, it is much more affordable to live on an artist’s salary. My uncle left the United States with my Dutch aunt after graduating with a degree in art. Today, he makes sculptures and teaches art for a living in Amsterdam. Last summer when he came to visit, he reminded me that there were real sacrifices made on his part when he decided to live abroad. He was not however willing to let his art be one of them, and the took the opportunity to pursue what he felt was his calling. It’s strange to think I’m nearing the age at which my uncle made such radical and life-changing decisions, but at 21, I’m not far off.

I still have yet to translate my resume. It might be because I’m still unsure as to what I want from Madrid in the future. It’s more likely that long afternoons swimming and playing volleyball with my friends at the IES center have sent these heavier matters to the back-burner. Regardless, as I try to elongate and simply enjoy my final three weeks in Madrid, I will come face to face with my future each time I open my fridge.

 

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