Getting Adjusted

Hello from Madrid!

My first week here has been a wild ride, filled with new foods, culture, and experiences. I’ve been keeping a journal detailing my daily escapades, so that I can go back and relive this incredible trip long after it is over. However, relaying every detail here would be a little excessive, so instead I’m going to highlight my favorite or most interesting new experience from each day.

Day 1: meeting my host family! The family has twin 15 year old boys, and something that I have quickly learned is that teenagers are the same even across an ocean; they like playing basketball, going to el teatro with their friends, and rolling their eyes when their mom tells them to shower. The whole family has welcomed me into their home with open arms, and been extremely patient as I ask them to define and repeat things during our conversations.

Day 2: visiting La Latina with other EUSA students. The sun doesn’t set until after 8:00 here, so we were able to have a nice evening sitting outside of a restaurant, enjoying the fresh air and beautiful weather and getting to know one another. Some of the other students were from MSU, so I really enjoyed getting to hear their perspectives on participating in this same program from another university.

Day 3: El Mercado de San Miguel. We stopped at this market during the EUSA Madrid walking tour to grab an afternoon snack. One table at the market was selling all kinds of deserts, and I had a delicious lemon-lime pastry, as well as a churro with chocolate sauce – ¡que delicioso!

Day 4: Parque Retiro. A few of us EUSA students tried to visit the Prado museum, but ran into an issue with the tickets. It turned out for the best, though, because we instead went and explored the beautiful park near the museum. We did have to hide under the trees as we got caught in the rain, but that just made the afternoon all the more memorable.

Day 5: La Fiesta de San Isidro (photos below). San Isidro is the patron saint of Madrid, and I feel extremely lucky to have been here in the city for the annual holiday of San Isidro, which takes place on the 15th of May. I went to Pradera de San Isidro (a big park) in the evening for the festivities, and it was extremely reminiscent of a fair back in the USA. There were brightly colored rollercoasters, donuts the size of my head, and a concert. The metro was absolutely packed, as were the fairgrounds, and I was reminded that Madrid is in fact one of Europe’s largest cities (it felt like all three million people were in my metro car). It was really cool to see a city’s worth of people all celebrating and rejoicing their culture and traditions, as well as getting to be a part of that celebration.

Now that this first week has come to an end, I find myself turning my attention to my internship, which begins tomorrow (5/17). As I have previously written, I will be working at Hospital Infantil Nino Jesus, which is the oldest children’s hospital in the country. Specifically, I will be working in the eating disorder recovery ward. Many of the skills and competencies to work in psychiatric and psychological care require advanced training through the form of an advanced degree such as an MSW or a PsyD. Obviously I do not have this specialized post-graduate education, so there are a great number of things I am unable or unqualified to do. However, from my previous experience in the field of psychology, oftentimes the “soft” or generalizable skills are just as important as the “hard” or technical skills. Empathy, for example, I think is paramount to this type of internship, in which I will be interacting with young people who are in very difficult and vulnerable positions. Things like listening, flexibility, and the ability to put somebody else’s needs before your own are not skills specific to this career, however I believe them to be the most important to possess.

As psychology is a uniquely “human” field of study and work, I do not think that any of the necessary skills that are needed for success in this area are specific to Madrid, or even to Spain. After all, all humans need the same basic care and respect regardless of country. However, what I do find particularly important for my success in this role is cultural sensitivity. Interpersonal connection and interaction varies from country to country, and in an internship such as this one, mastering that interaction may be my most important (as well as most daunting) task. For example, Spanish communication is much more “high context” than American communication. This means that things such as tone, context, and things that are not said are very important when communicating and trying to understand others. As America is thought to be extremely “low context”, I will need to work hard to adjust to the differences in interpersonal communication that exist between the two countries.

Overall, I have had a fantastic experience so far, and am looking forward to beginning my internship tomorrow. I am nervous, yes, but I have been nervous for every single thing I have done here so far, from meeting my host family to ordering a cup of coffee. I am excited what I will learn from this newest experience, and to see how I will grow from it.