¡Vamos a Toledo! A Summer Abroad in Spain: Interview
Jot Ranu is a sophomore at Princeton University, pursuing a major in Operations Research and Financial Engineering.
This past month, she traveled to Toledo, Spain as part of a study abroad program for advanced Spanish students. I’ve known Jot since we were in middle school; we took Spanish class all throughout high school together and I was very excited for her when I found out about these summer plans. This week, I had the opportunity to sit down with her to talk about her travel experiences.
What were your living arrangements and how did you commute to class?
I lived with a host family in Toledo. Technically, Toledo is a city, but the locals consider it more of a town, or a “pueblo”. Every day, I would take a bus to class and then walked around a lot. It’s a small city, so it’s easy to get around by foot. I could easily walk to class, but most times, the bus was just more convenient.
How did you live like a local in your study abroad city?
Staying with a host family definitely forced me into living like a local. The biggest difference between Spain and America is the work schedule. In Spain, everyone takes breaks in the middle of the day, as opposed to the usual roughing through the afternoon and sleeping earlier in the evening.
What was the most amazing cultural experience you had?
I got really lucky because we arrived in Spain a couple days before a holiday called “Corpus Christi”. It’s one of Toledo’s oldest festivals–it was a huge celebration. Rather than as a tourist, I got to experience the holiday as a local by spending the entire day with my host family.
What were your favorite spots in the city and why? Would you go back to these spots if you had the chance?
– Toledo Cathedral: It’s the second biggest cathedral in all of Spain; it used to be a mosque, actually. The cathedral is made up of smaller, different chapels with different influences of art. It’s like your visiting multiple attractions in one go. It’s super accessible and spacious. There’s one room like a chapel called Sacristia. The entire ceiling was painted and it was so overwhelming that it actually took my breath away. This was the first time art really had a huge impact on me.
– Alcázar de Toledo: It was Toledo’s fortress that now functions as a library and museum. . The library is free admission and you can get your own library card, too. As the highest point of the city, the view at the top was amazing It’s kind of like how you imagine Spain would be from movies and book but now you see it for yourself. There’s a lot of freedom to walk around, so you can explore at your own pace.
In the end, I would definitely go back there. It would be so much fun to re-live these experiences with my family and best friends.
How has this study abroad trip impacted on your personal growth?
I think it’s definitely opened up my perspective on the world–lots of existential questioning that went on, I guess. It’s weird ’cause when we left, I just thought about how now I have to go back to reality and go through my everyday routine. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, traveling on my own that it is. I’ve always traveled with my family with a purpose, like a wedding or a big event. This was the first time I finally got to travel to travel, for the sake of seeing my destination.
The big thing I learned in Spain is that the Spanish think we Americans don’t know how to relax. In our minds, relaxing is watching a television show while sitting on a couch. My host mom used to say that she notices Americans “trabajar para vivir”, or “live to work”, in a way that we allow our jobs and building a livelihood to consume our entire existence. The Spanish pride themselves in “working to live”, as in working just enough that they can still enjoy their lives, not having their jobs as their main purpose in life. It gave me exposure to how other people see life. As a Princeton student coming from an immigrant family, I never really thought of life that way. There’s always been some pressure to get a good job and make a successful future for myself and my family. Sometimes it’s okay to “live to live” and not always have set goals for everything.
What is your number one advice to people who want to travel to Spain?
Make sure to keep an eye on your belongings at all times! I was sitting in a small restaurant with other people from the study program. All of a sudden, a few kids came out of nowhere, waving flyers in our faces and speaking rapid Spanish. At first I assumed they were trying to sell us something, while a restaurant worker yelled at them to get out. Then, the kids were finally kicked out of the restaurant. Amidst all the commotion, I realized that the kids had stolen my phone and wallet, along with others’ valuables, too. We try to run after them, but to no avail. We were in the middle of the city and the streets were super hectic. It was a very frustrating time, since I had been so careful, but they caught me at a moment of weakness. Stay alert–cannot stress that enough!