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A Spanish Dream Come True

MBA student Aminah West blogs about her semester exchange at the Instituto de Empresa (IE) in Madrid, Spain.

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So here I am, two months in to my exchange at the Instituto de Empresa (IE), and like Madrid, I have been moving non-stop!

March 7, 2012

When people ask me how it is that I came to study in Spain, I typically cite some convenient fact like my basic proficiency in Spanish and desire to be somewhere where I could readily navigate day-to-day, while upgrading my grasp of the language. But when I scratch the surface, I suppose I can trace this experience back to a seed planted years ago in my youth and nourished subtly, perhaps subconsciously over the years.

In my middle and high school Spanish classes, I remember being fascinated by the presence of arabesque words, like ojala (hopefully) in my growing Spanish vocabulary and marveled at the admixture of culture and history that must have produced such a fusion. When I looked deeper, I learned of the Islamic, Arab conquest and occupation of Iberian Peninsula in the 8th Century onwards, the Spanish Reconquista of the 12th and 13th centuries, and some of the various other means by which Spain (particularly Southern regions) became arabized over time. Indeed the percolation of Arabic words through the Spanish language represented a rich and varied history that to me was at once mysterious and alluring given my own mixed, Afro-Cuban-Irish-Native-American-Muslim background and lineage.

Being naturally imaginative, both then and now, I evolved a rich and textured mental map of what the sights, sounds, people and flavors of old and new Cordoba, Granada, Seville must be like and I distinctly remember setting my intentions to visit what reigned in my mind as this magical destination.

Fast forward a decade, and I am a Stern MBA. It is the summer after my first year, I’ve completed an awesome internal consulting summer internship at WellPoint, and I’ve busied myself preparing my younger sister for an undergraduate semester abroad in Ghana. Her enthusiasm is contagious and I myself begin to wonder what it would be like to study in another country and context. While the past 5 years had been rich with international travel and work experience (largely in Southern and Eastern Africa), I lamented not having studied abroad. In the context of my MBA, and of current global economic and political revolutions, a study exchange represented an opportunity to change the lens through which I was learning about economy and business, and to diversify the tools and strategies with which to navigate both in a changing world. I wanted to hear and engage with the perspectives of non-American professors and students, and push the boundaries of what can easily become a provincial, US-centric take on issues and opportunities.

Spain popped into mind, and along with it my long-held fantasies of Andalucia, and in an instant I was determined to spend my Spring semester on exchange. Fortunately, Stern’s awesome new exchange coordinator, Lindsay, was receptive to my last minute pleas and there was still space for me in the Madrid program. I had to pinch myself several times - at long last, I was Spain bound!

So here I am, two months in to my exchange at the Instituto de Empresa (IE), and like Madrid, I have been moving non-stop! While we speak in English, my classes, classmates and professors at IE do indeed comprise a new, and very diverse framework in which I am learning new things each day. And by night? Well, the first lesson of the nights is that Madrid does not sleep. Nothing in my New York night life experience could have prepared me for the Madrid fiesta (party)! I suppose between the siesta (post-lunch nap tradition) and the fiesta, Madrileños really know how to enjoy life and the people and experiences that color it. These lessons have also been valuable.

And what of my long imagined sojourn to Spain’s dynamic, Moor inspired, southern region of Andalucia? Well between weekday classes and assignments, and weekend travel to Amsterdam, Lisbon, South of France, Venice, Turkey and Morocco, I haven’t made it South of Spain yet! But those journeys and the actual sites, sounds, and flavors that they entail are sure to follow…