Puerta del Sol

Just two days ago, we got off the long flight to Madrid a little hungry and a little tired… but beyond excited for what is ahead! If these first few days are in indicator of what is to come, we could not be more grateful for the amazing learning experience our time in Spain will become.

To give a short overview of what our first few days here have involved, well, would naturally include many stories of acquainting ourselves: figuring out subways, getting a little lost, and practicing our Spanish as we ask for directions. We are staying in the Northwest side of Madrid above the city’s main park, El Parque de Retiro. Trying to dive right in to Spanish culture, we ordered quite the spread of tapas on our first night. Along with our (then very severe) jet lag, it was the perfect combination for a very, very good first night of sleep.

Lashlee with map

The next day involved lots of map studying as we really explored Madrid, scoping out the organizations and locations we hoped to visit during our time in Madrid. Naturally, we topped off a long day of walking and Metro-riding with a batch of churros con chocolate and great conversation … needless to say, our stomachs have yet to be disappointed!

Today, Friday, our work really gained momentum. Just as a brief aside, our Richter grant allows us to pursue field research on the topic of our choice; for us, this is, generally, studying the lives of African migrants and refugees living in Spain. We are taking what we call a “dual approach” based on our different areas of study. Lashlee, a pre-medicine student, is looking into the medical care provided to immigrants coming into Spain. Hannah, a political science major, is analyzing individual access to jobs, trends of migration and motives for those that seek asylum in Spain.

Two main encounters today proved amazingly rewarding – it was our first contact with individuals from Africa (or whose families are from Africa) and their stories were fascinating. Our first “interview” was more of a conversation that occurred by  chance, as we asked directions to one of our locations from a Catholic church in North Madrid. The man we stopped was from Equatorial Guinea, the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa. Incredibly passionate about his native country and amazingly open in talking about his story with two American strangers, we saw this as a good omen for the day ahead.

The door to an office we visited

Our second main visit was an interview with an employee of CEAR, the largest refugee aid organization in the region. We spoke with a woman named Sonia, a tiny woman with a bright and amiable personality. The staff patiently and thoroughly answered virtually every question we could throw their way, giving us the firsthand information we came to Madrid to find! Although both mentally and physically tired from the day, we returned home to rest up and go over what we had heard.

Needless to say, ending the day with notebooks full of new ink… that has been the most rewarding feeling thus far.