ISEPphotoandessays
Photo Essay Contest

Laura Koeppel
Host Institution: Universidade de Vigo -- Spain
Home Institution: University of Wisconsin - La Crosse
Period: Spring 2003


Oh Vigo

I left for Spain expecting to see many of same images that most United Statesians have of this amazingly diverse country: flamenco dancers, bullfights, hot summer days, and long, festive nights. While these images do hold true in some parts of Spain, I left the region in which I lived, Galicia, with completely different images.
Los Gallegos, the people of this region, are a proud, somewhat superstitious, beautiful people. This is queimada, a traditional drink of Aguardiente (similar to Brandy), sugar and lemons. The drink is lit on fire and stirred until all the alcohol is burned off, while the quemador, who is doing the mixing, delivers a chant of protection from evil. The fantastic owners of my apartment served it, chant and all, to my roommates and neighbors and I after a hearty meal of Galician paella.
One of the most incredible things I did in Spain was walk part of the Camino de Santiago with one of my roommates. The Camino is a pilgrimage journey stretching from France to northern Galicia, winding through valleys and pastures, over mountains and through streams… here I am taking a break on my first day walking the trail. We learned so much- not only about Galician culture and people, but about ourselves, each other… and the best way to approach walking 20 kilometers a day!
We met some very interesting people along the way, from traditional farm families living along the trail, to German couples hiking it for the third time. We met this lovely lady and her granddaughter in Triacastela, a tiny village in which we stopped to rest for a few days. The old woman served us breakfast and dinner in a little cafe, and later we chatted with in the street.
Galicia is more than rain, fishing, and picturesque mountain scenes. They also really know how to have a good time. A resident told me that Vigo is the loudest city in Spain. I don't know about that, but I'll certainly never forget the traffic jams at four in the morning! And no, they weren't caused by people weren't going to work! This is Churruca, a street near my apartment, bustling with party goers early in the morning.
Many Spaniards, besides being fun-loving, also take politics very seriously. Since I was in Spain when the Iraq war began and ended, I got to experience this passion firsthand. Classes were cancelled for protests; anti-war propaganda was plastered everywhere imaginable; and as an americana, I got to watch a knowing look pass over every Spaniards face when they learned of my citizenship. They weren't rude- but rarely was their next question about anything except the war. Pictured is a late March tent protest in Lugo, Galicia.
I also spent a lot of time in Madrid, experiencing many of the things big-city Spanish life has to offer… among those, the infamous bullfight. I was fortunate enough to be in town for the Festival of Saint Isidro, so I saw some of the best matadores in the country perform in front of packed crowds. I bought cheap nosebleed seats with my roommates, and while the whole event came as somewhat of a shock to us, we learned a lot from the cheering and jeering locals who sat around us.
I am so grateful that I chose to study with ISEP, because I had the opportunity to meet not only Spaniards, but people from all over the world at my university. Not only has my Spanish improved greatly, but I can now speak it with a Czech, German or Italian accent! I took this photo behind the Alfonso XII statue in Retiro Park, Madrid, as Spaniards and international students alike gathered for an afternoon session of drums, hackey-sack, juggling, smoking, laughing and dancing.
I had the pleasure of living with nine amazing women from all over the United States while in Vigo. While I hadn't expected to room with people form my country, we and the three other ISEP students in our building built a special bond. We coined it "Real World Vigo"- and indeed it was. From Oregon to North Carolina to Puerto Rico, we were quite the diverse group; vegan, theatre major, mountain biker, pre-med, modern dancer; we traveled to Italy, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, and Portugal; we played soccer and pool, drank wine and milk, ate fried chicken, Nutella and plenty of tortilla, wrote in journals and postcards, watched Spanish game shows, took pictures, talked and danced many nights away…
Besides my roommates, there were several other United Statesians who arrived in Vigo the same semester as I. We didn't cling to each other, but I know that my time in the country was definitely enhanced by their ideas and experiences. And it was nice to bring part of my Spanish life back with me into this country!
Oh Vigo was the name of restaurant near my apartment. We said "Oh Vigo" when it rained for ten days straight and "Oh Vigo" when it came time to study. It was heard when we got lost in the city and when we missed our buses. We said it when returning to town after a trip, because somehow, when we weren't looking, Vigo began to feel like home. And I say it now when I long for just a glimpse of a sunset over the harbor. Oh Vigo- here's to you! Sunset
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