Thursday, September 27, 2012

Protesta!

Tuesday continued with more lectures and discussions on Spain, but with a more political bent. By the end of the day I found myself living Spanish politics, awash in a sea of voices massing around the Spanish Parliament.

Our lecture/discussions took place at the beautiful Casa de Americas. We first had a chance to sit down with  Jose Antonio Gurpegui, a Professor of American Studies at the Univserity of Alcalá and a politcal commentator. He gave us a rundown of the political history of Spain since the death of Franco and how Spanish politics have affected US-Spanish relations.


His version of history seemed to be viewed through a slightly more conservative prism, while our second speaker seemed to balance him well. She (I can't seem to find her name at the moment) filled us in on the 15M movement in Spain, which she explained as the precursor to our Occupy Wall Street movement. I was initially skeptical on this point, but after seeing the language of inequality and disenchantment with the economic and political system, as well as tactics of long-term camping out and democratic/consensus decision-making that defined a movement that predated Occupy by months, I could only conclude that 15M heavily influenced the protests that spread across US cities in 2011. We were lucky to have a student of Instituto Franklin sitting with us who had been at the initial protests in May of 2011 and she underlined the very spontaneous nature of the movement in its early days - a feature that has helped it from being hijacked by a demagogue but has hurt its ability to organize more effectively, in my opinion.

The discussion was timely as major protests were scheduled to occur that evening in front of the Spanish national parliament. I walked down to Plaza del Sol with Naveen to see a pretty small crowd confronted by a line of policemen blocking off an access road so that the parliament could be accessed.


Initially disappointed in the size (after what was promised) we walked closer to the parliament, where the milling crowd got thicker and thicker.




We eventually reached the Plaza de Neptuno, where the roads had been closed off and the crowd gathered like flies around the beleaguered parliament. The thing that stood out to me most was that there didn't seem to be any leaders. No one was doing much, just talking, not even angrily. Every once in a while someone would start up a chant, others (but not everyone) would take it up, and then it would die out. This was that spontaneity, but also disorganization that seemed to be this movement's greatest strength and weakness.


One of the more successful chants was "hijo de puta!" apparently referring to the Spanish parliamentarians.


The protesters seemed to be angry at the Spanish Government for not representing their interests, at the German-led Eurozone for imposing austerity as a requirement for economic help, and at the financial system that had gotten the country into this mess. I saw many protesters and many policemen but I didn't see any violence. You'd think differently if you didn't read the next day's New York Times too closely, which liberally interspersed images of Greek rioters with Spanish protesters. Apparently there were some rubber bullets fired after I left, but I haven't been able to find out much more than that.

Two days later I went for a run and I passed through the Plaza de Neptuno and it looked as if nothing had even happened. It was a weird feeling.

Alcalá de Henares

On Monday, my hotelmates Nick, Naveen and I began our orientation in Spain sponsored by La Fundación Consejo España-EEUU and El Instituto Benjamin Franklin at the University of Alcalá.

The morning started with lectures and discussions on terrorism in Spain and Spanish views of Latinos in the United States.



We had some very engaging discussions and realized that many issues that we take for granted in the United States are viewed with a different point of view by Spaniards. We also experienced first-hand that Spaniards hold many different opinions on the above subjects.


We continued our day with a delicious lunch at the University of Alcalá, followed by a tour of the town of Alcalá de Henares.

 



In addition to being the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish literary hero of the Spanish Golden Age, the town is also the death and resting place of Didacus of Alcalá, better known as San Diego de Alcalá, the namesake of America's Finest City. How's that for a little historical connection with home?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Santi and El Guiri

I awoke this morning on an Airbus A330 as a rugged landscape opened up outside my window pane. This was my first view of my new home, Spain.

Stepping off the plane here in Madrid was so different than my first experiences in Bologna, Italy two years ago. I had a sort of confidence and comfort in my language abilities that I'd gained at SAIS and the CSA in Guatemala. I knew where I was going. Most importantly, I knew I was on my own and I was perfectly fine with that. I hailed a cab, checked into my hotel and walked down to a local mall to pick up a new charging cord for my computer - no problems.

This afternoon I received a call from the coordinator of our program that is helping sponsor the contract with Santander. Santiago asked if I wanted to get a cup of coffee and quickly tour around the city. I told him I'd be delighted to. He asked if I preferred if he spoke in English. I told him to speak whatever language he felt more comfortable with, but I preferred Spanish.

Santiago and I sauntered down to a Pan Quotidien where I ordered an Americano to try to reset my internal clock. On the way we discovered our mutual fascination with 19th century history and a shared penchant to go on and on about European identity politics, Visigoth kings, the Spanish royal family, etc. Our coffee and tour of the city turned into an hours long expedition visiting sites along the way, discussing Spain and correcting my creative vocabulary. We stopped in a VIPS with terrible service (but tasty sandwiches) and got carried away on the subjects of the US election, European political integration and our stereotypes about each others' countries.

Eight hours of constant Spanish conversation in later, I (El Guiri) bid farewell to a new friend with a good feeling about just how much I'm about to learn.

Flying Through


I wanted to give myself a day or so to adjust to the time difference before taking the Foreign Service Oral Exam, so I flew into DC on Tuesday before my Thursday test. I used this oversize pitstop on my way to Madrid to take the opportunity to catch up with some really great friends.

I had dinner at Good Stuff with the United Friends, stopped my SAIS and chatted with my first-year-now-second-year buddy Lisa, celebrated passing my assessment at Mr. Smith's with some SAIS alums and picnicked in Lafayette park with some other alums who have exchanged their jeans for suits and work skirts.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Dream Jobs


Last spring, as my graduation from SAIS approached and the fearsome specter of unemployment loomed, I spent a good amount of time applying to jobs and trying to sell both my skills and my new graduate level education. I've lucked out by being offered two opportunities which seem to be exactly what I want to be doing and exactly what I'm now qualified to do with my new degree.

The first opportunity is through a program called Fundación Consejo España-EEUU, which sponsors Spaniards to work at American Companies and Americans to work at Spanish companies. After two interviews (one of which was in Spanish over the phone), I was offered a position through this program to work at Banco Santander, a Spanish Bank. I'll be moving to Madrid (I'm actually writing this in the airport, on my way) and working in a department that does economic analysis.


Obviously, you'll hear more about Spain in this blog soon.

The second opportunity, which only fully materialized yesterday, is with the US Foreign Service. The Foreign Service is the diplomatic corps of the Department of State. They staff our embassies around the world, carry out US foreign policy and represent our country. I began this process back in February, but it's such a long and in some ways arbitrary process that I had never considered it a part of my job search.


DC pre-sunrise on my way the the exam
The procedure for getting hired into the Foreign Service is composed of three different hurdles that gradually cull more applicants until only a small percentage of the thousands who apply each round are hired. It begins with a written test, which is offered, like the GRE, at test sites all over the country. It has questions on everything from history to geography to constitutional knowledge and is notoriously hard to study for. The second step, if you pass the written test, is the submission of a personal narrative answering questions about different qualities you may have that are valued by the Foreign Service. If that stage is passed, you are invited to the final and most imposing step: an oral examination in Washington, DC. I spent a good amount of time this summer studying for the oral: meeting with others online and in San Diego to prepare for the group exercise that is a part of the process, waking up early to practice the high-pressure 90-minute case management writing exercise, and sitting and chatting one-on-one with friends about stories in my past in which I've displayed leadership, composure and other qualities in preparation for the structured interview.

I flew into DC this week to take the exam before leaving for Spain and I had the incredible luck to pass the oral assessment! It was a long day (I was at the State Department from 6:30am until 6:00pm) but very rewarding. Now that I have a provisional offer of employment I'll be going through a background check, a health screening, and spend some time sitting on a registry before I get called up. If the timing works out and everything goes right, I'll just be finishing up my contract with Banco Santander in June when I'm asked to return to DC to begin a new career as a diplomat!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Take Me Out to the Ballgame


This summer has been filled with baseball games for me. The San Diego Padres began a winning streak in July that coincided with my return to the city, so I couldn't let them down. I've had the opportunity to spend many nights in beautiful, but strangely-named Petco Park in the warm San Diego summer twilight.








I've stood to belt out "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" every seventh inning stretch. I've cheered, booed and eaten overpriced hot dogs. Memories of celebrating this great American pasttime with friends, family and visitors will undoubtedly bring me comfort as I strike out into the real world on my own.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Desert and the Sea

As summer drew to a close, I took advantage of my abundant time by heading east into the Anza-Borrego Desert for some camping. Along with me came my friends Shannon, Valerie and Colin, all of who I had somehow convinced to leave the pleasant temperatures of coastal San Diego for the heat of the high desert.


We arrived at the campsite Sunday night and had just pitched camp when a thunderous, powerful dust storm rose up around us, coated us in dirt and filled our eyes with gritty sand. I managed to catch a giant tumbleweed as it sped through our camp!

After the dust came a heavy rain, which had us playing a game of cards in the tent while the parched desert quenched its thirst.


The next morning we hiked up to the Borrego Springs Palm Oasis, a frequent destination of my childhood boy scout days. Unfortunately the water levels were a bit low, but we still managed to spend a cool day beneath the palms.


On the hike back from the Oasis the rubber on my boots mysteriously disintegrated, which forced Colin and I to scratch our planned second leg of the trip, which involved backpacking part of the Pacific Crest Trail that winds its way along the west edge of the Borrego Desert.


Instead, Colin and I set off on an alternate (and much wetter) adventure the second we got home. Well, first we stopped at Julian Pie Company in Julian, CA.


THEN we set off on our kayaking adventure. We inflated a rubber kayak and paddled out from the beach in Oceanside, battling the surf. We then turned south and paddled along the coast of Carlsbad and turned into the entrance of Agua Hedionda, a lagoon. We paddled up the lagoon, under the 5 freeway and into a beautiful estuary filled with brooding crabs, elegant herons and flapping fish which frequently threatened to jump into our boat. Valerie's grandmothers live on Agua Hedionda and we beached our Kayak in their neighborhood, finishing our desert to sea adventure in a relaxing hot tub.

Monday, September 3, 2012

LORAT Wedding (Family, Friends & Music)

After a week of putzing around the Bay Area, I filled the back of my car with marching band instruments and  trekked over the Santa Cruz mountains to a remote Buddhist retreat called Pema Osel Ling. This was the site of the imminent marriage of my very good friends Lori and Matt (LORAT, according to Chloe).

I was the the Stanford Band drum major after Lori and before Matt, so the three of us already have a little family going on, but I was honored and humbled to be asked to participate in their ceremony by reading a biblical passage. I was relieved at the wedding rehearsal to find that I wouldn't have to read anything weird, but rather two passages Lori and Matt had chosen. After the rehearsal we had a delicious Hawaiian rehearsal dinner and ended the night meeting family and friends around a campfire on site.




The day of the wedding we helped set up the ceremony and reception sites, and once the girls started getting their makeup on (hours before the wedding) I went for a swim with some of Matt's family. We had a pretty bad synchronized diving routine.





The wedding was filled with music. There was a wonderful brass quintet during the ceremony, the Stanford Band popped out of nowhere to play a few tunes under the direction of the new bride and groom, and the reception featured Sinister Dexter, an amazing band that got all 200 guests dancing wildly. There was even a surprise guest appearance by Matt and my college funk band, the Titanium Gods of Interstellar Funk!






A particularly beautiful moment was when Lori, who grew up in Hawaii, did a traditional solo hula dance for everyone. I was floored.


Friends flew in from all over the country and the whole wedding was a wonderful reunion for me.


  

The next morning after a farewell brunch with many of the guests, I picked up Valerie and drove back to San  Diego (with short pit-stops at Kimi's farm again and Pea Soup Andersen's).