It is mid-morning here in my tiny corner of Florida on this last day of Summer 2020. Right now the temperature is 79 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) under mostly cloudy skies. The forecast for my area says it will remain cloudy and humid, with a high temperature of 83 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius). No rain is expected. Definitely not quite a glorious end to the season, but it is fitting for this year of divisiveness, fear, uncertainty, and tragedy.
Today is the 32nd Anniversary of my arrival in Sevilla (Seville), Spain as part of a 42-student contingent of participants in the College Consortium for International Studies (CCIS) Semester in Spain program for the Fall Term of the 1988-89 academic year. Along with two other students (Sandra Langlois and Wendy Page), I represented what was then called Miami-Dade Community College’s South Campus (now the Kendall Campus of Miami-Dade College). The rest of the group was from all over the United States: my friend Bob Holtzweiss was from St. Bonaventure University in Peekskill, New York; my fellow journalist Michelle Kirby hailed from Cape Cod Community College in Massachusetts; my best friend in Seville, Ingrid Gottlieb, attended Broward Community College, one county away from me in South Florida.
I’m not quite sure why I went to Spain in the autumn of 1988. Until late in 1987 I had never thought about visiting my ancestral homeland in the Iberian peninsula, and at the time I didn’t have any relatives who lived there. Now I do; my second cousin Juanita Cajiao lives and works in Valencia, and has been a Colombian ex-pat there for many years. But back then, I knew no one in Spain.
Maybe I went to Seville because I suspected that if I didn’t go then, I might never have an opportunity later. I was far more optimistic then than I am now about my future – especially when it concerned my writing career – but I had a feeling that I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to Europe when I was still young (I was 25 then) and in relatively good shape to juggle academics, the challenges of living semi-independently 3,000 miles away from home, and sending stories about my experiences in Seville back to my campus’ weekly student newspaper.
That last bit…about reporting for the school paper as its first foreign correspondent….was also a big factor in my decision to participate in the Semester in Spain program in Seville.
As I wrote in an article I wrote for Catalyst, the old South Campus student paper:
From the December 13, 1989 issue of Catalyst, Miami-Dade Community College (South Campus)
Study-abroad program gave me learning text never could
One of the most interesting aspects of taking a foreign language course is the opportunity to participate in one of the various study-abroad programs offered by the Foreign Language Department’s Overseas Study Program.
I know because last year I participated in the Miami-Dade Community College/College Consortium for International Studies’ Semester in Spain program.
For three months in the fall of 1988, 42 students (including me) from colleges and universities all over the United States lived and studied in Seville, one of Spain’s largest and most beautiful cities.
And, for many of us, it was a learning experience unlike any other.
Not only did we learn more about the Spanish language, but we also came back with insights about Spain’s culture, history and people that aren’t available in any textbook.
We went to classes (ranging from the required language courses to classes dealing with Spain’s history, political system and artistic heritage) Mondays through Thursdays — either at the CCIS Center or the main campus of the University of Seville — while most Fridays we went on cultural visits to places of interest in and around Seville.
There were also day trips to such places as Jerez de la Frontera, La Rabida and Cordoba.
We also went on an overnight trip to the city of Granada, the city whose architecture inspired George Merrick when he founded Coral Gables back in the ’20s.
Of course, there were other benefits as well.
We learned how to live in a vastly different cultural environment on our own. (Even though one could make an argument that transferring to an out-of-state institution is a similar experience, it’s like comparing cats and dogs.)
We not only had to learn a foreign language and take a 15-credit course load, we had to adapt to the average Spaniard’s lifestyle (especially mealtimes), difficult as that may have been to us Americans.
My fellow CCISer Wendy Page, sophomore, said, “My experiences in Seville have helped me become a stronger person with broader horizons in both heart and mind.”
My own horizons were expanded by my three-month stay in Spain. I learned a great deal about how other people live, and how those people perceive the United States, mainly through living and arguing with two Spanish roommates, Demetrio and Juan Carlos.
The cost of my trip to Seville, including hotels, tour buses, tuition (for 15 credits), and airfare was approximately $3,500. Rent and extra food was another $1,500.
This may sound like a lot of money, but you can get guaranteed student loans from Financial Aid. Also, Pell Grants will cover cost of tuition at Miami-Dade prices ($76.80 for a three-credit class).
(In today’s dollars, my sojourn in Seville cost my mom and me approximately $10,985.55. A Pell Grant covered my tuition, which at the time was $76.80 for a three-credit class. In 2020, tuition at Miami-Dade costs $129.89 per credit hour, or $389.67 for one three-credit class. In 1988 I took four courses: History of Spain, Spanish Government, and two Spanish Language courses rolled into one, so I went as – per the requirement – a full-time student.)
I feel overwhelmed by sadness today. Not just because my personal life is in turmoil presently, although that is a big factor, but because the world as a whole is in a dark place. There is so much hate, divisiveness, and political turmoil out there, not just in Donald Trump’s United States of America, but everywhere else. Authoritarianism and religious fanaticism have always been around, but it seems that ever since the Cold War ended and took the tense but predictable old word order of superpower rivalry along with it to the grave, things got unimaginably worse, not better.
Today’s COVID-19 numbers are in, and despite Trump supporters’ claims to the contrary, things are not getting better.
Per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE), at 10:23 AM Eastern, the coronavirus pandemic has claimed the lives of 961,459 human beings, 199,531 in the U.S. alone.
Mind you, these numbers are almost certainly on the low side. The Trump Administration and many governors in Republican-controlled states are doing all they can to “spin” the narrative so that their partisan faithful don’t turn on them on Election Day this November. They might not be able to stop scientists and data crunchers from getting information, but they can slow the process or muddy the waters by putting out false storylines on social media, especially in comments sections of mainstream media news stories posted on Facebook, the biggest social network of all.
For instance, in the comments section of NBC News’ September 19 story Covid-19 death toll in the US surpasses 200,000 people, a Trump supporter named Amber commented:
Amber: Not true!! Covid deaths were revised by CDC and everyone knows it!! Why continue perpetuating fear!!
When another Facebook member called her out on her comment and asked, “Well, how many Americans have died from COVID-19?” Amber claimed the figure was far lower than 200,000.
Amber: If you actually look at “science” the cdc revised the number to less than 10,000 dead of COVID!! 75+ and all had 3 major underlying health conditions meaning they were already dying and just so happened to have Covid but was not the cause of death! Get your head out of the sand!!
Amber is not a medical professional. She is not a scientist. From what I see on her profile on Facebook, she is a former model and has been bouncing from job to job since she left that profession. And, like many Trump supporters, she is obsessed with sex trafficking and pedophiles; she has a lot of posts about how Trump needs to be re-elected in 2020 because he is the only political leader fighting pedophiles and sex traffickers. So trust me when I say that she is not qualified to make any claims about COVID-19, underlying medical conditions, and the co-morbidity factors involved when listing cause of death on a death certificate.
It is Amber, and others who think like her, who need to get their collective heads out of the sand.
As for what I plan to do for the rest of this last day of the long, hot, and sad Summer of 2020. Currently, I am not working on any big project, although I should be trying to prepare for this year’s NaNoWriMo in November. In happier days – late 2019 – I got it into my head that this year I would attempt writing a 10,000 novel in 30 days for NaNoWriMo. It sounded like fun, and maybe something worth reading would result.
I even had an idea – which I still like and don’t want to jinx by revealing it here or on social media – for a story. I bought a few books on the topic(s) the story is about, and even started a rough draft on my WriteWay Professional book-writing app.
But my situation here has gone south for reasons I can’t and won’t discuss here, and my writer’s mojo only suffices for my two A Certain Point of View blogs (the Blogger original and this one on WordPress), and maybe the occasional co-writing gig for Popcorn Sky Productions. As a result, every time I say to myself, Shouldn’t you be working on the novel for NaNoWriMo 2020? I always find something else to do.
Anyway. Yeah. Summer’s over. Tomorrow, fall begins.