Memory Lane: A Reporter Remembers His Experiences in November ’88 as a Student in Seville

I used to see the Torre del Oro every day on my way to the CCIS Center when I participated in the Semester in Spain program in the Fall of 1988, Photo Credit: Pixabay

Hi there, Dear Reader. It’s early afternoon here in New Hometown, Florida on Tuesday, November 24, 2020. Currently, the temperature is 78˚F (26˚C) under sunny skies. With the wind blowing from the east at 11 MPH (17 KM/H) and humidity at 60%, the feels-like temperature is…  78˚F (26˚C). Today’s forecast calls for a high of 79˚F (26˚C) and sunny skies. Tonight, we can expect a low of 63˚F (13˚C) and clear skies.

With Thanksgiving 2020 less than two days away, I am still not in a festive mood. I have already written about my reasons for not being “in the holiday spirit” in previous posts, so I won’t repeat them here. I will say this, though: even if my relationship with the Ex-Girlfriend had been rock-solid and our love/sex life had remained as good as it was when it began, this Thanksgiving still would have been bleak. Donald Trump still won’t concede his election loss even though Emily Murphy, the Trump-appointed director of the General Services Administration (GSA) finally ascertained the results of the Presidential election and started the transition to President-elect Joe Biden’s Administration, and thousands of Americans are still being infected by the virus that causes COVID-19, which means we’ll see a huge spike in deaths here in the U.S.

Those two facts, by themselves, make me wish that I could teleport myself to a galaxy far, far away or, barring that, take a trip back into the past – preferably to a time and place that aren’t even remotely close to the past decade. (2010-2020 had relatively few bright spots for me, after all.)

This is a picture of me taken two years before I went to Spain. Photo Credit: Peter C. Townsend

As I have mentioned in previous posts about both time travel and my personal history, my college years would make the perfect era to revisit. I was, of course, younger, more energetic, and definitely more optimistic about the future. I probably would only make a few tweaks to my younger self if I could, mainly in the areas of self-confidence – especially where women, dating, and sex were concerned – and developing a thicker skin re my deteriorating relationship with my half-sister. Otherwise, I would not change anything…not even my attempt to earn a college degree despite my issues with math.

Right now, I wish that I could take the Time Travel Express back to the fall of 1988, which is when I was both a participant in the Semester in Spain program in Sevilla (Seville) sponsored by the College Consortium for International Studies (CCIS) and my college campus’ student newspaper’s first foreign correspondent.

As a matter of fact, on this day 32 years ago – my, how time flies – our 42-student group celebrated Thanksgiving at a now-closed Italian restaurant called Carlino (or Carlino’s), which was located not too far from the CCIS Center in Seviile. The staff at the center, Wendy Reven and Lisa Dolan, made the arrangements, and the whole group of young and homesick Americans – some of whom were joined by their parents who flew across the Pond for the occasion – enjoyed a turkey dinner with all of the trimmings, including mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.

I still remember that we all wore our best outfits – somewhere in a moving box from Home Depot, there’s a photo album with a picture of me in my suit and tie that was taken at Carlino’s that night – and that for one night, we felt like one happy family of gringos in a foreign land.

I also remember that I spent the next day writing, with my friend Michelle Kirby, three articles about the group’s experiences in Seville to send back to the States for publication, including the one about the soccer game that we played at Reina Mercedes Field earlier in November.

Several weeks before, though, I’d written a column that I wrote in response to a stinging letter I received from Dr. Robert Vitale, chair of Miami-Dade Community College – South Campus’ Foreign Language Department regarding the article I wrote shortly before I left Miami on September 21, 1988.

Basically, Vitale was angry that in my “I’m going to Spain” column I had not mentioned why I was going to Spain, i.e. the Semester in Spain study-abroad program and he told me, as well as the various persons he cc’d the letter to on campus, that I made it sound like I was going to Europe as a tourist.

Well, that wasn’t true, at least not really. When I wrote my draft of the column, I had included a paragraph that talked, albeit briefly, about the CCIS program and that I was going to Spain to, you know, study abroad.

The graphic that got me in trouble, even though I had nothing to do with it.

As I mentioned in my first post about my Seville experience, my friend Rogers Perez drew a caricature of me – based on a candid photo snapped by one of the staff photographers in one of those “fun in the newspaper office” moments that made working in Student Publications so memorable – and showed it to the Opinions Editor, on whose page my columns would appear. Well, Opinions liked the graphic. So did the Managing Editor. So did the Editor. As a result, the graphic was added to my column – but to make it fit in the allotted space, the “graf” about why I was going to Seville was removed.

It wasn’t my fault, but Vitale didn’t know it, so he mailed me not only my “offending” column – which was one of the two columns that the group and the staff at the CCIS Center read while I was in Spain – but that depressing rebuke, which was cc’d to my journalism professor and one of the campus administrators, too.  

This is the column that I wrote in response to Dr. Vitale’s missive, although I was careful not to mention him (or his letter) in the text:

Study abroad is more than educational: it’s an experience

(Originally published in the December 1, 1988 issue of Catalyst)

Alex Diaz-Granados

SEVILLE, Spain (CCIS Program)

Over the past six weeks of my stay here in Seville as a participant in the College Consortium for International Studies’ Semester in Spain program, I have come to understand how challenging studying abroad really is. Several other students from this campus are also taking part in this program.

In many respects, studying abroad is no different from studying at our home college or university. We have our schedule set up much like we do in the U.S. with lectures and reading assignments.

We have midterms and finals, of course, although in some classes final exams are given at the director’s discretion. Unlike studying in the U.S., we’re learning about a different country’s history, culture, government and economic system, not by reading about these in a textbook, but by living in it.

“It’s been a great experience for me,” said sophomore Wendy Page, who will be graduating from South Campus in the Winter Term. “I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish and to be more knowledgeable about life in other countries. This program has really been a great step in that direction.”

I, too, have also wanted to come to Spain to experience European culture and history first-hand, having been inspired by all those humanities and history courses I have taken at Miami-Dade.

In addition to the thrill of reporting from abroad, I’ve found what I came looking for, and perhaps more. As I mentioned earlier, studying abroad is challenging in every sense of the word.

I am not just talking about the academic program here, although I have found it to be one of the most difficult yet satisfying ones in my college experience.

There is a great deal more involved here, classes, tests, and term papers aside.

In addition to the basic problems of living in a country with a different language, history, culture and political system, a student abroad can expect to face the following challenges:

Homesickness. This can be overcome with a positive outlook and support from fellow students and the home front. There have been days when most of us here have felt depressed, when we have mailed post cards and letters to everyone we know and no one except parents have bothered to write back.

Culture shock. Believe me, when you first travel to a foreign country, you will be hit by the oh-my-God-how-weird-this-place-is syndrome. I still get impatient with the “let’s close everything down between 2 and 5 p.m. and go home for lunch” system.

Meeting new people. A very universal challenge anywhere, but if you’re going to study-travel abroad, you must make friends both with your fellow students and the natives you come in contact with. One of the nice things about the program is that I’ve met students not only from my home campus but also from colleges and universities from all over the U.S.

Anti-Americanism. Whenever a major power like the U.S. gets to be a country with wealth and influence and the military muscle to back it, all the other nations tend to get resentful.

Thankfully, all of these things can be overcome with a little patience and a lot of determination.

Another thing that I’ve learned about the program is how to rely upon myself. Basically, I’m responsible for everything; I have to pay for my rent, my books and school supplies, monitor my own progress and so on.

It takes a lot of self-discipline to keep yourself from turning a study-abroad experience into a mere tourist excursion. It isn’t really that hard, it just takes a little readjustment of your priorities.

“I’d recommend the program to anyone who really wants to learn Spanish and get acquainted with Spain itself,” said Greg Norell, a student from Texas. “I think it’s the best way to get a feeling for the language and culture.”

The way the program itself is set up is really the key to a student’s enjoyment of the Seville experience. The mixture of academics and extracurricular activities makes studying abroad challenging yet fun, too.

© 1988, 2020 Alex Diaz-Granados. All rights reserved.

Obviously, if I could travel back to 1988, I don’t know the exact mechanics of how that would work. Would I return to my 25-year-old self in “spirit form” and basically “take over” my own body while retaining my memories of 2020? Or would two versions of me – 57-year-old me and 25-year-old me – exist in the same city simultaneously?  In the case of the latter, would I be able to avoid creating paradoxes or, even more important, the temptation to alter my past by warning my younger self about the future I left behind?

In any event, while I will accept the fact that we can’t live in the past – or travel to it – and not wallow in a pool of sorrow or self-pity, I do get some joy from knowing that I once had happier Thanksgivings – and thus take comfort in the fact that I can still remember them.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

2 thoughts on “Memory Lane: A Reporter Remembers His Experiences in November ’88 as a Student in Seville

  1. We all have those moments we wish we could go back to and make big or small changes to our lives. You are lucky to have such a positive memory of this time overall. I know right now sucks – it does for many of us for different reasons. Much love to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember the culture shock of Costa Rica oh so well. LOL Ecuador actually had longer lunch hours than CR (maybe that’s why CR is one of the more economically well off countries in Latin America). I recently was invited to be a part of a 40-year anniversary group of the high school I attended in CR. It was so sweet that they remember la gringita!

    Liked by 1 person

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