Remember I said I wanted to make this blog not solely about myself, but rather about the people I meet along the way? I must say…I have had a plethora of interesting experiences during my time here in Spain. Weird things tend to happen to me when in a group setting, and it’s something different each day. I thought I would share one of those experiences with you in this post, and also a quick update on my recent explorations of Bilbao.
Each morning when I take the metro to school, I put in my headphones and observe the behavior of everyone around me. Not in a creepy way, but there are certain things that are different here than in the United States. One cultural thing that has really stuck out to me is the Down Syndrome population. All of the Down people I have seen appear to be older, not so much children. One morning I saw a man with Down Syndrome dancing on the metro and it put a huge smile on my face. I looked around to see the reaction from others, and nothing. No one paid any attention to him, nor did anyone smile at him. He was alone.
That night I decided to do some research on the Down Syndrome population here in Spain. Apparently Down Syndrome is fairly common in Spain – not as much as the United States, but the first thing that popped up when I searched this on Google was an advertisement for an abortion clinic, with the face of a child with Down Syndrome. The abortion rate here for children with Down is 95%. There is actually a law that if you find out the fetus has a genetic mutation, you have up to 22 weeks to abort the baby. Honestly, this makes me sick to my stomach. I am completely pro-life and the fact that these abortion clinics are using children with Down to increase their business is sickening. So keeping that in mind, I was taken aback by my experience this past Wednesday.
Once again, I was on the metro heading home for the day with a friend. The metro was fairly packed for that time of day, but my friend and I were able to manage finding a seat. After one stop, this young girl with Down Syndrome walked up to me and said “Hola, como estás?” I asked her how she was doing as well, and then asked if she would like to take my seat. She looked at me and said no, but began to point at my lap. I asked her if she wanted to sit on my lap and she just smiled and situated herself on my lap. I tried to make conversation with her, but she kept putting her hand over my mouth and telling me to be quiet. I couldn’t help but laugh. It was so cute and unexpected. The women sitting in front of me began to laugh as well, and asked me how I was doing. I told them I was from the United States and here to study, and they were shocked. They said my Spanish was really good and they seemed to be really impressed. I was actually surprised that I was able to hold a conversation with all of them in Spanish. Proud moment for me, yay! 🙂
I remember trying to fix my hair, and the girl kept pulling my head closer to hers and she literally grabbed my arm and wrapped it around her so I was hugging her the entire ride. She had me completely taken over and I was not allowed to talk. Finally, her stop came and she just got out of my lap, laughed a little bit, and I told her it was really nice to meet her. Honestly, made my day. What are the odds this girl with Down Syndrome would sit on my lap on a full metro ride? I really felt like this was a calling that literally fell into my lap. I am more interested than ever in the Down Syndrome population in an international context at this point. It’s not something you would normally think about outside of the American perspective, but Down is a recurring issue everywhere. I’m looking forward to doing more research on this topic and I’m excited to see where it takes me.
In my Intercultural Communications class last semester, I learned that everyone sees this world through a different cultural lens. What better way to experience that first-hand than traveling abroad? My lens has definitely expanded in ways I never imagined and I am so grateful for that. Living in such a great country like America, we get into a certain mindset that we are better than everyone else and that’s the only way to live. Everyone has a different definition of what life looks like and that’s important to take into consideration when interacting with foreigners.
Meanwhile, this week some friends and I paid to take a Bilboat tour on the river that runs through Bilbao. We missed the 5:30pm boat, so we had to wait until 7:00pm for the next one. To kill some time we took a tram called a funicular into the mountains that had a wonderful panoramic view of Bilbao. My friends and I got really lucky and had an entire 13 year old soccer team in our tram that smelled like dirty gym socks :). It was great. The boat ride though was one of my favorite activities here so far. Especially that time of night was absolutely beautiful.
Also, the elephant in the room – Spain and Portugal played in the World Cup last night. The entire group of USAC students and I went to a local Irish pub to watch the game and talk with locals. The bar was packed! Everyone went crazy every time Spain scored a goal. I don’t follow soccer that much, but when in Spain, this is a necessity. Even though they tied, I feel so lucky to be in Spain during this integral time. Viva España!
Today, a couple friends and I walked across the Puente Bizkaia, which is a hanging bridge that connects Portugalete with Getxo. This bridge was built in 1893 and survived the Spanish Civil War. It was a little sketchy, but the views were incredible. Tomorrow, I will be hiking San Juan de Gaztelugaxte, which is an islet connected to land by a man- made bridge. It has actually been cleared as a filming spot for Game of Thrones, so cool! More pictures to come!