It has been a few days since we came back from the conference in Valladolid and like most of the Fulbrighters I’ve spoken with, I’m still feeling buoyed by the sense of inspiration and community that permeated our activities there. Personally, I had been looking forward to the conference as an opportunity to get away from Madrid for a few days. January and early February have been unusually cold by Spanish standards and I was struggling to avoid falling into something of a mid-winter slump as a result of the cold. So, when we got to Valladolid on Wednesday and the sun was shining as we walked from the train station to the hotel, it was an early cue that we were in for a pleasant few days.
That first afternoon, we sat in an ancient hall in the University of Valladolid and listened first to words of welcome from the university officials and later, to presentations from the senior researchers, who had all recently come to Spain. It was impressive, in the most original sense of the word, to sit in a space that old. I wondered once again, as I often have since coming to Spain, how it is to grow up in such direct contact with so much history, a way of life which is very much at odds with American culture. It was also fascinating to see the senior researchers give presentations on their subjects, since this was the very first contact that most of us had had with them.
The next few days were busy: we had the chance to meet in small groups to compare notes with each other about how our year was going and to solicit advice regarding any problems we might be dealing with regarding our work or our adjustment into Spanish society. We saw a number of impressive performances from talented Fulbrighters who shared dance, music and poetry with the rest of the group. Finally, on Friday, we spent the morning listening to a number of Fulbrighters present their research topic (or an innovative teaching technique or side project in the case of the ETAs) to the rest of the group. I left feeling inspired to reinvigorate my own teaching with many of the techniques and ideas that had been put forth by my peers.
We all had the chance to see a little bit of Valladolid through three optional cultural activities: a visit to the University library, a walking tour of the city, or a visit to the sculpture museum. I chose to go to the library, since ancient books have always fascinated me. The tour did not disappoint, as it included such unique items as a 9th century bible and a book censored by Inquisition.
On top of everything, we had the option of ending the conference with a trip to a vineyard outside of town, where we were treated to a tour of the factory and a tasting of the products. It was certainly a pleasant ending to the week’s activities!
More than any planned activity, what catalyzed the experience for me, as I think it did for many of us, was the opportunity to speak with so many different people, many of whom I had only met briefly at orientation or not at all. With such a large community spread out through Spain, it is sometimes possible to feel a bit isolated. Yet, here was a large group of people going through the same trials and the the same triumphs, and doing it all with an extraordinary level of skill and perspicacity. With the bar raised so high by my peers, how could I not feel inspired to meet their challenge by increasing the level of creativity and energy which I invest in my own work? I’ve returned to Madrid, infused with this sense of purpose and excited to breathe new life into the rest of my time in Spain.
** Picture courtesy of Carlos Barrena Pérez