Home is where the heart is

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Coming to Madrid, I expected diversity. I expected to find a good amount of students from the US. I expected to find people who spoke English. I expected to find a student body filled with students from countries all over Europe and the rest of the world but I was in no way prepared to find the group of individuals I had the pleasure of spending a very special night with last Thursday.

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On my first day at SLU Madrid, I met a man named Rodrigo who works at the Student Life office and is also in charge of organizing a one-month volunteer program every summer in Ethiopia, my home country. He instantly recognized that I was Ethiopian and told me a little about the program, which was comforting to hear on what felt like the first day of freshman year. September 11th, one of the saddest days in US history, is also Ethiopian New Years under the Gregorian calendar so this day is one filled with mixed feelings and heightened sensitivity as it is. That might have been the day I felt the most homesick since I came to Madrid as I received texts and pictures from my family and friends, but my day took a quick turn as soon as I ran into Rodrigo on campus. He mentioned that he was going to an Ethiopian restaurant, Nuria, with a group of 18 people who have participated in the Ethiopia program to celebrate New Years and invited me to tag along; I was almost sure I was hearing what I wanted to hear and not what he actually said.

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Restaurante Etiope Nuria is located in the center of Malasaña, a vibrant and multi-cultural part of Madrid. Madrid’s metro system is very simple, easy to navigate and relatively inexpensive so the restaurant was easily accessible on the metro. After repeating my story of how I lived in Ethiopia, moved to the US and now I am here in Madrid about 10 times as people were arriving one-by-one at the restaurant, I finally got to hear more about the program and what they do. In a nutshell, they spend a month in a small town called Zuway, where they teach English to local kids for about half the day and then spend the second half doing other organized activities with them like arts and crafts. Some of the students who participated on this trip were from SLU Madrid, while others were from other schools in Madrid, so I also got to learn about Spanish college systems as well and definitely got a taste of the local nightlife when we went to Karaoke after dinner as opposed to the typical nightlife designed for tourists.

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What amazed me the most was how strongly they felt about Ethiopia after spending just one or two months there. They had developed such a strong bond with the country and wanted to tell me more about their experience there and I wanted to listen. We also talked about ways in which I will be able to help them on their next expedition whether or not I will be able to physically be there. This is something that has been going on for 8 years now and will continue to grow so I have discovered a commitment that goes way beyond “just a fun semester in Spain.” I spent my New Years with a group of intellectual, diverse individuals appreciating each other’s cultures, conversing about the future and enjoying Ethiopian food made to perfection. There is no better feeling than being in the heart of Madrid, about 3,463 miles away from my first home and about 4,716 away from my second, and feeling completely at home! I am certainly one happy camper!

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