Pictures of food. That is what I will remember the most. Well, more accurately, students taking pictures of food. Pictures of paella. Pictures of squid. Pictures of cheesecake.
Sebastián Royo, acting provost, and I had the privilege of leading 28 of our first-year undergraduates to Madrid for their spring break. The Gateway Program, as this is called, is designed to give students an immersive international experience that will be eye-opening and inspiring while they’re there, but also expand their perspective when they return to Boston. As part of the trip we went to the Prado, Spain’s national art museum, and saw some of the most magnificent paintings in the world. We toured Palacio de Liria, a palace and residence of the Dukes of Alba. We took walking tours of Madrid and the international historic sites of Segovia and Toledo led by Héctor Santiago, a talented professor from our Madrid campus and an expert in architecture and history. We visited the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, home of the world-famous Real Madrid soccer team. We listened to a lecture on the Spanish economy. We saw an amazing flamenco show and watched Mama Mia in Spanish. (While I do not speak Spanish I have practically memorized Abba’s music, so popular when I was in high school, so I was quite happy that I could actually follow almost the entire show!)
I also had a chance to meet with our Madrid campus faculty members and staff for the first time. They are talented, dedicated, and enthusiastic. Finally, we held the first-of-its-kind Madrid campus alumni and friends reception. The room was full of energy and a desire to further engage with Suffolk.
All of it was wonderful. But it was the group meals that were the most meaningful to me. It was during those meals, where we ate together and where our students took pictures of the food as part of their record of the experience that I really got to know them. I learned so much about them, where they come from, how they grew up, their interests, and in some cases their challenges. Over those meals we shared bits of ourselves. By the end of our trip many of them expressed how impactful the experience had been for them, and why. While I know and have engaged with wonderful students here at Suffolk, I do not often get the opportunity to spend this much time with them. More than an El Greco painting or seeing and learning about a 2,000 year-old aqueduct, getting to know this group of students was for me the most memorable part of the trip. I will not offer too many details, as ultimately they were shared between individuals, not between students and their acting president. But I can tell you that they were divided on how they felt about eating rabbit and ink-soaked paella! I will never look at pictures of cheesecake – or any food, for that matter – in quite the same way again. Now, they will always make me smile and think of Madrid.
Marisa J. Kelly