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Aqueducts and art museums: Interterm in Spain rich in culture, history

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The other interterm trips had already departed, while students taking Spanish Language and Culture spent the first week of interterm on campus.

We learned about Spanish history and culture with Professor of Spanish Martha Peterka, who shared enthusiastic travel advice based on past experiences in Spain. Unfortunately, Peterka was unable to accompany us on the trip. Thus, Professor of Art David Long (who was finishing a sabbatical) volunteered to join us.

We spent the majority of our time in Madrid, visiting museums and historic sites. In the Prado Museum, we saw works by great Spanish painters like El Greco, Velasquez and Goya. In the Reina-Sofia, we saw the famous work Guernica by Picasso, as well as paintings by the surrealists Dalí and Miró. Surprisingly, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum’s art collection rivaled those of other museums in Madrid, and was an unexpected favorite of David Long’s.

The group made three day trips – to Toledo, Segovia and El Escorial. Segovia was the favorite trip destination for Kaitlin Claassen. “You have to be excited about a town with a Roman aqueduct, a cathedral and a castle that Isabel of Castilla lived in,” she said.

Like Segovia, El Escorial has a rich history. The Royal Pantheon is located there, where most of Spain’s monarchs have been buried since the Hapsburgs took the throne. We also visited the Valley of the Fallen, built by the dictator Francisco Franco. The Valley of the Fallen is a monument to those who died in the Spanish Civil War, located just outside of El Escorial. Natasha Esau was especially impressed with the monument because “it was a huge cathedral inside of a cave.”

However, since we were mostly in Madrid, we became acquainted with the challenges of life in an urban environment.

Spaniards seem keenly aware both of their own needs and the limitations of global resources. This is exhibited through their wonderful public transportation system. Coming from Kansas, I was impressed by the many transportation options. Subways, local trains, high-speed trains, buses, taxis and walking were all available and well-used methods of transportation.

Spain is also clearly making an effort to conserve water. In our hotel bathrooms, there was a note asking us to consider the scarcity of water and instructing us to curb our water consumption. Likewise, many public restrooms had an automatic shut-off time for water faucets. For me, Spain exhibited another way of life, one that is willing to compromise a bit of convenience for the greater good.

Indeed, the experiences of this trip brought forth questions concerning the American way of life. For example, walking a distance to reach one’s destination is not a problem for the average Spaniard. Why do such things seem so burdensome for Americans?

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at

Victoria Janzen is a senior from Wichita, majoring in history and Spanish. (Her grandparents, Dottie and Heinz Janzen, live in North Newton.) Other students in the Spanish Language and Culture class were Jordan Bartel, junior from North Newton, Kaitlin Claassen, junior from Elmira, Ore., Natasha Esau, junior from Hutchinson, Sierra Pryce, sophomore from North Newton, and Addison Wolf, freshman from Moundridge.

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