'Friendships and experiences I will cherish forever'

Abdulwahab Alhaji ’17 at about 5,000 feet above sea level, after hiking up Mount Abantos during his study abroad semester in Madrid last spring.

Abdulwahab Alhaji ’17 has long appreciated European art, especially from the Renaissance; it has influenced his own photography of Islamic art. So it is not surprising that one of his most memorable experiences while studying abroad in Madrid during spring 2016 was the opportunity to return again and again to view the collections at the Prado, the main Spanish national art museum.

“It was quite breathtaking,” said Alhaji, an electrical and computer engineering major from Kuwait. “From Goya to Velazquez, I got the opportunity to see these artists’ work firsthand, raw and untouched. They told a story. These paintings had centuries of history in their strokes and personal anecdotes in their uniqueness. I definitely noticed that people from all walks of life came to appreciate the hard work of these talented individuals.”

As an international student in the U.S. studying abroad once again, Alhaji had an opportunity to compare “the similarities and the differences between all three places I was using as anchors in my judgment (Kuwait, USA, and Spain). I learned how to work in a completely different culture and work environment. I improved my Spanish skills to a moderate fluency level so I can officially say that I am trilingual.”

He took three classes at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid that will satisfy requirements for his ECE degree, as equivalents to ECE222, ECE242, and ECE216 here. “I think the difficulty of the classes was fairly average for engineering courses,” Alhaji said. “They were definitely more application-based and lab-heavy that UR classes, which I appreciated. The grading system and the professional atmosphere were completely different, but it was easy to pick up on the norms and to adapt to student life in Spanish universities.”

He also took a Spanish class equivalent to SP152 here, which contributes to his humanities cluster.

“Most importantly, I gained friendships and experiences that I will cherish forever, and bonds that will never be broken,” Alhaji said. For example, his host parents were also great fans of art, “so we had the most fruitful and enjoyable conversations (albeit slow with my then-broken Spanish)” about the collections Alhaji saw at the Prado and its fellow Museo de Reina Sofia, and Museo de Thyssen-Bornemisza.

“I think that’s what it comes down to when people cite their travel and moving experience. It’s a lot less about the work and academics and lot more about the unique connections that we make with people. That is what makes it worthwhile. That is why I think everyone should do it.”

“This was an experience that will influence the rest of my life.”

Alhaji with his host parents Carmen and Angel while visiting their summer house. Click here to see Alhaji’s gallery of photos he took while in Madrid.