Studies Abroad

This is dedicated to my parents, who are thoroughly (but wrongly!) convinced that I have not opened a textbook since I’ve been here.

The 3-week intensive class we finished at the end of January was a tedious crash-course in grammar and vocabulary – useful, but tedious. Don’t get me wrong, grammar for 4 hours straight, 5 days a week is a blast (especially in a foreign language), but I think the general consensus within our group is that we’re all overwhelmingly excited to move on.

I have three weeks’ worth of official classes under my belt, and so far am really enjoying them. I’m taking 5: “Economies of Spain and Latin America”, “Spanish Written and Oral Production”, “Spanish Theater”, “Spanish Culture and Civilization” (taught by Professor McKinney of Bucknell), and “Health, Ecology, and the Environment in Spain.” Although each would be worth taking the time to discuss, I’d rather specifically dive into my experience in the last.

Only taking it to cross off a Bucknell requirement, I’d be lying if I said I was excited to take this course. Health? The other day, my roommate asked me to go to the science museum here in Granada (Parque de las Ciencias). In truly the nicest way I possibly could, I told her sorry, but I really hate science and the admission fee could get me about 4 nights of tapas instead. I’m the 21-year-old who still needs her mom to hold her hand in the pediatrician’s office while getting a shot. Ecology? I don’t even know what that refers to in English, let alone Spanish. Environment? Our two family cars are a monster Toyota SUV and GMC pickup truck. Of this, my knowledge is limited.

I can honestly say that I like this class even more than I was dreading it (a lot). My professor has devoted the first few weeks solely to discussion and comparison of different healthcare systems.  I may not be a pre-med, but it’s pretty fascinating as an Economics and Political Science major to get a European perspective on this matter, especially in lieu of recent heightened contention in the U.S. Lo and behold, Spain is facing many of the same issues in this area as we are. Resources are ultimately limited, demographics are changing, and demand and costs of medical services and technologies are certainly not falling anytime soon.

Our professor put up a slide listing the victories and shortcomings of the current Spanish healthcare system. Written under successes was “cobertura universal de la población y amplio catologo de prestaciónes”  (universal coverage of the population and ample catalogue of benefits).  I raised my hand and explained to my professor, completely in Spanish, that I thought that this was subjective based on what definition you assign the word “health”, what you deem “necessary” and a “right” (versus extra or privilege), and who falls under your image of “universal”. This class gets at the heart of some of the most hot-button issues in the United States right now.

Example 1: My professor’s definition of health includes not only mental and physical, but also social health. Andalusia’s (the southern province of Spain that I am living in) does as well, because its system currently covers sex changes under the argument that gender identity is a key factor affecting an individual’s sense of social belonging and acceptance. This got me questioning whether or not U.S. citizens would have a problem with their tax money going toward a procedure like this – would they, too, see this as a “right”, and “necessary” to one’s “health”? Or is this a luxury – an extra? To my knowledge, a similar debate surrounds abortion and many other civil liberties in the United States – over time, the Supreme Court has loosened its reading of the Constitution though, slowly but surely deeming rights what were once privileges.

Example 2: In the past 6 months, in order to cut down on costs given current economic woes, Spain has excluded undocumented immigrants from its definition of “universal”. My professor completely disagrees with this policy, but we had a lengthy discussion in class about whether or not immigrants do in fact put a strain on the system, particularly in regards to healthcare, and whether or not it is just for them to be entitled to the same benefits as law-abiding, documented citizens. Given that they are typically between 25-35 years old, do they put any strain at all on the healthcare system? If an undocumented immigrant steps into an emergency room needing dire care but has no money, is it our moral prerogative to offer and cover them the same equal benefits? These are questions that not only are at the core of political discourse in the United States, but that I never thought I would be able to reflect on in a foreign language.

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