Do It Anyway with Aanu Jibodu ​​​​​​

Meet Aanu Jibodu, a Statistics and Civil and Environmental Engineering double major from Duncan college. Aanu studied with IES Abroad - Engineering, Math & Science in Madrid. She shares what it's like to live with a host mom, her experience studying abroad as a Black woman, and the joy of riding a train at sunset.

Produced by Annabelle Crowe.

Aanu Jibodu
Aanu Jibodu

Podcast Transcript

So I went into Rice, knowing I wanted to study abroad. I've known all my life that I was meant to be sort of an international traveler and I always wanted to experience new cultures and just go to new places. I just enjoy it so much.

So my name is Aanu, Aanu Jibodu actually, I was the class of 2021 so I graduated this past May actually. I studied Statistics and Environmental Engineering and I was at Duncan College. So I knew I wanted to study abroad going into Rice and as a low income student, a student that was on financial aid and was a QuestBridge Scholar. I wasn't sure that I would be able to finance that. However, I realized that with my scholarship, there was the opportunity to study abroad for a semester built into it and once I saw that in a brochure or somebody said it, I was like, “okay, obviously I'm going abroad”

I studied abroad in Spain and I did the IES, Madrid - Math and Engineering [program], and the school I studied at, which was Carlos III de Madrid, at least the branch I studied at, was a school of engineering. I had taken Spanish classes for, I think, upwards of seven or eight years so I just knew I wanted to study in a Spanish-speaking country. In my case, the program I did in Madrid was, again, a specialized one so it was directed at students in engineering and in math. I was also going with, I think, about, I want to say, upwards of like a hundred other students from the U.S. I went specifically because I wanted to do a program that would allow me, as an engineering student, to stay on track, to take classes while also being in a culture that I really love and wanted to immerse myself in.

So that was a really, really great experience because in my classes I would hear multiple languages, which was mind blowing. It was so cool because I would hear Spanish spoken, but I would hear some other languages, which to this day, I couldn't tell you what they were. but it was just so cool to be able to walk onto campus and truly see people from all sorts of nationalities and kind of see that cultural fusion in a space other than the United States and then also to be able to meet people, to be able to meet and interact with Spanish speaking students, to work in groups with them and to just kind of be a part of their culture and experience that culture was just a tremendous experience.

My host mom - I didn't necessarily have a host family, I had a host mom. I just kind of knocked on her door and she was this tiny little Spanish lady, kind of intimidating, kind of scary, despite the fact that she was like five, two or something. She was very straight faced. She didn't smile a lot, which sounds bad, but she's just a very quintessential Spanish woman.

She's kind of a fast talking, no nonsense sort of person and I really grew to enjoy her a lot, but it was just such an experience for me living in this woman's really cute, quaint city apartment in the heart of Madrid. She was actually a tour guide and every night at dinnertime, it was a ritual.

She would prepare our food - traditional Spanish food, which was always great - and then she would give us sort of a history lesson. She had a whiteboard in her kitchen and we would sit in front of the white board. She definitely felt sort of maternal in that she was very comfortable letting us know, like “you can't do that.”

Oh, yeah. She had a five minute shower rule. It ended up not being that bad, but she said, “because of the price of water, we have a five minute shower rule” and she said “on the days that you plan to wash your hair, it's seven.” I was like, “oh, wow! That's not what I'm used to at all” but, honestly, it wasn't difficult to adjust at all.

She definitely allowed us our independence and allowed us to go out and explore and have fun. I think I would wake up around eight, maybe nine. She always had a dish of pastries so I'd have a pastry for breakfast with my roommate and then we would prepare lunch. We would go down - this is very Spanish - but we would go down to the corner store beneath our apartment. It sold baguettes for 25 cents and then we would buy tortilla - not the bread tortilla, but egg and cheese tortilla - and then we would buy lunch meats and vegetables and we would go upstairs and we would make our lunch for the day, which was always a baguette. Then it would be kind of around the time to head to school so we all went to school at Carlos III de Madrid.

The engineering school was in a sort of a suburb of Madrid called Leganés so we would take the train. You'd see so many people from the program on the train. We would be in a lot of the same classes together because we all took a lot of the classes in English. After three ish hours of classes, around 5PM, we would all head back onto the train - the most beautiful train ride because the sun was always sitting at that time.

Just imagine you're looking out the window. You're sitting on the left side of a train car. There's an old Spanish man next to you. His newspaper is wide open. He's snoring a little bit. You're just looking out the window at these city towns with lots of greenery, but also lots of buildings and people are just walking about, kind of old ladies pushing around they're shopping carts, their kids running around. You're hearing chatter in the background. Again, there's a guy snoring next to you, the overhead speakers telling you the next destination and to just know that you're experiencing this. This is what you're experiencing right now and not many people in this world ever get to experience that and to be able to do that every single evening, can't beat it.

I think it changed me in small ways. It's not like I wake up every morning and say “I went to Spain.” I don't know if it changed the direction of my life or trajectory of my life, but as I mentioned earlier, there's definitely things.

One thing that I was kind of confused by, but I think I appreciate now, is the more laid back lifestyle. Relaxation, or just not overwhelming yourself and being overworked, is really big in Spain so siestas - I'm sure, we've heard of those. They weren't the biggest thing in Madrid proper, but in Leganés, which is, again, where I took classes, they were absolutely a thing, and I thought it was so great is because in the middle of the day you just see people sort of hanging around and just chilling, literally just relaxing in the middle of the day. I think that's something that has stuck with me since. There is not this constant need or constant pressure to be hustling and to be doing things all the time. It is okay to rest and I think that's something that people in Spain just do really well - to have a life work balance, just live their lives, just chill. That's something that was interesting, but that I really valued and I have definitely taken away and will for the rest of my life integrate into my lifestyle.

I don't think I had any fears or apprehensions applying to go abroad. The only thing in terms of considering where I studied abroad was: “will I be comfortable in this space, specifically as a black woman?” I wasn't entirely sure if I would fit into these different cultures and, again, just to give some context, when I was looking at city abroad locations in South America, I was looking for places that had populations of black people, just so I wouldn't feel so out of place so it was definitely a risk of choosing to study in Spain, which has a very low population of African Americans, but, ultimately, I decided that I'm still going to take this opportunity and I'm still going to explore, and I'm still going to experience this, even if it is a little bit uncomfortable because I don't necessarily look like everybody else.

The first few weeks, I would say the first two week or two, were definitely really challenging. I felt really out of place in Spain and something that I didn't mention is that, again, being a black woman, I did get a lot of stares and I was just scared. I was scared to leave my apartment. I was scared to interact with people. Again, this was the point where I didn't really feel comfortable speaking in Spanish so it was just a very scary space. I hadn't necessarily made really deep friendships, at that point, so I didn't necessarily have people to explore the city with.

I was just getting to know my host mom. I was just getting to know my roommate and I was just really homesick so those first several weeks were really challenging for me. I was like, “should I be here at all? Is this my place? Did I make a mistake in coming out here?” I think it's just time, just time and allowing yourself to become more comfortable is what makes it easier and getting to know people better, becoming more comfortable in the environment.

Everybody was super, super welcoming and everybody was very accommodating. They would listen hard at my Spanish and what I was trying to communicate. They would speak slowly and respond. Sometimes they wouldn't, but I would still understand what they said and it was just a lot better than I thought going in. Now I'm a lot more comfortable just doing challenging things, things I'm uncomfortable with. That sort of came from the fact that I went to Spain and was uncomfortable and challenged myself to kind of push forward anyway.

I just feel like I realized that in a lot of the communities that I was a part of, information about studying abroad was not publicized or it wasn't big in the black community. I felt like a lot of, at least a lot of the black people I knew, didn't even consider going abroad.

I feel like in the QuestBridge community, it's a little bit more well known, but I felt like a lot of low income people also just didn't think of going abroad as something that was for them and then even in the engineering student community, a lot of engineering students didn't think, and I still think to this day, don't think, that studying abroad is for them or that they can go abroad. So I was at this intersection where it felt like from every angle, “you're not necessarily the type of person to go abroad” but I just knew I was. I knew I was going abroad.

It was so cool because after it, a lot of people who I didn't think were interested in going abroad would reach out to me and would ask me about the experience or they would tell me their plans to go abroad and that was the most exciting thing to me. I just love to talk so I would talk about my experience going abroad and how accessible it was and how easy it was for me to go abroad.

Why wouldn't I? It's definitely possible. My whole thing is if you want to study abroad at Rice, you probably can. There's a way for you to go abroad and even if you're scared, I challenge you to still do it, still apply and see what comes of it. Don't not do it because you're scared. Be scared and just do it anyway.

I guess even broader than studying abroad, if there's something challenging that you want to do, you want to do it. You have the desire to do it, but you're just scared. I challenge you to do the thing. Do it, just do it. It's going to be scary. It's gonna be hard. Do it anyway. Be scared. Be apprehensive and just take the risk to study abroad and I really don't think you’ll regret it.