From a Broken Phone to Having an Audience With The King of Spain: Part II

Grant Buehrer, participating in the Student Exchange Program in Spain, shared his story meeting with the King of Spain! Tasked with a gift and the first question to the king, he puts what he learned at Ohio State to the test as he steps into the room that the king awaits.

This is a continued story for my previous blog post here, and I am excited to share the story of meeting the King of Spain!

The time had come for me to join the group of students set to be a part of the annual private audience with the King of Spain. As we waited outside the university – in formal suit and tie – for the bus that would take us to Palacio Zarzuela, the official residence of the Spanish royal family. I had the chance to strike up a great conversation with a group of outstanding students at ICADE, they were interested to hear about business culture in the U.S.A. and we had a short, yet passionate, debate regarding the role of the United States in the world. At this point my Spanish was starting to sound quite coherent and I was proud of my progress in the first 2 months of the exchange semester.

Once on the bus Marta – the person who aided me in getting my replacement phone out of customs – began to address the group of around 20-30 students. We had known that our meeting would be a casual-style Q&A, but none of us were expecting Marta to ask us to be the first to ask a question. After a few moments of silence following her request for an initial question, Marta called on me to ask a question first. I became tense, but remembered all the great preparation I had received from my time at Ohio State to be ready in this moment. I felt that there was a necessary need to bring a gift for the King, know that he was an active man, I decided to bring a new Ohio State Nike dry-fit hat; it seemed fitting considering I was a long way from home. With question and a hat in hand, I got off the bus and went towards the palace.

The palace was a beautiful place, incredibly regal with fine accents. For a building for nation leader, it was right in line with my expectations in terms of its exquisiteness. As we were waiting for our appointment with the King, we waited in an anteroom and were prepped as to what the proceedings for the meeting would be. I handed my gift over to an assistant to the king, and we began to make a line for our entrance and formal handshake.

After a wonderful procession into the room, we were there. King Felipe VI was very gracious and received us regally. With a firm handshake and a slight bow, I greeted the king with a formal Su Majestad (Your Majesty), it was an incredible experience. Once the proceedings began, time seemed to rapidly pass by. After speeches from the Rector of my exchange university, King Felipe VI, and a single student representative the Q&A had commenced. Without fail, the entire room was looking to me as I stretched my Spanish skills to its maximum. After a minute long speech in Spanish I politely asked the King if I could ask my question in English, I did not want to ask a complex question and receive a response in a language I didn’t have total mastery of yet! He graciously accepted, and provided an incredibly thorough response, I was incredibly impressed by his breadth of knowledge.

He did the same for the rest of the students, each response was carefully crafted and expertly explained. what was most interesting for me was his diplomatic demeanor. One could tell that he was a person who had spent much time in front of the citizens of Spain, and in negotiations with international leaders. There was a lot to learn from having the honor to observe such a well-polished individual.

I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to have met King Felipe VI, and would not have been able to have such an experience without the existence of the Fisher Semester Exchange program. I have much gratitude to both Universidad Pontificia Comillas and The Ohio State University for their partnership. Get out there and go beyond the classroom with a semester exchange!

From a Broken Phone to Having an Audience With The King Of Spain: Part I

Grant Buehrer, participating in the Student Exchange Program in Spain, tells his story of how a broken phone turned into a meeting with the King of Spain! He shares the strategies and learned lessons from leveraging the most good out of a bad situation while abroad.

Students and staff from the the exchange university delegation to meet the King of Spain listen to a speech prior to engaging in a Q&A Discussion with the King. From Left: Universidad Pontificia Comillas Rector Julio Luis Martínez. King of Spain Felipe VI De Bourbon y Grecia, Universidad Pontificia Comillas Staff and Students with Exchange Student Grant Buehrer center with navy suit and blue tie.

I was just two weeks fresh into my semester exchange in Madrid, Spain at Universidad Pontificia Comillas and I woke up to some concerning news. My communication lifeline, a Samsung Galaxy 7 smartphone, had died while I was sleeping. Although this might seem as a first-world complaint, when one finds themselves in an unfamiliar and foreign country the GPS and Maps capability of a smartphone alone are priceless. As the price of purchasing a new phone while I was in a foreign country was too high, I was relieved to hear from my U.S. based cell-phone insurance company that there was no problem in having a replacement phone shipped internationally. Excitedly I waited till the next week for delivery, anxiously checking the tracking information daily as the package traveled over land and ocean. On the day of expected arrival one of the worst sentences one can hear when shipping internationally flashed across my internet browser, your package has been held in customs.

As I quickly learned, living abroad requires one to quickly adapt to a given situation. As the news came in I raced to the internet to research what I would have to do – after nearly 10 days without a functioning phone – to retrieve the package. Over the course of the next seven days, I visited 3 separate government agencies on 5 total occasions while spending 10 hours of my life in mind-numbing government queues. I had made no progress whatsoever.

When living abroad, there are times when you realize that you are in over your head and need the support and advocacy of a trusted party, requiring you to think critically and accordingly as to who that might be. As such, I turned immediately to my exchange university academic advisor for help. After pointing me towards an International Relations office housed within my exchange university, I had a dream-team of two of the nicest and caring Spanish women I think I have met in all of my 6 months in the country helping me. Through broken Spanish we began to discuss what the issue was and began the process of correctly retrieving the necessary government documents to get my phone back.

A critical point must be made here, my ability to make it this far into the process of retrieving my phone falls back on one huge factor, learning Spanish prior to coming to Spain to a high enough level, so that I could communicate through these events albeit at the level of a fourth-grader. One of the worst attributes of the ugly American tourist stereotype is the inability to understand that not everyone speaks English in the world. That is okay, in fact citizens in foreign countries have every right to speak exclusively in their native tongue and you have to adjust accordingly to this reality rather than letting it bog you down.

As the next week passed I paid daily visits to my government-bureaucracy savior, Marta. This rekindled how much I have realized the importance of building relationships are, during this time I learned about Marta’s family amongst other things as I shared photos of my dog back home and stories. Not only from hearing others experiences can you learn lessons about the world that you wouldn’t have experienced otherwise, but it also opens dialogue between yourself and another that allows you to share your dreams, interests and goals with others.

This part is critical, as it is the bridge to the rest of the story and why I have found myself in some incredible experiences on the Student Exchange Program, and in life. At some point in our many interactions and through my intermediate Spanish, I shared my interested in the developing world and that I had previously visited Washington D.C. due to interests in International Finance. Marta immediately lit up, from what I could understand from our conversation in Spanish she had a friend that worked in D.C. that would be coming back to Madrid very soon and that I should meet him.

More time passes and I forget about the prior conversation we had regarding Marta’s D.C. connection. With luck, 21 days after my phone dying I had finally gotten my replacement phone out of customs. In my own eyes I realized that words of gratitude would not be sufficient for Marta and the other woman that had helped me. Sometimes another’s action is great enough that it requires a gift. I opted for flowers.

Thanks to the gift of gratitude I found myself once again in the International Relations office. After expressing my gratitude deeply, I remembered the conversation that I had with Marta and asked her about her D.C. connection. To my surprise he wasn’t a friend of her’s, he was actually the manager of a study/work abroad program at the University and was back in Madrid just an office away.

We immediately hit it off, as it turned out Jose was not only a long-time resident of the U.S.A. but his study abroad programs were incredibly successful at the university. As we continued to discuss U.S. politics and global affairs, Jose informed me of a few events and conferences that he was coordinating at the university. After learning a little more about me he asked if I might be able to speak at a few of the conferences regarding the U.S.A. and its culture.

I really credit the time that I spent at Ohio State for preparing me for this request. Thanks to the many opportunities I have had to present in front of professionals and fellow students through student organizations, I was prepared. Over the next couple weeks I spoke on several occasions at his scheduled events.

This is where things come full circle, as I have found through the many opportunities that I have had in my life the old adage “luck is where opportunity meets preparation.” After my final speaking engagement, Jose shocked me with the information that he was requesting that I be allowed to join a delegation from the university to meet with His Majesty King Felipe VI of Spain. The delegation visits the King annually as a sign of support from the Royal Family towards globally-minded university programs. After a decade of visiting delegations to King Felipe VI, Jose said it was time for a foreign-exchange student to join the delegation, and thanks to my rapid involvement on campus he believed I was a good fit.

Forward-thinking really came in handy when preparing for Spain, I thought that I might find myself wanting to attend a formal event while in Spain. Therefore I made the effort to make enough room in my luggage for my suit, tie and dress shoes. Never did I know that I would be using my suit to meet the King of Spain!

With the event a week away, I decided to take a step back and prepare myself for meeting with the King of Spain. I had been honored to have been blessed with the possibility.

Want to know how it went meeting the King? Stay tuned for my next blog post about the meeting with the King!