A Kitchen Job & the Fourth of July

Good news. GREAT news.

First of all: I got a job. As a cook! In a restaurant. A SEAFOOD restaurant. I really, really enjoy it – more than I ever thought I would. I am an oyster-shucking, lobster-steaming, salad-tossing, creme-brulee-torching chef, and I LOVE it.

What does this have to do with study abroad, Caroline?

Yes! Here’s the thing: not only am I the only girl in the kitchen, I’m one of the two non-El Salvadorians.

Imagine a huge, gleaming, stainless steel kitchen. With expansive countertops and a wall of gas burners and a long station for dishwashing. Put two walk-in refrigerators in one corner, and then add a mess of knives and pots and pans and spatulas. That’s the back kitchen.

When the restaurant is in full swing, the back kitchen is steamy and noisy and loud. But the chefs don’t shout in English – they yell in Spanish. Rapid-fire Spanish that – THIS IS THE COOL PART – I understand because I just got back from a semester in Spain. (Who said the lessons in curse words wouldn’t come in handy?)

They say, “the lettuce is in the fridge on the right”, and I know where to go. They say, “that lucky son-of-a-gun is getting off early”, and I immediately brandish my knife. They say, “Caro, would you like a glass of iced tea?” And I say, heck yes, because finding good sweet tea in D.C. is like trying to find that missing sock from the dryer. (And let me tell you what, those El Salvadorians know how to make sweet tea.)

The benefits of spending a semester in Granada have carried over, seamlessly, to my summer in Washington, D.C. In a very unexpected way. In a very good way.

Not only that – I’d also like to tell y’all that my friendships from Spain haven’t disappeared.

Julia and Logan are working in the D.C. area. It’s awesome. We have taco nights together, and we stay in touch! It was very strange to see Julia, my Spain roommate, on the streets of an American city instead of the cobblestones of Granada, but I love it.

Alix, a Connecticut gal at heart, drove down to stay at my apartment for the Fourth of July weekend. And since she was here, Logan and Julia stayed over too. The little Spain reunion was much needed and very, very fun.

Becca and I write the occasional letter; Alex and I text each other life updates. Riley and I have a Skype date planned for later this week, and I try to keep up with Nate’s adventures in Chicago.

The funniest post-Spain friendship is the one I have with Grant. During the second week of my internship, I boarded the circulator bus (punctually) at 8 o’clock in the morning. I scanned my pass and glanced around, quickly, for a seat. But I stopped, slightly stunned and very much surprised, when I saw Grant sitting in the back, dressed in a business button-down and sporting a serious-looking briefcase. He waved. Turns out (get this) that Grant and I take the same bus to work. But not only that – we also get off at the same stop and walk in the same direction.

I’ve been on the bus with Grant many, many times. He lives two streets up from me in Georgetown and works one block away from me downtown. We’ve decided that all of the D.C.-Granada folk need to meet up for tapas. (Date TBA.)

The after-Spain adventures are never-ending, and I’m excited to see the continued effects of spending a semester abroad.

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WoCo Lovin’

The Wofford Girls at the IES Farewell Party

The Wofford Girls at the IES Farewell Party

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Hey team.

I am writing to you from our nation’s great capital – from the beating heart of democracy and the three-time champion winner of terrible traffic. I am surrounded by mostly English-speaking people. Within a city block (a block), I can locate a 24-hour CVS, a Thai taco truck, and the bold squirrel who, just earlier today, tried to steal my peanut butter bagel from my very hands. I’ve traded in my little flip phone for a 3G network, and within the past week I had a Dr. Pepper – my first in over four months.

Life is good. I’m home.

But, but, but. There are a few things that I can’t stop thinking about – a few lessons I’ve learned – and a Facebook status, courtesy of an IES program friend, that I need to share with you.

From Haley, upon her return to America: HAIKU/ Reverse culture shock / The toilet has no button / Where are the tapas

And Julia’s comment, accurate as always: I HAVE BEEN REACHING FOR THE TOILET BUTTON THE WHOLE WEEK

(Forgot to tell you – all the toilets in Spain have buttons on top instead of handles. Is it weird? At first. But what’s even weirder is coming home and hesitating, just for a moment, before realizing that the flusher is on the side, not smack in the center.)

We were told, by Wofford’s practically infallible International Programs, that the most startling part of study abroad can be the return to the United States. The world has expanded. Suddenly it seems cold to shake hands when meeting a co-worker. Why not give two kisses? Walking into Michael’s to buy poster board for your sister is overwhelming. How can so many varieties of glitter even exist? You may find no need for military time (just when you were getting good at figuring it out). And you’re perplexed, in a somewhat distressing fashion, by the lack of Spanish in your everyday life.

You may find yourself referencing Spain too much. Too much, as in, people don’t want to hear about your time in Spain as often as you want to share your experiences. It’s not that they don’t care – because they probably do, and in another situation may be interested – it’s that you’ve already talked about Spain a lot and have forgotten, accidentally, to ask them what they did for the past four months.

Coming back is all of that and more – the trans-Atlantic flight home allows a lot of time (some might say too much time) to miss the friends you’ve made and reflect on the semester.

I’ve come to many realizations, including: I have too much stuff. I am lucky and very, very blessed. Modern technology (ahem, Viber) is incredible. I like olives. I shouldn’t ever pass up a chance to go on a hike or explore a city. I need more time in Spain. And I don’t know enough about world politics.

Slowly but surely, I’m starting to understand the long-term value of my semester abroad. I come to more realizations every day (today’s realization = thank God I kept a journal while I was abroad). But there’s one thing that I knew as soon as I got on the plane to go home – something that I guessed would be true at the beginning of my travels, something that I now know to be certain: Granada was an unforgettable adventure.

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Hasta Luego – not Adios

Last night, I said goodbye to my crew of American friends – the ones who have seen me through hell and high water here in Granada, the ones I call when I need to grab food or want to take a stroll around the city. The ones who are reliably funny, consistently adventurous, and spontaneously loving.

Saying goodbye was pretty awful. The very low point being my walk home (alone) after Alix, Nathan, Casey, and Julia got on their bus to Malaga. My room was half empty, my friends were gone, and the city didn’t feel quite the same. I’m not sure it ever will again.

But I refuse – I absolutely refuse – to be sad. So I’ve made a list of everything from the States that I miss terribly and whole-heartedly, a list of 20 things that I absolutely cannot wait to fly across the Atlantic and see. Some of them are very serious and some of them are not, but they are all, absolutely and fundamentally, swear-on-the-Bible true:

1. My family. Most specifically, sitting at the kitchen table with my family, inbetween Amelia and Madeline in the chair that will forever and always be my chair, inhaling my dad’s irresistible food and laughing, probably at Lucy, who probably stuck a breadstick up her nose.

2. Ice water. Not kidding. And as long as we’re in the realm of drinks – Dr. Pepper. Dr. Pepper and more Dr. Pepper. And some cold milk.

3. Pandora.

4. Cell phone data. Nothing like texting on a flip phone to make you realize that AT&T is actually your best friend. (I’m sorry for all the times I yelled at you, AT&T. Dead zones or no, I didn’t mean it. I promise.)

5. Grass. That good old American lawn.

6. Those ridges on penne pasta. Texture = taste, and don’t let anyone tell you different. That’s why eggs are so darn gross.

7. All grilled/barbecued food. Pepper. And spices. Because Spanish food – you’re not gonna believe it but it’s true – is actually more bland than American food. And it’s less ethnically varied (does that make sense? In other words – my host mom has never served me Thai food or tacos and I had the worst Chinese food ever here in Granada). I have a whole list of foods that I need upon arriving home. A very very long list.

8. Soffe shorts. I left them all at home and I know that they miss me as much as I miss them.

9. Driving. (Think I remember how to do it? I bet I do.)

10. Cherry chapstick.

11. Quarters. Split checks. No exchange rates.

12. Concrete sidewalks. Just sometimes. Just when it’s raining and my boots are soaked through (again) and I’m slipping on the tile and trying not to twist my ankle on cobblestones.

13. In-house barefootedness. I’m leaving these horrible slippers in Spain.

14. Showers with a continuous stream of water.

15. Entertaining. In a house/room/apartment. Spain doesn’t invite people into homes and private spaces, and it kills me just a little bit. My house has always been open for friends – and my college dorm was no different. It’s weird to not have someone over. I haven’t done a pizza-and-a-movie night since January.

16. 24-hour, find-anything-you-need stores. Yesterday I tried to print off a photo of me & Julia as a gift for my host family, and I made the mistake of going at lunchtime. Everything was closed. (Have I told you guys this? In Spain, the siesta is REAL. Not because everyone sleeps – that’s not necessarily true – but almost all stores are closed between 2-5PM. Which is insane. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tried to go get something and forgotten that nothing happens between 2-5PM. Sunday is a total no-go. Nothing, not even the supermarkets, are open on Sunday. Saturday afternoon is risky too. And don’t even try to find something after 9/10PM. You missed out.)

17. The South Carolina shag.

18. Dogs that are excited to be petted (AKA Bruno & Baxter). Maybe it’s a city thing, but the dogs here are small and apathetic, albeit well behaved and patient. They wait outside storefronts, sans leash, for their master, but they don’t even listen when I talk to them. How rude is that?

19. Eastern Standard Time.

20. And – last but certainly not least – all of my friends. Skype is a technological marvel but it’s not the same as flesh-and-bones, real-life people. Don’t get me wrong – I’m grateful to Facebook and iMessage for their dutiful service to my abroad needs – but I cannot cannot wait to give bear hugs to my besties.

21. ONE MORE JUST FOR GOOD MEASURE – domestic snail mail and regular stamps. I’m not about those international shipping costs.

There we go! I’m feeling a little less sad already. No tears here, folks. I have 21 new things to be excited about. And what more can I ask for, really? It’s been an incredible four months, and I’m lucky that I have something wonderful to go home to. Home home – Land of the Free, where my family is and where (if I’m going to be honest) my heart is, too.

Plus we made a super-important decision last night. Our American crew isn’t saying goodbye. We’re saying “hasta luego” – until later. And we chose our reunion spot.


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Streets of Granada

Leads to: Paddy’s Irish Pub, Kebab King #2 (the best Kebab King), Pad Thai, 3 tapas restaurants, a to-go baked potato window, and two chinos.

Leads to: Calle Solares, AKA Caroline’s Granada Apartment


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Host Family Update

The women of my host family and I have reached a mutual understanding that goes something like this: Pants are not necessary nor required while in the house.

It was maybe a little bit shocking the first time I found my host mom pantless in the kitchen. Slightly less surprising the second time, and practically expected the third time. And you know how it is – if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So join ‘em I have. (The encouragement needed was minimal.)

But anyways – just an indicator of how close we’ve gotten. My whole host family is super sweet and I’m very lucky to have them.

Pedro spends a lot of time in my room. He likes to sit on Julia’s bed and talk to the two of us about his girl problems and what he’s going to do when he wins the lottery (travel to Argentina to see Violetta, and then America to see us). When we’re dressing up to go out, we ask for his opinion on our outfits and he always tells us we look like princesses. (He’s pretty much the best confidence booster ever.) Sometimes when he sings, he’ll dedicate songs to us. But best of all – he refers to us as his sisters who he loves very much. And he means it.

Alvaro has been MIA since starting a waiter job downtown, and we see less of Arancha, too, now that summer has arrived and her event company is booked through. Arancha continues to be effortlessly fashionable.

Maribel is, just as we anticipated, the ultimate Spanish señora. She reminds me to wear a scarf when it’s chilly outside and starches laundry like nobody’s business. (I’ve never seen such pristinely folded underwear in my life.) For our goodbye luncheon, she’s making us french fries (the really really good homemade kind) with this tender, saucy meat on top. Dessert is natillas (my favorite) and flan (because it’s a Spanish classic). Last night when she was preparing the flan the whole apartment smelled like sugar and cinnamon. I was drooling so much I had to go take a shower to make it stop.

Speaking of which – Julia and I have adjusted pretty well to the host family shower schedule. If you will kindly remember, showers in Spain are short and commonly done by turning the water off inbetween each rinse. Rinse, shampoo, soap, rinse, conditioner, rinse. Done. Only one person can use hot water at a time, and in order to get the hot water, the gas burner has to be lit. Alvaro, Arancha, and Maribel are capable of turning it on, but Pedro is not. The trickiest part of the whole shower process is catching Maribel or Arancha before they go to bed, which is early early early. (Have I taken a cold shower here? Yes. Have I put off showering for a day so I could use hot water? You better believe it.)

My host family has been a really wonderful, absolutely indispensable part of my time studying abroad. I highly recommend staying with a host family, if you can. Living in a Spanish home has helped me learn the language and the culture. The funny, potentially awkward moments – because there are some, like walking in on my pantless host mom – have become a bond between me and my host family. Not to mention my American friends get a pretty good kick out of it, too.

And Julia, my American roommate? She’s great. She helps me with my Spanish, listens to me moan about homework, and laughs at the funny stuff Spanish with me. The best part is that she’s going to be in Washington DC this summer for an internship, just like me! Our tapa adventures may never end.

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Seen in Granada

Keep meaning to mention (and keep forgetting to mention) that this is always in the kitchen. It’s exactly what it looks like, and my host mom carves off pieces and we eat them. Go ham or go home.

Alsoooo this is the view I have (or at least part of the view that I have) while I study for finals. It’s from the terrace of the IES Granada building. I lead a hard life, I know.


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Finals Week & IES Academics

I’m taking a quick break from studying for my Spain & the EU final so that I can update y’all on the academic aspect of studying abroad in Granada.

Academics: as I mentioned at the beginning of the semester, I enrolled in five classes in Granada – all taught by IES faculty and all taught in Spanish. Spain & the EU, watercolor, Islamic Art & Architecture, Spanish 401, and an internship seminar.

It’s a little scary to go abroad and not know what kind of academic situation you might be walking into. Will professors meet with me to discuss my grades? How will I be graded? Can I handle this course load while I adjust to a new country? But the academic differences and the adjustments you may have to make are all part of the experience! And I can attest, first hand, that you can do it.

I’m going to use my economics class as an example of how different courses may be. My economics class meets every Monday and Tuesday from 6:30-8PM. It is small and largely lecture based, although Professor Cuenca likes to do a round robin question-and-answer review before and after every session to make sure we understand the material. If you haven’t been paying attention, his questions may catch you off guard. But if you’ve been taking good notes and need some clarification, it’s the best way to learn about Spain & the EU. Each Monday we turn in an escema, a one-page diagram, of our notes from the previous week. Our midterm consisted of three essay questions, and our final project was a Powerpoint presentation that explored a specific aspect of the relations between Spain and the European Union. Professor Cuenca is extremely willing to meet with students to go over any material that we don’t understand, and when I emailed him yesterday with a question on the Treaty of Maastricht, he responded very promptly.

However – I have yet to receive a grade in that class. I have never gotten an escema back, and the only reason I saw my midterm was because I asked him last week to meet and talk my performance in the class. Not that the midterm had a grade on it either – my essays were underlined in some areas and marked with a series of checks, but no grade (Spanish nor American) appeared anywhere on the paper. I said, “Professor, how are my escemas?” And he said, “Oh, you’ve been doing a good job.”

And that’s all I know about that class. I may have a C or an A, but I won’t find out until Wofford processes the grade.

Contrarily, my Islamic Art & Architecture class is a little more American. We turn in a weekly 2-page essay that discusses what we learned in the last field visit. I have all of those essays back, all of them sporting a grade on top (out of 100), and I know exactly how I did on the midterm. For big tests – the midterm and the final – we have review sessions, and Profesora Lupe works very hard in class to make sure everyone grasps key art concepts and the historical background of a building. (She’ll even act out the history for you.)

It’s very hard to pinpoint what type of professor you may have abroad, and even harder to say how they’ll handle their classroom. What I know for certain is that IES Granada works diligently to make sure that students are comfortable in their academic environment and doing well in their studies. All administrative faculty are welcoming and encourage us to go to them with any problem that we might have. It’s not necessary – I haven’t heard of anyone having a problem with a professor or struggling with the course load – but it’s available if we need it.

The only thing I really need is luck on these exams and a few extra days devoted solely to tapa-eating and sun-bathing. Or  a week. I’d take an extra week, too.

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City Livin’

[Please prepare yourself for something slightly sentimental.]

I am amazed – multiple times a day – by the beauty of this city. Cobblestoned streets, buzzing with motorcycles. Slick new buildings sandwiched onto an ancient city grid, dotted by proud bursts of 15th century architecture. Small tile plazas with creaky wooden benches, lined by leafy trees heavy with bitter orange fruit. Ample outdoor restaurant seating that consistently interferes with students on their way to class.

I didn’t expect any of this. I didn’t realize that Granada means old-charm-modern-city, coffee breaks and guitar picking among wise stone bridges and honking taxis. I never thought the streets would be quite so full of people. I hadn’t considered that maybe I would grow into the city and one day, maybe, consider it my own.

I was warned. They said, “It’s very easy to become a part of Granada.” They said, “You’ll love it.”

What they should have said is, “You’ll call it home, by accident, at least twice before you leave.” They should have said, “You’ll never look Spanish – and they’ll always know – but the kebab men may remember your order. A waiter may call you by name. You may grow fond of your alley cats.”

What I explore in the city – language aside – is a completely different way of life. Not just because I’ve moved from small town Spartanburg to soft, gentle Granada, although I admit that city living is new and fascinating and altogether far too tempting to my wallet. But because Spain, as modern as it is, is nothing like the United States. And Spaniards, as worldly as they may be, could never be confused with Americans.

My “routine” here isn’t really a routine at all – because my daily life in Granada is infused with Spanish olive oil and house slippers and 16th century drinking fountains. I hear clanging metal church bells during class. I eat croquetas for lunch and natillas for dessert. It’s so different from the States – and even though I sometimes crave some South Carolina barbecue and a tall glass of sweet tea, I’ve got no complaints.

Granada is beautiful, in more ways than one. The best of all the Spanish cities – undisputedly – and one of my new favorite places to live. Until I leave, I’m just going to soak it all in. Soak it all in and cherish the city that I’ve accidentally, maybe, a couple times called home.

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Summer Has Come to Granada

As my Wofford friends finish up their finals in Spartanburg, I am sweating my way through my last week of classes in Granada.

Sweating, you say? That’s gross, Caroline.

You have no idea. It’s hot enough here that the Spanish señoras have brought out collapsing handheld fans in all sorts of colors – the kind of fan that you may think is just decorative, or just for fancy interpretive dances. You may think that  - until you arrive in Granada, the Land that Lacks Air Conditioning, and then you’ll want one for yourself.

Am I complaining? No, no, absolutely not. I’m in Spain, deliriously happy to be here and deliriously thirsty from the heat, and in Spain I will remain until they kick me out at the end of the month. I’m just informing my dedicated blog readers (hey Mom), that I’m looking forward to that AC when I get back.

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