On my love letter to Spain

Querida España,

There aren’t words to explain how much you’ve taught me, how much I’ve learned and grown as a person this semester. I’ve spoken about all of this at length, but now I just want to say a simple thank you. Thank you to Cristina for being such an amazing resident director and friend. Thank you to Fausto for knowing everything about everything and always making me laugh. Thank you to my professors for teaching me so much and bearing with my less-than-perfect Spanish. Thank you to whoever created tortilla española because it’s my absolute favorite. Thank you to the guy who owns Maimonides for always giving me free tapas and greeting me like a daughter. Thank you to my host mom for treating me as her daughter and giving me all of her love and support. Thank you to my host dad for making fun of me and reminding me to laugh at myself. Thank you to my host siblings for helping me through every step of the way. Thank you to this glorious place for making me so much more. Thank you to the whole idea of study abroad for bringing me here and introducing me to such amazing, wonderful people, Spanish and my fellow Americans. Thank you for this language and culture that I’ve fallen in love with. I could go on and on without end, but there just isn’t the time. I leave tomorrow from what has been a singularly marking experience upon my life. All I want to say is thank you. I’ve never felt so blessed. Spain, you will always be my home away from home; all that I’ve learned here will be part of me and build and shape me forever. I can’t thank you enough for that. Four months passes by in the blink of an eye. And now, I embark on the next great adventure of culture shock and the excitement of seeing all of my family and friends that I’ve missed so much. Such a great life I’ve had here; such a great life is waiting for me on the other side of that plane.

All I can say is, Spain, this isn’t an adios. It’s an hasta luego.

Besitos y un abrazo fuerte. Hasta la próxima vez.

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On the acute and exquisite

The fact was, I had other things to think about; within the last few months feelings had been stirred in me so much more potent than any they could raise–pains and pleasures so much more acute and exquisite had been excited than any it was in their power to inflict or bestow…

I’ve been trying for the last year or so to read more classic novels just on my own without being assigned them for a class. I really believe that the classics are, well, classics for a reason; they have something to teach us and show us through their timeless writings. This is something that would definitely be termed an “english major problem” but I’ve really been enjoying the challenge of reading for the pure pleasure of reading. So, last week I cracked open (well, when I say cracked open I really mean loaded up on my Kindle) the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. And, as I’ve found countless times during my new quest to read more classics, it included a quote, written above, that just perfectly describes my life right now.

Study abroad has been full of some of the most amazing pleasures I’ve experienced in my entire life; but yet, there have been pains, too. When I think back on the experience I’ve had here in Spain, it’s impossible simply to highlight the wonderful, eye-opening and mind-blowing experiences I’ve had without also looking at the hard moments I’ve had here: there have been countless times that I’ve missed my family, or questioned if it’s the right path for me to be here right now, wondered if what I’m missing back home is worth it, and so many other things. Now that I’m getting closer to going home, I worry about reverse culture shock and the hard readjustments I know will be right around the corner. It’s impossible not to worry about it. And look, in my opinion, it’s a good thing to recognize the pain that comes with the pleasure. Life is full of little extremes that help define each other; without the pain that comes with studying abroad there would be no full appreciation for the wonderful and exquisite pleasure that comes in tenfold that of the pain. That’s just called living. When someone asks me about the experience I’ve had in Spain, the most honest answer would have to be: “Well, honestly overall it was amazing. I laughed, I cried, I was happy, I was sad; I just lived during those four months like we all do.”

For every one of those hard moments, there have been three or four amazing life experiences I know I will never forget like getting the opportunity to share a life and a culture with such beautiful people that live here or getting to step outside of my own life back in the United States and truly get to see and experience so much more than I could imagine was out there beyond my own door step. It truly has been awe inspiring and breath-taking, and bettered me in so many wonderful ways.

It’s been so wonderful to be here, but as my resident director Cristina noted in our final meeting, study abroad is just a parenthesis in a full life that will continue. Yes, I’ve experienced amazing things here, but I have the hope and true belief that even better and equally as wonderful things are still just around the corner. This will be a sentiment I need to remember during the first couple of weeks back full of crazy reentry shock woes, haha. I can truly say that study abroad not only has taught me that there is so much out there, but that I’m so blessed in what I have back home. I’ve had a great life here, yet I still have an equally great life to return home to. Both will continue as I move into the future and have new experiences and both will have their weight upon who I am as a person.

So, what am I really trying to say here in this blog post? I guess it’s my attempt to sum up everything that study abroad has meant to me, which honestly is impossible. No one back home knows the way my host parents have made me laugh each night after dinner or how my friends that I’ve made here have supported me through it all. No one back home was side by side with me as I saw Rome for the first time or stood up and gave a strong presentation on gender abuse in a language that is not my own. But, all I have are my words to try to bring you in and give you the chance to share that experience with me; just like I want to share all the experiences everyone has had back home while I’ve been gone. So, that was my attempt at summing up a semester’s worth of feelings and experiences, and I really hope that I was able to get across everything that I could.

The only thing I have left to say is if you are given the chance to go abroad, do it. Know that there will be pain, but know that there will be pleasure that you can’t even imagine. Think on the acute and exquisite that you will be a part of for the time that you are gone. Not only will you have the chance to discover an amazing new life for a couple months, you’ll even discover how amazing the life is you left back in the States. It’s such a strong and wonderful feeling.

And now, I will step down off my soap box yet again haha and say that words truly cannot encompass my excitement for going home in a couple days. I can’t wait to see my family, my friends, to be a part of my culture again. Words also cannot express my sadness at leaving my Spanish family, my Spanish friends, and the Spanish culture behind, I know I will miss it a ton, but (another statement I have to attribute to my wonderful resident director) it’s like the changing of the seasons. Yes, I love fall but that doesn’t mean that I’m depressed when winter comes. I know that it has to come and that it has to change for us to continue moving forward. So, I can honestly say that yes, it’s time to shut the door on my season here in Alcalá de Henares, Spain and that I’m ready to say hello to my new season back home in the States. I know that no matter what there’s always going to be amazing experiences laying in wait.

Besitos y un abrazo fuerte. USA, we’ll be seeing each other in five days. 🙂

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On the importance of lists and list-making part 2 (or advice from a three-weeks-to-leave study abroader)

First off, let me note that yes, that is an extremely long title, and yes the latter part is a bit of a lie. I actually am a two-and-a-half-weeks-to-leave study abroader, but I thought that was a little long, and didn’t serve the purpose I wanted. The first blog post I ever wrote was a list of advice I wanted to give three weeks before I left for Spain, and I wanted to round that out by giving my new list of advice for those planning on going abroad three weeks before I leave Spain and this amazing experience is behind me.

So, without further ado, I give you…

Advice from a three-weeks-to-leave study abroader:

1. Pack less than you ever thought you needed. Seriously. I promise that you will be able to find a cute new shirt for the change of season, or (maybe not your favorite, but a very workable) shampoo in whatever country you are going to. Keep in mind that I studied abroad in Spain, so it may be different in the country you are going to, but at least for me I have been able to find everything and anything I wanted here including a hair straightener and blow dryer. Further, you will be buying a lot of really cool things in whatever country you go to, not only for yourself but for your friends, and you will definitely thank yourself when you pack to head home (like I’m about to do in a couple weeks) and have ample space for everything.

2. On the packing note, there are three random things that I wish I had packed but didn’t: chapstick, sunscreen, and a pair of boots. Chapstick because the air here is extremely dry and I have a slight obsession with Burt’s Beeswax chapstick haha plus, it’s pretty easy to pack a few little tubes of Chapstick. Sunscreen because it, along with chapstick, is actually pretty expensive here as Spanish people don’t really use it. I only needed the sunscreen once when we went to the beach in Barcelona and it was frustrating to buy almost 20 dollar sunscreen for that one use. And, finally, boots because, well, once it got cold here I didn’t really want to buy a pair of boots and my feet have been a little chilly in my flats and toms. Plus, you wanna be in style, haha. Also, they’re very useful in the rain. Oh, speaking of that, unless you want to buy an umbrella, bring one.

3. Facebook can be dangerous when you’re abroad. You will be having some of the most amazing experiences of your life, and yet when you see pictures of your friends from home going to their formal or at the Christmas lighting, or even a status just about going to Cookout instead of studying, if you’re anything like me you’ll feel a little left out. You could have spent the entire weekend in Rome seeing the Coliseum and eating real italian food, but just a quick trip to Cookout your friends took will make you a little jealous. Even more so, when you’re working on homework or about to go to bed it can be easy to fall into the trap of just Facebook chatting whoever happens to be on to get that fill of what’s going on in the States. It’s not a bad thing to do from time to time -of course you want to stay in touch with your friends and you should- but just watch it, it can become a little like a drug and even make you appreciate less the amazing times you are having here. They should be the jealous ones, not you, haha.

4. Throw yourself into the culture of wherever you are going as much as possible. You’ll miss American culture, but believe me, it’ll be there when you get back and you’ll have it for the rest of your life. You’ve only got the Chinese culture, or the Chilean culture for a couple months. Be as much a part of it as you can. Don’t be a tourist, be a local. Spend time with your host family. Only eat Chilean food. Drink tea after lunch every day like the locals do. Just completely throw yourself into every aspect of it for at least the first two months; then you can start missing America and seeking out those little American fixes (for me it’s getting chicken McNuggets from McDonalds. Don’t ask, it’s a weird one haha.)

5. Speaking of that, spend as much time as possible with your host family if you are with a host family. I found out that I had to put myself into the situation at first of spending time with them. I’d make myself stay downstairs after dinner instead of running up to my room to Skype someone or do homework and watch TV and talk with them. And now, I can’t tell you how happy I am that I did. I love my host family, they are amazing people and we have amazing conversations all the time. Not only has that helped improve my Spanish, but I’ve gotten to know the wonderful people who are housing and feeding me for these months. There isn’t anything better than that.

6. Make friends with the locals, especially if you are a language major. I don’t mean to say stay away from Americans, but believe me, the temptation to speak English with other Americans is pretty much extreme. Find yourself some friends in the culture you’re living in, even if those friends are your host family and then speak to them and spend as much time with them as possible. Yes, spend time with your fellow Americans too and make friends with them too, but remember that you are abroad to experience a different culture and learn new things. And, if you have friends from the country you live in AND new American friends, look at how popular you’ll be, haha.

7. Travel. Go out there and see the world, you have this amazing opportunity to do it that you may never have again. So dust of those walking shoes and get going. But this comes with a bit of a caveat, especially if you’re a language major: make sure you travel within the country you’re living in and not just hit all of the tourist spots like Paris, or London. I have pretty much stayed traveling within Spain rather than spending every weekend going to another country. Do what suits you best, but I’m happy I’ve done that because I feel my focus has been to learn Spanish culture and I’ve truly gotten to experience it. Yes, I traveled to Rome because it was my dream to go there, but I honestly don’t regret that I traveled within Spain instead of going to Paris or other places. I know I’ll make it happen that I come back here to visit all of those places.

8. Allow yourself to be homesick. I honestly am happy that I HAVE been homesick. To me it just proves that even though my life here has been so amazing it’s beyond words to express, I have a life just as wonderful waiting for me back home. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for that. So, let yourself be homesick sometimes, allow yourself to miss the people back home because I’m sure they’re missing you. But, don’t let it impede you from doing anything. Don’t lock yourself in your room and shut yourself down. Get out there and sit on the couch with your host family, or call up a friend and go explore. Or even just go explore on your own. Do something, it’s the best cure for homesickness I know.

9. Bring a good plug adaptor. And take as many pictures as you possibly can. You’ll want to look back and remember, believe me. Write down your favorite foods, honestly just write a blog about your experiences. Some little details can slip from your memory, but even the little details are important here.

10. It’s personal. It can be lonely. Let it be. Study abroad is one of the most personal empowering experiences I’ve ever had. I don’t feel like I’ve changed as a person so much as I’ve bettered as a person. You won’t be able to tell everyone back home everything you’ve gone through, it’s impossible to explain the experiences you’re having. You’re going to run out of words to classify them. Just let yourself experience them, it’s good for you. Believe me, you’re going to have bad days, days when really you just want to get back to the States asap. Maybe you won’t, and if you don’t count yourself lucky. There will be things that frustrate you, that you won’t like, that bother you. Take them all with a grain of salt and let them go. Focus on the amazing and great things.

You’re going to have the best time of your life, believe me. Am I excited about going home in two-and-a-half weeks? Hands down, heck yes. Am I extremely sad about it? Most definitely. I can’t tell you how happy I am that I’ve had this experience and how good I honestly feel like it’s been for me. It will impact my life forever. I don’t want to say goodbye to the people I’ve met here and to my life that I’ve had here, but like I said before, I’m blessed in the sense that I have just as great of a life to go back to.

And well, that’s the advice from a three-weeks-to-leave study abroader. There isn’t much more to say, other than the fact that this was based on my experiences. You may feel completely different. That’s the great thing about study abroad, someone could live in the same country as you, in the same city and do the exact same program and their experience will be worlds apart from how you feel.

But no matter what, you’ll love it. I promise that.

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On saying the first goodbyes and Thanksgiving fiestas

I won’t ever be living this experience again. That really hit home with me today. I know I’ve said it a couple times before, but there will be no returning to my study abroad fall semester in Alcalá de Henares, Spain. The life that I’ve built here will be gone in a couple weeks, and I’ll return to (an equally wonderful and amazing, don’t get me wrong) life in the US. It’s a weird notion to finally come to terms with. It’s almost like as soon as you finally settle into your new habits, you realize that the time is ticking on how long they will last for. Words can’t even begin to describe how thankful I am for the time I’ve spent here, and even more for the life I’m going back to. I feel so blessed to have both: such a once-in-a-lifetime experience here in Spain and yet a life filled with people I love so much back in the States I can’t wait to get home to it. I feel like that’s a very apt sentiment as the other day was Thanksgiving, but let me back track and give some background as to what prompted this realization.

Today was my final day of tutoring with the kids I’ve been helping with English since September. If I’m completely honest, I was excited about it. I love the kids, and I always have a fun time once I get to the lessons, but it could be kind of a hassle having to hop on the bus after classes to go teach lessons and not getting home until closer to 7:00 that night to start my homework and whatever else I had to do that night. A couple weeks ago, as I looked at my schedule for the upcoming final weeks, I realized that I honestly don’t have time to give lessons after this week between all of the final projects and presentations and exams and well, everything, hah. So, I told the parents that today would be my last day. Well, it hit me as I was walking down the stairs after I finished my lessons with the first two kids (before I move on to another house) that I wouldn’t be doing this again. When I got down the stairs, Kristina (the mom of the kids) gave me a present of ferreo rochers, which she had no way of knowing are my absolute hands down favorite candy in the world. I usually only eat them on special occasions like my birthday or Christmas. And suddenly, I was hit with a thousand sentiments at a time- that I wanted to say thank you for giving me my favorite candy, thank you for your kindness, than you for letting me teach your kids, and even more thank you for being part of the amazing experience I’ve had here. And, before I knew it, I was thanking her in the most eloquent words in Spanish I could muster up. In that moment, I could speak Spanish like I’d spoken it my entire life. I wasn’t worrying about my grammatical errors or if I had sufficient vocabulary to express what sentence I wanted to say. I wasn’t translating my feelings into English and then into Spanish. No, I just spoke the wonderful feelings I had in the only language she would understand, and thusly it came across in beautifully spoken Spanish. I can’t express how great that moment was. All of a sudden everything made sense- the reason I’m here, the language I’ve been working on tirelessly for weeks, my life, everything. That simple moment was one of my greatest accomplishments here in Spain.

But, if that was the experience of saying goodbye to the two families I only tutored twice a week, how am I ever going to say goodbye to Cristina who has guided me through this process? To Fausto, who always had a joke and I’m convinced literally knows everything about everything? To the people I’ve met from the States who are experiencing this alongside me? To my amazing host family, whose love and kindness has known no bounds? Saying goodbye to come here was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but now I know that saying goodbye to go home is going to be equally as hard. I just hope that I’ve touched their lives in the way they’ve touched mine during this experience.

But, thankfully, I still have a little over three weeks to find those words. So, onward to less sappy things like what has been happening in my life here, haha. Well, last weekend was my host mom’s birthday and we had a wonderful party for her. We ate some delicious fondue and spent the entire night laughing and talking until at least 2 in the morning. It was a great party, and I really felt like I was part of the family during it. I loved it. I know it’s going to be one my best memories here- it kind of completely encompassed my host family and how wonderful they are. This weekend, on Friday, my host family and I went to a Thanksgiving party at Chelsea’s apartment (she took part in the CIEE program when she was an undergrad and lived with my host parents; now she’s here doing the grad program.) It was an absolute success! It was the first Thanksgiving my host parents and sister have ever celebrated (obviously, haha) and they seemed to absolutely love it. I made sweet potato casserole and cookies that looked like turkeys with the help of my host sister that morning which was such a fun experience getting to cook with her. We cranked up the music and danced and laughed while we were baking which made me feel like I was back at home during the holidays doing the same with my family. It was pretty funny actually because I completely forgot that Spanish ovens run on Celsius instead of Fahrenheit and therefore baked the sweet potatoes in record time of ten minutes at roughly 515 degrees Fahrenheit hahaha. Ooops. But they still were absolutely delicious! There was this crazy mix of people at the party- and therefore a crazy mix of food. We ate chicken (Spanish ovens are too small for those big turkeys), rolls, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, zucchini parmesan (haha), quiche, Spanish tortilla, croquettes, empanada, sweet potatoes, green beans, and mac and cheese. THEN for dessert we had apple pie, pumpkin pie, banana bread, chocolate cake and tiramisu. I would say it was a definite success as I’m certain I gained around 50 pounds from my two plates of food. We told my host family that it was tradition to eat at least two plates of food, which it definitely is. It’s a Thanksgiving I know I’m never going to forget, even better the main common language between all of us was Spanish so I was able to spend a Thanksgiving dinner speaking Spanish and meeting people from Italy, Australia, other parts of the States and well, from Spain.

Last night, I went to see a play with one of my friends, Sarah, called Far West. It was really funny; the entire story was making fun of old Western movies in the States and all of the parts were done by only four actors. I loved it, I laughed a whole lot at the hilarious antics on the stage. Definitely was a really fun weekend, but now I have a montón of homework to finish for these last couple weeks of class. I honestly can’t believe it’s winding down right now, I can’t even express my excitement to go home yet my sadness knowing that I have to leave! What a crazy life I live. I’m just so thankful for all of it. See you in a few short weeks US!! 🙂 Besos!

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On la huelga general and a day in the life

I’m not sure how much of it reached the news in America, but the entire country of Spain went on strike yesterday against the major cuts happening as a response to the continuing economic crisis here (unemployment is currently at 28%) and also against the new costs for public education. Being completely honest, I don’t completely understand all the reasons behind the strike, I haven’t really studied the economic crisis, only heard a general overview of the cause and the effects it’s having- and seen a lot of the latter with my own eyes. Either way, it was a very interesting experience to see a country wide strike take place in the country you’re living in. Honestly, up to the other day, I couldn’t help but wonder why people in Spain and other European countries went on strike so much. However, one of my professors was talking about the strike this past week and asked us why people in the States don’t go on strike and have protests MORE. She asked, “Well, how do you communicate with your political leaders?” I told her that we have many resources to talk with them- we can send letters, emails, talk to them sometimes in person, etc. She was surprised at this response, and told me that here in Spain, they can’t speak with their political leaders as easily as we can in the States. There isn’t any address to send letters to, or any way of sending an email to your elected leaders. Even more interesting, my host parents told me that when you vote in Spain, you primarily vote for the political party of your choice, then the party picks the candidate. You can’t vote for a candidate that isn’t in your political party if you like them more than your own candidate. I couldn’t help but think that’s a really strange and political system, and my host parents seemed to not like it either and find it honestly unfair. I feel like that, in addition to the lack of communication between the people and their elected leaders, is what leads to the larger presence of strikes here. I’m happy to be informed on the subject now, it was really eye-opening to see the reasons behind it.

Anyway, so starting last weekend, signs suddenly cropped up everywhere simply stating “HUELGA GENERAL 14N” (GENERAL STRIKE 14N). I didn’t really know what to expect on Wednesday, though I was warned by my resident director that public transportation would not be running (or if it was, very sparsely) and we would need to walk to school. That morning, I got up early and walked the 45 minutes to class instead of just grabbing the bus, which I wasn’t a super big fan of haha but on the bright side I was able to see the effect of the strike on the town of Alcalá. A vast majority of businesses were closed on Wednesday, with signs plastered on their windows saying they were closed in support of the strike. Every bank was closed, and there was indeed minimal public transportation, and apparently barely any trains at all between here and Madrid and other places. Most people couldn’t get to work if they wanted to go. Almost every window had signs about the strike stuck on the glass, and all of the bus stops had the name of the strike painted on them in black paint. Around 8:45 in the morning as I was arriving at the Institute, there were already people in the main plaza with whistles and signs, starting the protest. By around 12:00, the plaza was full of people and there was live music and a speaker and everything as the people came together to protest what as going on in their country. It was very neat to see here in Alcalá, but from what I’ve heard the protests got out of hand in major cities like Madrid or Barcelona with fights going back and forth between the population and the police, and lots of trashcans being set on fire. The protest was all that was spoken of on the news Wednesday night, apparently energy consumption in the country was down 13% because of all of the factories and other places being closed for the day. Other strikes happened in Italy, Greece, and other countries similar to the one here in Spain. It was absolutely crazy to be apart of something like that, and to see it all occurring with your own eyes. It was an experience I know I won’t forget, especially when I watch what happens with Spain and their economic crisis in the next couple of years. To step on a soap box for a second, I have to say it absolutely puts things in perspective for me when looking at recent events in the States. I know there are a lot of people unhappy with the reelection of Obama as our president, but I think all of this “petition to succeed from the Union” nonsense is absolutely ridiculous. Listen, folks, the people here in Spain have to go on a nationwide strike just to reach out to their political leaders, and you are still talking about an election that has been decided and done with. Can we please just move on and actually give the president some time in his new term before we critique everything? Can we just support him as our president and stop complaining that he was elected? You are more than welcome to complain with what policies and actions you don’t agree with, but he was elected and that is that. Saying how pissed you are about it won’t change the situation. I’ll step off my soap box now as I’m reaching dangerous territory hah, but experiencing the strike here has been very mind and eye opening for me.

Anyway, I came to the realization the other day that I honestly have never talked about what a normal day here for me is like. I always talk about the trips I’m taking, or whatever extraordinary event has occurred, but I realized that you honestly don’t know what an everyday day is like for me here, so I thought I’d share a day in the life of Jen Harlan in Spain:

    “All Day E’ryday” in Spain

6:00 AM- My alarm goes off. Just kidding! I don’t get out of bed, I always set an alarm for 6:00 and then go back to sleep for another hour to reward myself. Don’t ask, it’s a process that keeps me from hitting the snooze button and being late later on, hah.

7:00 AM- My REAL alarm goes on, and I get up and take and shower, then get ready to SEIZE THE DAY ahead.

8:05 AM- I eat breakfast at a little table in the kitchen. Sometimes my host brother is there eating breakfast as well, sometimes he’s not; as well as sometimes my host mom is being preparations for la comida, and sometimes she isn’t. Just depends on the day. What doesn’t change is the fact that I always breakfast on café con leche and yogurt (either natural or greek flavored are my favorite. Oh or coconut, that is absolutely the best yogurt in the world.)

8:24 AM- I catch the bus from my neighborhood El Ensanche to where my Institute is right by la plaza de Cervantes. I like listening to music on the bus, especially Mumford, and looking out the window and doing my best to look like a very cool, hip young Spanish lady.

9:00 AM- My first class begins. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I have my advanced grammar class with my resident director and just the nine people in our CIEE program. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have a class about the oral traditions of Spain.

10:30 AM- Tuesdays and Thursdays I have a long break from now until 12:30, during which another girl in my program and I usually walk around Alcalá (if we don’t have work to do) and go get churros con chocolate, or tostada con tomatoe or café con leche or pretty much any combination of that. My favorite is getting tostada con tomatoe and zumo (juice) de melocotón (peach). On Mondays and Wednesdays, I have my class on the work of Cervantes (very fitting, as I live where he was born!)

12:00-12:30 PM- Break between classes. If I haven’t eaten during my long break, I always eat a piece of fruit during this break.

12:30 PM- Mondays and Wednesdays I have a class on Latin American literature, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I have a class on Spanish literature.

2:00 PM- On Mondays and Wednesdays, I leave at 2:00 and catch the bus to head home for la comida (lunch). La comida is the biggest meal of the day. Usually we have a salad of mixed greens with tomatoes and sometimes artichoke hearts, or boiled eggs, or avocado, or other things just depending, dressed in olive oil and salt. Or meal pretty much always varies, and is always very wholesome and delicious. One of my favorites is this stew of beef, carrots, potatoes, chickpeas, and other veggies. Absolutely delicious. We usually don’t have fish for lunch, we pretty much always have a very hearty meat or pasta dish and we always always have bread. After la comida, we always eat fruit of some form. For the first month or so, we always had this delicious melon that they have here, that is a mix between honeydew and cantalope and is amazing. Now, we have tangerines or apples or pears or whatever is in the fridge. After la comida, if I don’t have too much work to do, I usually take a nap, haha. My host dad eats la comida with me as he comes home from work from then until the end of the siesta period, though my host mom usually eats before us.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I tutor two different families back to back. So, on these days, I eat a picnic from my host mom, then head to tutoring and am not finished and home until around 6:45 or 7:00. I really have enjoyed tutoring the kids in English, and I’ve made some good money, but I decided to tell them my last day is this coming week so I can have my last few weeks here free to come home and eat. Plus, I have tons of work to do in these last couple of weeks, and I need the time to meet with people for presentations and generally get it all done.

~3:15- ~8:30 PM- During the afternoon, when I’m not tutoring, I generally do homework or take a nap or read a book or pretty much whatever I can find to entertain myself. When I’m feeling homesick, this is one of the hardest times, because the afternoon can seem to drag on. A lot of times I’ll walk around with another girl from Arizona who lives in my neighborhood that I’m friends with, and we’ll go to the mall, or the park, or do our homework in a bar somewhere close by. More and more, I don’t have this afternoon period because I’m busy doing whatever I have to do, so now when I do have it it’s kind of a nice break hah. I always keep my door open if I’m not taking a nap and chat with my host parents as they walk by doing whatever they are doing.

8:30 PM- We generally eat dinner at 8:30, though sometimes it can be a little later. We eat very early for Spanish standards, most of the other people I know here eat around at least 9:30 or 10:00, sometimes later like 11. I like the fact that we eat so “early” because I generally am very hungry by then and am also tired, haha. I try to go downstairs if I don’t have homework to do a little before dinner, and I always stay down after dinner and chat with my host parents. We always watch the news during lunch and dinner and talk about what’s going on in the world, and after we finish eating we usually put on Frasier dubbed in Spanish voices haha or Law and Order or CSI. It’s fun to watch American shows with my family haha I always have a good time talking with them about it. Plus, if I stay downstairs after dinner, at some point we usually break out the cookies or some sort of sweet, hah. Oh, for dinner, we eat a smaller meal than for lunchtime. One of my favorites is empanandas or the Spanish tortilla which is this delicious egg and potato quiche kind of thing that I’m obsessed with. I also really like when we have sunny side up eggs with potatoes and chorizo, it’s really yummy. We eat fish a lot for dinner, especially tuna. After dinner, we always eat yogurt, which makes that my second yogurt of the day hah.

10:00 PM- I head up to my room and Skype with people from the States or finish up homework until it’s time for bed. Then, pretty much every night, my bedtime varies. On Thursdays, Fridays, or Saturdays when I’m here in Alcalá, I’ll go out to get tapas with friends or to hang out (which is a very early time to go out here in Spain, haha most of the Spanish leave to go out around 1 AM).

So, yeah, that’s basically an entire normal day of my life, haha. My schedule here is really different from in the States, so it’ll be interesting to see how adjusting back to what I’m used to goes. Just thought I’d share a normal day in my life with everyone, but now it’s after 10 so I guess I better be getting to bed soon :). Un besito!

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On wine tasting, spontaneous trips, and the Spanish countryside

So, I had that whole blog-post-once-a-week-like-a-beast! mentality going and then midterms and two trips happened and suddenly it’s been two and a half weeks since I last wrote. It’s funny now to read back on my previous post and see what was going on, and see how life has changed in just a two and a half week period. Time always has such a way of flying by, right?

Midterms came and went just like they always do in a week full of stress, constant studying (yet constant procrastinating). It was different studying for midterms here in Spain; most of my studying took place in my room in my house instead of in Milliken or the publications room and in general it was a healthier week as there weren’t any late night Cookout runs or Burwell breakfast to enjoy. Overall I think my midterms went fine, I still haven’t gotten the majority of them back so I don’t want to count my chickens so to say, but they honestly weren’t that different from midterms in the States once you got over the fact that they were all in another language and you had to write on white unlined paper. During midterms week, I was able to meet up with Chris Novak (he’s studying in Rome, Italy for the semester) for a mini WoCo reunion lasting Wednesday afternoon. I can’t express how amazing it was to see a familiar face after two months of not seeing anyone I know personally from before Spain. We spent the afternoon walking around Alcalá, eating tapas, and talking. It was refreshing to talk about “woffordprobs” for a change: rooming, classes, what the social buzz on campus is, and even more. It definitely made me miss my school even more though, but it also made me realize, once again, how great it is that I have the opportunity to even be here, learning and studying a culture different than mine. It makes me appreciate what I have.

After midterms week, we headed out on our second and final program trip with CIEE to la Rioja, Spain. As of right now, this trip was one of my favorites of the entire semester. It was really nice not to have to plan all of the details of the trip- just to be able to experience it and “go with the flow” from place to place; that’s one of my favorite aspects of the two program trips we took. I also love the fact that Fausto comes with us as our own personal tour guide. I’ve fallen a lot into the habit of visiting and taking pictures of these gorgeous historic buildings simply because of that- they are gorgeous historic buildings. In reality, I have no idea what they are, the reason they were built, why they are important, etc. It’s funny now to look back on field trips in high school or middle school that included a guided tour and think of how much I hated to have to just stand and listen to someone talk about the Washington Monument or Arlington National Cemetery. Now I actually wish I had the money to have a personal tour guide at all the sites I visit in Spain because I almost crave the knowledge and history of them. Maybe that means I’m growing up?

Our trip to la Rioja consisted in basically stopping at different little pueblos, touring the major sites for an hour or so and learning about the culture and history, then getting back on the bus and heading to another area. I actually really enjoyed this format of the trip; I feel like the travel time on the bus in between gave you a chance to sit back and realize what you just experienced instead of being overloading by site after site after site. Plus, I honestly can say I fell in love with that area of Spain. The air was crisp and fresh, there were beautiful trees all set in these little towns that looked almost like how you would imagine Europe: cobble stone winding streets between historic buildings and breath taking churches all set into a lovely countryside. On Saturday, we had a guided tour of a bodega (winery) and learned about how wine was made, followed by a wine and olive oil tasting. I’ve never felt so classy in my life than when I was sitting in this room, overlooking beautiful vineyards, swishing a glass of wine and critically tasting the flavor to find the difference between an old wine and a young wine. Both types of olive oil we sampled were absolutely delicious (and the wine as well!) and I only wish I had room in my luggage to bring it all home, haha. I know it was an experience I will never forget, and even better, the entire tour and tasting were conducted in Spanish which just again reaffirms that I’m actually here learning a language. Truthfully though, after studying Spanish for six years, it’s an amazing feeling to finally know that I can understand the language and take part in conversations in the language. I feel as if my Spanish has grown considerably from my first day here; though I think the most major obstacle I’ve overcome is any form of embarrassment when it comes to attempting to speak in Spanish. Now, I speak with no hindrance or second thought, whereas at the beginning of the semester it was hard to even string together a sentence without worrying I was saying it wrong.

Saturday night of the trip, we went ice skating in Logroño, the city were we stayed for the weekend. It was one of the funniest nights I’ve had since being here, I completely forgot how much I love to ice skate and it was so much fun watching everyone and playing around on the ice. I felt like a little kid again skating around and around the rink and trying to pull of tricks and not fall. It was such a cool activity that I never imagined myself doing in Spain. After ice skating, we went out to tapas in Lorgoño which is one of the things the city is known for, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. I had this little frying pan filled with french friends, a fried egg, and chorizo. I know it sounds like an odd combination, but I’m kind of obsessed with it, haha. On Sunday on the way home, we visited Burgos, a really cool city surrounding an even more amazing cathedral. While we were there, I swear there were little snow flurries (and Cristina backs me up on this!) falling on our faces as Fausto explained the significance of the beautiful cathedral. It was one of those “wow I’m really taking part in this life-changing experience” moments for me; sometimes it’s the little things like standing in what (in my opinion) was snow to fully realize and be thankful for how blessed you are to be where you are.

Time absolutely flew by after we got back from la Rioja. We had been talking to about two weeks or so about possibly going to Sevilla, Córdoba, and Granada this past weekend because we didn’t have class on Thursday because it was the day of Todos los Santos in which the Spanish go to cemeteries and clean the graves of their loved ones and leave flowers for them. On Monday, we talked again about possibly going and came up with a schedule of when we would go where and what we would do, but it wasn’t until WEDNESDAY afternoon, the day we left, that we bought all of our tickets to go. It was an extremely stressful twenty four hours between planning everything on Tuesday and then buying all of our tickets and figuring out where we were going to stay and everything on Wednesday. I’m can honestly say as great and as happy as I am that everything worked out, I will not be planning any spontaneous trips anytime soon as I would rather not die from stress related causes, haha. We left Wednesday night/ Thursday morning at 1:00 AM on a night bus and arrived in Sevilla at 7:45 that morning. Sevilla was an absolutely gorgeous city; we stayed in a hostel that was close to all of the major sites and spent the day walking around and sight seeing. I think my favorite part of Sevilla was the Plaza de España, this major plaza complete with a little moat and row boats with these gorgeous mosaic bridges spanning it next to a beautiful building. The building had mosaic murals built into the side depicting each of the autonomous communities of Spain. It was one of my favorite places in Spain so far I’d had to say, definitely my favorite plaza so far. After we went there, we walked along the river near Sevilla before eating dinner and going to a free flamenco show at a local bar. I hate to say it, but the flamenco show basically encompassed the phrase “you get what you pay for” haha. Needless to say, we left the show early and got to bed early to be ready for another marathon day on Friday.

On Friday morning we took an 8:36 AM train from Sevilla to Córdoba and enjoyed a delicious breakfast of McMuffins and café con leche from McDonalds en route. I say delicious because it actually was, haha; it was oddly nostalgic to eat McDonalds breakfast. Upon arrival in Córdoba, we took a bus to the historic center from the train station and spent the morning in one of my hands down favorite places in Spain, la Mezquita. La Mezquita started off as a mosque but was transformed during la Conquista (like a lot of buildings in Spain) into a cathedral. It’s actually amazing because it was more normal during that time to destroy the conquered mosque and build the cathedral on top of it, but instead the mosque was left intact. Now, it this intricately beautiful mix between a mosque and a cathedral in such a way that highlights the similarities and difference between them both. There are these gorgeous arches inside I became slightly obsessed with and hence have roughly 5000 pictures of, but sorry I’m not sorry, they were absolutely amazing.

After la Mezquita, we walked around the surrounding Barrio Judería until our 3:30 bus took us from Córdoba to Granada. We arrived in Granada about three hours later, and after checking into our hostel, spent the evening “tapas hopping” from restaurant to restaurant and exploring Granda. It started to pour down rain and we left to go back to the hostel, and continued raining through the next morning when we got up, once again, at the crack of dawn to go visit la Alhambra. La Alhambra is honestly a city unto itself, there almost is not way to describe it. It includes a fortress, a palace, and a church with breath taking surrounding gardens all set up upon a hill in Granada, overlooking the city. We spent five or six hours just walking around and trying to take in all that we were seeing. It was beautiful; there really aren’t words to describe just how amazing the whole area was, especially the gardens. I loved it, even though we had to trudge through the rain for the better part of our visit. That afternoon, we took a 6:30 PM bus back to Madrid, and after various buses and waiting, I arrived home around 2 AM to take a much needed shower and basically collapse into bed and sleep all day. The trip to Sevilla, Córdoba, and Granada was so amazing, but it definitely was a marathon weekend. I feel like I need another weekend just to rest and recuperate from the weekend I had, but alas I have a busy week this week. Just gotta look forward to sleeping all day on Saturday!

After traveling these two weekends in a row, and honestly through all of my travels in Spain, I’ve fallen in love with the Spanish countryside. I usually spend my time in the bus getting from place to place looking out the window in absolute awe at the amazing country passing me by. In the States, it’s more normal to see city upon city or town upon town with billboards lining the sides of the interstate or tons and tons of trees. Here, however, there aren’t as many trees, awarding a panoramic view of what is surrounding you. You can see tons of beautiful hills set upon fields complete with Don Quijote-esque wind mills and sometimes awe inspiring mountains off on the horizon. I really enjoy sitting back and taking it all in while listening to music on my iPhone and just having a personal moment to soak in why I’m here and all of the amazing things I’ve come to love about Spain and being abroad. It’s these affirming moments that alleviate the other harder moments.

Well, this post was long overdue but there you go! I’ll try to be better about it next time. I am in absolute shock at the fact that I only have six more weeks here to experience this life. I miss everyone, and can’t wait to be reunited to share all of these experiences in person. Un beso :).

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On El Rey Leon and midway slumps

This past week absolutely flew by, I can’t believe it’s already Friday again at the start of another weekend! As of yesterday, there are only nine more weeks until I head home. It’s kind of crazy to believe. But, this past week has been a little hard. It’s that continuing mix of feelings that I feel like I’ve had the entire time I’ve been here, haha. On one hand, I can’t believe that we are at the midpoint, and how fast these eight weeks have gone by. I’ve done so many amazing things, going to Rome, figuring out public transportation (I’m telling you, I’m pretty proud of that), studying Cervantes WHERE Cervantes was born, just so many incredible moments. But, on the other hand, it’s like, “oh…I still have another half of the semester to go.” When you study abroad, at least for me, time has this weird way of both passing extremely rapidly and slowing way down. My guess is because you are taking part in intense experiences all the time, intense because most of them are intensely good, and some of them are, honestly, intensely frustrating. You are living a life you’ve never experienced before, well, ever, and doing things on a normal basis you never thought you’d be doing. But, on the flip side, at least for me, I’m really excited about coming home. I miss everyone, and I miss my culture and my habits. So, I feel like that latter feeling has a way of slowing things down a bit to where, even though you are amazed at how fast time has flow and sad at how little time you have left, at the same time you feel like time is creeping by and you have forever left. I hope that makes sense, haha. All of those emotions led me into a bit of a midway slump this past week, but I know it will definitely pass as things pick up again in November and we overcome the midpoint of the semester.

On a more stressful note, we have midterms this coming week, and I’m pretty nervous, haha. I know they will be hard, but I also know they will be doable with a good amount of studying put into them. I think what worries me is the fact that in most of my classes, my grades mainly subsist in a midterm and a final. So, there really isn’t a lot of room for mistakes. But, again, from how the professors have been talking, all of the midterms sound doable, they just need an intense amount of studying in preparation, haha. Which means I probably should be studying now instead of typing a blog post. Ooops.

The night finally came, this past Tuesday, that I’ve been waiting for for weeks: EL REY LEON! It was absolutely amazing. All of the songs and dialogue where in Spanish, and I am pretty proud to note I understood probably 95% of it. There were some songs that were a little difficult to understand what the lyrics were, and when the monkey talked I had some trouble understanding her, but other than that, it was crystal clear! It was self-affirming to actually see the improvement in my ability in Spanish in a form that isn’t at our college or with my host family, where they know I am a native english speaker. I was pretty happy with it. Plus, the costumes and sets, and just all of it was incredible. The musical was in Teatro Lope de Vega, which is in downtown Madrid, and was absolutely gorgeous. The inside was all red velvet, and the seating in the balcony was down in a stadium form which made it really easy to see. I bought a shirt, of course, that’s black with the gold Lion King symbol and EL REY LEON in giant letters at the bottom, I’m kind of in love with it, haha.

However, after the show, we had our usual transportation issues (which I think was another factor that contributed to my midway slump, hah.) Basically, very long, frustrating story short, we missed the train, and the bus that were both at like 11:45 and 12, and then waited until 1 for the next bus back to Alcalá but it never came because apparently the bus schedule has changed, so we ended up having to take a taxi back, but we only had 40 euros on us, so we had to take the taxi to the mall and then walk home. I didn’t end up home until around 2 in the morning, which I was not a big fan of, considering I had to get up at 7:30 haha. It was very, very frustrating, and really made me miss having my own car and being able to drive wherever I want, but El Rey Leon was most definitely worth it in each and every way!

Anyway, this post has been a little shorter than usual, but it wasn’t too busy of a week. I should probably go study for my midterms now, haha, uggh. Wish me luck!

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On la semana Cervantina and planchas

Sin embargo, hay unos pocos momentos escogidos en la vida que según los estás viviendo ya sabes que los vas a recordar para siempre.

However, there are small chosen moments in life that while you are living them, you already know that you are going to remember them forever.

So, I read the above in the book I’m currently reading for my grammar class, El cazador del desert by Lorenzo Silvia. I honestly feel like it really encompasses my life right now, so I just had to share. It was so crazy when I happened upon it while reading, moments like that make me feel like I’m in the right place at the right time, obviously I was meant to be working on homework this weekend, haha.

Anyway, this week has been eventful, but not in an OMG I WENT TO ROME kind of way, so that’s been kind of nice, but I feel like Sunday is becoming my weekly blog update day, so I don’t want to break the habit! Tuesday began la Semana Cervantina here in Alcalá, basically a week long celebration of the life and works of Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quijote) who was born here. The festival always begins on el Día de Cervantes, October 9th, the day Cervantes was baptized in Alcalá. It begins on the date of his baptism because, well, we don’t know with certainty when he was born, haha, but we do have a certificate of baptism, the real one, here in Alcalá, and the parade it around on el Día. It was a really, really cool week, because Cervantes was one of the major reasons I came here. As a double English and Spanish major, when choosing study abroad programs, it was hard to ignore the fact that I could study Cervantes in the city where he was born. Definitely a major pull for me, haha. So, this week, the entirety of downtown was transformed into a medieval market, a completely different experience from the Renaissance Fairs in the States, as there are literally buildings in Alcalá from that time period, definitely giving a much more realistic effect, haha. I loved the market, I think I walked through it almost twice a day, every day this week, and bought a lot of presents for friends and family back home, as well as a couple things for myself. I think my favorite that I got was a beautiful hand-crafted and hand-painted jewelry box. The couple who make them and were selling them at the fair were really nice, and we talked a little in Spanish before I bought it, and they helped me pick out the best one for me based on our conversation. Little things like that are what’s so great about buying things at craft fairs, or medieval markets (haha) because you get the chance to see the person and talk to the person who made what, at least for me, will be a keepsake from Spain for a long time. It’s so different than just walking into a souvenir store and buying a t-shirt that says Alcalá de Henares, though I can’t lie, I did buy a I <3 Roma shirt, haha.

The food at el mercado has been incredible, though I've mostly gone for the crepes. I think I had roughly three this week, two with nutella and banana, and one with nutella and strawberry. Absolutely delicious. It's a good thing that it was only here for a week, because I don't need that temptation walking to and home from class every day, haha. Oh, on Tuesday, our classes were cancelled as was work for almost everyone in Alcalá so they could enjoy the day of Cervantes' baptism, so el mercado was literally packed with people. Well, there are tons of performed in costume, dressed as different medieval characters, complete with a Don Quijote and Sancho Panzo, who ride down the streets on a horse and donkey respectively every couple of hours. So, obviously, I was taking tons of pictures. Well, one of the performers, dressed as a centaur got really close to me as I was taking his picture with my iPhone, and my literal thought was, "Oh, how cool! I can take a really neat pic of him now!" when he promptly snatched my iPhone from my hand and set off running down the street. I didn't even pause for a second, I set off running after him and grabbed the back of his little centaur outfit, and said, in very angry spanish, "give me my phone, now." He gave it back to me, and it was only when I returned to where my friends where that I realized it was just a joke he was pulling on lots of people at el mercado as part of his little performance, but it made me mad, because our resident director is always telling us to be careful with our phones because someone will literally snatch them from your hands. On the bright side, I'm pretty proud of my quick reaction, haha mythical creature or not, I was about to take that centaur down.

The other big news of this week is that yesterday I finally broke down and bought a hair straightener and blow dryer. I cannot tell you how happy this purchase as made me, haha. I brought my hair straightener with me, but after being warned multiple times I could blow out my straightener even with a plug adaptor, I tried it once and when it didn't warm up, was too afraid to wait anymore and unplugged it immediately. So, instead, I told myself for the last month and a half that I don't need to straightener my hair, I'm perfectly fine with my hair curly, it's good for my hair not to straighten it every day, it looks more spanish curly, etc. etc. until last week I finally broke down, haha. It's not so much that I really hated my hair curly, I think there was something oddly psychological satisfying about being able to straighten my hair, something I usually do almost every day in the States and haven't been able to do here. Plus, my host mom absolutely loves it, and that always makes me happy, haha. I guess it definitely is the little "normal" things that make the difference when you are studying abroad.

On that note, I can't believe it's been a month and a half since I've been here. On Saturday, it'll be two months until I go home, I'm almost at the halfway point. These last couple of weeks have really flown by, and I have a feeling October will continue in that method. But, on the downside, almost halfway means that I have midterms the week after this, and I am rather nervous about them. I've been working hard in all my classes, but in most of them, my only grades are my midterm and my final, which really freaks me out. And, whoever told me before I came to Spain that classes abroad where pretty easy, was totally lying. I'm not saying they are hard, they honestly aren't as hard as Wofford, but they are in another language which definitely adds another degree of difficulty. My spanish classes at Wofford are obviously all in Spanish, but here it's different to have all of your classes, all five of them, 15 hours a week, and all of your work totally in Spanish. I'm honestly amazed at how used to it I am at this point, but I feel like it actually will be weird going home and not having to take notes in Spanish in my english class, or writing down my homework in spanish in my planner.

Tuesday of this week, I'm going to see el Rey Leon (the Lion King) the musical in Madrid!! I can't wait, I bought my ticket three or four weeks ago, so I'm super excited to finally be going, I know it's going to be so amazing! The only bad thing is I have my english classes with the kids on Tuesday, so I'm going to be going from classes, to tutoring with kids, to Madrid to see el Rey Leon, and roughly home around midnight, haha. But, it's definitely going to be work it, and I'm planning on buying a really awesome el Rey Leon shirt to wear around and make people jealous.

So, that's basically what's been going on this week for me, no crazy Rome stories, just normal Alcalá stories, which I definitely like. Besos y abrazos. 🙂

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On Roma, Roma, Roma

I’m currently sitting here in bed, in my pajamas, at 11:30, what would almost be considered a regular lunchtime in the States, completely exhausted and sore, but at the same time totally happy and content. I got home last night around 1:00 AM, after an extremely harrowing experience with a cab driver who didn’t know how to get to my very specific and easy to find address in Alcalá, and therefore spent roughly 45 minutes to an hour driving me around, completely lost. He was really nice, usually the cab drivers are, and I honestly impressed myself with my ability to converse with him in Spanish and tell him that we were not in the right location and give him directions to get him to my house. Also, and this was a little strange, after we had been lost for quite awhile, I had to tell him to stop the meter. I don’t know if he was just leaving it running for no reason (it’s a set price from the airport to Alcalá de Henares) or what, but I was kind of proud of myself for having enough of a grasp of Spanish to say, “Excuse me, but why is the meter still running? I thought it was a set price to Alcalá, and well, we are lost, which isn’t my fault.” haha, I hope that wasn’t rude, because he really was a nice guy in the end, just directionally challenged, which makes his choice of profession a little strange.

But, yes, I made it home after two and a half of the most amazing days of my life. It’s such a surreal experience when, while you are LIVING an experience, you realize it’s going to be one that changes your life. Ever since I was a little girl and found out about my Italian heritage, I always dreamed of going to Italy. And I still can’t believe I was given the opportunity to realize that dream. Here’s the thing, if you are currently thinking about studying abroad but are held back by some reason, like you’re afraid you’ll miss your family too much, or you’re scared to go somewhere and be by yourself, I want you to sit down and take a long look at what you will gain. There’s a phrase in Spanish that goes “vale la pena” that I think, at least for me, completely encompasses the study abroad experience. It basically means “worth the pain” in English, but is used all the time in Spanish to say something was worth what you had to go to in order to accomplish it. I won’t lie, every day I miss my friends and family. There are always moments, like last night when I was completely lost in a cab in the middle of some pueblo between Madrid and Alcalá, when I wanted to just sit down and give up, and get someone to come fix my problems, take me home, and tuck me in. But, then, there are moments, like this weekend when I was eating Italian food, in Italy, or when I was staring awestruck at the Coliseum, or Saint Peter’s Basilica, or the Sistine Chapel, and just wondering how could someone create something so beautiful and wonderful and how did I get some blessed that I got to actually stand there and see it. I can honestly say I am changing as a person because of this experience. Not changing fundamentally, no, but bettering myself. That’s what study abroad does, it makes you a better, stronger version of yourself, who realizes that even though you will always miss your family and friends and life back home, for now, the life you are experiencing, well, vale la pena.

But, I will get off my soap box now, haha, and get to telling about what I did in ROME (please excuse me if I keep capitalizing that, because I still can’t believe it happened.) The adventure began actually Thursday morning when my first class was cancelled and I spent the morning trying to pack in compliance with the extreme luggage restrictions of Ryanair, the super cheap airline we used to fly to Rome. Basically there were dimension requirements, but what I was really worried about was the 10kg (roughly 22lb) weight limit of my bag. The problem is, you have this internal issue of wanting to look decent if not cute for pictures you will be looking at for the rest of your life, but also wanting to leave as much room as possible to bring back souvenirs. My host mom saved my life by letting me borrow a little rolling carry-on that the family has used to fly Ryanair before, and I absolutely fell in love with it. I’m planning on buying one to bring things back to the States in, because it’ll be perfect to put some of the more fragile purchases I’ve made and keep them with me. Even if I have to check them planeside, they will be much more safe in a little carry-on then my suitcase which will probably get tossed around. After the stress of packing came the stress of exactly how many euros to bring, wondering how much we would be able to use our debit cards. Finally, after attending my single class of the day, we were off to the train station to head to Madrid, and Las Barajas, and Italy! Side note, Rosa and I met these really amazing two women on the train who we had a really fun Spanish conversation with. Another crazy thing about study abroad, you meet all these people who you know you will never see again, but for a couple moments you are connected by great conversation and laughter.

We got to the airport expecting to have to jump through 500 different hoops to get onto the plane, but it turned out to be relatively easy. We went to the Ryanair desk and had our passports checked and our tickets stamped (which made me sad, I wanted an Italy stamp in my passport, but I don’t think they do that when you are traveling within Europe.) For Ryanair, there aren’t any assigned seats, basically you line up in front of the ticket desk and board in the order of the line. Actually, I think you can get an assigned seat, if you want to pay an additional like 50 euro, and when your flight itself only costs 16…not worth it. So, somehow, we all managed to fit our baggage and ourselves on the plane, and thankfully they didn’t weigh any bags haha. From all the stories I’ve heard of Ryanair, I was honestly expecting some kind of rinky dink propeller plane with seats squished together so tight you can barely move, where you spend the entire time praying for a safe landing. But, I was completely surprised when the plane was really just a normal plane. True, there are ads for different products covering just about every available surface, and if you want any sort of food or drink you have to buy it, and the flight attendants spend the entire flight trying to sell you things, but you know what? For sixteen euros to fly to Spain, I’ll take it.

Landing in Italy at night was gorgeous. The pilot turned out all the cabin lights, and all you could see where these beautiful twinkling lights of Rome. After we landed, we took a shuttle bus to the city center at Termini Station, and then walked to our hostel a few blocks away and checked in. The hostel we stayed in was really great the first night, then not so awesome the second night. It was in this old building that I think used to be a hotel or apartment building, and we had an entire room to the four of us with our own suite bathroom, which was pretty great. The first night, the room was pretty nice and clean. We had to spent the second night in another room because we booked so late, and the bathroom was a little moldy and the showers weren’t exactly hot, but that’s hotel living for you, I guess haha. After we checked in, we went to a restaurant right next to the hostel because, and I quote, “if old people are eating there, then it must be delicious,” which actually turned out to be a very useful rule-of-thumb, haha. The restaurant was called La Famiglia, and there are not words to describe how delicious the food was. We had this amazing bread, there was like four different types in the basket, but my favorite was these circular rolls with some kind of mushroom mixture baked into the middle. I think I literally ate eight of them. And, for dinner, I had “big” spaghetti with bacon and mushrooms, which turned out to actually be big spaghetti noodles, haha, and was absolutely delicious. I almost died four or five times over from the absolute amazing taste of it.

After stuffed ourselves pretty well, we walked over to Trevi Fountain, because one of the owners of our hostel told us we HAD to see it at night. I’m so happy she did, because it was gorgeous. We sat for awhile and looked at the fountain, and each got up and made our own wishes and threw our coins in. I can’t tell you what I wished for, because then it might not come true, but it was a good one :). After Trevi Fountain, we walked back to our hostel, and got to bed to prepare for the long, long day ahead of us.

I can honestly say we did Rome in Friday. We almost say every single major site in one day, which judging by how tired and sore my legs are, I realize was quite ambitious haha. We set out around 9:30 in the morning and started our day off by taking the metro to the Vatican City. It’s so weird to me to think that we literally took the metro to another country and spent the morning there. We all had to make sure to dress appropriately so we could enter the cathedrals. For us, that meant not wearing shirts that showed our shoulders or dresses/skirts that were shorter than knee length. This last one was a little frustrating, as all of my dresses and skirts hit just a teeny bit above knee length, and I wasn’t too sure as to how strict the guards would be, so I went the safe route with jeans and a t-shirt. We waited in line for maybe thirty minutes to get into Saint Peter’s Basilica, which turned out to be free to enter, which surprised me, but I was also very happy about, haha. The Basilica was gorgeous, beautiful, amazing, and more than anything, it was humbling. I feel like walking around in there was like a spiritual journey, it was amazing to realize that all of the Basilica was built by hand hundreds of years ago. I can’t even begin to imagine how. It was incredible, and I’ve never felt so empowered yet humbled by the experience. It took us two or three hours to make our way through the entire thing and see all of the different areas. They were multiple prayer rooms, and it was really a great experience to sit and pray in such an inspirational place. The ceiling was incredible, with these amazing rays of light beaming in in random places creating an amazing effect. I loved the building, and even more, the experience of being in it.

After the Basilica, we ate lunch at a little corner cafe. I had a delicious “stuffed pizza” sandwich with fresh, home made mozzarella and tomatoes. It was delicious and refreshing to sit for a couple minutes. Afterward, we walked over to the Vatican museum, and after paying a discounted rate of 8 euros, walked through to the Sistine Chapel. The Vatican museum was really neat, I wish we had more time to explore it fully, but the Sistine chapel closed at 4 and we were on a bit of a time crunch. You had to walk through almost all of the rooms of artifacts to get to the Sistine Chapel, which, again, there almost are no words to describe. There were tons of people in there, and everyone spoke in very soft whispers, though there was supposed to be no talking. I managed to snap two illegal pictures of the ceiling, haha. But, after staring upward at the ceiling for a couple minutes, I managed to find a seat along a bench in the wall and just tilt my head back and stare for a long time. Again, how do people do things like Michaelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? It was inspiring to sit and look at all of the paintings in gorgeous detail. And one of those experiences where you honestly just can’t believe you are actually there, looking at something you’ve learned about your entire life.

After the Sistine Chapel, we stopped at a little place and got some delicious gelato. And by delicious, I mean mouthwateringly, mindblowingly, tastetantalizingly AMAZING gelato. I had nutella, limon, and strawberry flavored on a cone, all for 2.50 euros. It was so good. I already miss the gelato, haha. While we were eating, we walked over the river to the Piazza Navona, and saw an artisan fair with amazing artwork. We then walked back on some of the side streets, and went in this really cool shop with hand blown glass artwork, and met a very nice older spanish man who makes all of the artwork. He explained to us the first word we should learn in Italian is “bella” because were were all beautiful, haha. I honestly love the fact that Spanish men use the word “guapa” (beautiful) in a very normal, noncreepy way with women; same thing in Italian, many men called us “bellas” in a very noncreepy, kind of sweet way. After the shop, we went and saw the Pantheon, which was just really cool. It was weird to just come out of a random side street and all of a sudden the Pantheon is right there in front of you. We walked around inside and took pictures, and then we found a restaurant on a close side street for dinner. Again, the food was absolutely amazing. I had gnocchi with pesto sauce and fried mozzarella.

After dinner, we walked back by Trevi Fountain and headed back to our hostel. We met a really sweet girl, and we all walked around a little bit that night. We went and saw the Spanish Steps and then got gelato for the second time (surprise, surprise, haha) and, no joke, went to the Trevi Fountain for the third time. I can’t describe to you how gorgeous it was at night, and how fun it was to sit and watch people making their wishes and throwing in their coins. After walking around, we went back to the hostel and our moldy bathroom, haha and slept hard. I realized when we finally got back that we literally walked around Rome for twelve hours. My feet were about to fall off when we got in bed.

On Saturday morning, we got up and left a little later, around 10:30, because we honestly saw almost the entirety of what we wanted to see on Friday, haha. We went to the Coliseum, which was ridiculously amazing. It was crazy to see this giant Roman monument from hundreds of thousand of years ago, right next to a crowded highway. We walked around and took pictures for a while, and then we decided to step off the beaten path a little bit and walk over to this neighborhood that is purely Italy, instead of super touristy like the areas we spent our days in beforehand. I think the neighborhood was called Trastevere, but I can’t remember for 100%. We also had a couple very good recommendations of this restaurant in that neighborhood, and we decided to make it our last meal in Rome.

Trastevere really was pure Italy. It was full of cobblestone streets, beautiful, colorful buildings, side streets, all set on the side of the River. It was gorgeous, and I’m so happy we went, because I really feel like I got a taste of what real Italy is like. If I were to live there, that is where I would want to live. We found the restaurant after a bit of a walk (okay, it took us like an hour to walk there, which was a bit long, haha.) but oh my gosh it was AMAZING. The owner is named Tony, and he loves American students, apparently, haha. As soon as we walked up, he sat us at his best table, situated inside but in a large opening so we could look out on the street and be almost half inside/ half outside. He gave us free bottles of water, which in Europe is extremely rare and was wonderful after the long walk to get there. I had mushroom bruschetta as an appetizer, and wanted to cry over how delicious every bite was, haha. We also had fresh baked bread with oil and parmesan that was amazing. For my actual lunch I ate rigatoni al “moro” which was in kind of a vodka sauce with mushrooms, zucchini and bacon. It. Was. Amazing. I want to eat that meal over and over again, though I think I would definitely die an early death from the carb overload, haha. After our amazing meal, the owner gave us free tiramisu and free limoncello, a liqueur that is very traditional to drink a little of after a meal in Italy. It was so, so delicious, and the experience of sitting in the window, overlooking the beautiful street and eating our amazing Italy food was one I will never forget. At the end of the meal, our bill totaled to 56 euros for five of us to eat all that, that’s how much free food the owner gave us, haha. Even more, when we asked for separate checks, he said that all we needed to do was pay ten euros a person. It was amazing, the owner and waiter were both so kind and genuine. When I go back to Italy, I will be eating there again, possible for every meal. It was so wonderful, we took pictures with them after the meal.

After lunch, I literally thought I was going to die from all the food I ate. We explored the area a little bit, and then made a very slow, lethargic walk back to the metro to get to the hostel. Once we were at the hostel, we grabbed out bags, and my friends headed to the train to head on to Florence and Pisa until Tuesday , but I, for various reasons, such as not wanting to miss class on Monday and because the flight was a heck of a lot cheaper haha, took the bus to the airport to head back home late Saturday night. I did a little shopping in the Ciampino airport and then boarded my flight to return back to Madrid. After my previously told experience with the taxi driver, I finally fell into bed last night around 2:00 AM and rested, which is my plan for the rest of today, haha. I’m going to write in my journal, work on the scrap book I’m compiling, and possibly take a nap. Oh, and maybe do some homework at some point.

Such an amazing weekend, though I’m also kind of happy my marathon three weekends in a row of traveling is over now, and I can spend a weekend or two here in Alcalá, exploring. This week is a fiesta week, with el Día de Cervantes on Tuesday and el Día de Hispanidad on Friday. I’m excited about seeing all the festivals here.

Miss everyone lots. Besos, abrazos, y amor. 🙂

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On blue, blue water and pluralizations

¡Saludos a todos! Hope everyone is doing well! I´m coming off of part two of my three week trip extravaganza, and though I´m extremely-extremely-as-in-there-aren´t-words-to-express EXCITED for my trip to Italy on Thursdy, it´ll be nice to have a weekend in Alcalá coming up soon. Even better, next Tuesdy is el Día de Cervantes, and we don´t have classes, so I´ll have a nice little break in the middle of the week to sleep in, haha. Anyway, but onward to stories! We spent last weekend in Alicante with our CIEE program, which was surprisingly a lot of fun. I say surprisingly because I honestly didn´t know what was IN or NEAR Alicante other than the beach before going, and wasn´t really sure as to what we´d be doing. But, I had faith in Cristina and Fausto, and they definitely did not let us down. But, before I go into that, I´ve got some general life updates.

Last week I started tutoring two families of kids (for ten euros an hour, hollahh). I´m can´t really remember if I metioned that in the last post, so bear with me if I repeat myself. Anyway, the first family has a ten year old boy and a six year old girl, both of whom I spend thirty minutes with, and the other family has a ten year old girl, who I tutor for an hour, and an eight year old boy who I tutor for thiry minutes. I had a really fun first week helping them out, and I think this has the potential to be a really fun activity each week. Even better, it´s making me think and speak in Spanish in what I feel is an even more advanced and challenging way. The kids are learning english, but they don´t know enough for me to conduct their lessons in english, so I´m facing the challenge of explaining concepts such as the different methods of pluralizing nouns and how to tell time in english, in spanish. It´s really makes me think in a different way, and I think it´s really good for me. Even better, I feel like the kids are helping me learn even more spanish, it´s like an intercambio (exchange) of language between us. For example, I was teaching the older girl about plural nouns, and how depending on if nouns ending in a -y have either a vowel or constanant before the y, you either drop the -y and add an -ies or you keep the -y and add an -s (it´s been a good review for my grammar, too haha), and she taught me the word for vowel in Spanish so I could explain the concept to her easier. I´m really liking the tutoring so far, so hopefully it won´t become like a chore, and I´ll keep enjoying myself while doing it. It does make my Tuesdays and Thursdays pretty long, because I eat a picnic (literally, picnic is the same word in Spanish haha) for lunch right after school, take a bus to the first house and tutor for an hour, walk to the next hour and tutor for an hour and a half, then take a bus back to the plaza and another bus after that back to el Ensanche where I live, equalling about an hour of travel time to get home, and putting me en casa around 7:00.

Other than that, classes have been going really well. Last week was a crunch week which made me reminence in Wofford; I feel like we had those just about every three to four weeks, haha, but this week is more normal. It´s hard to believe we´ve been here for a month, and that we have our midterms in two and a half weeks, ahh. I´m not necessarily worried about them, more worried about the fact that our midterms and finals consist in basically our only grades for the semester for most of our classes, which is a little stressful. Oh, starting about the last week of September, the weather here suddenly turned chilly and is apparently going to stay that way until it gets even colder in a couple weeks. It´s weird, because I feel like in SC, the weather usually snaps back and forth a couple times before it decides to concede to fall, but here it was almost an overnight change. Not that I´m complaining, I absolutely love this fresh, crisp weather. Plus, I finally get to wear some different clothes, haha. My wardrobe here is very limited by the whole weight limit issue, though I´ve been solving that problem by many visits to Zara, Sfera, and H&M. I can´t even imagine how I´m ever going to get all of my stuff back to the United States. Which, speaking of returning to the US, another random life update, I found out another girl who literally lives in the house right across from me, is on the same flight as me back to the US. Funny how things like that work out sometimes? I´m hoping since it´s still pretty early, we can change our seats to sit next to each other.

Alright, enough with the general. Let´s talk about the trip to Alicante. We left early early on rainy Friday morning on our own personal charter bus (which I´m pretty sure could fit 52 people, though there were only 12 of us on there, haha). It took us around five or six hours to get to Alicante, I can´t remember for sure, I slept most of the way, sprawled out comfortably across two seats. When we arrived, we checked into our hotel, which was absolutely gorgeous, and took a quick walk around Alicante and saw some of the major monuments and sites. Alicante is situated on the ocean, and one site that definitely stuck with me was this building, next to the ocean, that had cannon balls and holes in the side of it from where it was bombarded by ships a couple centuries ago. It was crazy. Basically, I imagine Alicante as the city where Pirates of the Carribean would have taken place, haha.

After walking around a little under the direction and with the immense knowledge of Fausto, we hopped on the bus and headed off to a real-life chocolate factory in Villajoysa. Sadly, there was no Willy Wonka or oompaloompas in site, but there was the delicious scent of Valor chocolate wafting from every building. While we were touring the factory, it literally POURED rain, which wouldn´t have been so bad if we didn´t have to walk outside to get inbetween the buildings. But, it was worth it for the gift shop at the end, where they had free samples of chocolate, and where I purchased a giant bar of chocolate con leche y almendras (almonds) that I´m happy to say I promptly devoured yesterday, haha. After the chocolate factory, we returned to the hotel, and celebrated the birthday of one of the girl´s in my program.

On Saturday, we got up early and took advantage of the yummy continental breakfast, where they had this absolutely amazing granola with dried fruit that I´m still dreaming about. We boarded the bus and headed to a small pueblo called Guadalest in the morning, then Benidorm in the afternoon. Guadalest was gorgeous. It´s one of those places that I honestly don´t have the words to describe. It´s this little town that somehow has been preserved for centuries, situated in the mountains right next to this lake of literally crystal blue water. The town itself was really cool to walk through and see and imagine how all that´s really changed is the area surrounding it and the people in it. It´s also really nice to tour places with Cristina and Fausto, because they both know so much about everything, and it´s nice to be able to ask questions and actually learn about where you are, instead of just reading a guide book. After Guadalest, we went to Benidorm, a city that is basically the complete opposite. It made me think a little of Tampa, Florida, because it´s on the beach with tons of shopping and restaurants and really no historical monuments or anything like that (at least that we saw). We ate legitimate paella for lunch, which was absolutely delicious, and shopped and took a beautiful walk down the beach. It was a really fun afternoon. Afterward, we returned to the hotel around 6 or 7 and had free time for the rest of the night. Some people in my program and I walked around the walk next to the ocean and looked at the outdoor market, and saw a surprisingly good Michael Jackson interpretor, and got some really delicious gelato (though I´m sure there will be no comparison to next weekend in Rome.)

Sunday morning we got up and, after I ate more of that delicious cereal, we walked up to a castle that´s in Alicante. The castle was really, really cool. The view from the top was breathtaking, you could see the ocean stretching for miles and all of Alicante surrounding you. Plus, there were cannons from 1825 just sitting there, ready to go. It was crazy. It was one of those “is this real life?” moments. After the castle, we ate more paella in Alicante for lunch, and then boarded the bus to head on back here.

On the bus, I really enjoyed looking out the window and seeing the Spanish countryside. I feel like there are more stretches of just nature inbetween the cities in Spain, not like in the United States where pretty much every couple of miles there is an exit with a McDonalds off the interstate. It was neat just to watch the countryside pass by.

So, Barcelona, check; Alicante, check; and now, on to Rome next weekend. I cannot wait, I feel like I´m going to be spending most of my time eating as much pasta as my body can possibly handle.

I figured out how to attach pictures to my posts! So expect a little gallery of some pictures from now on. ¡Besos!

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