Hooray USA?

I’m currently 7 hours into my 10 hour flight and the fact that my study abroad experience has ended still hasn’t fully sunk in. In order to avoid the bottomless pit of sentimentally that is sure to hit me any time now, here’s a post about all the things I won’t miss about Spain.

I won’t miss the lack of puppy cuddles I got to experience while in Spain. It’s not that they don’t have dogs of all shapes and sizes, it’s just apparently socially inappropriate to pet a stranger’s puppy. Thus, except for some strays that unfortunately were very dirty and matted and kind of gross (no offense to them, it’s not their fault the don’t have a home), I have been fully deprived of petting and spending time with dogs. I’m just hours away from seeing my own puppies and I could not be more ecstatic!

I will not miss the open stares that people give you in Spain. I guess the concept of discreteness just isn’t a thing in Spain. I have been stared down for minutes on end by the same people, and not necessarily just because I’m American – there are plenty of us and Granadians are used to non-Spanish people living and walking the streets, but for some reason they like to focus on relentlessly focus on people one at a time.

Also in terms of Spaniards, I won’t miss the lack of greetings with people on the street. Especially being from the south, when I’m walking down the street I tend to smile at people as I pass them, even if they are a stranger. If you do this in Spain, you will get even more weird looks/blatant stares.

I will not miss the schedule. Although eating lunch at 3 and dinner at 9 or 10 was an interesting experience, it was hard at times. I’m a grandma and I like to eat my dinner at a solid 5:30 or so. Going out for tapas (although amazing and fairly simple), still takes at least and hour and half, so I might be rolling home from dinner at 11:30 at night which was the struggle with trying to complete all of my homework, plus go to bed at a somewhat reasonable time – again, as a grandma, I usually call it quits around 11:30 every night to go to bed, but in this case a standard night was 1 in the morning which was hard for me at times.

I will not miss the ridiculously slick streets. Even on sunny days, there are some cobblestoned or tiled streets that are deadly. Don’t even get me started on the days that it’s rainy. And it’s not just the Americans that struggle with the streets – my host mom has fallen and I once witnessed a small 4 year old girl absolutely EAT it one day. I’ve slipped and embarrassingly caught myself more times than I can count. Who knew walking could be so hazardous? Even the public transportation services struggle and the time tables get completely messed up. Rain that far south in Spain is pretty uncommon, so it kind of shuts down the city, just like Snowpocalypse 2k15 did in Atlanta

Speaking of public transportation – although it was so nice being able to utilize an extensive inner city bus network for fairly cheap, I miss driving. I miss the freedom of getting into my car, blasting my music and just going to whichever place that interests me. I miss being able to make spontaneous decisions to go adventure without having to worry about bus schedules and tickets.

This next point is super random and very specific, but the door to our apartment wasn’t an actual doorknob? It was this giant bulbous thing attached in the middle of the door but at the height of a little person. Even up until the last day, there were times when I tried to open or close the door, forgot how low down it was and then had to hunch down and make it work. I felt pretty stupid every time that happened (and trust me it was pretty often).

I will not miss the absolutely freezing apartments we lived in. Some apartments have central heating, others do not. Ours technically did have one, but it was broken (of course) so we ended up having a radiator that we would plug in for a few hours every night. But let me tell you, waking upon the middle of the night shivering is a pretty common occurrence, and don’t even get me started on trying to use the bathroom or take a shower during the morning or at night. Ya girl had all the goosebumps all the time.

I also will not miss my squeaky ass bed. It was comfortable enough with plenty of blankets and pillows, but even with the slightest movement, the most horrifying creak would emanate and bring with it small echoes of regret. I’m pretty sure I woke Lauren up a few times this way on nights when I was especially restless. Sorry Lauren.

I will not miss the fish of Spain. I hate seafood. Like with an ardent, burning passion. Spaniards though, love seafood, especially nasty canned tuna. Even though we told our host mom that we don’t look like fish, we should still get it because her thought process was, “this is the most basic sort of fish filet or shrimp or clams of course they’ll love it, how could they not it’s a staple!” There were a few very rough comidas where all we were served was fish and we had to tuck in as if we weren’t absolutely disgusted.

Spanish public bathrooms are the worst. They either don’t have toilet seats, toilet paper, or both if the universe is just really against you that day. After struggling with the squat or sending an SOS signal to a friend for some TP, oftentimes you were then left without actual hand soap. Goodbye subpar Spanish bathrooms, I will not miss you!!

I will not miss the segway guys lurking outside of Plaza Nueva (where the IES center is located) that asked me EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. if I wanted to test drive the segways or scooters or trying to get me to go on a tour with them. Like seriously dudes, I’m carrying a book bag with me usually AND you see me at least 2 or 3 days a week. Why you still gotta ask me?

I will not miss awkward cultural encounters. To a certain extent, these were fine – you’re expected to make some pretty ridiculous blunders, especially the first few works. For example, our first night buying tapas, the waiter asked if I wanted water with or without carbonation (sin o con gas). I misheard him and said “yeah a glass of water, that’s great.” A friend promptly translated and corrected me but it was embarrassing. Unfortunately, I continued to do stupid stuff like this even up until my very last day. I was trying to catch a taxi on a less populate street. I saw one and waved him down, but then realized he wasn’t actually technically working, he was heading home. He was a super sweet guy though and drove me where I needed to go anyways.

Despite the snarkiness of this post though, Spain was an absolutely amazing experience and I’m so blessed and grateful for the experiences I have had. The pros outweigh what little cons there were by a long shot so please, please, please consider looking into the IES Granada program. The staff there are absolutely wonderful, the city is gorgeous, and I can’t even imagine a better study abroad program.

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Regrets and Reflections

Here I am, 3 days out from my flight home, sitting in my room hours before my Lorca and Anadalusian Lit final. I somehow just never thought this time would come. Even a week ago, I could not fathom that I was attending my last classes of the semester. The idea of waking up the next morning and not trudging to my 8:40 a.m. class, but rather going in at 11 for a final absolutely baffles me. I have no idea how we have already reached this point, a point of finality, a point of “lasts,” and a point of goodbyes.

I feel like Will Ferrell in Anchorman in saying that I’m in a glass case of emotions right now. I’m torn between extreme sentimentality and already missing the amazing people, places and things I’ve come to know here and call home. On the other hand, with the stress of finals and a recent severe medical flare up that has left me going to the doctor (on nights before important finals no less), I’m overcome by an extreme desire to return home, lay in my own bed watching Netflix and cuddling my puppies. On any given day I cycle through these two main emotions and a myriad of others – anxiety about my flight, entertainment when I’m with my friends – at least 4 or 5 times.

Even writing this currently I’m not sure where exactly I want to go with it, or how to nicely package all of my conflicting thoughts and emotions into one nicely written, coherent and pretty presentation. And honestly, I’m not sure if that’s possible at this point. So here goes nothing, welcome to my confusing and conflicted mind. Buckle down, because this is going to be a long one.

I guess to start off with, as my departure day looms ever closer, with each passing day I can’t help but to reflect on all of my regrets this semester. I am fully aware that there’s no way I could achieve EVERY single thing that my naïvely optimistic prior self was determined to accomplish, but there are still bittersweet moments when I just ask myself, “Kelsey, why did you not do this?”

Why did I not push myself more to go to the clubs with all of my peers? In our very last Spanish class, our teacher put on Shakira and Enrique and we all danced together and it was so fun. I always rationalized not going out very often with the fact that I don’t like the American party scene and figured I would dislike the crowded, loud clubs here just as equally. I could have had the time of my life, dancing, living the Spanish tradition of staying out until the sun rises, and getting some churros on the way home.

Why did I not spend more time just walking around the city? There are still some times, even in these final days where I walk a new route, finding a cute café or a really yummy looking tapas bar that I had never even seen before. Hell, there are even some days I have to pull out Google Maps because I get turned around going to places I’ve been to before. Although this city has come to feel like home, there are still moments I feel like a stranger, as if I haven’t allowed it to show itself fully to me. I regret not walking around, enjoying the oddly warm weather, exploring new paths along the river or in the city center more often.

I regret not pushing myself to talk to different people more often. I’ve always been a quality over quantity kind of gal, so my close circle of friends here has meant the world to me. But at the same time, there are people in this program that I have never had a real conversation with. I know communications are a two way street, but I can’t help but wonder if I could have pushed harder to get to know more people and connect with them on more personal levels. I have so many friend crushes on people here, but in our limited time, I never pushed hard enough to make them actual friends.

I regret not spending as much time with my host mom. Let me just brag on this wonderful woman named Quety for a moment. She is an absolute angel. My host mom is a fabulous cook (for the most part), she’s kind and empathetic, hardworking, warm and funny. She treats Lauren and I like princesses, doing our laundry, cooking for us every day and cleaning our room. She’s been my mom away from home while I’ve struggled the past few weeks with my illness, buying and cooking me special foods, accompanying me to the doctor, giving me encouragement and advice at times when I was feeling the most down. And I feel as if I’ve taken this for granted. Often after lunch I would retreat into my room after dinner and close the door. She’s said a few times that we seemed very “closed off” and at first this commentary just made me angry. I didn’t understand why she was getting mildly upset with us for wanting privacy. I was also angered on some lazy weekend days where I would stay in all morning/afternoon (contributing to the above regret about exploring the city) and about which she would make comments that I felt were too judgmental and overstepped some boundaries.

But in retrospect, this was a foolish misunderstanding of the host culture. Spaniards will spend hours upon hours with each other, whether it’s just chatting, playing card games, watching movies, etc. Spaniards, especially Andalusians, although they understand the siesta culture, they also believe in going out and enjoying the day, taking in the sun, the fresh mountain air and just being a part of the city, not just in it. As an American, I chose to spend time alone, doing nothing productive and in reality I was closed off. Quety wasn’t trying to be rude in saying these things to me, it’s what was true. I regret not listening to her, and I regret getting angry at her over these things because my anger prevented my from spending more time with her or trying to understand her point of view. My host mom is such an amazing woman and after doing this for years and years, she knows what she’s talking about. I wish I had listened and I wish had spent more time with her, because in reality, I may possibly never meet her again.

I think the regret weighing most heavily on me at this point is the attitude I carried at times during my time abroad. There are days I look back on and I just think to myself  “Kelsey, you could have handled that situation so much better.” There were days were I was easily frustrated, unwilling to take hard moments as life lessons but rather cultural inconveniences. There were days I let my sadness and frustrations affect my relationships – I was short with my friends and family, pushing them away and further isolating myself, making the frustrations grow. Although I tried to be openminded and patient throughout my time here (and which I think I succeeded in doing the majority of the time), I can’t help but wonder if there would have been less hardship and more positivity had I approached the day with a better attitude.

I guess all of this is to say that being abroad is hard. It’s not all puppies and rainbows and unicorns, although there are days where you will be flying – you will feel on top of the world, confident in yourself, at ease with your friends, enjoying your time and feeling so immensely blessed that a fountain of unabashed gratitude will overflow from your lips. But there are also the hard days, the days of rainclouds hanging over your thoughts and feelings, days where the going gets too tough and your demons claw their way to the surface, reciting all of of your previous insecurities whilst adding new ones.

It’s hard. And right now with all of the regrets and negativity, it may seem scary. But I don’t know how to stress just how worth it the experience is – even the stress, the fear, everything, it’s all worth it, because they have molded my time here and made me so appreciative of the good that I have been given. The good cannot be appreciated without the bad, and the bad cannot be overcome without the good. Both have shaped my time here and conversely shaped me. I feel so much stronger, so much more aware, and so much more able than I ever have in my life. 

I can’t begin to explain the profound ways that I’ve been affected whilst here, because I’m not sure I fully understand them myself. I now believe in my own abilities to live on my own, surviving and adapting to a foreign culture. I believe in my strength to overcome adversity and do so with grace and positivity. I believe in my language skills, in my newfound confidence to speak up and do things by myself and for myself. I now know of my own privilege and advantages in life and I believe in myself to bring this awareness with me for the rest of my life, fighting for those who were not born with such luck. And most of I all, I now believe in the power of people and of love. The acceptance of my new Spanish home, the caring people who have embraced me and helped me become a part of their own home. The other American students who have become some of my closest friends, bonding through moments of vulnerability and honesty. The friends and family I left at home who continue to look after me with kind words and thoughts. All of these people and all of the interactions I’ve had have shown me that, although the world is scary and hard place, the negativity is alleviated through relationships. Again, the idea of being of the world, not just in the world. People can be cruel, but the resounding majority are peaceful, and I’ve seen firsthand the harmony caused through interpersonal and intercultural relationships.

I guess all of this is to say, that at the end of the day, although I may have some regrets, they don’t matter all that much. I’ve learned so much about myself, about others and about the world that sitting here dwelling on what I didn’t do casts a shadow on all that I have done. I want to take my experiences abroad with me back home, and I would endanger the positivity by simply lamenting things that cannot be changed. There’s always going to be “what ifs” in life, but I’ve learned I’d rather move forward than stay stuck in the past.

TLDR; #NoRagrets and lots of cheesy lines about life

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A Letter to Myself

For one of my last classes, we were instructed to write a letter to our past selves that had just arrived in Granada. This got me thinking and it was so difficult to try and think of how to describe the coming months to the anxious, excited, hot mess that was me on September 4th as I stepped on the plane to begin by far the greatest adventure of my life. The task was made no easier by the fact that it was meant to be written in Spanish. Although my language skills are still insufficient as to fully express the multitudes of emotions and experiences I’ve had these past 4 months, I tried my best. Here it is in all of it’s glory, as well as with a translation below in order to try and express to you how formative my time has been, both academically and personally.

Querida Kelsey,

Primero – no te preocupes. Tendrás una experiencia maravillosa. Habrá dificultades pero es importante que no perdieras esperanza y una apreciación de todo lo que la vida te ofrecerá – lo bueno y lo mal también. Llegaste con expectativas grandes de un tiempo indescriptible en que cambiarías tu mentalidad, tu personalidad, tu vida en total. Claro, fue una actitud ambiciosa pero puedo aplaudir tus ganas (jaja).

Conocerás amigos amables, graciosos e interesantes. A veces sentirás sola aunque vives con una de tus amigas más íntimas, pero la situación mejorará. Es la verdad que no vas a tener docenas de amigos nuevos muy íntimos, pero tu grupo es más que suficiente. Les ama porque son las personas que te abrazarán y te consolarán durante los tiempos buenos y difíciles. No piensas demasiado en los “¿Que pasa sí…?” porque esas preguntas no te ayudarán. Vive en el momento (aunque es un dicho muy cliché) y aprecia lo que tienes – no vas a tener esta experiencia por mucho tiempo porque los cuatro meses pasarán rápidamente.

Esfuérzate a probar nuevas experiencias (excepto la caminata de Cabo de Gata – este será como el infierno de verdad – debes elegir a pasar todo el tiempo en la playa sin vergüenza). Y será bien sí no te gustarán algunas cosas típicas de la experiencia aquí, como ir a las discotecas o beber mucho por las noches. Tu experiencias sin esas cosas no será “menos” que otras, solamente diferente. Haz lo que puedes y esto es suficiente. Recuerda de buscar su propia cuenta aquí (lo siento, otro dicho cliché) porque eres una individual y no debes comparar ti mismo con otros o cambiarte para congeniar con otros.

Además de estas palabras de motivaciones, quiero avisarte sobre los problemas que vendrán. Tu enfermedad causará dificultades y algunas días querrás a dejar de todo y regresar a los Estados Unido. Pasarás los últimos días en Granada en oficinas de doctores sin saber sí mejorarás antes de los exámenes finales y tu regreso o para gozar los últimos momentos con todos tus amigos. También, algunas semanas te darán mucho estrés y en las que no disfrutarás nada. Es más, el ambiente de tu país, de tu casa, cambiará totalmente en algo tóxico, injusto, peligroso – lo siento mucho, pero tengo que decir que Trump es el peor culo que hemos visto en nuestro país por muchos años. El futuro parecerá sombrío y sin esperanza, pero es necesario que tuvieras esperanza. Tendrás un sistema bueno de apoyo durante todos estos tiempos difíciles y como siempre pasa, la vida seguirá aun sí no lo quieres. Por eso, ten fuerza, ten esperanza y lucha con las personas que te apoyan para que puedas cambiar y mejorar lo que es necesario. Da cuenta de que tu vida siempre sería peor y ten una perspectiva que admite de la ventajas y el privilegio que tienes, porque, de verdad, eres bendecida con mucho más que otros.

Así que, goza su tiempo aquí sin pensar en los no importante. Ve a clase siempre con un mente abierto, interactua con sus compañeros y profesores. Explora la ciudad. Haz cosas solas y para ti mismo. Compras cosas si quieres. Y lo más importante: Aprovecha del dicho granadino – “No pasa nada” – siempre hay algo más para hacer o experimentar, no te preocupes en ser perfecta todo el tiempo. Siempre puedes añadir a las memorias preciosas o gozar el día, pero no con una actitud obsesionada con deseos y metas imposibles. Espero que puedas guardar tu experiencias aquí y llevar las con ti por el resto de tu vida. Esté feliz y agradecida siempre.

Con amor,

Kelsey

P.S. Finalmente, vas a hacer Parkour real jaja – sus amigos americanos estarán celosos 😉

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Kelsey,

First of all – don’t worry. You will  have a wonderful experience. There will be difficulties but it’s important that you don’t lose hope and an appreciation of all that life will offer you – the good as well as the bad. You will arrive with grand expectations for an indescribable experience in which you would change your mentality, your personality, your entire life. Clearly, this was a bit ambitious, but I can applaud your strong will haha.

You will get to meet and know friends that are kind, funny and interesting. At times, you will feel alone (even though you already live with one of your closest friends) but the situation will improve. It’s true that you won’t have dozen upon dozens of super close friends, but your own group will be more than enough. Love them because they are the people that will embrace/hug you and console you in the good and the bad times. Don’t think too much en the “what ifs?” because they will not help you. Live in the moment (as cliche as that saying is) and appreciate that which you have – you won’t have this time for long because the four months pass so quickly.

Push yourself to try new things (except for the hike in Cabo de Gata – that will feel like you’re actually in hell. Instead you should choose to spend the entire day at the beach instead). It will be ok if you don’t like some of the “typical” things here like going to clubs and drinking a lot. Your experience without these things will not be any less than others, only different. Do what you can and this is enough. Remember to look for your own story (sorry, another cliché) because you are an individual and you should not compare yourself with others or change yourself to try and fit in with them.

Along with this little pep talk, I want to warn you about the issues you will have. Your illness will cause problems and some days you’ll just want to quit everything and head home to the states. You’ll spend your last few days in doctor’s offices without knowing if you’ll get better before taking your final exams or your return home or knowing if you’ll get to spend the final, limited moments with your friends. Furthermore, some weeks will give you so much stress that you won’t be able to enjoy anything. On top of all of that, the atmosphere of your country, your home, will change totally into something toxic, unjust and dangerous – sorry, but I need to say that Trump is the worst a**hole we’ve seen in our country for years. The future will seem bleak and hopeless, but it’s necessary to keep that hope. You will have a good support system during all of these hard times and, as it always happens, life will continue even if you don’t want it to. Because of this, have strength, have hope and fight with those that support you so that you can change and improve whatever is necessary. And remember that there is always something positive to appreciate. Realize that your life could always be worse and have a perspective that admits the advantages and privilege that you have, because in reality you are so blessed.

In this way, enjoy your time without thinking in unimportant or trivial things. Go to class always with an open mind. Interact with your classmates, friends and professors. Explore the city. Do things on your own. Buy things if you want. And most importantly: truly enjoy and take advantage of the saying “no pasa nada” – there is always something in life that you can do or experience, don’t worry about being perfect. You can always add meaning and precious memories to your life and enjoy the day, but this isn’t possible with an obsessive attitude with wishes and goals impossible to achieve. I hope you keep your experiences from Granada and carry them with you for the rest of your life. Be happy and be thankful, always.

With love,

Kelsey

P.S. You’ll finally do legit parkour and all of your friends back in the state will be jealous 😉

(below are some photos of my actual parkour adventures – I failed to mention that, while yes I did do parkour, I didn’t do it very well)

 

 

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Traveling Abroad with a Chronic Illness

As I briefly alluded to in my previous post (where I highlight my recent trip to Barcelona – you should check it out, it was pretty great if I do say so myself (the trip not my post, although I’m personally a fan)), this semester has brought with it some very difficult situations.

To fully explain my experience here, it’s necessary to go back in time to the beginning of the year. It started off with extreme traveler’s sickness coming back from Interim in Ireland which caused serious stomach issues for a week, and escalated after contracting bronchitis that sent me to the ER twice. You would think that once I could finally breathe without hacking up a lung, life would be just peachy, but that wasn’t the case. For the following two months, I suffered from what my friends like to call “the death” wherein I could not eat a single thing without feeling extremely nauseous. Twenty pounds and numerous mental breakdowns later, I finally started a new medication that makes it considerably easier to function on a daily basis.

Health wise, spring semester 2016 was one of the hardest situations I have ever been through. I went through months of testing, including spending my spring break getting an endoscopy (shoving a tube down my throat), crying on the phone to my mom and skipping out on activities with my friends because I felt like absolute shit. And the worst part of it? Nobody still really knows for sure what’s wrong with me.

During my follow up appointment right before I left to study in Granada, the doctor told me that physically, there’s nothing wrong that could be causing these issues. Most likely, it was a result of high levels of stress and anxiety. And although I always joke about how it would be impossible for me to not be stressed and anxious in such a competitive environment as Wofford, this speculation brought me crashing back down to reality. I’ve heard from various doctors (my dermatologist, my old pediatrician, the nurse practitioner at school, my regular doctors and now even my gastroenterologist) that they suspected I suffered from high levels of anxiety, but before I had never given it a second thought.

If you know me, you know that I also like to be a highly independent person. If there’s a problem, I like to fix it quickly and within my own means. But with this issue, I can’t just overcome it with willpower as much as I’d like to, not with my body physically rejecting everyday activities due to the anxiety it causes me. And to be quite frank, it has completely sucked.

I came to Granada with the intent to try my hardest to not let my experience be shaped through the lens of my illness. I again wanted to be independent of and stronger than the issues that have afflicted me for the past year. But, as always happens in life, our best made plans don’t always succeed.

Although I have definitively loved my experience here and have made life-changing discoveries about myself and the world I live in, there have been times where I’ve been less than happy. Sick, tired, unable to see the silver lining or resolution to my chronic illness, I have had days where I’m down in the dumps. My illness has also irrevocably altered my experience here – my flight back from Rome, I had a panic attack because I thought I was going to throw up on the plane which made me wary to fly again, effectively cancelling a planned trip to both Berlin and London; my roommate got the stomach flu and I became totally apathetic because I was so overly worried about the possibility of inflaming my own personal stomach issues that I avoided her as much as possible; I’ve skipped out on nights with friends, adventures to neighboring cities because I felt too nauseous or tired to join them. The list goes on and on about how the side effects of my illness have shaped my experience here, and it’s hard to reflect on all of the what-ifs and whys.

I can’t claim to understand why my experience has been the way it is – I don’t know why I’ve had to live it with this ever-present cloud hanging over my thoughts, my emotions, my desires, etc. And again, I’m not going to pretend like it doesn’t completely suck somedays. There have been days where I’ve been so fed up that all I want to do is wallow in bed and count down the days until I went home.

And although some days are still much harder than others, I’m continuously trying my best to stop questioning “why?” but rather, “how can I overcome this?” Each day brings its own troubles, but I’m learning that the best thing to do is move forward. Instead of exacerbating my anxiety by constantly running over in my mind why I feel sick or why my stomach is acting the way it is, I’m trying each and every day to focus on the here and now, on the people I have surrounding me to bring me back to reality, the beautiful and still unknown city streets calling me forward to explore them. Some days it’s necessary to give my body a break and I’m taking this idea of self-love and care into stride, but I’m also pushing myself.

Living abroad with a chronic illness isn’t necessarily fun and it definitely isn’t easy. However, I think it’s important to emphasize that this does not mean that my semester has been anything less valid or less worthwhile than that of others. Yes, my experience is uniquely my own and has brought forth its own struggles. But little by little, I’m learning to live and let go. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand the “why,” but I’m taking what I have been given. I’ve been blessed with amazing new friends, interesting classes and wonderful and cherished memories. My illness, although it has partially defined my experience, it does not define me. I’m trying my best to continue moving forward, not resenting the negative aspects of the past, but appreciating the positivity I have experienced and received.

So I guess all of this is to say, firstly, if you suffer from a chronic illness – mental, physical, whatever it may be – don’t ever think that you cannot study abroad and enjoy it. Yes, it might be hard and it will be different, but you are capable and deserving of having the time of your life. Don’t deny yourself an amazing experience out of fear that your illness will rule and/or define you – there is always the possibility of overcoming your struggles, albeit in potentially small victories with the occasional (or frequent) setback. In the end though, no matter what, I would argue that it’s worth it. Secondly, I want to thank everyone who has supported me on this journey. To the friends who have sent me random kind messages, those who have inquired about my health, those who have driven me to the ER, picked up my meds from the pharmacy and held my hand through this entire process, thank you. To my parents who have supported me emotionally (and financially lol sorry) this past year through unexpected drives up to Spartanburg to stay with me or sending me corny memes on FaceBook, and for supporting me my entire life, thank you.

Honestly and wholeheartedly, I would like to extend thanks to anyone and everyone that has been by my side this past year. Your support and love has meant the world to me and I’m so blessed to be surrounded by such a loving, caring, thoughtful and genuine circle of friends and family. Thank you. I love you all so very much.

-Kelsey

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Barcelona, I still long to hold ya

I apologize for the fact that the majority of my blog posts seem to center on my travels to places that aren’t Granada – but not for lack of a good purpose. My travels this semester have been just as challenging and growth-inducing as my time at “home,” just in different ways. Nonetheless, this will be my last post about traveling as Barcelona was the last hoorah for me.

My parents were actually flying into Madrid that weekend, so I travelled on my own as I would be going to Madrid on Sunday rather than returning to Granada. I took a bus to Madrid on Thursday afternoon (on which I got super sick unfortunately – just wait for my next blogpost which explains all of my struggles with illness this past semester – woohoo, what a fun topic) and stayed overnight with my friend Leanna, a wonderfully kind and talented Wofford grad who is now teaching English in Madrid.

The next day I took a train to Barcelona (we went up to 300 km/hr !!!) to meet up with Lauren Crawford ’17 and our friend Jenna. I booked it from the train station to the hostel because the free walking tour was leaving about 20 minutes after my arrival time. I checked in at the hostel, which was super nice – clean with a cool vintage vibe – despite the fact that the worker sassed me.

We then began the tour with Martin, a man who is actually from Argentina but has been working in Barcelona for a few years. Also on the tour was David, a young man from Mexico so we ended up speaking in mostly Spanish which was a nice way t keep up practicing. It’s so strange to me how much easier it is to understand Spanish in general, but more so, Latin American Spanish. Sorry Spain, but your language is a mess. As someone interested in anthropology/linguistics, it absolutely fascinates me just how much difference there is between the same language in terms of pronunciation, enunciation, tone, slang, etc.

Sorry to geek out about this, but it’s just really cool to think about language ya know? It’s something inherently human (no other species have complex language capacities), so it should be this connective thing, but still separates us in terms of ability to effectively communicate. Wowza! (Yes I’m a 60 year-old woman, plz don’t judge, I just get overly excited).

Anyways, our tour took us around the Gothic neighborhood of Barcelona. We got to see some beautiful older buildings – including the old FC Barça headquarters !! – an old Picasso mural, and we discovered the Barcelonan Christmas tradition of small pooping figurines (including characters like Elton John, Obama, Hello Kitty, literally anyone and everyone). Our tour ended near a famous food market, so we wandered around and found amazingly fresh juices and some pretty well executed Mexican food (one of the things I miss the most about the states currently).

After lunch, we figured out the metro system to visit the ancient bunkers that are a bit out of the way of the city center. They’re located pretty high up but offer an amazing view of the city – we also got our first glimpse of the Sagrada Familia which made me so intensely excited. There was some cool graffiti around and also some street performers singing and playing guitar so it was a really relaxing experience. I also ran into an Australian guy who had stayed in my hostel at Lisbon two weeks prior – it was so completely surreal, but it reminded me yet again of just how small the world can be sometimes.

Anyways, by the time we wandered back to the hostel, we were starving again so we went out for pintxos (sounds like “pinchos”) which is Barcelona’s own special kind of tapas. It’s pretty much a little bite sized food with a skewer through them. You serve yourself buffet style and at the end of the night, the cashier counts up the number of skewers you have and charges you that much. They were all really yummy and it was an entirely unique experience to anything else I’ve had in Spain. Barcelona is also known for its cava which is a region specialty of sparkling wine. I was already exhausted but by the time we finished I was in total food coma mode – which didn’t work out too well in our 12-person hostel room where literally everyone decided to congregate and have loud Skype sessions before bed :’)

The next day we met up with our other friend Jenna who had been in Barcelona with her family. We actually stayed in the hostel where her family had been staying so we (illegally and very awkwardly) had to sneak all of our stuff over. We went out for brunch at a really cute, but also super ~granola~ and therefore really expensive brunch place. The food was great though, so definitely worth the cost! We had scrambled eggs for the first time in months and let me tell you I never thought I’d be one to almost cry over something almost as simple as eggs.

After brunch we headed to the Sagrada Familia. I knew it would be a completely experience from any other cathedral or church I had ever visited before, but I was still absolutely blown away by both the outside and the interior. Although unfinished, there’s just a certain level of artistry and grandeur that it’s almost overwhelming. There’s really no way to describe how gorgeous it is, and I doubt my photos do much justice, but I’ll attach some of my favorites below!

Following the cathedral (and a very hilarious but also awkward lunch in which one of the Jenna’s taught small children creative ways to flick people off), we went to Park Güell, which was one of the other famous Gaudi structures in the city. At this point I had really bad blisters so climbing the multiple flights of stairs was a bit painful, but worth it for all of the views! We also ran across a game of American football which was entirely unexpected and a bit funny to see because it felt so out of context – such a brute sport right to the side of this gorgeous, artistically valued historic site.

Anyways, we toured the park and it was absolutely beautiful. The architecture was so innovative and the colors so bright. Again, it’s hard to describe how gorgeous and uniquely original it was, so I’ll attach some pictures below. We also climbed up a small hill just outside the park to watch the sunset which was absolutely gorgeous. It had small cross sculptures at the top, so I was really reminded of the beauty and grace of God and felt truly relaxed and at ease. I’m so blessed for this wonderful adventure I’ve had this semester!

To end the night, we went to a burger place (I know how American of us) and I got this absolutely amazing Italian burger which had pesto, mozzarella, lettuce and tomato. It was way too much food, but I ate every bite of it because it was so tender – another thing I really miss from the states are burgers (it’s starting to sound like all I miss about the US is the food – first Mexican, then scrambled eggs, and now burgers lol). After dinner we picked up some cupcakes and popcorn and then had a movie night in the hostel. We watched Big Hero Six which was an amazingly cute, funny, sad, frustrating, happy movie all in one.

Although Barcelona was absolutely beautiful and I’m so glad I got to experience it, honestly my favorite part was probably our girl’s movie night. We were all four curled up in bed together, eating popcorn, chatting, getting super into the movie, and just having a good time. I’m so thankful for the amazing friends on this trip and I’m glad I get to go through this wonderfully messy and beautiful experience that is studying abroad with them. Our night together in Barcelona truly taught me, as cliché as this may sound, that what matters most in life is the people you surround yourself with, not the things you experience. I would not have enjoyed my experience in Barcelona nearly a tenth as much as I did with these wonderful girls, but I’m also sure that we could have just sat around the IES center for a few hours and had just as nice of a time. As my homie Ben Howard sings, “Heaven is the arms that hold us” – so hug a friend today, say “I love you” as mushy as it may seem, and be thankful for those you get to spend your time with.

Much love,

Kelsey

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Once Upon a Time in Portugal

Disclaimer before you begin reading: the title of this post comes from the song “Portugal” by Walk the Moon, which I would highly recommend you listen to!

A few weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity to go to Lisbon, Portugal (in case you haven’t noticed, the general trend of my blog is writing about something weeks after it happened lol). I was ridiculously excited about this trip because I had heard wonderful things about the city from other friends who had visited and I was also getting to see one of my best friends from Wofford, Lydia Miller.

I had a 7 am flight from Granada to Lisbon so I dragged myself out of bed at 4:30 in the morning to get ready and get to the airport on time. The flights went well and I somehow navigated my way to the hostel using public transportation. Let me tell you, this hostel was probably the coolest place I have ever stayed in. It’s called Good Morning Hostel and it’s won plenty of awards for its cleanliness, helpfulness, food, you name it.

I had a few hours to kill before Lydia’s flight got in so I went exploring and found a miradouro, or basically a higher area that looks out over the city. It was absolutely gorgeous and the mini hike it required was definitely worth it. I also got to see some really cool graffiti (including artists painting on the walls in that moment) and got to try some Portuguese staples like the egg/cream custard and other pastries at a cute café.

Unfortunately, I quickly learned that the weather in Lisbon is just as temperamental as in the south and so  while I was sitting in the café, a mini downpour began. It ended fairly quickly, but I was left in a difficult position when I found that my rain boots were not equipped for walking down a ridiculously steep cobblestoned street. I literally wobbled like a penguin for about 20 minutes, but to no avail – I fell flat on my ass at one point to the dismay of some elderly Portuguese women. I was also wearing a dress so some people for sure saw my butt. Whoops.

Afterwards I went to the hostel to wait for Lydia – when she finally arrived we were both over the moon to see each other. It was so nice to see another friendly and familiar face after going through some intense home sickness the weeks before.

We started our adventures soon after by going to the Time Out Market which has a bunch of yummy food/dessert/drink vendors and then walking along the riverside afterwards. After taking plenty of photos, we hiked on up to the Miradouro de Santa Luzia, which is basically a very high up point that overlooks the city. Keep in mind it was still relatively wet, so some parts of this trek were quite the struggle. I got to catch up with my friend, see some of the beautiful architecture of the city (my God, those tiles are to die for), and take a mini photo shoot with some ivy.

I then tried (and failed miserably) to show Lydia a standard tapas experience, which didn’t work out too well considering Portugal isn’t actually Spain. I was exhausted at this point so we just went back to the hostel and went to bed.

The next day we braved the rainy weather yet again for a free walking tour around the city which was amazing because we learned about the history of the city (it’s a lot more significant/old than most people realize). We then went to a big open air market they hold every week before wandering around for some lunch. Afterwards, like I always do, I found me some gelato – and this time it was from an artesian shop where I got vanilla with basil (my biggest regret is not returning to try the lemon with rosemary and honey).

We then took a small train ride to Belém, a sort of suburb outside of the city center, that sits on the water and has some really pretty monuments. Our feet were sore and we were cold but the views were entirely worth it. For dinner, we returned to Time Out (it was THAT good) and then went back to the hostel for another simple night in to relax and catch up.

For the most part, my experience in Lisbon was a dream – however it was the following day that things took a turn for the worst. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I took an amazing, life-changing trip to Morocco with my program. The one downside to the trip is that generally the large majority of the students come back and get the stomach bug/gastroenteritis due to the rich foods and intense traveling experience/schedule. Considering most people got sick one to two days after returning, I thought I was in the clear by the time Sunday came around (about 5 days after we came back home), but I was not so lucky.

I woke up Sunday morning at 4:30 feeling the worst I have in years. I was running to the bathroom every 10 minutes or so with diarrhea and vomiting. It was not fun. I’m so thankful that during this time Lydia totally assumed the mom role for me – she held my hair if I needed her to, got me tea and even ran around Lisbon up to my departure to find me medicine for my travels home.

If I’m being completely honest, this experience was complete hell. If you know me, you know how much I hate being sick and so this was absolutely miserable for me. Also, I had to scramble to change travel plans – flying upsets my stomach in general so I didn’t want to subject myself to two flights while I was feeling so crappy. Instead I opted for an 8 hour car ride using Blablacar (basically a hitchhiking app lol sorry mom). Maybe the car ride doesn’t sound like a great alternative, but for me it was the right thing to do.

The thing that was hardest about this experience was that I was legitimately largely on my own to take care of myself. Whenever I’ve gotten this sick before my parents were always a phone call and a car ride away to help out. Not this time. I had to hurriedly change travel plans and make decisions that I felt would be in my best interest. At 6 in the morning as I contemplated what to do, I was thinking solely on my own. And it was hard, but I’ve learned so much from it. I AM capable of taking care of myself and I’ve learned that sometimes you have to make hard and undesired decisions in life. I sure as hell would not want to have to go through this again – I wouldn’t even wish it on my worst enemy – but I’ve learned how to take action and be responsible even in an emergency. Yes there were tears, there was fear and there was anxiety, but it all worked out in the end – I even made a new friend in the process as the driver was a really cool guy who put up with my continual requests for bathroom breaks. Luis, you’re the man (even though you tried to sell me your super granola water bottles multiple times)!

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Sigue.

Last week, the world I had come to learn and love was irrevocably rocked.

Perhaps it’s melodramatic to claim that the U.S. elections were so drastically life-altering, but I think it would be even more insincere to try and downplay the severity of the situation. I also debated about even writing this article because this is a blog associated with the school meant to describe my travel experiences, but it also felt disingenuous to pretend like the elections, and more importantly the results, hadn’t affected my time here. Also, Wofford is a wonderful school that supports and encourages diversity and strives to provide a platform for discussion among its students, faculty and staff, so I feel not only that I can write this, but that I should.

The IES Granada center opened its doors overnight so that we could watch the election results real time. It was honestly so amazing to see all of my peers come out to the center at 11 o’clock at night and to bond with them in happiness, frustration, and fear into the wee hours of the morning. I eventually tapped out at 4:30 in the morning so that I could get some sleep, albeit minimal. When I left, Florida was leaning towards Trump – the results were much closer than they should have been, but there was still hope.

So when I woke up the following morning and my half-asleep mind slowly and fearfully processed that Trump had won, I was pissed. I was angry and scared and confused. How the hell did this happen? How did we reach the point where this joke has been legitimized into possibly the most powerful and far-reaching nightmare in history?

For the first time since being abroad, I cried. Not just a sniffle, but a full out sob – I’m talking fetal position on the bed, ugly crying, making weird whimpering noises. Classes were a fog – people were crying, people were downcast. There was a thick and palpable suppression to the atmosphere. We didn’t know how to articulate our complex feelings to each other, much less to our Spanish professors who could not comprehend how we let this happen.

I don’t want to spend this entire article detailing my political beliefs or trying to explain what’s wrong with our current political system (because trust me, that could probably take a mini manifesto), but rather the reactions I’ve experienced. All I will say on the matter is that I cannot support Trump, because despite my generally privileged position as a white, heterosexual, upper middle-class female, I feel scared. I feel scared for myself sure, especially as a woman who has dealt with catcalls on the street, men who were just a bit too touchy, but moreover I am scared for my loved ones – my friends and family who have already experienced oppression, hate, prejudice, violence solely for their religion, race, orientation, etc. because with a Trump presidency, these horrible things will become even more normalized.

I know there are many reasons as to why someone may have voted for Trump, but just keep in mind that although you may not support his hateful rhetoric, by actively not attempting to end it, you are passively supporting it. I respect your opinion or your reasons, but I cannot support it. If you do not believe in the hate that he spreads, prove it by supporting these social causes, loving your minority peers, protecting those that your vote has endangered by the wayside.

Anyways, continuing on, our student council group organized an informal get together for us to talk, vent, question, etc. Being away from home for the election was very strange, especially considering my home is Georgia/South Carolina, whereas the majority of my peers are from New England, West Coast or the Midwest. Also, by nature of many liberal arts schools, most of my peers are more liberal – so we all generally shared the same sentiments towards the results.

It was nice to have a group of supportive and understanding friends who cried with me, questioned life with me, and embraced me when my emotions threatened to completely flood over my precariously balanced sanity. But it was strange because I knew that back home people I knew, people I loved and respected were not only ok with the results, but also happy with them. And that’s hard to accept sometimes, especially when right now we all generally share the same opinion – there’s no opposition so right now I’m in this nice bubble of support, whereas at home, I might have to fight to show my opinion, be respectful of differing ones and to withstand criticism.

It’s still hard to think about a Trump presidency, especially with all of the forthcoming news talking about his utter lack of preparedness, but moving forward I’m trying to no longer lament what has already happened. There is nothing we can do to change the results. It’s hard to swallow, but that’s how it goes. Rather we must sigue – we must continue, move forward and look forward as much as possible.

As I return stateside this December, the environment will be considerably different, but for now I’m just reminding myself that, at the very end of the day, we are all human. We all strive to find love, happiness and success. We have thoughts and feelings and we disagree a lot and fight, but even still – we are all, always humans. In this trying time we need to continue to love our brothers and sisters no matter what. If not, we will let the system truly beat us down and allow hate to win.

Be kind. Be empathetic. Be helpful. Be a friend. Be human. I love you all no matter who you voted for, what you believe in, or your background. If you ever need someone to talk to, please feel free to reach out to me. And above all, He is still good. Look to God and remember that we are all so very loved and so very important in His eyes. He will take care of us and He will provide things. I definitely don’t yet understand His reasons for allowing this to happen, but only time will tell with patience, strength and love.

Todos los besos,

Kelsey

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take some time for yourself and do what you need to do to remember the beauty that still exists in this world – we will make it through

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Moroccan Musings (part 2)

Here is the second and final installment of my mini series on my recent trip to Morocco with my program! It meant a lot to me and I hope that by sharing it, you might be able to see more into my perspective and understand what an amazing country it is.

Day 3

The third day we spent in Rabat with our host families and it was by far the most intensely-packed/scheduled day we had. We started off by going to the Mausoleum of Mohammad V which was definitely a bit more touristy but still very cool nonetheless. There were really cool ruins of the unfinished, centuries-old mosque and there Buckingham Palace-esque guards who weren’t quite as good at keeping a straight face. We also went to the ancient Roman ruins which were also really cool and visually stunning. This country is SO DANG PRETTY.

Afterwards, we went to the IES Rabat center to have a talk about discussion. We spoke with Manuel, an immigrant from Cameroon, and his wife, a Spanish woman who worked with a Moroccan human rights agency. They told us about the past/ongoing immigration crisis because sub-Saharan Africans attempt to reach Europe through Morocco – unfortunately many get held up in dangerous positions in other African countries (including Morocco) and stay there long-term.

It was really eye opening to go to this discussion because I have always heard about the stories of immigrants who have been harmed while trying to reach their dream. With this discussion though, we could put a face to the story. Now it wasn’t just some detached, faceless person suffering, but rather a real person who told us about his daughters he hadn’t seen in years, about being smuggled through the desert, about trying to swim to freedom, despite not knowing how to someone. We could put a face to the story of a man whose boat was ripped to shreds by police to prevent his entry into the country, families who were living in squalid conditions in the mountains as they tried to save up money.

This talk was so important because it truly shed light on how inhumane our treatment of immigrants/refugees is. It is so important to keep in mind the humanity of others and to have compassion and care towards others, something which I think we forget all too often in today’s current climate of fear mongering and mudslinging.

Then we went back to lunch with our host family. Our specific family was a mother, a father and a 20-year-old daughter. I never actually met the father because he typically stayed in his bedroom, which was definitely a very different experience because in Spain and America the culture is closer to “Let’s introduce you to literally every single person in our family that is available right now! Maybe even our neighbors too because why not?” Also, the only person in our family who spoke English was the daughter and my Moroccan Arabic is absolutely horrible so it was hard trying to communicate with our host mom – I literally only knew thank you, soI couldn’t even say hello, good night, etc.

Anyways, after lunch all of the students in our program were paired up with University of Rabat students. I was with three other American students and we went with four Moroccan guys to a café for drinks and to ask them about their culture. This discussion was definitely very different in comparison the student discussion at Darma because this group of guys was definitely a lot more liberal in their views and they were not scared to voice their opinions (even though at times they were a bit strong). Although different, I’m glad that I was able to hear their opinions because it provides a broader scope of just how diverse the country is. That’s one thing you’ll notice about Morroco – people think Africa/Arab country and tend to envision a super homogenous society, but Morocco completely breaks all of those expectations.

Because Morocco is the gateway between Europe and Africa there is an interesting mix of cultures – there’s Arabs (but also there’s the native ethnic group, the Amizagh which are experiencing a resurgence in national prominence and pride), sub-saharan Africans and Europeans. There are Muslims, Christians and Jews; conservatives and liberals; the diversity of the country is absolutely astounding to me because Africa in general is so often portrayed as  lacking diversity – hell the entire continent is referenced as a single entity (which would NEVER fly with Europe or North/South America). Basically, thank you Morocco for opening my eyes to the simplistic and prejudiced perceptions I held regarding North Africa/Africa in general and showing me how beautifully varied you truly are.

Continuing on, after meeting with the Rabat students, we went to the hammam, or the traditional Arab baths. This was an entirely new and overwhelming experience – traditionally, women go topless in the hammam for purposes of hygiene so that they can clean themselves as much as possible. I intended to go in wearing a bathing suit top, but once we got to the changing room I realized I would have felt more uncomfortable wearing the top than taking it off. Never before in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought that I would be at my most exposed and vulnerable in front of strangers and people I have only known for less than two months. But it happened and it was weird at first but I realized that sometimes it doesn’t matter if your boobs are out. They’re boobs.

Honestly, the hammam was such an amazing experience because it was a leap of faith in being comfortable with our bodies and also such a simple way to desexualize the female body. Also, the ladies in there will scrub you down until your skin is raw and you can see yourself peeling, but it will be SO soft afterwards. It will be intense and a whirlwind and really hot, but it’s still such a rewarding experience at the end of the day. After the hammam, we got some beautiful henna tattoos and then went home for dinner which was a nice way to wind down from the entirely strange and unknown experience of the baths.

Day 4

On the fourth day, we left early in the morning to head to the Rif Mountains, where we would then have lunch with a family in a rural village with our smaller groups. The family we were with was led by a matriarch and her daughter, Radia (her son was also living in the house, but like our host father, he did not interact with us).  The rural lifestyle was vastly different from the opinions we heard from people in the city (especially the students) and it was truly a humbling experience.

Radia, who is now 26, dropped out of school at a very early age because she was once punished by a teacher so severely (with a sort of rapping on the hand) that all of her fingers were broken. Out of fear and frustration, she dropped out. Even if she had continued with school, her options were much more limited in comparison to those of men. Although I don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype that Arab countries are inherently oppressive towards women (which you can see is assuredly not the case when you walk through the bigger cities), a large inequality between genders still exists in the rural areas.

We also learned about the limited options in terms of social mobility that people in the country have – it’s hard for people to find non-agricultural jobs and it’s hard for them to move to the city for better occupational opportunities, so a self-perpetuating cycle exists wherein people want to improve their situation but don’t have the means to. The women we spoke to also told us about the simpler lives that they lead – the village didn’t have electricity until 2006 !!

We left the village before I really had time to process everything that we had just learned about, but as we continued our trip through the mountains to Chefchaouen, I was struck by just how unaware I have always been of my privilege. As a member of a more developed and socially equal society (not to say that the patriarchy isn’t a huge issue we still deal with in the States), I’ve never realized how extremely blessed and lucky I have been to pursue the education that I desire, to voice my opinion and have the opportunity to improve myself and my situation, and to have the items that I consider basic amenities but others view as something new and cherished.

The sun was setting, the mountains provided a beautiful backdrop, I was jamming to Ben Howard and I honestly don’t know if I have ever felt so content with my life as is. I realized how much I get hung up or complain on such insignificant things, but in reality my daily life is something so distinctly privileged. While my own concerns are no less valid, it’s still important to keep things in perspective and realize how blessed I truly am.

Day Five:

The night prior, we arrived in Chefchaouen which is the super touristy city because it’s the one that’s ALL blue. We did some souvenir shopping both the night before and the morning of the fifth day, before we had to head out.

We drove to Ceuta, a Spanish autonomous community, in order to catch our ferry back to Spain. This was honestly probably one of the most surreal experiences. Our driver and translator for the entire trip were Moroccan and neither of them had valid passports. So instead of driving us to the ferry station, that had to drop us off on the other side of the border and we crossed alone to Ceuta.

It was so strange mainly just because we walked through the border – simple as that, showed our passport, and walked on through. Yet at the same, we left our Moroccan friends behind, saw the fences that have withheld so many immigrants and extinguished so many dreams, seen the waters wherein people have died trying to cross the border. And we walked.

Again, I was reminded of the huge amount of privilege I have experienced in my life. Although I complained about how frustrating the passport process was for me (a super frantic last minute sprint trying to get all of my necessary documents ready), in comparison to others, it is so ridiculously easy. I waited 6 weeks, rather than months or even years. With a simple flip of my passport, I can enter practically any country in the world, whereas others aspire to travel abroad and hold onto these dreams for decades.

To finish off the story, we took the ferry from Ceuta back to Algeciras and then took a bus to Granada. A very relaxed end to the Morroco trip, which was so astoundingly impactful. I want to thank all of the staff at IES that helped to arrange this trip and the beautiful people of Morocco who so warmly and wholeheartedly welcomed me into their homes and culture.

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Moroccan Musings (part 1)

Every semester, IES Granada offers its students a trip to Morroco. It’s a five-day trip that is pretty intense because the trip aims to be more than a simple tourist experience. Yes, we rode camels by the beach and we did some extensive souvenir shopping, but we also spoke with representatives of a women’s NGO and local students, lived with a home stay family and travelled through the mountains to get the more traditional perspective of the rural population. The trip was immensely fun but it was also difficult in the sense that it made me think and reflect on things that I have often taken for granted. For the sake of my sanity, I’m going to break this post up by day (it’s also going to be super long, I’M SORRY)

Day 1:

We left Granada very early in the morning to head to Tarifa to catch a ferry to Tangier. About an hour and a half into our three hour bus drive our fearless leader/IES Granada director Javier informed the bus that the port in Tarifa was closed due to strong winds which were causing large waves. The angels who work behind the scenes in our program switched our tickets leave from the Algeciras port on a ferry that was slightly bigger and that would take us into a port about 40 km outside of Tangiers. The catch was that we only had about an hour between finding this information out and actually catching our ferry – including travel time.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a VERY structured person. I like order, I like tidiness and I absolutely hate any sort of chaos or hectic situation – I have a color coded agenda for Pete’s sake.

So for me, this abrupt change was pretty anxiety inducing. We were rushing through the ferry station, rushing through customs (where we saw a pretty damn depressing video about taking animals through customs where they had to euthanize a dog and we saw its little doggy ghost go to heaven) and plus I deal with pretty bad motion sickness at times so the idea of riding really rough seas much sooner than anticipated was very stressful.

But, against all my fears and ideas of what extreme spontaneity would bring, the ferry ride was fine. Long, yes. Rocky, yes. Stressful, definitely. But it was ok. I survived. I also got to spend time with some good friends and I took my very first steps ever on the continent of Africa. Spontaneity hit me like a ten-ton truck and it worked just as well as the best made plans.

I know it would be entirely ingenuine to claim that I have become an entirely new person that embraces spontaneity and goes on random adventures every single day, but it was definitely a step in the right direction in terms of realizing that I don’t necessarily need to kill myself trying to completely plan my life. Should my life be an entirely disorganized mess? No, but it’s also ok if I don’t micromanage every single hour of my day. It’s foolish to expect that I can control everything. Rather than trusting in my own capabilities, I’m slowly moving towards placing my trust in His hands and accepting the way life moves.

Anyways, after we finally checked into our hotels (where, surprise! More unplanned changes – our two-person rooms turned out to be four-person rooms so we had to pair up pretty fast), we walked around Tangier with local university students. They showed us around the older parts of the city (including the Qasbah – cue the song!) and then we had a delicious Moroccan dinner at the hotel. Altogether, the day was mostly spent traveling. Below are some photos from the day: ferry views, me being a total mom and some beautiful architecture/views

Day 2:

For the second day, we spent the morning in Tangier. Everyone on our program was split up into four groups so that there wasn’t a group of 50+ American students wandering around Morocco, calling EVEN MORE attention to ourselves. My group, al Ruman (or Granada, which stands for pomegranate) went to Darma, a women’s NGO that works to teach women both professional and education skills. They learned to sew both traditionally and with modern machines and sold their products to support their operations and they also taught literacy courses.

At Darma we also met up with more local university students to have an open discourse about anything and everything regarding Moroccan culture. We had two female students and one male and it was SO interesting to hear all of their issued because they all grew up in different cities and had different beliefs regarding things. My one complaint about this part was that we talked way too much about U.S. politics. It got to be so redundant because people just kept discussing their opinions over our government rather than trying to ask the Moroccan students about Morocco.

After our talk, we left for Rabat where we would be spending two nights with a home family. Halfway through our three hour bus ride, we stopped in the smaller town of Asilah WHERE WE RODE CAMELS oh my word it was so cool. My camel was literally the nicest thing in the world – it was cuddling up with the other camels, listened to the handler the most and I rode it so naturally it was pretty chill. I’ll attach some photos to this post of just how cool it was!

We also took a walking tour around Asilah which was really cool – lots of beautiful and #aesthetic places – there are constantly a barrage of gorgeous colors and fantastic designs. Afterwards we arrived in Rabat and my mini group (me, Lauren Crawford ‘17, and our friend Anna) ended up staying in the same home stay that Lauren was in when she came to Morocco previously with IES for Interim. I’m constantly blown away by how small the world is and how strange it is the way in which our paths cross with others.

Update: After writing just the first two days of this trip, I’ve realized how long my musings are so I’m going to separate this post into two – stay posted for the next installment and I hope you enjoyed this post!

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When in Rome

One week ago today, I arrived back to Granada after one hell of a weekend in Rome. I wouldn’t be so farcical as to declare it the caps-lock “best weekend of my life” but it definitely ranks pretty high up there. I went with Lauren Crawford ’17 (ow ow) for literally less than 48 based on how flights/pricing worked out, and despite some awkward cultural encounters and ALL the jetlag, the experience was absolutely amazing.

We left for Rome Friday morning, which involved a bus to Málaga and then a flight to Fiumicino which is about 30 minutes outside of the city. We then took an express train into the city center and then had to figure out the metro system to get to our airbnb which is about 20 minutes from the main transportation terminal. WOW. For anybody who knows me, you know how directionally challenged I am and also how little I’ve used public transportation before (last time I rode a metro in a new city, my mom ended up falling off a Paris platform – which was also completely my fault). Tbh, if Lauren wasn’t with/she hadn’t downloaded the city/our airbnb host hadn’t provided such good directions, I know I would have been hopelessly lost.

Needless to say, because of all of the travel, we weren’t ready to actually explore the city until about 5:30/6 o’clock in the afternoon which was a complete bummer because the sun sets absurdly early there. We went to the Spanish steps and then the Trevi fountain before wandering around for dinner. We quickly found out that if you want to eat a nice dinner anywhere in Rome, you need to make a reservation beforehand. Whoops. We finally found a place that would accept us (and received absolutely horrible service, but hey at least we got to eat).

 

Let me tell you, Italian pasta (and food in general) is on a whole new level. While there I got spaghetti carbonara with bacon (praise Jesus, the southern American in me was going through sever bacon withdrawals), trofie with pesto, bianca pizza and some amazing gelato (I got limoncello!!) Honestly though, probably my happiest find was cinnamon gelato. This summer I went on a crazed hunt for cinnamon ice cream because it’s my absolute favorite, but it’s usually never sold in stores. Not gonna lie, I almost cried at the gelato place, I was so excited.

 

In our one full day in Italy, we had to pack in a lot of stuff. We attempted to go to the Vatican but were accosted by semi-sketchy independently-working tour guides and there was a massive line, so we unfortunately skipped out. Also I was wearing a sleeveless shirt which apparently is still a big no-no for Catholic cathedrals/sites in Italy, something that seems even more foreign to me. We did get to do the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain pt. 2, the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and the Spanish steps pt.2.

 

The next morning we had to take an earlier flight out of Rome so we left our airbnb at 7 am. We had a really unfortunately long layover in Barcelona, and then by the time our bus arrived back in Málaga it was close to 9 p.m. Let me tell you, 14 hours of travel, especially when you have classes in a foreign language the following day, is not fun.

Although it was a whirlwind of a weekend, I’m so enormously grateful for the memories I made. I saw someone get pick pocketed (not fun, but definitely a learning experience), geeked out over Roman history, made multiple wishes in the Trevi Fountain that I hope will come true, and low-key may have met a friend of the Pope’s??

It was a super spur of the moment trip (literally booked our flights about a week and a half before) and overall just a really rewarding experience. Beforehand, I’ve never been much of a spontaneous person – I’ve always been the ~responsible~ friend, never stayed out too late, always studied, etc. For me to suddenly decide “Rome, why not?” is a huge step forward for me. I think this has learned to help me live more in the moment. Sure there are still some nights I stay in because I have class early in the morning, but I’ve also learned it’s important to push myself out of my comfort zone or else I might miss a truly memorable and growing experience. And it is hard to just let go like that – to completely disregard the sirens saying “no this isn’t practical” and go with the flow is such a crazy experience for me, but also shows just how much I’ve changed since I’ve been here.

grumpy

my grumpy face because I really didn’t want to leave rome

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