Am I really here?

Off to Lavinia’s (The program director) for a picnic: We took a very long, hilly walk to Lavinia’s house a couple of days ago for dinner- you would think that the hills become easier to climb after a while, but they really don’t. But the scenery was beautiful all the while, so no one really minded the walk. In order to get to her house, we all entered a narrow passageway, one-by-one, and slowly climbed our way through a long tunnel. It was the most fun I have ever had physically entering a house in my entire life. While there were massive amounts of mosquitos outside, the backyard picnic was really refreshing- especially after the long and grueling walk. I, along with some of the other students, stupidly thought the meal was one course of pasta with bread and then dessert… but after stuffing our faces with pasta, we soon found out that there were in fact three courses (like every other italian meal i have been served), and chose to then really stuff our faces to the point of explosion. The food is worth it here- and the hills, for the most part, make up for the massive amounts of food eaten. Today, I somehow woke up at 1:00 pm ( I really needed sleep), to a three course meal of pasta, chicken, and baked potatos- with an offering of ice cream at the end. That was the biggest breakfast I have ever eaten hands down.

The group at Lavinia’s:

Friday was spa day- or rather, hot springs day.I didn’t know how stiff my body was until after emerging from layers of warm, (and really smelly), sulfer infused water.

And finally: yesterday I went to Florence and had the most incredible time: the architecture is surreal, the streets look like they’re from a different time, and the artwork is breathtaking. While it is essentially the mecca of tourism, (apart from Rome), you completely forget about the millions of people around you when staring in awe at the massive and intricate Duomo. I can’t wait to take the hour bus ride again with my class to visit the Ufizzi museum. Some other girls and I wanted to see the Caravaggio exhibit on display there yesterday, but it cost around 20 euro, and required a long wait in line to get into, so we opted to wander the streets of Florence instead. After some wondering, we came across an outdoor market that sold more leather bags and pashmire scarves than is ever imaginable. Haggling is really not a known part of italian market life, so I didn’t buy much, but I most definitely had an urge to splurge on everything.

Here are some pictures of the day trip:

The UPS Man!

So it is  September 17th, 2010…a mellow Friday night here in Kingston and I apologize readers for not posting another blog sooner than now, but my life has been literally on full speed since I departed from the States on Tuesday the 14th.  Clearly, my wish came true & my passport was returned to me on time if I am here in Kingston currently sitting in my comfortable bedroom.  Let me fill you all in since my last post because it is a funny story at that!

So come early Monday morning (Sept. 13th ’10) I obsessively checked my email yet again to see if there was any progress in the issuing of my passport/visa.  To my amazement I was sent a confirmation email saying that my passport indeed has been issued and was going to be sent via mail for 24 hr. next day air.  Let me tell you, at that moment in time a feeling of relief definitely came over me.  However, after repeatedly checking my email every 30 mins. to see if the tracking of my package via UPS (United Postal Service) had been sent, to my dismay, the tracking never progressed throughout the greater part of the day.

Ok, so you can only imagine that by now that sigh of relief I experienced earlier for about 30 seconds now was turning into straight aggravation and nervousness.  All I kept thinking was that my passport would never be returned on time before I had to catch a flight the next day at approx. 2:23.

Well after dinner that night I got an email saying that my passport was FINALLY in the hands of UPS and was en route.  So after an extremely long long night of crossed fingers and harassing of the service agents that work at UPS, I was finally a bit hopeful that my passport may be returned to me before my flight the next day.  Skip to about 10:30 a.m the following morning…after sweating bullets for fear of never having my passport, the UPS man happily showed up at my doorstep bearing my packaged passport.  “THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOUUUUU!!!” is all I managed to repeatedly say to the UPS man, I literally was about two steps away from hugging him because I was soooo happy and in such disbelief that this happened…besides he was a good-looking  fellow at that 😉

After this whole escapade, my mother & I rushed out of the house and drove to Hancock International Airport, in Syracuse, NY.  My head was rushing and my heart  was beating at a ridiculously high rate.  NERVES.  However, for as a nervous wreck as I was (& believe me, I had such butterflies in my stomach, that I truly thought I was going to get sick) I finally realized I was holding my passport with my stamped visa in my hand.  And it was in that exact moment of that it dawned on me that this dream I have been waiting for for the past few years was REALLY going to happen now!

A tad bit of culture shock, perhaps…

I don’t know if I’m experiencing culture shock, or just impatience, or stress, or all of the above. I never would have imagined that I could feel culture shock in a place that essentially is a part of my own culture. Maybe, I’ve just been spoiled by the relative ease of access to most things in the U.S.

Getting use to the way things run in this university is definitely challenging. Forget about the unlimited printing at New Paltz, and welcome to waiting in line for an hour at the print shop on campus and paying 5 euro cents per page, then being late to class…

Or waiting in line several hours a day at the bank on campus to open an account, just to find out they lost all of your paperwork, and you have to wait another hour…

Maybe, hopefully, I’ve just been having a bit of bad luck and these are all isolated incidents.

In fact, I was really surprised today when I went to the post office (correos) and I was in and out in 5 minutes! This definitely takes longer in the States. Of course, I have a horrible sense of direction and got lost going back to campus, so I was late regardless lol.

Today was the last day of our 14 day intensive Spanish immersion course and our big final is tomorrow night. I thought this class was going to be a breeze since Spanish was my first language, but having never taken an actual Spanish class, I was completely lost with most of the grammar. Unfortunately for me, 50% of the exam is grammar 🙁 but I’ll be studying all night tonight and hoping for the best! As much as I complained about having 3 or 4 hours of Spanish class a day, I actually wish it would have lasted longer than 2 weeks… Maybe I could have absorbed more information in a longer time frame.

Now that Spanish class is almost done, it’s time to focus on my regular classes! I’m taking two classes that I like A LOT: Markets and Environment, and Game Theory. Both are really interesting and thought provoking. Econometric Techniques is a little more…. technical. And at 9 in the morning, twice a week, it could be considered torture, but the professor is a really nice guy. I saw him during his office hours this week, because I missed class for a mandatory orientation, and he was very helpful. We’ve already started working on a time series project in class using GDP and interest rate data from a country of our choice. He suggested I do the U.S. because I’m the only American in the class. Cheap shot. I’m sure Spain was already taken anyway….

I also signed up for a class in the Journalism major, “Theory and Analysis of the Documentary Film.” I’m SOOOO excited to take it even though it has nothing to do with economics. I’ve secretly always wanted to be a documentary filmmaker so this class will give me the chance to make my own documentary. I’m thinking about tying economics into it in some way… With Spain being in a recession right now, like most of the rest of the world, there’s a lot of opportunity to “document” something.

Speaking of documenting, I admit I haven’t been the best “tourist” in terms of seeing all that Madrid has to offer. These past two weeks have been really hectic, trying to get settled into an apartment, and having Spanish classes at night. We did manage to go out to this cultural event in Madrid called “Noche en Blanco”. It’s an annual event in which all the museums are open as well as restaurants, clubs, exhibitions, stores… you name it. Problem was, there was too much to do and we couldn’t decide! We ended up dancing in Grand Via where a dj was set up outside. It was a lot of fun and there were A LOT of people! I’ll have to borrow some of Madeline’s pictures.

For now I have some pictures of the apartment Madeline and I are living in in Getafe, for those of you who are interested in seeing what a Spanish apartment typically looks like… As you can see, it’s very typical that people dry their clothes on the line outside on the balcony. Most apartments don’t have dryers… But hanging clothes outside works really fast, at least right now that it’s still hot!

I also added some pictures of Getafe, the supermarket, and my lunch the other day (Yummmm gazpacho!)

AND added a really cute picture of a dog I saw waiting at the window for his owners to come home… random, but adorable!

Hasta luego,


Huddersfield Has A Lot of Mini Coopers…

And I attempted to count them all today. I stopped after about ten, when I passed by an uncountable number of them parked in a parking lot and couldn’t decide if they were worth counting anyway. It’s all fine by me though, as my dream car is the Mini Cooper.

So today, I got up at about 7:45 and got ready for a 9:30 orientation, the first of many that will be taking place throughout the next two weeks. Lauren and I made our way over to the Central Services Building (which, for all you New Paltzers, is known as “CSB”, so we felt right at home) where all the international students were told what would be happening as far as class enrollment and activities for the next few weeks goes. We found out that we don’t begin classes until the 27th instead of the 20th, which is when I originally thought they began, so I’ve still got a lot of time before I have any schoolwork to do. After waiting in line for a while for our Visas to be scanned—this was somehow the process for “pre-enrollment”—Lauren and I went into town to get a couple of things, signed up for day trips to York, Manchester, and Liverpool. The trip to York is on Sunday, Manchester is the following Saturday, and Liverpool is just the day after!

A little before 17:00 (5:00) we made our way back to campus for a meeting of the International Students society, which met in the Coffee Bean in the Students’ Union. I was expecting it to be led more formally than it was, but what wound up happening was simply that international students trickled in and sat with each other at tables, randomly. Lauren and I became friends with Berit, a woman from Denmark whose 33rd birthday happened to be today, Lucie from the Czech Republic, and Rizwan from Pakistan.

After talking for a while in the Coffee Bean and having small conversations with some of the staff members of the Students’ Union, who are students and recent graduates of the University, the five of us went out to dinner at a place called The Cotton Factory, where we had really good pizza (though it was not like New York pizza) and a couple of drinks. We then went back to the Students’ Union, where there was yet another International Students event—though it wound up being populated with pretty much every kind of student—at the bar on campus, The Graduate. We stayed there for a few hours before splitting up and going back to our respective homes.

Tomorrow we have enrollment, and the rest of the day free. Hopefully we’ll find something fun to do like we did today!

Cognitive Psychology Test

I took my midterm exam today for my cognitive psychology test. I had a strange moment when the tutorial lecturer started talking about 10 minutes for reading. Apparently it’s customary to read over the exam first with “pens down” and then you actually start the test. I had another jolt when I saw a casual reference the the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the test. It made me think conciously that I’m in Australia taking a test. Sometimes it still feels surreal that I’m on the other side of the world. It’s going to feel so different when I’m back at New Paltz. I’m going to feel different than anyone else; I’ll probably seek out international students (especially Australians) more so that I did before I came here. I’ll want to find other people who can relate to what I’ve experienced studying abroad.

People told me that I would come back a different person. But I don’t think I realised how different that will be.


Okay so a whole bunch has happened since the last post. The intensive Italian language courses that we are currently taking are definitely intensive. I have homework every night which gives me an excuse to go to the “bar” or cafe, and buy yet another cup of cafe latte. Delicioso. Yesterday I went to the sea with my roommate, Emily, our friend Sam, and her really awesome host mom. It was about an hour drive there and the view was incredible the entire time, even when we were driving five miles per hour behind a grumpy old man and his wife. Italians, like new yorkers, are crazy drivers. I would love to rent a vespa and drive throughout Siena, but I am a little too scared for my life to do so. Anyway, the beach was great, the water was the bluest I have ever seen, and the American obsession with censorship was no where to be seen- and by that, I mean there were plenty of topless women around. Oh to be free.

Going a bit further back in time, on Saturday, after our Intensive language class, the group took a trip to il Museo Santa Maria Della Scala. I wanted to stay there for hours, but unfortunately my stomach wouldn’t let me. The museum was full of giant frescoes, statues, and religious paraphernalia that was set up in a way to make you feel as if you were alive in the 14th century.

Saturday night was my first experience at a Sienese contrada party. Siena is divided into 9 regions, or contradas that most people hold true to for life. Each contrada has its own flag and respective mascot, colors, ect. Every summer there is a horse race called the Palio in which each contrada enters an elected horse and an elected rider to compete in the race. We watched a video in class of the event (unfortunately i will not be able to experience it in person), and it was so incredible to see how emotional people get before, during, and at the end of the race. It is essentially like the world cup in terms of support and dedication, only on a smaller and more local level. There is a sense of pride here though for one’s contrada that surpasses that of a fan’s love for their team. The race is built into the culture- people live for the race and some have been waiting more than 20 years to experience a victory. The bragging rights of the winning contrada last throughout the year and are in no way seen as snobbery or conceit, but rather as a truth.

Here is a picture of my friend Sara and a poster of the flags of each respective contrada behind her:

more later.

Arrival Day

Well, after a delayed flight, almost not being let into the country by the border patrol officer because we had no documentation from our host university saying we had a reason to be here, a “we might not have housing for you” scare, and, possibly worst of all, not being able to figure out how to use the internet for an entire 20 minutes, Lauren (also from New Paltz) and I are here in Huddersfield and settling in.

We are the only two people in the flat to move in so far, and have been told that only one other girl is scheduled to move in (though more may sign up) and she won’t be here until next week. Not quite what I was expecting!

Anyway, after we dropped our bags off in our rooms and e-mailed our parents to tell them we were alive, Lauren and I ventured off into the town of Huddersfield to get a few necessary items and check out the area where we’re going to be spending the next three months. We live in Storthes Hall Park, which is about a 20 minute shuttle ride to campus and town.

The main part of the town of Huddersfield consists of the University and a few streets with a bunch of shops/pubs/restaurants. But the most unique part is this expansive, never-ending mall type place. Once you exit the main building of the mall, which looks like a regular shopping mall, if not a somewhat small shopping mall, through the back, you are presented with a TON of stores on curved streets that seem to go on forever. Following along one street leads into a sort of roofed outside market that sells everything from meat to clothes to pillows to textiles to (questionable) produce. It’s quite interesting!

Anyway, while in town, Lauren and I got toiletries, pay-as-you-go phones, and lunch from a place called Nandro’s. Nandro’s has a sort of customizable selection, where you can choose what kind of meat (or non-meat) you want, how you want it served (as a burger, in “pitta”, and… something else?), and what level of spiciness. I chose a beanie in a pitta with cheese and pineapple, medium spice. A beanie is, first of all, something we should have in America, and second of all, made of some sort of combination of vegetables, spices, and beans. YUM.

On the shuttle back to Storthes Hall, Lauren and I totally passed out and continued our naps back in our flat. When I woke up and showered, the water was so hot (and unadjustable) I could barely stand it. I hope I can figure that out because shower-induced burns is not a good enough excuse for anyone to be smelly.

Now I’m waiting for Lauren to figure out the issues she’s having using her power adapter so we can go to the Administration Building a couple of minutes away, which has a little market in it, to buy groceries.

Tomorrow we have nothing scheduled, but orientations and class sign-ups and the like begin on Wednesday, so hopefully there will be some updates more exciting than these by then!

Tomorrow When the War Began

I finally saw the movie of Tomorrow When the War Began with Chris today. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It was a bit surreal seeing a foreign film on such “the big screen”. Although technically it wasn’t a foreign film; just foreign for me. It was an intense movie. I liked the actress who played Ellie and the actor who played Kevin; the latter for more shallow reasons. It was an emotional film for two reasons. I just read the book so I feel like I know the characters and because the plot would be the worst thing that could happen while I’m here; not that it ever would. I hope they make sequels for the other books. If it doesn’t make it to the US then I’ll have to buy the DVD to share with my friends back in the States.


This week has been absolutely exhausting! I took a 3 hour nap today and it wasn’t enough. We started regular classes this week on top of the 3 hour Spanish classes in the evening, and finding an apartment, and getting a bank account.  I just keep telling myself that it wouldn’t be worth it if it wasn’t difficult, and as long as I believe that I tend to keep myself going…

Tuesday was my first day of regular classes. I had “Game Theory” around 10:45 am and it was pretty awkward. Classes in the new “Bolonia” Program in Europe are split into Lectures and Discussions, so the class I had on Tuesday was a discussion class with a man that hardly spoke a word of English so he just wrote everything he wanted to say on the board. Strangely enough, most of the students in the class were Spanish even though the class is taught in English, and they understood less than I could.

On Wednesday I had 3 classes back to back from 9am to 2pm and it was pretty rough because I’ve also been taking Spanish classes from 4-7 every day this week. Econometric Techniques is taught by a really nice professor who seems to care a lot about the success of his students. We have to do a time series report using GDP and interest rate data from a country of our choice. The paper only has to be 3 pages, which seems pretty easy. I’m also taking a really interesting class called “Markets and Environment,” which as the title implies talks about the effects of economic activity on the environment and vice versa. The only class I really HATED was Public Economics. The teacher was absolutely HORRIBLE!!! The best way I can describe him is John Nash (played by Russel Crowe) in the movie A Beautiful Mind. He just wrote all these illegible formulas for an hour in class without describing what he was doing. He was going so fast that no one understood what he was writing or saying. His y’s looked like 7’s…. it was just completely Greek to me. He said we needed to know calculus to take his class, and I have taken up to Calc 3 and I didn’t understand a thing. The best part was when he randomly chose my name from the roster and told me I had to prove some mathematical theorem the next class….    I don’t necessarily like quitting when things get rough, but I’m positive if I stayed in that class I would fail unless I stayed in my room all day and studied and, in which case I’d never get to go out and see Madrid.

The other girls from New Paltz and I have final met up with the coordinators of the exchange program between us and UC3M. We had a private meeting with Yuliya and, I think his name is… Juan Carlos… and we expressed how lost we’ve been with choosing the right classes and being completely unprepared for the really high math standards 🙁   . Thankfully they’re really flexible and they’re going to let us change our classes.

So, the good news of this week is that I finally have an apartment and a bank account!!! Of course, neither task was easy, but at least everything is settled with my living situation. After calling at least 30 landlords, and seeing maybe 6 apartments in the city center of Madrid, and Getafe, I decided to live in Getafe with Madeline (one of the girls on the program from New Paltz). We had seen a really beautiful apartment in Madrid for only 300 euros each (for me, Jules, and Madeline) but the landlord was out of his mind and wanted us to pay 4,500 euros as a deposit! So we had to pass. Madeline and I found a really nice place right next to the school with 3 rooms, a living room, tv, bathroom, kitchen, and a balcony. The best part is that it’s 5 minutes walking to the school. I would have liked to live in Madrid but it would have been a 45 minute commute, door to door, and it really would not have worked out for me with 9 am classes. Jules really wanted to live in Madrid so she decided to rent a room there. The pro of living in Madrid is that the Erasmus students (European exchange students) organize “fiestas” almost every night! But, I’m a little more interested in getting to class on time and doing well. There’s always time on the weekends to check out the night life in Madrid. Getafe also has a lot of places to eat, drink, and dance at night on the weekends…. don’t underestimate Getafe!

Our first official night at the apartment was last night so we invited all the New Paltz girls over and made dinner for everyone. There’s a grocery right next door called Eroski, and we bought a lot of food for only 22 euros!!! It was amazing!!! We bought 2 loafs of bread, Brie cheese, crackers, prosciutto ham (jamon serano), olives, eggplant, mozzarella cheese, 3 cans of this really popular bean soup (fabada), 2 bottles of wine, chocolate, and more.  You can definitely save a lot of money here if you buy food at the grocery instead of eating out every night, and now that we have an apartment we can!

One of the biggest things I’ve had to get use to is the fact that nothing really ever works out right away.  For example, in order to change US dollars into euros I couldn’t just go to any bank unless I had a bank account there. So,  I went to open a bank account at Santandar at the school which caters specifically to students, waited in line for 30 minutes, and then I was told to come back 3 days later. I went back 4 days later, waited 30 minutes to find out that they had lost my application and I had to do it again, but this time my account wouldn’t be ready for a week! I explained that it was urgent because I needed to exchange money in order to be able to pay the deposit on my apartment and they finally gave in, but it was really a hassle.

The school itself doesn’t really seem to have everything together for international students. Even though classes officially started Monday, our orientation (for American students) wasn’t until Friday morning, and they told us we would get our student IDs and ID numbers but of course they weren’t ready. I need my student ID number to access Aula 2 (similar to Blackboard) in order to do problem sets and print out homework for class! Then in order to change classes, you need to have your student ID in order to make an appointment online with the international office. It feels a bit like we’re second class citizens at this school. We’re always a step behind in everything, and I’m starting to lose my patience. I like to be prepared for class, and it makes it difficult when I can’t even use the school computers to print my assignments out because I don’t have a student ID or password.

Negativity aside, I’m really looking forward to tomorrow night… There’s this big series of events going on in Madrid to celebrate the full moon. It’s called “White Night” and several museums will be open all night for free as well as stores, and restaurants. There will also be a bunch of free concerts, which I’m really excited about!!!

I’ll make sure to post pictures of White Night, as well as pictures of the new apartment soon! I’m currently using a free internet service which has really bad connection, so I’m not able to post pictures until I get my own internet :-/


Lost and Found

Caio tutti! I am finally settled here in Siena, after 4 days of near havoc. I have yet to experience the epic-like-feeling of culture shock, but have unfortunately gotten to know life without clothes, without phones, and without computers. The latter two were actually things that I wanted to understand. I wanted to break free of my reliance on technology and enter the world of simplicity; But it could not be so. I quickly realized the importance of a cell phone to not only keep in contact with friends, but to have a means of help when you find yourself lost in the depths of the city. Speaking of which, it is incredibly beautiful here. The town is slowly getting more recognizable, and as it does, I am better able to focus on the beauty of my surroundings.

My host family is wonderful. Ada and Francesco are essentially my parents here- supplying me with all the incredible italian food I can eat and then offering some more to top it off. Gelatto is everything you would expect. I recently tied cafe and muffin (I know, not really a traditional Italian flavor, but still), and couldn’t even finish the two scoops due to the thickness and richness of the cream.

I began my Intensive Italian Language course a couple of days ago, and have found that my grammar is less than great. I can hold a conversation, and have been able to get my point across for the most part, but am corrected often by my host family and other students that I have gotten to know in the past couple of days. I encourage their scrutiny though, as I hope to really perfect my Italian while I’m here. Volunteer work will definitely help with the fluidity of my speech as I have elected to work at a high school, partake in a language course for Italian immigrants, ride in an ambulance and attend to whatever I am asked, and any additional art type activities that come my way. What will perfect my Italian though, in the end, is really interacting with everyone I can possibly learn from- which I haven’t found too hard so far because almost everyone here is willing to give you a few helpful tips.

Off to class for me.

More later.