The Land of Ice Chronicles: Adjustment 101 [loss of interest, rise of negativity]

I have the flu now and I am bed-ridden. This meant that I had to miss all of my classes for about a week. I was forced to just stay in bed and watch Netflix. And in the beginning, I wanted to go out and go to class but after a day or two… I grew accustomed to my room and my ned. I grew too accustomed to them. On top of that, the flu caused my mindset to revert to one of complete negativity. That mindset caused me to look at all the things I hated in this country. I know what y’all are thinking; What could you possibly hate in such a green-coloured country said to be full of leprechauns? Oh, you’d be surprised. When you’re in a negative mindset, everything can be turned to shit and blown out of proportion somehow.

For example, the 15-minute walk from my house to classes started to feel like endless miles and miles of torturous walking. Every time it rained, I would have a mini panic-attack because of the hatred and lack of appreciation I had of rain. I got fed up with the Friday night parties at the stables bar because the DJ played the same music every single night and it was all crap. I hated the fact that now nobody would pay attention to me at the parties. I hated the weather for every time I’d get all pretty with makeup, the rain would mess it all up and cause me to cancel all plans and just stay home. I was upset because I couldn’t watch the things I wanted to on Netflix. I was tired of eating potatoes and having to put butter in my peanut butter because it tasted like a batter of wilting nuts. I was mad at the pizza because it wasn’t as good as South Korea’s, or even NYC’s. And the thing that always kicked me in the head was how small the bathrooms are here; It’s like they only think about the people with no fat in their body and no meat on their asses. Mama got meat all over her body; those tiny stalls had both sides of my hips colliding with either side of the wall. And if that wasn’t already annoying…

YoU hAvE tO pAy 20cEnTs tO TaKe A pIsS iF yOu’Re In ThE MaLL

Needless to say, since I was focusing on all these things, I was not getting better. After I was cured of the flu, I caught an ear infection that took about a month and a half to fade away. And once that was gone, I got hit with the worst of it. But… I’ll tell you about that later.

The big point here is that I was taking everything I had here for granted; I was just focusing on the negatives and creating imaginary negatives in the positives. I was lost in a sea of depression, darkness, self-loathing, homesickness and that contributed to making my physical body ill. It’s a funny thing, the mind. It’s a powerful thing, the mind. It’s this being that scientist haven’t been able to crack; it’s a thing that will heal a dying body when it is given a placebo pill, only because it believes it is being given real medicine. The mind is the thing that will determine what the physical body receives and gives off. It wasn’t until I learned this lesson, that my life in Ireland changed for the better. It wasn’t until I learned this lesson, that I was changed for the better.

Curious to see how my life changed?

You’ll have to wait until next week’s chapter of “The Land of Ice Chronicles”

[Also, sorry for the long wait between the publication of chapters. That’s why I published three in one day to make up for lost chances :). I hope you enjoy and learn from my mistakes]

The Land of Ice Chronicles: Adjustment 101 [The Party and The After-Party]

It’s Friday night and my hormones are raging. Tonight is the big night! Tonight is the night that I experience what the NIGHTCLUB on campus has to offer. I am beyond excited and I feel completely confident in the outfit I’m in. I’m wearing my tiara again and I feel and look like royalty. I walked to the stables club with the biggest smile on my face and a heart full of hope. Perhaps I’d meet my knight in shining armour at this shindig. Perchance I’d get to experience the feeling of someone else’s lips on mine (it’s been a while and mama wanted some sugar).

When I got to the stables centre, I saw people at every corner. Nobody was dancing but it still brought me joy to know that the room was full of opportunities to make new friends and meet people from all corners of the world. I specifically had my eye on a group of Japanese boys; I always tended to get along with Asians easily so the fact that there were some of them here brought me relief. Within minutes, I’d become immersed in conversation with this group of people; it was fantastic. One of the guys I met (Ko-Sato) had been there for a semester already and had somewhat morphed into an Irish Japanese man. He was honestly my favourite though. Dancing around with him and just talking to him reminded me of one of my best friends that I met at New Paltz.

After having spent a lot of time with Ko-Sato, I longed to meet more people and well try and seek a hot guy to dance with. That’s when I saw him; this caramel-coloured angelic being dancing in a corner. I went up and spoke to him and found out that he was actually born and raised Japanese with one of his parents being of American descent. The combination of the two ethnicities made a beautiful new form of species I low-key wanted to pounce on. Had me like:

Lucky for me, towards the end of the party, I did dance with the caramel-coloured Asian. We did kiss a bit and, yes, it was amazing to have my lips being stimulated again after 5 months of nothing. He was also just a really nice guy which made me happy. Before I left to go home, we exchanged information and he even said he wanted to hang out sometime outside of the club.

I smiled and said, “yeah, we should”. Then I was off to my home and screeching about the experience with my mom and my best friend from back home. I took this request of ‘hanging out’ to mean that this caramel angel actually wanted to date me; a thought that excited all of the cells in my body because I’d never really been on a date my entire 21 years of life.

I was intensifying everything for myself. THAT IS A BAD THING; NEVER AGAIN. I kept having all these daydreams and expectations of how it would feel to be on a real date for the first time. Wanna know what it was like? Sorry, I can’t tell you because

IT NEVER HAPPENED

After messaging this guy to try and pick the date and location to hang out, I realised he was just like all the other men. All he wanted was a piece of ass.

Don’t get me wrong, normally that fact wouldn’t upset me at all. I mean I walked into the club hoping for a hot make-out session; guys walk into clubs expecting that to lead to a steamy one-night. But that ain’t my type of thing- I can kiss a guy and dance with him but that’s it. My body is a temple and I’m not ready for all the drama that comes attached to the loss of virginity. The reason why I was so mad at the realisation that this guy was just like all other guys was that of the way everything happened. When I was clubbing in Korea, the guys try to get you to leave the club and get busy so you know right away exactly what they want. This caramel devil in disguise was so gentle and his request to hang out seemed so innocent and lacking any sexual innuendos. So when I found out the truth, I was heavily disappointed.

This realisation didn’t come until Sunday though. So for a whole two days, I felt 100% adjusted to this country and its newness and vibrancy. For two whole days, I was happy enough to forget about my longing to be home. It was the first time since I’d been in Ireland, that I slept through the night with no worries or fear. Hence, when I did learn the truth, I was propelled back down into this bubble of homesickness, self-pity, and lowkey-depression.

I tried to be as positive as I could be though. Tomorrow would mark the start of classes so I had to at least try and maintain a positive attitude. And I was somewhat successful. I was, slowly but surely, re-adjusting to being a college student living on UL’s campus in Limerick, Ireland. I was just about comfortable with everything right before I contracted the flu.

I CONTACTED THE FRIGGEN FLU

Interested in learning what comes next?

Then, continue reading “The Land of Ice Chronicles”

The Land of Ice Chronicles: Adjustment 101 [Week 1]

“Rise and Shine”, my alarm seemed to yelp at the top of its lungs at 7am on a Monday morning.

I smiled as I woke up; it was the first day of Orientation.

For some odd reason, I was excited for Orientation week. It was fun in South Korea and it was a blast when I was a freshman in New Paltz so I had high expectations. I put on a ton of makeup, put on my cutest outfit and even wore my tiara. I was convinced that today was going to be an amazing day and I wanted to feel like a queen while I experienced it.

I walked into the auditorium where all the orientation stuff was happening and was able to talk to people more easily this time than when I was at Eden the day before. I made a few friends and then we were all off to get our Student IDs and going on a tour of the school. Our tour guide was Edward and he was a literal ball of energy; he called me Princess the entire day (which I admit made me feel like royalty). However, there is one thing he said at some point that harshed my mood just a bit that day. We were all talking about reasons we decided to come here and when it was my turn, I told my truth “I’m 25% Irish so I wanted to see what I was missing”. Before I could finish my sentence Ed cut me off and said:

“Hah- Americans always going around saying things like I’m 3% Polish, 0.001%Irish, 4%African…”

That response caught me off-guard and I admit that, at the moment, I wanted to roundhouse kick Edward in the face. It enraged me so much; that was so uncalled for. It made me feel so unwelcome in the country I was in. Even though I let it all slide after it happened, I think that it was that moment that kept me in a negative mindset for most of my semester here at UL. On the low-key, I couldn’t stop thinking about that one moment. It always seemed to remind me of the untrue thought I had; “I don’t belong here. Coming here was a mistake”. And then I would make it worse for myself by comparing the journey I was having here to the one I had in South Korea. I’d tell myself things like “if we were only in Korea we’d be happy”. The fact is that in Korea, I’d say things like “I think my spirit is Korean” and Koreans would just smile, laugh, hug me, and invite to go to places with them. Yet, here, a country where I have an actual ancestral history with wasn’t accepting me as being a part of it?

I know. I know. I was being 100% overdramatic is what I was being. The truth is that happiness shouldn’t be placed on anything external. It should always be something that is within you. After all, happiness is an emotion and we are the people that control when and why we feel or don’t feel it. This is a lesson that I wouldn’t learn until months after my first week in Ireland.

But before we get to my moment of enlightenment, let me tell you about my journey of getting there. So after the tour, we all went out for a beer which was pretty great. That’s one thing I love about this campus; there’s a bar on it. A bar that doubles as a nightclub. So you could imagine my excitement for the International Students Party. And I’m not gonna lie, when I look back at the first Stables Friday Party, I like to think it was pretty amazing.

Why was it so amazing?

Continue reading “The land of Ice Chronicles” and you’ll find out!

Traveling in Spain from Madrid: Toledo, Segovia, Granada and Other Small Towns

Toledo: This place is wonderful! It is a cute, quaint city of Spain. I recommend going in the late afternoon 3-5 p.m. as you can see the sun begin to come down, and then also get a bit of the night skyline. Both views are spectacular. Here, you can walk up the hills and see the structures that look like ancient ruins and castles. There are museums, but I was just interested in the view of Madrid from the top of the hill, and the outside of the cathedral which illuminated so beautifully in the evening around 8 p.m. It is about a 1 hour ride by bus from a train stop/bus station called Plaza Eliptica. You can use your monthly metro card to get here, so it’s a win-win! This can totally be a day trip (3-6 hours with traveling, eating, snapping pics, and visiting the other touristic sites within). I did this trip in January, and really enjoyed it as it gave me an insight into what else Spain has to offer my very 1st couple of weeks here.

Segovia: This place is known for its famous aqueduct and Disney-Inspired logo–the castle! The aqueduct is a sight to see as its so large in stature with so many arches. The castle is also beautiful and I got to go inside, which was awesome. I had never been inside a castle before, so I was living some of my childhood, princess dreams. I did this trip through a student organization many universities in Europe are partnered with called, ERASMUS. I paid 20 euros to get to and from this city within the southern community of Madrid on a private bus for students, and to get a tour of the place with free-time included. I would suggest however, getting there on your own by Renfe (public train using your monthly metro card) because then you can walk around, eat, and head back home at your own pace. It will probably take an hour and a half by train. I went in February when it was raining a lot, so I suggest going when it gets warmer. This is also a day trip! You may need 3-5 hours depending on if you decide to shop and eat here as well.

Granada: This place is known by all of Spain because it has the famous fortress and castle here called the Alhambra. I took the ALSA bus there and it cost about 30 euros roundtrip from Madrid. It is about 4.5 hours away and so compared to a Trailways bus, it’s a great price! I visited this fortress, and saw it from the outside at a place called “Mirador de San Nicolas.” It was an insane view. The left part of the view had mountains. The middle had the most visited site of Spain, the castle, Alhambra. And the right side had the rest of the city. Getting to the city center from the main bus station where the ALSA bus left us was great because the main buses to the city center were right in the front (as well as taxis if need be). My friend and I also visited the Bañuelo, an arabic bath, and the Casa de Oro (House of the Gold Oven) with arches, pools, and spectacular ceilings.  Granada, which is in Andalusia Spain, has Arabic influence, as it is in the south of Spain very much near Morocco. You can take a ferry from this part of Spain to Morocco (that’s exactly what I did to get there with a travel agency for students and young adults called City Life Madrid). Granada was quite special and very much reminded me of the roads and colorfulness of Morocco. I stood here for 1.5 days, so this can be a weekend trip. I recommend buying tickets to get inside the Alhambra in advance. Thousands of people visit this site everyday, so tickets are often sold out.

Other Towns By Renfe (Outdoor Train/Cercanias Line):  I recommend checking out the towns of El Escorial, Aranjuez, and Guadarrama by taking the outdoor train (Cercanias line). You can use your monthly metro card here, too! So no need to pay any extra to get to these cool towns.

El Escorial has a wonderful monastery that is gorgeous. It took my friend and I about 1.5 hours to get through the inside of this majestic place filled with dungeons and a royal library.  It only cost 5 euros. So worth it!

Aranjuez has a beautiful palace on the outside and inside. Insane glass windows and royalty all around. It only cost 4 euros. Again, so worth it!

Guadarrama is great for hiking! It gives you a little bit of New Paltz in Madrid, and is so gorgeous. The view is amazing, and unreal as usually you don’t expect to see snow in Madrid, but it was so awesome. It reminded me why I love New Paltz so much!

Once you get to the bus station, there are maps, signs, and info desks to ask about which way is the best way to get to the touristic places. Follow those signs, and maps, and you will get to those touristic places within 5-10 minutes from the Renfe Station (Cercanias line).

Other Local Places within Madrid: 

Check out the Light House of Moncloa (only 3 euros).

Check out Takos near Sol or Gran Via or Callao train stops (best tacos ever for 1 euro each).

Check out the Madrid Zoo and Aquarium (23.5 euros) but amazing experience! I got to feed flamingos, see a dolphin and bird show, and take selfies with bears and giraffes.

p.s. Me feeding flamingos at the zoo in Madrid!

 

The Land of Ice Chronicles: Welcome to Limerick

It was about 9 am now and Rachel and I had just arrived in the City of Limerick. I can’t speak for Rachel but I was tired as hell; I literally wanted to sleep on the concrete… However, the fact that the school had arranged a cab to take us both to our dorms from the city kept me sane enough to stand up straight. My big plan was to get to my “new home” and just crash until my brain could function properly again. And I was literally laying in bed when I got the e-mail; there was an event happening and it was strongly advised that I go. This was my reaction:

 

Behold, here it is. This moment in time where I had to make a life-changing choice. Do I stay in and sleep? What would that mean for my social life in this country? Surely, if I stayed in bed things would go wrong. Wouldn’t they? I spent about 10 minutes in bed wondering what to do. Part of me was saying, “Go and make friends! Sleep is for the weak!!”. Another part of me was saying, “Screw everyone. Sleep is the fuel a person needs to gain energy. Just sleep and socialize another day”.

I kid you not, for a minute there, I was about to just pass out and give up on the world. Instead… I chose to go to this meet and greet event. I willed myself out of bed thinking I’d walk into something life-changing or whatever.

I should’ve stayed in bed

The minute I got to Eden Restaurant, I regretted my decision. Everyone had gotten there earlier and it felt as if there wasn’t really a place to fit in or a chance to mingle with new people. But it wasn’t even the lack of chances to meet people that frustrated me, it was the lack of brunch food choices. Since I arrived late half of the food was gone so I had to settle for a singular tiny crescent that had grown a bit stale. You have no idea how badly I wanted to be at HASBROOK (of all places). I had this huge epiphany and was so tempted to just go to a corner and cry; I didn’t realize how many things I took for granted about SUNY New Paltz.

But in the words of my Abuela, “How is crying going to solve anything?”. So I swallowed my stale croissant and tried to be friendly with the people around me. Luckily, I was rescued from feeling out of place with the opportunity to go into town and shop. I hopped on a bus that took me straight to a shopping complex and went looking for the things I needed. I bought all the necessities… and…

A bottle of Angry Orchards to get me through the rest of the day

Trust me when I tell you that is the one decision I made that day that I will never regret. Opening that bottle and sipping on it while watching “The Big Bang Theory” was one of the happiest moments I had in Limerick.

Call it self-medicating; Call it destruction; Call it temporary happiness; Call it my “Irish Blood”; Call it a one-woman welcome party; Call it what you may… One thing I am sure it wasn’t was a mistake.

It made me feel like I was back at home and it made me forget about the terrible weather happening right outside my window. It took away some of the home-sickness and within seconds I was waking up to a new day.

And that new day was a lot better than the one before. It was still freezing outside but something inside of me felt a warmth.

I knew the road ahead would be tough but I was 100% positive that I’d survive it and come out stronger.

Are you ready to see what comes next?

Then you’ll have to wait til next week’s chapter of “The Land of Ice Chronicles”

Why I Travel Poem

to understand how others live

to realize that this world is so big, yet so small, and so universal

to learn how others communicate

to remember that other cultures and languages are not wrong, just different than my own

to speak a different language and become confident and comfortable with how it sounds on my tongue

to try new foods because food is part of culture

to meet new people who add to my life

to create friendships that may last a lifetime of memories

to make connections that are rare gems

to ask questions that foster an immense amount of growth

to solidify who I am with and a part from labels, and titles, and professions

to gain an appreciation for home

to grace another place and another people with my presence, my knowledge, my kindness

to see who still genuinely supports me from miles away

to test who still means a lot to me from miles away

to know what it is to be a part from all that is familiar

to challenge myself

to tell stories now, later, and forever

p.s. Disney’s inspired castle logo from Segovia, Spain. Wonderful town with an ancient history and aqueduct.

The Land of Ice Chronicles: Boarding the plane

“Today’s the big day! Today begins the journey to find truth through intense connection!”, I kept telling myself on the way to JFK airport. I was going to be in Limerick in just a few moments and I couldn’t be more excited. I was all packed and clenching my mom’s hand as we walked to get my boarding passes. I knew I was going to miss her like hell but I also knew that I was going on my very first journey to adulthood; I felt brave and confident to embark on this new journey. Despite studying abroad last summer, I’d never really done something like this before…

My mom came with me to Korea and stayed for a week so I guess in a way she might have been the reason I adjusted so quickly to the time difference. I also had tons of friends waiting for me in the land of miracles so I guess I was never really ALONE.

The thought of that made me feel liberated in a way. It meant that I would have all these adult responsibilities and have to manage them all on my own; it’s like a trial run for when I graduate and have to start doing all that stuff for real. I wasn’t scared at all and I had faith that I would make friends in Ireland and that it all would turn out okay.

So with my boarding passes in hand, I clenched my first and said: “Let’s do this”. I said goodbye to my family and got ready to step on the line to go through security check.

And that’s when it happened… EVERYTHING TURNED TO CRAP IN 0.4 SECONDS! My flight was DELAYED, which meant the connected flight was DELAYED which meant I had to stay in BOSTON for a DAY AND A HALF by myself to wait for the next one which WON’T GET ME THERE IN TIME TO GET PICKED UP or by THE GOD DAMN TIME I NEED TO BE THERE. 

What would you do if you were in my situation? Have a panic attack? Yeah, me too. I called the company I booked through, argued with airlines, cried, yelled, the whole nine yards. Thankfully my family was still there to help but that wasn’t changing the fact that I was so intensely screwed. It was at that moment I just wanted to go back home, take a semester off altogether, and just wallow in self-pity in the place I know best (NYC). But.. that clearly was NOT an option. The best option was the one the airline thought of, and it wasn’t even that great.

They put me on a direct flight to Dublin, which meant I would get where I needed to go in time… as long as I took a 4-hour ride on a bus from that airport to the University. It was an annoyance. On the bright side, however, I wasn’t the only incoming UL student that got screwed. I bonded a bit with Rachel as we sat next to each other on the plane and bus. Even though, something inside me had shifted. I wasn’t feeling that feeling that I felt before the whole delay debacle began. I felt defeated, I felt like I was on the wrong path. Needless to say, I felt like I wanted to stay home. My whole entire outlook was destroyed and I think it corrupted the beginning of my journey in Limerick.

But, as I would later learn…Experiences aren’t always meant to be amazing things that leave your heart full of joy. Experiences are meant to help you improve and grow as a person.

And that’s exactly what happened as I studied abroad in Limerick, Ireland. 

Ready to see how Ireland changed me?

Well you’ll have to wait until next week’s chapter of “The Land of Ice Chronicles”

The Land Of Ice Chronicles: Preparing to leave home

My journey to Limerick was just a week away and I was feeling a plethora of different emotions. I was excited and terrified all at the same time. I had studied abroad before and I absolutely loved it but I was unsure that I would feel the same about this country.

Ya see, I studied abroad in South Korea over the summer. That was a magnificent experience; I fell in love with everything the minute I got there and I absolutely had no problem adjusting to all the differences. It was like I was meant to be there. It was like I had found the missing piece I was constantly searching for; I’d found my home. That being said, leaving had me depressed for quite some time. It took a while to readjust to NYC but once I did, it was like I had this newfound appreciation for it. Yet, I also had this urge to explore everything else the world has to offer. I wanted to travel more and the effects of one study abroad trip were so grand, I yearned for more. I wondered if I could feel an even deeper connection in a country where my ancestors have actually been. And, on a whim, I chose to go to Limerick, Ireland and test that theory.

You can see why this would cause me to feel the plethora of emotions that I did. I mean I was building up the experience in my head thinking it would the most amazing experience I would ever have. I was thinking it would beat out Korea for the best trip ever. I was thinking I would have the time of my life and meet the love of my life. I was thinking I’d never want to leave Limerick and that I’d have this strong attachment to the country where magic, wonder, and little mythical leprechauns lurk around.

I was wrong; I was so wrong. 

Curious to see what I mean?

Find out in the next chapter of “The Land of the Ice Chronicles”

Academic Adjustment at UC3M Getafe Campus: Be Prepared to Ask Questions

Just like an interview, always have questions prepared about what you may venture in. I went to my orientation for UC3M for international students in the Hispanic Studies Program which meant most/all my classes would be in Spanish, and tailored to North American students to help enhance our Spanish language skills. That being said, this orientation was completely in Spanish, and tailored toward safety in Spain and advertising their facilities such as the gym, the library, etc. It would not have been helpful at all if I had not come prepared with questions. My first question was 1) How do we register for classes? Though their was a guide given online, I still wanted to clarify the process because the portal here was also new to me, as it should be for any incoming “first-year.” 2) Where exactly can I find x,y, and z buildings to take my placement exam for my Spanish level and pick up my ID/certificate to be here on campus? 3) Where exactly is the gym, the library, and the bookstore? After I received information about all of those things, I felt a bit more acquainted with how my days would look like at UC3M. There was not a carnival, or student movers, or people in bright blue and orange t-shirts asking if you needed help the way students are at New Paltz for freshman. New Paltz is so friendly, but do not expect the same customer service in Spain.

Moreover, I am taking 5 classes here at UC3M, which is about the same amount of courses and credits I usually take at New Paltz (14-17 credits depending on what’s available, what I need, etc.). Here, I have more group projects; 2/5 of my classes are based on group projects–my radio workshop course, as well as my Cultural Studies course. Also, 4/5 of my courses are in Spanish so that’s very different, and only 3/5 professors speak/know English with confidence. Check your syllabus often, and check Aula Global (portal similar to blackboard) often so you can keep track of when things are due. Most of my professors don’t send reminder emails about what is due and what isn’t. So pay attention to this, too. Overall, my classes are interesting. They are discussion-based, lecture-based, and group-work based–so a combo of everything. Professors come in on time or late (never early, seriously), and usually end early, too. They are usually in a rush to leave, so if you want to discuss something with them, catch them at the end of class or ask to meet with them another time. They always ask if we have questions, or to stop them if we don’t understand something, and I really appreciate that aspect of each course in the Hispanic Studies Program. In my only English class– radio workshop, a lot of the Spaniard students talk over the Professor, and that rarely ever happens at New Paltz without some sort of penalty or consequence. So just be mindful of that, too. I always sit in the front to avoid the chatter.

Other things to keep in mind: You have to the pay for the gym. It is not part of your tuition like at New Paltz. You also have to pay for printing in cash unless it is a significant amount to pay by card (3 or more euros I believe). So there is no printing quota here either. The bookstore here is so small compared to New Paltz (and New Paltz has way better stuff, I promise!). Regardless, budget, budget, budget. Using an excel sheet has been super helpful for me to keep track of my weekly expenses.

Extra curricular activities or clubs are not necessarily a norm here in Spain or Europe. Neither is having a job on top of studies. Most students bring food from home or go home for lunch. They are commuters (as I am, too), and their responsibility is to study. They don’t have debt as the government pays for much of their education as do merit scholarships. There is no such thing as a sports scholarship. Therefore, their reason for being in the university is different as well. American students go to the university to grow and become independent at a much faster rate than Spaniard students do. It’s all part of the cultural difference in education.

In addition, all  the trips are student-run and are mainly based around parties by Erasmus student organizations. Get on their Facebook page to see what events are interesting to you. I would recommend seeking other sites like travel organizations such as: Smart Insiders or City Life Madrid for other cultural outings. 

Overall, most professors are laid back, but still expect you to do the readings, do the homework, participate, be on time, and hand work in by deadline. Do as they say, not as they do, always!

p.s. The featured photo is me on the first day of classes on campus. I fit perfectly in that tiny tree! Beautiful campus. I can’t wait until spring so I can enjoy the quad and surrounding area more.

Cultural Adjustment: Food, Customs, Dress, Social Interactions and More

Madrid, Spain is so ancient, yet so modern with its cathedrals intertwined with shops, cafes, and metro stops at every corner. Everyone’s cultural adjustment will be different based on where you grew up. When I first got here, I had a unique experience in that my fiancé’s great cousin was already living in Madrid from the Dominican Republic. So she introduced me around Madrid the first couple of weekends, which was so kind of her. She treated me as if I were her niece, and am very grateful for her welcoming me to Spain in that way. That being said, my cultural adjustment started off pretty smoothly. I was fitting right in with moving around from place to place like a local, and speaking Spanish as best as I could with my Puerto Rican heritage and knowledge of the language academically for 6 years.

It began getting difficult when there were certain things my host mom did that I was thrown aback by. For example, one night my roommate and I asked our host mom if she could save dinner for us in a container (we offered to buy the containers and wash the dishes), since that night my family friend had taken us out and we’d get home late (post 9 p.m.) or rather, after dinner. She was not happy. Although we tried talking with her about finding resolutions, she would not budge on saving food for us. But she did agree to make dinner that was microwaveable up to 12 a.m. on Saturdays, since she figured we would come home late on those days.

Going forward, every other day but Saturday dinner is at 9 p.m. sharp. That obligation was definitely not something I was used to. Also, who doesn’t ever have left overs? Sometimes that’s the best part of a home-cooked meal. You get to have it twice! Since that day, I’ve done my best to keep a conscience effort that every culture is different, and that my host mom comes from a very different place than I do. I have to do my best to understand and respect her norms because I live under her roof.

That being said, never be afraid to have a conversation about something that bothers you. It’s up to you to fend for yourself in any situation you are in, especially when it comes to your living conditions. Here is the place you want to be the most comfortable. It starts with being honest, trying to come from a place of understanding and concern, and working your way towards a better study abroad experience.

My host mom cooks a variety of savory meals. Some of my favorites are pumpkin soup, cauliflower soup, lasagna, French fries with sunny side-up eggs, and breaded chicken. My favorite desert she offers us is sliced strawberries with sugar. Her coffee for breakfast is also perfect to start the morning. Apart from those meals, toast with jam or Nutella is very popular here. A place called “Montaditos” has super good, cheap (in price) tapas. I always get mini sandwiches with Ali oli sauce, and it’s delicious. Get two and you’ll be filled. It always come with potato chips, and I pay 2 euros in total. Bread in Madrid is always good. Side note: if you like your food hot make sure you can ask them to toast your croissants with chocolate, any toast, sandwiches, etc. because most times they will give you room temperature sandwiches or bread.

In terms of clothing, fashion is IN here. Men and women wear skinny jeans on a daily basis. Both men and women wear peacoat jackets. Everyone here wears scarves. That’s a must! It is actually very windy and brisk in Madrid. It has snowed 4x since I have been here in January (2018)– a very rare occurrence. Fur coats are are also very much in style for women, especially older women. Embroidered jean jackets, and jean pants are also very popular here. Many people dress up here. I’ve never seen any locals wear sweat pants,  joggers, or pajamas outside.

Some people in Spain (at least on the metro), don’t say “sorry” if they bump you, or “thank you” if you hold the door. They don’t feel the need to, because their sense of personal space or privacy is not as sacred to them as it is to us as Americans. Don’t be offended, it is just their way of being, as we learned in my Cultural Studies course. Also, keep in mind that Spain uses military time. Spaniards start parties late (similar to New Platz, maybe?), and begin at 12:30 a.m. ish. Most importantly, the metro closes at 1:30 a.m. There is a physical gate the comes down, and an announcement that gives you 5 minutes to get out of the metro if you are still within the station. Be mindful, and careful, and always have an alternate way to get home. Night buses are always an option and you can use your public transportation card to get anywhere in Madrid by metro (the subway), bus, or train (the Renfe, an outside train to other provinces similar to the Metro North or New Jersey Transit).

Lastly, take it easy! All is new. There are good days, and bad days just like ANYWHERE you live or go to school. Remember you are a student traveling and living in another country on your own, but you’re still doing it! Take advantage of this time, and do your best to enjoy it all. Every part of it is a learning experience. Reflect often, and be thankful often. Keep in touch with family, friends, significant other(s), workers, advisors–people who mean a lot to you. Show them love, the way they have shown you love before and while on your journey. Send letters if that’s something you enjoy (ask for international stamps to the US, etc.). Breathe when the wifi gets spotty. It’s okay. It happens. And most of all, remind yourself you are studying abroad in Spain. You’re seeing and experiencing things many people don’t even get a chance to do in their lifetime. Being HERE is a beautiful thing, and something you’ll never experience exactly like this, again.

p.s. The featured image is a photo I took at Buen Retiro Park, a wonderful park similar to Central Park if you’ve ever visited New York City. Lovely lake, music, rose garden, and castle here in Buen Retiro. And, you can reach it by metro, of course!