Arrivederci NY, Ciao Italia!

Summer 2016 was a season of different feelings. The reason for this is because you are living in a world where soon you will be leaving to experience something new. Even though your physical body is here in the present, your mind is already gone into your new adventure. Your head becomes solely dedicated to the future and all that will and can happen. You begin to have ideas of what could be. Your new adventure becomes a fantasy.

I have never left the country before and so taking this opportunity my senior to study abroad I had to. I chose Italy because of my strong Italian heritage and values. I wanted to strengthen my language skills as well. Milan is a city that is really center to many other European countries too so it will give me the culture experience I need.

This was my first time ever flying. So of course my worries were mostly surrounded with the experience of being on a plane for the first time. I was less worried about the feeling of being in Italy only because I have Italian blood in me and I grew up with a strong Italian culture in my household. I was ready for Italy but maybe not the plane.

The initial take off was emotional. All that was in my head was saying good bye to my parents. Thinking of how they are feeling seeing their first-born first child to ever leave the country. I was saying goodbye to NYC my state of NY. I was finally lifting off.

I remember meeting Jenn, the other student from New Paltz in my program at the airport; and within a couple hours I woke up on the plane walked a few seats over to her and said “WOW, Jenn I just cried when I saw France”. It was a funny moment because I just met her and I am revealing how emotional I am.

I couldn’t have prepared for this trip anymore than I did. I think since it is a life experience you just have to be ready for anything to happen. This experience came to me at the time in my life when I knew it was ready to grow up and get real with my life.

Battle with Customs

Before I get into the title of this post, I wanted to discuss something not quite as depressing… In the image above, you will get a mild glimpse of the raucous crowd outside of Vicente Calderon Stadium, home of the beloved La Liga football club, Atletico Madrid. The stakes were very high in this matchup, for it was a Champions League game against one of the premiere football clubs in all of Germany, if not the entire world, Bayern Munich. Now I’ve been to my fair share of sporting events in the United States, from playoff games at Yankee Stadium, to star-studded battles at Madison Square Garden.

However, I can easily say I have never been to any sporting event quite like this one. People were dancing and singing in the streets with reckless abandon prior to the game and the police couldn’t seem to care less. Inside the stadium was even more surreal. In sporting stadiums in the United States they constantly are playing music, trying to start chants, having performances between every little break in the action. From the second the referee blew the whistle every fan in the stadium was locked in, no stoppage in play, no music, just the well synchronized songs and chants of the crowd. It felt so much more cultural, so much more embedded into the fabric of their society, and it was truly amazing to be a part of.

Now to the depressing part I was talking about. Never and I repeat never send medication from the United States to Spain. Ever. I don’t know if this is how they do it in the rest of Europe, but it is truly a nightmare. My parents tried sending me some medication about a month ago and customs seized it without us knowing. Eventually I got a letter from them outlining what I had to do, which ended up being a very bureaucratic and tedious process that no one wants to deal with. After completing these steps and submitting the required documents I received an email from them saying that in order to acquire my medication I would need a Spanish citizen to go to the airport for me, pay the customs tax for me, and sign off on it for me. The worst part was they told me I would need to submit a photocopy of this Spanish citizens ID with their signature on it within 72 hours of the email. After frantically going to the international office at my school, speaking with the US embassy in Madrid, and making a variety of other calls, they all agreed with me that this was a bizarre request and alas I was not able to make the deadline, losing the battle and my medication to customs.

The two biggest takeaways one should take after reading this post: 1. If you’re in Spain, try to go to as many soccer games as you can. 2. Make sure before you come to Spain that you have enough medication to last you for the duration of your stay.

PS: The beaches in Valencia and Barcelona are beautiful, but be careful with your phone if you go to Barcelona! (I got my phone stolen on my second night there, another hassle not worth getting into).

Next stop: Halloween weekend in Amsterdam!

Checking In


Buonanotte tutti! Or, I suppose it’s still the afternoon for my friends and family back home. The past two weeks have been filled with so much exploration and adventure and I am not complaining.

Last weekend I went on one of the most amazing trips of my life to Amsterdam. This city is so perfectly picturesque and even though all 165 canals look generally the same, I snapped a picture of every single one we passed. Despite the chilly weather, I immediately fell in love with Amsterdam. Every bridge and side street is filled with tons of bikes, as they are one of the most popular forms of transportation there. The people there were also extremely friendly and were always looking to lend a helping hand to a seemingly lost group of American girls. Though we were only there for a few days, we were able to see so many things. We visited the Van Gogh Museum and the infamous “I (Am)sterdam” sign because we obviously had to take the cheesy pictures in front of it. Afterwards, we took a tour of the Anne Frank house which left us feeling a bit emotional and uneasy, but it was an unbelievable place to see. We traveled about the city via tram and absorbed all of the beauty before us and tried to explore as much as we could in just a single weekend.

Today I returned from an equally as beautiful city, Firenze. Florence has been at the top of my list of places to travel to for a very long time and it did not disappoint me in any way. Unfortunately, the first night we arrived it rained. Hard. The entire night. After getting settled in our apartment and purchasing some umbrellas, we decided to make the best of it and braved the storm. We ended up at a great little bar/restaurant for most of the night recommended by my friend Erica who studied abroad in Florence last semester. It was a perfect place to spend a rainy night. The next day we signed up for an all day tour of Siena, Tuscany, San Gimignano, and Pisa! This was honestly a wonderful tour and I would highly recommend it to anyone who happens to be in the area(Best of Tuscany Walkabout Tour). We took a coach bus to all of these places and were given time to explore each area after the tour. The tour also included a delicious lunch and wine tasting at the Chianti Wine Vineyards(pictured) which is an organic farm that makes wine, olive oil, and other Tuscan treasures. Before leaving for Milan this morning, I stopped at the Central Market and purchased a few of Florence’s finest genuine leather goods, which was a perfect end to my trip.

Until next time….arrivederci!

Hope This Helps!

I’ve been in Spain for 21 days and to be honest, I got super comfortable the first week. The people here are so amazing and they definitely know how to fiesta! I’m still getting used to it because leaving your house at 1:20 a.m. is apparently way too early.

Another hard adjustment was dinner time. You know how you normally eat around 5pm? That doesn’t exist here. That’s siesta (nap)time and dinner time is around 9-10pm. It sounds crazy but, now I’ve become so accustomed to it and I’d probably cry if I don’t get my siesta time!

An adjustment that I’ve struggled so hard with since I have arrived in Spain is the fact that tipping is not a thing here. Since I am the type of person who tips a LOT and even over-tips (Does that even exist?) all the time, it has not been easy. I was speaking with my friend from Spain and she said that the maximum that people give is around 10-20¢. Who does that? If you were in New York, people would definitely spit in your food the next time you went. Right? I am constantly tempted to leave at least 1 euro and it is just unheard of. I tried to do this at a bar while it was really busy and the bartender gave me the most confused look EVER. So yeah, don’t tip while you’re in Spain.

Below I am going to put my personal tips on cultural norms in Spain and adjusting to studying abroad:

  1. Don’t tip.
  2. Do not skip siesta.
  3. Do not walk in the biking lane, they will hit you.
  4. It’s okay to talk to a stranger, you might make a friend.
  5. Don’t get freaked out if you see people openly partying in the streets.
  6. It’s okay, you can wear the same outfit… no one cares.
  7. Walk slow, you’re not in the concrete jungle anymore.
  8. I hope you have someone like Alyssa as your partner in crime.
  9. Give your body some time to adjust to the food, I am still trying to.
  10. All you have to say is “I’m from New York.”
  11. Don’t book three trips in one week. You’ll want to die. I almost did.
  12. Ask questions, remember, just like your first-grade teacher told you, “there is no such thing as a stupid question.”
  13. Speak with other internationals, they’re having similar experiences too!
  14. DO NOT EAT OUT EVERYDAY.
  15. Don’t leave your friends and family at home completely out of the loop, they miss you.
  16. When it comes to ordering food at a restaurant, I am bilingual and I don’t understand half of the food options.
  17. Get Sprint, the international service is beyond amazing. Seriously, I had to ask three times to make sure that there will be no international fees.
  18. Well, this is all I have so far and considering it’s only my third week abroad, I’m sure things will change. However, I will keep you guys updated.

P.S. shout out to Alyssa for helping make this list!

 Ta Luego 

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Venezia, tu é bellissima!

Last night I returned from one of my favorite trips so far-Venezia! The City of Love was as beautiful as all the pictures I have seen on Google images. My friends and I were able to book the trip just a few days before leaving since traveling within Italy is pretty simple. We took a train from Milano Centrale station Saturday morning and arrived in Venice in the early afternoon. As soon as we exited the station, we were met by a gorgeous view of the Grand Canal. The sun was shining so perfectly onto it that it glimmered as we all stared in awe. The whole weekend still feels like a dream.

We snapped a few photos and walked down one of the narrow, winding streets. We stumbled upon a cute little pizzeria and grabbed some food before exploring the city. Before we could even place our orders, the waiter gave us the WiFi password and said “I know…you have to put all of this on Instagram.” (He wasn’t wrong…) After lunch, we walked around a little and took a taxi to our Holiday Inn located about ten minutes from the main part of the city. Ironically, this was much less expensive than any of the hostels we could find, not that we were complaining! After freshening up a bit, we headed back to Venice and did what we were all daydreaming about since the day we left for Italy-a gondola ride! We did it at the perfect time since the sky was still somewhat bright. The ride was absolutely amazing and so peaceful. We floated down little “streets” passing by many homes and restaurants. We wanted it to last forever. Afterwards, we had dinner right along the canal.

The next day, we took a boat to San Marco, another breathtakingly beautiful part of Venice. We took so many pictures because the water looked extra blue and sparkly that day. In my opinion, the trip was way too short since there are so many parts of the city, each with their own unique characteristics.

Some of the other trips I have taken were to Cinque Terre, Brusson, Fort Bard, and Lake Como. I have yet to be disappointed by any of these places. I feel so lucky to have the ability to travel to so many places while I study here. Milan is a great location for traveling since it is close to many popular cities, as well as other European countries. In just two weeks I will be traveling to Amsterdam! Each place that I have traveled to has been more and more beautiful, but I have to say Fort Bard offered the best views I have seen so far(picture featured above). I still scroll through all of my pictures in amazement and cannot believe I was able to see it in person. I was able to take a tour of the fort itself and each successful level of the fort offered an even more incredible view than the previous one. I’m hoping to go back before I return to the U.S. just to experience it one more time.

Thanks for reading! Ciao!

Class…? What’s That?


It’s a beautiful Friday afternoon in Milan and I am officially finished with my first full week of classes here. Yes, that’s right…studying abroad in Italy is more than just traveling and eating pasta! I must say that my classes here are fantastic. I began my week with an elective course entitled “Television, Advertising, and Music: the Italian Approach to the Media” led by a professor who is in the music industry himself. I am also enrolled in a course for my major called “Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship” in which my professor has his own brewing company! My other courses are equally as good and are taught by people who currently work in the field about which they are teaching. In that respect, they act as resources and connections for all of their students. One of my professors, who teaches my Fashion Market elective, gave us the invite to several Fashion Week events, two of which I am attending today!

The courses themselves were structured similarly to my classes at New Paltz. My professors upload all of their lectures onto Blackboard so we can refer to them if we miss any notes in class. They strongly encourage participation and class discussion to further our understanding of the topics covered in class.The classes run for about the same time as my classes at New Paltz, if not a little longer. My professors are very engaging and display a strong passion for their jobs.

One of the coolest things about all of my classes this week was when the professor took attendance and I was reminded of how many different countries are being represented in each of my classes. We all went around introducing ourselves and saying where we are from. At New Paltz, I’m so used to hearing “Long Island, Queens, Long Island, Long Island, Westchester, New Jersey…” but in my classes here it is more like “Brazil, France, Germany, Hungary, U.S., Australia…” and so on. The list is endless. As we went around the room, each person responded with a different accent. It amazes me how so many places in the world are being represented at just one university in Milan. Luckily, I get to talk to all of them and hear about their life experiences in comparison to mine. I might even have a place to stay if I end up visiting these places in the future!

Being back in school definitely feels a little strange after being on one of the longest summer vacations of my life (close to 5 months) but it feels great. I have a very good feeling about my classes, my professors, and the things I will learn both in and out of the classroom.

Un bacione…xxoo

Life in Madrid

The very fact that this was my first opportunity to post here since I arrived in Spain exactly 3 weeks ago speaks volumes to the kind of hectic scene I flew into (and one that I was certainly not as prepared for as I should have been). Two of the most important things I’ve learned not to do while you are about to embark on your study abroad journey: 1. Don’t wait until the week before your flight date to figure out your housing accommodations. 2. Make sure you have access to Wifi when you arrive. In hind-sight these both should have been givens, but alas… maybe someone will learn from my mistakes.

Trials and tribulations aside, my limited time here in Madrid has truly been an amazing experience. The amount of friendships made from people all over the globe is a once in a lifetime experience and I know that it is only the beginning. The ESN (Erasmus Students Network) team here at UC3M provides the students with more than enough opportunities to meet other students studying abroad with a variety of trips, tours, parties, etc.

Despite the tardiness, my friend Nicolas (another fellow New Paltz student) and I are very happy with the apartment that we got. It isn’t the closest to our university or to the nightlife, but it is right next to the beautiful El Retiro Park, one of the staples of the city. The food in the neighborhood is also delicious and for the most part pretty cheap (at least compared to NYC).

Speaking of NYC, “the city that never sleeps” nickname might be even better suited for here. A theme I have noticed since being here is that these Spaniards like to do everything later. People eat lunch at around 3-5pm, dinner past 9pm, and the clubs are all open until 6am. Getting used to the time schedule here has been very difficult and I still haven’t quite got the hang of it.

Other than a few tours of the city and seeing some amazing art museums, I haven’t really done as much traveling or done as much sightseeing as I would like. One thing that I have done is witnessed my first bullfight last Sunday at the world renowned Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas. At first I enjoyed it; the atmosphere, the culture, the history, but then it really took me by surprise just how violent of a sport it is. After seeing the way that people in the U.S. reacted to the death of Harambe, I found it mesmerizing that every Sunday in this bullring they brutally kill 6 bulls in front of a huge raucous crowd. I’m not one to talk badly about another culture, but I can’t see this sport being around for much longer (I could be wrong though).

With classes well under way things are beginning to settle down a little bit for me over here, but a trip to Barcelona this weekend awaits and I couldn’t be more excited!

 

 

A Taste of Italy


Three weeks have gone by in the blink of an eye. At the same time, it feels like I have already been here for several months! I have met countless new people from countries all over the world, I’ve gone on three trips, and I have eaten a scary amount of carbs. Luckily, I am averaging seven miles a day à piedi (on foot).

The food is as good as I had hoped it would be, if not better. Every day I must restrain myself from stopping into one of the many gelatterias I pass during my travels. One of my favorite things to have here is “un cappuccino”. During my first two weeks here, I was enrolled in an intensive two-week Italian language course in a part of Milan called Buonarroti. On the first day of class, my roommate and I got off at the wrong metro stop, which just happened to bring me to one of my favorite spots, Cremeria Buonarroti. For the past two weeks I woke up early almost every morning just so I could stop here for my “cappucco e brioche”. The man who works there quickly began to recognize me and knew my order after just a few days. Each morning I was greeted by a warm and welcoming smile, putting me in a good mood for the rest of the day.

When I first moved into my apartment here, I tried to keep an open mind. It certainly was not what I expected but I tried to make the most of if for the first few days. Eventually my roommates and I agreed that it was a bit too far from campus as well as the other international students. After speaking with our housing service, we were moved into a new apartment! We were all quite pleased with our new accommodation. It is about a thirty minute commute via la metropolitanà and is located off of the stop “C’a Granda” on the lilac metro line. We immediately settled in and felt right at home. Until next time….arrivederci!

Beginnings

I have been in Prague for almost two weeks now, and these are my observations thus far:
This place is old, I mean REALLY old. I went on a tour of Prague Castle (literally down the street from my dorm) and it was built in the 9th century. Our tour guide told us stories about the things that have happened there over the years that I cant even remember half of them.

However one need not visit castles to feel the ancientness. Just walking down the streets in any part of the city will show you how old it really is here. The randomly twisting streets and terracotta roofs make the United States look like a new born baby just learning how to walk.

From what ive experienced, most Czech people embrace the old and reject the new. Buildings like the one in the picture i posted are looked down upon and considered ugly (this radio tower was voted the 3rd ugliest building in the world, and now has crawling baby sculptures all over it). Other skyscrapers and modern looking buildings left over from the communist regime are often left unused and sit in the outskirts of the city. It is a refreshing break from the modernity I have grown up with. Its like im living in the 12th century while still being able to ride the tram to class.

I have also come to realize that the United States is more often than not the exception rather than the rule. I have also studied abroad in Limerick, Ireland and many things here in Prague are much closer to Ireland than the United States. For example: water is never free. Every restaurant I go to here charges something like 10 czk (roughly 40 cents US) for a glass of tap water. Some places dont even offer water from the tap and force you to pay for a glass bottle of filtered water. At convenience stores and grocery stores it is not uncommon to find beer CHEAPER than water. Everyone here is drinking beer constantly. While I normally wouldn’t complain, it has been so hot this past week and all I want is a nice tall glass of ice water free of charge and that is impossible to get.

The upside is that everything here is insanely cheap. A large beer at most pubs comes out to roughly 1.25 USD on average, and a meal is usually not more than 150 czk (about 6 USD). However, you have to pay for EVERYTHING. Bathrooms, plastic bags at grocery stores, and tap water are just some that I have noticed in my first weeks here.

It is too early to draw any real conclusions, but as I get more comfortable with this city and the rest of Europe I will be sure to update this blog with observations, pictures, and interesting stories.

Okay. Breath in. Breath out.

So, I did an amazing yet emotional thing recently. I went to New Paltz a few days before going to Spain. Trust me, it wasn’t easy. I let go of my comfort zone. So, there was a lot of crying. But, I will not forget what my friend told me that weekend. Which was to prepare myself for the best experience of my life and not to worry because things will be exactly the same when I get back. That’s when it hit me. He was right, I’m going to Spain. I’m going to Spain. I’m going to Spain. Spain. Spain. Spain.

Me? Spain? I was born in Honduras, I have 30 cousins and 100 tias and tios and I’ve only seen one person go to Europe and now me. AND now me. I’m 22 years old so I know what this experience means to my family. I’m Latina and proud, and everyone in my family is now completely involved. It’s crazy, I have my godmother buying me a purse because I have to represent Honduras, my other aunt bought me some films to take pictures, my cousin is showing me Spain bloggers, my uncle— well you get the point! Do you see what I mean? This is not only my experience anymore, it belongs to my family too.

Also, I can’t even begin to explain how lucky I feel and I owe this to my parents, myself and SUNY New Paltz for making this dream possible. On another note, I feel nervous too. Who’s going to be my roommate? Will she be nice? AND THE CLOTHES, am I packing correctly? How do I know when to stop packing? I’m a huge fashionista and I’m trying to fit my closet inside my luggage. It’s sad, I’ve watched so many tutorials on how to pack but it’s still hard because I want to take my top 100 shoes. haha. But, I’m serious. So many people are telling me that there are stores over there, mhm nope I don’t believe it.

 

Alright, I’m joking but still. I can’t help it.

 

 

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New Paltz


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