First Week Anniversary!

Hello from the other side of the world!! I have been in Prague for a week and a half now and it has been such a trip already! I feel like this past week and a half has felt like forever and no time all at once. Leaving home was surprisingly easier than I imagined, yes some tears were shed but as I stepped on the plane and stayed awake for all five hours, I didn’t cry once. Arriving in Prague with some fellow friends, felt surreal. My dorm itself was much nicer than I expected, walking into my room I was pleased to find myself really happy. It is a single room, very spacious and has huge windows that overlook Praha 6 (aka has the Prague Castle in it’s view).

I’ve been non stop busy since I got here. The first couple days were purely dedicated to orientation. We took care of basic orientation stuff and were given time to walk around Old Town Square. There was also this nice trivia night at a café with the International Students Club.

Culture shock is real people! And it’s not necessarily bad either. Everything in Prague is so cheap compared to NYC. I can buy a nice dinner for $8. I feel rich here, and I don’t mean money wise. I feel rich in the opportunity to see and feel how it is to live another life. Getting a huge caramel latte for $25=59 crowns, sitting down in a cafe with the bustling life around me and amazing sights, I feel full of light. I thought I’d be a lot more sad than I am. Buying groceries for $35, going home and cooking dinner every night with some friends. I feel like a somewhat actual adult for once.

It hasn’t been a complete walk in the park. Living in a building with so many people is hard because every single person is unique and has a set of different values. The first week I was here, I automatically got attached to a group of people. Friend wise, I put all my eggs in one basket. A week and a half in, I HIGHLY ADVISE AGAINST THIS. As hard as it seems to be give every one a chance and opening up, that’s the key to having a smooth transition into making friends. If you stick to one group and something goes wrong, its very hard. Stick to people who make you happy when you start to get sad, stick to those who offer you anything even when they can’t afford to. Those are the ones who will save you from the bad side of culture shock. I’ve only had one sad day, but it passed fast and I’m ready to continue to be happy.

My Czech intensive language course has been so interesting! Yes, it is five hours a day for ten days, but I got an amazing teacher and class. At first I felt nervous to learn, but as she spoke to us the entire class warmed up and before you know it we were speaking Czech! She takes us out into Prague to really teach us the culture and that way we actually use our Czech and learn through interaction. On top of all that she’s like a mini tour guide who knows the city very well. I’ve had the best time in that class even though it isn’t easy. Today was my midterm, but I believe I passed (I hope!)

The Calm Before the Storm

A year ago, if you asked me if I would study abroad I would have told you that it’s impossible. Last summer I thought, why not just try and then its quickly became a reality that I couldn’t fathom to be real. Coming from lower middle class, studying in another countries university was merely a dream. I remember the day I was accepted it felt as if the moving day was too far, but that day is quickly approaching now. It is a little stressful; I have never left the United States before. Actually I’ve hardly traveled outside of New York. I have never been so far from my family before either; all of this is on my mind. I can’t help but want to focus on the positive, the incredible fact that I am about to move and study in Prague.

It’s a little daunting yes, but I can’t begin to imagine how amazing it is going to be. I know my family and friends will still be home when I get back. When I think about how it’s going to be living in Prague, I get giddy inside. In Prague I’ll be considered an adult; I’ll have to be mostly completely independent. I’ll have to learn the Czech, learn their culture and  assimilate myself. All I know is life in New York City, but I am so ready to go through this change. I feel that this trip is going to change me a lot as a person. I hope to come back more mature and grounded and I don’t think staying somewhere where I am comfortable will help me with growing. SO here’s to the big leap across the world 🙂

Back to “The States”

The range of emotions experienced in the past couple weeks have been stressful, but also taught me a lot about who I am and what I want. My last week in Madrid was both emotional and exciting; I was sad to say goodbye to a city that I now view as a home away from home, but I was also happy to return to the city that raised me (NYC) and the small town that I also consider my home away from home (New Paltz).

Saying goodbye to my friends that I made while abroad was the hardest part, but I know that I have the means and the communication to see them again one day, either visiting them or them visiting me. Other than my friends, what I think I enjoyed the most about living in Madrid was just the pure excitement of being so far away from everyone I knew, in a beautiful new city/country/continent, that was filled to the brim with adventures and new things to see. For me personally, the joy of having something to be excited about and look forward to is almost as good as the actual experience.

That being said, I was also looking forward to coming home; one of the best parts about NYC is leaving and then coming back Almost all of my friends in NYC had already left back to their respective universities, so I still haven’t seen most of them yet, but being home with my family for a couple of days was very relaxing. I immediately noticed the little differences between the U.S. and Europe, such as the brutal line at customs when arriving at JFK, which was much longer than any of the lines I had to wait in while I was abroad visiting other airports. Also the fact that I had to listen to commercials for the entire duration of the line, another little thing that wouldn’t happen in Europe. Despite this, being back in NYC made me realize just how big and grand it is (and how small Madrid is). I also thoroughly enjoyed making my parents get me all of the amazing food that I missed so dearly.

Coming back to New Paltz was a different story. I hadn’t been in New Paltz in around 8 months, but it still felt like I never left. My friends and professors gave me a warm welcome back and I definitely enjoyed sharing some of my incredible experiences with them. Missing syllabus week has me playing catch-up for the time being, but my teachers have been very understanding of the situation. I haven’t had much time to really sit down and reflect on the past 5 months of my life due to how hectic my schedule has been, but I know that once I am situated (I still don’t have a bed yet) and caught up with my classes, I will be able to put things in perspective.

 

Euro-Trip

After exploring four different countries in just twelve days, I can say without a doubt that traveling around Europe is an incredible experience, but also an expensive one. It isn’t the flights or the hostels that run up the bill, but rather it is the day-to-day expenses of attempting to see as much as possible when being a tourist in some of the most amazing cities in the entire world. The four stops I made on this trip were London, Paris, Dublin, and Berlin, with the latter two cities not being overwhelmingly pricey, but the first two cities making NYC seem cheap. However, expenses aside, each city presented a much different culture, atmosphere, and experience that I won’t soon forget.

Dublin: My first stop had a little bit of a different feel from the other cities I visited, mainly because I stayed with a good friend of mine from UC3M at his parents house, rather than a youth hostel. Exploring a new city with someone born and raised in the area and who knows the culture well allowed me to see the city more from a resident’s point of view rather than a tourist’s, which I personally think is better. The Irish are warm, welcoming, and love to have a good time (the Guinness is amazing).

London: The second stop on my trip had a much more touristy vibe to it and it’s hard not to in a city as grand as this. Similarly to NYC, it is so big and there is so much to see, but at times it almost felt like everything was just one giant rip off. Dealing with the conversion rate of the pound while also dealing with inflated prices is definitely a hard thing for a college student on a budget to handle. Other than the damage done to my wallet, London was definitely a city that I enjoyed and that I plan on returning to (I also find the slang there to be quite comical).

Berlin: The third stop on my trip seemed like one very long and very dark history lesson. Man, does this city have a lot of baggage to it when it comes to the 20th century. From WWI/WWII to the Berlin Wall, it was quite interesting to see how all of these events were linked and how bad humanity can be in desperate times. In addition to the history, the nightlife in Berlin is also second to none, I’ve never seen people party quite like the Germans do (even though it was freezing).

Paris: Similarly to my stay in Dublin, the final stop on my trip I was with a good friend of mine from New Paltz and crashed at his apartment… and similarly to London, this city didn’t treat my wallet too nicely either. I’d have to say that Paris is the most beautiful city I have ever been to thus far in my life and it was the closest to Spain in that the majority of people didn’t speak English, whereas in the other cities I visited, everybody spoke it perfectly. Going to the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre were unforgettable experiences and this is definitely a city that I would love to come back to in the not so distant future.

Now I am finally back home in Madrid, where I have a little over a week left to enjoy living in this amazing city before returning back to NYC!

Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo

Celebrating the holidays abroad has been an unforgettable experience and one in which I was able to see it from a different perspective. There were many similarities of course, but many differences that I believe were a combination of cultural differences as well as me just being accustomed to how I celebrate with my friends and family back in New York.

In Madrid, Christmas had a lot more emphasis on the religious aspect rather than just the commercial part. Spain of course is a majority catholic country, whereas in Brooklyn there is a much larger jewish community. I am not exaggerating when I say that there must have been a Nativity scene on every single block in my neighborhood in Madrid, all garnering crowds of people admiring them. I’m not quite sure about Manhattan, but I know I haven’t seen nearly as many Nativity scenes out in my neighborhood in Brooklyn.

However, while Christmas may have been a little different, New Year’s Eve couldn’t have been more similar. With Puerta del Sol serving the exact same purpose as Times Square does in NYC, thousands of people headed there to go see the countdown and fireworks at midnight to bring in the new year. Just like in NYC, it was almost impossible to move and there were police everywhere, but it was still a sight to behold.

There was one tradition on New Year’s Eve that I found quite interesting and decided to partake in and that was the Spanish tradition called the “Twelve Grapes.” Dating all the way back to 1909 and originating in Puerta del Sol, it consists of eating a grape for every time the bell strikes after the clock hits midnight. Doing this is supposed to lead to a year of prosperity and is now fabricated into the cultural tradition of Spain as well as other Latin and Hispanic communities. Being that this is the first year in which I participated in this tradition, I will be sure to give credit if it works (I am hoping it does).

 

 

Milanese Withdrawals

After being home for about a week, I realized how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to spend a semester abroad. Just as my advisor said before I embarked on this journey, every day was not perfect. I had my ups and downs and days of missing home a little more than usual, but overall I am extremely proud of myself for following one of my dreams of studying in Italy.

I can’t help but be extremely critical of any Italian food I eat here in the States. No plate of pasta will ever compare to the many (too many?) dishes of pasta I consumed in Italy. Put simply, I was spoiled. I had authentic Italian cuisine at my fingertips for three and a half months and, I can assure you I took advantage of it. Of course, I miss the people there as well. I was lucky enough to meet a great group of girls from Chicago, but some of my friends are not as easy to reach. I’ve already decided that I need to return to Europe within the next few years. The withdrawals have set in and I need my Italian fix!

As much as I miss Europe and its ridiculously cheap flights to surrounding countries, it feels great to be home. I was overwhelmed with joy when I saw my family waiting with open arms for me at the airport. I couldn’t wait to share stories and pictures with them from my many adventures. It was refreshing to return to the States and catch up wirh loved ones, especially for Christmas. But Italy will always hold a place in my heart. This semester was one of my best ones yet and provided me with everlasting memories, friendships, and life lessons. It was not an easy trip to make, as I went on my own and was filled with fear and worry but it was absolutely worth it. I honestly don’t know why every student who is able to study abroad does not take advantage of this outstanding program. There is so much more to this world than we realize until we actually go out and explore. I saw so much but, at the same time I feel as though I haven’t seen nearly enough! Looks like I’ll be making a trip back to my beloved Europe very soon…

Thanks to anyone who followed me throughout this journey!

Un bacione xx

This is not a goodbye.

Seville became everything to me and this includes the people that I met. My personal thoughts and personal development happened here in 3 months. For a long time, I have been struggling with my self-discovery as a person but all of my problems disappeared here. Seville became my safe haven, I could love who I wanted, I could dress as I wanted and I could speak my mind as I wanted. How could I not fall in love with Seville, when this place lets me be who I am— It’s a free zone of judgments.

My experience here will always be unforgettable. The people I met here are by far one of the humblest and happiest people I have ever met. The Sevillanos know how to party, cook, celebrate and everything else that makes a perfect place. Now that this trip is almost over, I booked a few flights and I decided it was a perfect way to say goodbye to this experience. Last week, I went to Morocco, Gibraltar and Amsterdam. They were 3 crazy trips in a week and it was by far one of the best experiences of my life.

Sadly, I don’t want to face my farewell to Seville. How do you say goodbye to your favorite place? Is not easy. Everyone keeps telling me that I’m coming back and I know I will, but it’s going to be different. I’m going to be at a different stage in my life and I’m afraid it will not be the same. About 3 months ago I was given an unforgettable opportunity and now I have to return everything. It’s not fair. No one wants to give up a world they have created for themselves. I’m not good at goodbyes either. I do not want to say goodbye to my teachers, friends or the lady I see every day in the cafeteria. Why should I? —I created this world and I can not talk to anyone at home about this because no one will understand. So my experience here in Seville is a secret. Between Seville and me.

Thank you, Seville. I love you forever.

 

 

Freedom

After 4 final exams in the span of 72 hours, I have finally completed my studies here at UC3M. It was an exhausting week that included a lot of studying and very little sleeping, but I have just recently recovered and am ready to reflect on my classes here.

Education in Europe is much different from the United States in my experience, not necessarily good or bad, but just a different approach with a different emphasis on certain things. For instance, every final that I took this past week accounted for 50-60% of my grade and I felt the increase in pressure while studying and taking the exam. It almost made me feel as if the work I had put in the entire semester boiled down to this 2 hour exam and in my personal opinion students should not be put in that position.

However, in other instances I thought that the professors here in Spain afforded us a lot more leeway than professors in the U.S. would have. I am talking in terms of assignments, deadlines, circumstances outside of the classroom, etc. Many would argue that this approach would allow students to slack off, but I felt that I took away as much knowledge in these courses as I would back in New Paltz and isn’t that the point?

While my time at UC3M may be over, my time in this amazing city, country, and continent is far from over and now that I don’t have my classes to worry about, I am very excited for what comes next. I will be visiting a few other cities in Spain prior to the arrival of my family on Christmas and then in January I will begin my “Euro-Trip,” which includes stops in Dublin, London, Berlin, and Paris. This will all be uncharted territory for me that I have only been able to dream about and I am counting down the days!

 

The Calm Before the Storm

As finals approach, there is a lot more work to be done before I can begin to reminisce on what has undoubtedly felt like the quickest semester of my life. However, unlike many students who study abroad, my finals week doesn’t mark the end of my journey, but in many ways it marks the beginning.

What I mean by this is that when I was first accepted to go abroad I was presented with 2 different options in regards to my final exams; I could either take my finals in December with the international students in order to make it home in time for the holidays, or I could take them in January with the Spanish students and stay put for a while longer. To me, the choice was easy. Why come back and sit around at home all winter break when I could spend that same time exploring Europe? With this in mind, I chose to buy my return ticket for the end of January.

My parents were quick to support me on this decision, with the only downside being that I would be away from them on Christmas for the first time. However, rather than come home for the holidays, my parents, along with my older brother, decided to bring the holidays here and visit me in Madrid on Christmas! This was arguably the best news I had received since leaving NYC and I am still counting down the days.

Another decision I came to was that instead of waiting until January to take my final exams and doing a little traveling in between, I would prefer to get my finals out of the way in December with the material still fresh in my head and enjoy my remaining time here stress free (for the most part) as a result.

Although these are all decisions I am very happy with and still stand by, they now also mean that I have my work cut-out for me. This upcoming week will without a doubt present the toughest challenge I have ever faced in terms of finals for two reasons. Not only are all of these exams squeezed more tightly together in terms of times and dates than they would be at New Paltz, but they also have a significant amount more at stake, being worth approximately 60% of my course grade.

As a result, I am preparing harder than ever before, knowing what lies ahead once I take care of business. Wish me luck!

The Denial Phase

One week from today at this time, I will be a half hour into my journey back to the United States. Hence, the denial phase. Where did the semester go? It feels like just yesterday that I was seeing the Duomo for the first time and attending my first week of classes. I simply do not know how to feel. It will, of course, be exciting to be reunited with my family and home friends, but I have no idea how I will say goodbye to this beautiful country and the many memories it has given me over this past few months. I have made some great friends during my time here–some from the U.S. and some in a completely different time zone from mine. I cannot wrap my head around the fact that this enriching experience is almost over. When I first arrived in Milan, three and a half months seemed like an eternity. Clearly, everyone back home was right when they told me to make the most of my time here since it would go by in the blink of an eye.

Fortunately, I am extremely satisfied with my overall study abroad experience. I did not make it to all the places on my list, but I saw some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life and nothing will ever compare to this past semester. In addition to all of this, I myself have grown in many ways. I never thought I would be navigating a foreign city all by myself, but I have become much more mature and independent while living in Italy and was able to find my way (with a few wrong turns here and there). Now that I have friends all over the world, it seems my traveling has just begun! I am leaving Italy with invites to Chicago, Australia, and France to name a few and I will definitely be making these trips as soon as my bank account recovers from my European adventures.

During the last two weeks, I was able to squeeze in a few more trips before I travel back home. While my mom and sister were here, we visited Verona and, of course, Bergamo! I also got to show them around Milan and find a few more gems in this amazing city. Yesterday, I returned from Dublin with two of my friends, which was a great way to end my time abroad. Dublin was one of the cutest cities I have visited and this a great time to go since they take their Christmas decorations very seriously. Every bar and restaurant was decked out in strands of lights and garland and we were greeted with a “Happy Christmas” almost everywhere we went. We took a quick tour of two other cities while we were there, Malahide and Howth, just to get a feel of Ireland outside the city center. One of my favorite parts of the trip was finding my family’s coat of arms. Several shops had little knick knacks with family names and their coat of arms illustrated on them, and sure enough, “Galvin” was there waiting for me to find it. I felt an instant connection to the city and my family’s history. I also had the chance to meet up with one of my sorority sisters while in Dublin! She is currently studying there for a year and met up with my friends and me before we had to leave this precious city. It was so nice to see a friendly New Paltz face after being away for so long.

Now that I have returned to my apartment, the reality has sunken in. The only trip I have left is the final one back home. All I can do now is spend these last few days visiting my favorite places one last time and saying goodbye to the people who made my study abroad experience so enjoyable. Oh, and studying for finals. I should do that too since, after all, I am here to “study”!

Until next time…

xxoo