Still Adjusting

Almost a month has passed by since I have returned from my study abroad trip and I am still struggling to come to terms with the fact that it is over. There are the nights where I don’t think about it at all and it’s almost like I was never there, but there are also those nights where I find myself staying up at night, reliving my experiences and wishing that I could be back. Finding the right balance between being appreciative of these amazing memories while at the same time not letting this nostalgia overcome me with sadness, has proven quite difficult.

They say that many people discover themselves when they study abroad. I believe they say this because it is the first time for many young adults in which the only person they have to worry about is… themselves. In Madrid, it wasn’t about stress, worry, and drama, but rather it was instead feelings of excitement, adventure, and freedom. There was something special about being so far removed from your life and all of the baggage that comes with it. As much as I miss the traveling, friends, culture, etc., it is this freedom that I miss the most.

Now back in New Paltz, with the semester well underway, the stress and responsibilities have come back with a vengeance. It has turned into an intense juggling act between catching up with everything I missed, keeping up with my 16-credit course load, and trying to find a summer internship for after I unofficially graduate in May. This, in addition to the absurd amount of snow since I have returned, has me dreaming about Spain more often than not.

 

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).

 

 

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!

Where to?

Portugal?  Italy? Madrid? Cordoba? Granada? ok ok ok . ….. Yes, I’ve done A LOT of traveling. Where do I even begin? My life here is different, i finally have the opportunity to fulfill my passion for traveling. When I first arrived here, my mind immediately began to plan every weekend that I had free to travel. However, three months or to make it easier, twelve weekends is not sufficient for my long list of places I want to go.

But an important factor that a friend of mine told me was that, i must remember that I will be back. I can’t keep thinking that this is my last time in Europe and hearing this, my entire outlook changed. I decided to take a break from traveling and to stay four weeks in Sevilla. This allowed me to get to know my own city and actually make some Sevillano friends.

I never thought I would fall in love so quickly with a city and all the hidden gems within it. A lot of people don’t think about sevilla when they think of Spain. Rather, people with go straight to Madrid or Barcelona. But why? We have everything here! History, Culture, night life, tapas (food), ancient architecture, and the list goes on. Trust me, if you need a tour guide- I got you! I love that I don’t get lost here anymore and that’s because I decided to say here. Tons of my new friends especially in my classes are gone every weekend making it impossible for us to go out! But don’t get me wrong, I understand why being in Europe can entice you to travel wherever, especially since it’s so cheap.

However, I did save some big trips for the end of the semester! In my last three weeks I will be in Morocco, Amsterdam and closing off my trip in Paris. I can’t believe it. I’m going to Paris. I cried when i booked the flight because Paris is very special to me, I always thought I would go when I was way way older and a had a career. But, no. I’m going now in my 20s, my prime years, exactly when i feel invincible.

I am throughly looking forward to my last weeks living in Europe.screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-23-25-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-23-10-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-23-04-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-22-51-pm

Art, Culture… and Airports

This past weekend I traveled outside of Spain for the first time since I arrived here on my study abroad trip, making stops in both Brussels and Amsterdam. Being in Spain for so long I was almost unaccustomed to speaking English when talking to other people, but it was most certainly refreshing. Both cities were absolutely beautiful and shared many similarities.

In Brussels, the beer and chocolate were as good as advertised. I couldn’t walk more than 1 block without seeing a chocolate shop or waffle house, but I wasn’t complaining. Being able to see the European Parliament was a surreal experience, knowing that it is in essence the de facto capital of the European Union. The buildings and architecture all around were stunning and the people were all very warm and friendly.

Amsterdam as a whole was a surreal experience, at certain points I almost felt like I was in a movie. However, despite what most people know about Amsterdam, the best part was easily the museums. The Rijksmuesum had some of the greatest artwork I have ever seen and due to its size you could easily spend the entire day in there and still not see it all. My favorite painting had to be the The Night Watch, Rembrandt van Rijn’s most famous painting in the museum. The Van Gogh museum was incredible as well and I’d have to say my favorite painting by him was The Potato Eaters.

But what really hit home for me was going to see the Anne Frank Haus, where Anne Frank infamously wrote her journal while hiding from the Nazis. With my father being Jewish, I felt it was important for me to go and I knew it would make him happy. I thought I wouldn’t be able to at first because the line was hours long everyday, but I stuck it out on the last day to see it and it was definitely worth it.

In regards to the airport, I experienced an abundance of emotions. In the image above you will see a plaque in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks that took place in Brussels Airport on 3/22/16. I remember how much it meant to me being from NYC to see the 9/11 memorial for the first time and while this is attack was on a much smaller scale, I knew it still meant a lot to the people of Brussels.

However, this feeling would not last long. My friend and I were going to make our flight just in time, but we got stopped by security for having cologne… This delay resulted in us missing our flight and ended up costing me over $200. Once again I hope those of you reading this will learn from my mistakes, I’ve made plenty of them so far and I’m sure there will be more to come!