Academic Adjustment

So far classes are pretty different than what I’m used to at New Paltz, which is what I was expecting. I’m taking 5 classes in Spanish: one grammar class, one oral production and writing class, and 3 electives in culture and language.

The style of the classes all vary, as they do in New Paltz, but one thing that is different is at New Paltz you are explicitly told what is expected of you. Here, the first few days of classes we were assigned group projects and dates, and the topic and everything else is up to us. There’s a lot less structure and we are encouraged to be more independent, which I really like, it just took some getting used to.

In some of my classes we got syllabi, but not as detailed and thorough as the syllabi at New Paltz. We have the dates of midterms and finals, but other deadlines and outline of the class aren’t explicitly laid out. Which is fine, it just means I have to be more aware of what’s happening in class and be more independent.

The class size is small, comparable to size of the classes I was taking at New Paltz, but I find that the classes are more focused on group work rather than note taking. Sometimes I like to work in groups, but other times I wish we could work alone or have some lectures.

My favorite class is Civilización y Cultura hispanoamericanas (Civilization and Culture of Hispanic America). For this class we got to do a group project on any topic, so my group choice banned literature from four countries- El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. I love being able to do a project and present about what I’m interested in; it makes the learning experience more enjoyable. This class is really interesting and I love going in-depth about a part of the world I’ve only learned about briefly in the past.

So far classes are going really well, there are some differences which I expected, but in the end it’s not a huge drastic change. I’m really enjoying the content of my class and learning about Spain, the world, and the Spanish language. I know that this semester is going to be difficult, but all the work and effort I put in will be worth it.

First Week In Madrid

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Madrid is so much more than I ever expected!I have been here only a week but the architecture and the history of the city is so beautiful it takes your breathe away! One thing I didn’t anticipate was how long it would take to get over the Jet Leg. It has taken me about a week to get over the Jet Leg. The mid day siesta helps a little bit with the sleepiness, that is something I can definitely get used to. My first night here I went to a local bar for crepes and a glass of wine.
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I am living in La Latina one of the older neighborhoods in the city center. It is so beautiful, I feel spoiled by the monuments and beautiful architecture at every corner.I am living in an apartment with two other people a girl from New Paltz and a boy from the UK. I live about a 40 minute train ride from my university. The transportation here is incredibly cheap, upon arrival you have to get an Abono right away so that you can use the train, metro, and buses unlimited for only 20 euro a month. The best place to get the Abono or transportation card is at the Tobaco shop in Tribunal, because you do not need to make an appointment.
Abono
So far I have gone to El Parque Retiro twice once on my own jogging.
Running through Parque Retiro
The second time I went was on a picnic with a bunch of other students from my school. We all brought some type of food and spent the day in the park. The people here are very nice and laid back. I was very nervous about making friends here but I found that it is kind of like freshman year in college, everyone is eager to make friends and they’re all so friendly here! So far Madrid has been a blast I’m excited to see what the next four months has in store!

This is a museum within the park you can walk in for free and see all the art work. They are currently showing the work of Wrobleski

This is a museum within the park you can walk in for free and see all the art work. They are currently showing the work of Wrobleski

Picnic in the Park

Front of the Crystal Palace

This is the back  of the Crystal Palace

This is the back of the Crystal Palace

Picnic in the park

All the students in this photo are from different places all over the world!

All the students in this photo are from different places all over the world!

Preparing for Madrid

I can’t believe that my trip is finally here it is surreal to think that in two weeks I will be living in Madrid! I just arrived home from visiting family in Florida and I am sitting on my bedroom floor with a million clothes and shoes and only two luggages. It seems like an impossible task to fit everything but after many tough decisions I’ll hopefully be able to fit all I need. I am nervous about going to Madrid all on my own; however I know that it is going to be the trip of a lifetime. I am not looking forward to saying goodbye to my parents and family but I can’t wait to get started on this adventure!

Go With the Flow: Adjusting

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” Alan Watts

The first time I was greeted by someone in Spain, they instinctively went to give me a kiss on both cheeks. Naturally, I was a little thrown off and I’m sure I made it very obvious that that was something I was not accustomed to. However, there’s not an awkward moment that laughing about can’t fix. Now, it’s no longer a strange or awkward concept, but a custom that I have adapted to and utilize when I meet new people.

There were many stereotypes of Spaniards that I heard about before coming to Spain, some hold more truth than others, but in reality you have to go into this adventure with an open mind. I learned that if you have an open mind about pretty much everything while travelling, you will always be pleasantly surprised rather than disappointed.

Also, having an open mind allowed me to try new food that I may not have tried in New York. I’m staying at a homestay with a host family, which is just a host mom who loves to cook. She has her own garden and grows most of the food we eat, which I’m a big fan of. I love all of the food that I have eaten so far, which is a lot of vegetables and beans. I was nervous about the food situation coming here, since I’m a vegetarian and big part of the Spanish diet is meat and fish, but it’s been relatively easy.

I also love my homestay apartment because it’s in the center of the city, which is close to everything and a 5-minute walk to class. My apartment is uncommonly big for the center of a Spanish city; I share the bottom floor with a girl from my program and our host mom is on the floor above us. I was a little apprehensive that I wouldn’t like staying at a homestay, but I really think it’s the best option for truly immersing yourself in another culture. I get to practice my Spanish all the time while having genuine conversations, and I get to eat really good food.

One thing that I was expecting to be different about the Spanish culture was the schedule of their meals. We all eat breakfast at different times because of our own schedules, but we normally eat lunch around 2PM, then dinner at 9PM. I actually prefer eating dinner at this time, compared to the typical time in America at 6PM or 7PM.

So far, adapting to this new culture has proved to be an enjoyable learning experience. It’s true that the customs of the Spanish people are a little different than the people I am used to in New York, but I love noticing these cultural differences and comparing it to the norms in America. I can’t wait to learn more about this culture and way of life.

My New Home

As I stepped off the plane and into the terminal, Spanish engulfed my ears. First thought: Shoot, what did I just do? Seriously what was I thinking coming to a country where I can barely speak the native language? How am I supposed to get a taxi to my apartment? Where even is my apartment? Is it too early to call my parents?

I somehow got a taxi to the other side of Madrid.

Stepping into my apartment was like stepping into a stereotypical grandmother’s home. I glanced warily at the old carpet, old couches, and old books on the library-style shelves. How is it possible for everything to appear so…old? Even the microwave looked like it should have been buried sixty years ago.

The landlord chattered away in speedy Spanish as I sized up the place I would be living for the next four and a half months. I offered her plenty of affirmative “Sí” answers in hopes that she would believe I understood half of what she was explaining.

Here are some things I did understand:

  1. How to flush the toilet (answer: pull on the broken chain hanging from the ceiling)
  2. They oven doesn’t work, but the microwave (if that is actually what it is) does. She clicked a bunch of buttons on it and said the words meaning temperature and time about a million times because apparently she thought this was one of the most important things I should know.
  3. The wi-fi password! My grandma-apartment is very high-tech.

When she eventually handed me the keys and left, I was left to wander the place alone. Its old appearance wasn’t getting any better. It was still a very grandma-like apartment for young students. Although I did have misguided dreams of some posh Madrid flat with a working oven, this is it. This is my grandma apartment. My grandma apartment that is less than a two minute walk from my favorite coffee shop to get the typical Spanish café con leche (the picture at the top of this post). My grandma apartment with three new friends to live with. My grandma apartment…in Spain. And that’s really all that matters.

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Fun fact: there are no dryers in Spain. No more saving my favorite shirt to wash an hour before I need it!IMG_6742IMG_6743 IMG_6744

 

Instantly at Home

Falling in love with Granada wasn’t a hard thing to do, simply one look around and it’s difficult not to have your breath taken away. I’m surrounded by more natural beauty and lovely people than I ever thought was possible. I have never been in a place as unbelievably beautiful as Granada. I guess this city’s captivating charm is what led the Mexican poet, Francisco de Icaza, to say “for there is nothing sadder in life than being blind in Granada”.

It didn’t take long, or much, for me to call this fascinating city “home”. There seems to be beauty everywhere I look, which constantly reminds me how magnificent this world is in spite of the unspeakable events that are happening. There’s a dreamlike feeling simply walking around and being surrounded by mountains, incredible architecture and a culture that’s just as wonderful.

At the risk of sounding cliché, this city is magical and enigmatically enticing. When I try to describe how much I love it here, I feel like I can’t find the words to accurately depict the feeling I get. Granada is a place where remnants of its history are undoubtedly present, yet it somehow manages to feel fresh and new. The Alhambra, whitewashed houses, and Islamic tiles and patterns are a symbol of the city’s eventful past, while politically charged and thought-provoking street art reminds us we’re in the 21st century.

From the views I was greeted with the minute I got off the plane, to the scenic taxi ride to my homestay, I knew I made the right decision choosing Granada. I have never felt more in awe or more in love with a place as I do here.

Adventure is Out There

The idea of delving into the realm of all things new and exciting, is simultaneously frightening and enticing – as all great things should be. When the reality of me living in a foreign country finally sank in, I realized that I greeted this new adventure with excitement rather than fear or anxiety. I welcomed the next chapter in my life with the mindset that, yes I was going to face obstacles, but I was also going to learn a great deal about myself and the world I live in.

I’ve heard countless times that studying abroad will permanently alter who you are and how you view the world. An experience as drastic as being immersed in what may seem like another world, will unquestionably mold you into a new person. Someone who will view humanity with a different and more compassionate perspective because tolerance is not only encouraged, but needed to thrive in a different culture. A new person who is readily independent because everything that they have ever known is vastly different an ocean away.

Before I left I thought about how different things would be when my program is over. When I come back, not only am I going to be different, but the place and the people I left behind for six months will have also changed. It’s an odd feeling realizing that the people closest to me, the people whom I saw everyday and spent so much time with, will continue to live their life without me being apart of it. The truth is, when studying abroad, you have to embrace the fact that your life is now filled with new people and new places. It’s almost as if your friends at home are living in an entirely different world than you are, and there’s only so much an online conversation can compensate for.

Making friends abroad was one of the things that I anticipated being the hardest, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Studying abroad attracts like-minded people who all want to experience and travel the world, so it would be hard not being able find something in common with other people from the program. For the most part, everyone is really friendly and just as eager to meet new people, so it’s relatively easier to start speaking to someone new. I’ve learned that you really can’t have any fear when studying abroad, and one of the most important things you can do is put your self out there.

There’s a sense of elation and freedom that ensues when you leave behind the safety of living comfortably. When you are able to welcome new adventures into your life with more eagerness than apprehension, you’re allowing yourself the chance to experience pure bliss. Studying abroad means leaving behind a life you know in order to appreciate and understand a new one. Despite the fact that you may encounter challenges, the hard times are what makes the great ones worthwhile.

it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Madrid

Usually in December,whether at New Paltz or at home, I am reminded that Christmas is suddenly approaching. Houses are lit up on every block,radio station’s are spreading holiday cheer, and every food store I walk into sells red and green m&m’s, panettone, and christmas cookies. This is what I think of christmas: bright and colorful decorations, endless array of christmas chocolates and cookies, and most importantly family and friends.
This year, however, it does not feel like Christmas. The other day on Facebook someone posted that they were sick and tired of all the holiday music. Already you are complaining? It is December 10th and I haven’t even heard a holiday song yet! I have to say though, as it gets closer to December 25, I am reminded more and more of Christmas here in Madrid.
First, Madrid is completely decked out for the holidays. All of the streets in Sol are lit up. Every block has bright snowflakes, ornaments, and more hanging above you as you walk up and down through Sol and Gran Via. All of the shops advertise their christmas deals. El Corte Ingles has snowflake lights on its building and every street’s trees and streetlights are lit.
Plaza Mayor has lights illuminating from above, just look at the picture.

Plaza Mayor December 2015

Plaza Mayor December 2015

There is a christmas market in the Plaza where you can shop for some gifts.

Puerta del Sol has a christmas tree right in the center of the Plaza:
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Photo creds to my friend Celeste

Photo creds to my friend Celeste

The department store, El Corte Ingles, has a really cute christmas commercial that they have been promoting this holiday season, here is the link: ¿Cómo empieza la Navidad? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vsr5QCaMGck
Below is a picture of how the store is decorates for the holidays: Madrid_ECI_Goya at Christmas

Getafe, the town that Universidad Carlos III is in, has decorated their main shopping strip Calle Madrid with a christmas market. 12322835_10207856749047853_543953596343240274_o

Lastly, since I live in the residence halls, it is apparently a huge tradition every year to have the Cena de Navidad (christmas dinner). It is a huge deal here. All of the residents dress up formally–girls wear dresses and higgles and then males dress in suits and ties. It is a formal sit-down dinner that is housed in the cafeteria. They hire caterers and waiters to tend to the event. It was a really great night. I got to spend it with all the international students that I met and we got to eat some good food too (much better than the regular food they serve everyday at the residence hall).

Erasmus 2015

Erasmus 2015

Christmas time is so magical and I am glad that I get to spend a little bit of my time in December during the holidays in Madrid.

Making the most of my time here (with the short time I have left)

I have no clue where the time has gone, my time abroad has flown by…I only have 3 weeks left until I return to the states. By this time I feel like I have adjusted. Tonight I ate dinner at 9:00pm and was completely okay with it. I did not find it unusual. I also am not anticipating the cold weather back in New York. The weather here is great. It is nearing the end of November and it is still on some days close to 60 degrees! Yesterday it was 56. I wore my winter coat outside unaware of the warm weather. I was sweating. I do find though that it gets cold in the morning and at night here. The weather is not always this warm, but the coldest seems to have only gotten down to about 46 degrees. I wondering when winter will start here and if I will get to see snow at all before I leave.

Academics:I am super stressed lately. I find the academics here very different. There are only 2 weeks left of class and I still have two midterms left to take in my classes. Since I am a non-european international exchange student, I am able to take my final exams before I leave. This is great because I can go home for the holidays and will not have to spend another expensive plane ticket to come back here in January for the final exams; however,this means that I have little free time within the next few weeks, and with what time I do have I need to fit in everything that I still have not seen in Madrid.
The grading here is quite different as well. For example, you get a grade from 1 to 10 on your exams. 5 is passing. The exams are also weighted a lot more here. Most of my finals are 60% of my class grade! I do not think that I have ever had a test weighted this much before. Carlos III also has this policy where if you fail your class you can sit for a retake during the month of June. I like the idea about a second chance, but I think this could be difficult for international exchange students, especially because flights to Spain during the summer can be very expensive. Flights to Europe are expensive in general.

Temple of Debod: I have already checked out a few places in my free time in-between my studies, including the Rastro and the Temple of Debod. I find it so interesting and unusual that Madrid has an Egyptian temple….Apparently it was dismantled and rebuilt in Madrid. It is dedicated to the goddess Isis. I went here in the afternoon, but I suggest to visit the temple during the sunset. I have heard that this is a great time to go, and there is an awesome photo opt of the temple with the sunset in the background.

Temple of Debod

Temple of Debod

Unusual Thanksgiving:
It did not feel like Thanksgiving this year. Usually, I am so excited to return home for the weekend to see my family and friends and enjoy some good food. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. However, this year I was not home to celebrate. Instead I did something completely different. I just went about my usual day. My friend Mint and I went to Sol, shopped around and got some Churros con Chocolate. It wasn’t my usual Thanksgiving, but I was happy I got to spend it with a friend.
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Unexpected trip to Paris:
Sometimes you have to realize that somethings can come up and your trip won’t go as planned. This happened to me and my friend Jackie when we traveled to Paris two weekends ago. We were so excited. We had planned to visit the Eiffle Tower, the Louvre, all of the usual tourist spots in Paris. However, our trip got cut short when there was a terrorist attack. We did not get to see as much as the city as we would have liked to. In the end, I am just glad that me and my friend returned home safely. There will always be another time to travel to Paris. I cannot wait until I go again!

Recommendations:
-I highly recommend writing in a journal while studying abroad. I like the feeling of documenting my trip. I even save ticket stubs from museums and train tickets and put them in my journal. It is a great way to preserve your memories of your time abroad.
-If you ever need to see a doctor or a theorist in Madrid, or while anywhere abroad, do not hesitate to go. I was afraid about the language barrier, since I do not speak Spanish very well. What is good is that there are doctors who speak perfect English in Spain. This I was very happy about. However, in my friends case, she went to a health center in the town we live in, called Getafe. They do not have any English speaking doctors there. Even though they didn’t speak any English, she found a way to speak to them. She used google translate. Apparently, it worked because the doctor prescribed her medicine. In the end it will work out, so don’t suffer sick at home and refrain from seeing a doctor.

Madrid is getting ready for the holiday season!

Madrid is getting ready for the holiday season!

Hasta luego!

The Life of an Exchange Student: Balancing Work and Leisure plus Other Cool Things

What will I do today? What do I have to do today? Studying abroad is definitely exciting; however, at the same time you need to balance your time between school work, friends and travel. So far, it has been interesting. I have met a lot of exchange students from the states who are not as serious about their classes as I am. Perhaps it is because New Paltz has a letter grade policy. A lot of the students I have met have a Pass or Fail policy. Of course they should still try to get good marks, but it is not as stressful or important to them. Moral: Go to classes, visit office hours, and schedule time for studying. If you schedule your time to study, then you will have free time to explore and travel around. Also, if you do not leave everything to the last minute, you will be less stressed.
I have learned this the hard way. However, I do have seven weeks left, which still gives me enough time to change my habits.
Tip #2: Stay healthy! It is great to try all of the foods around you, but at the same time eat your vegetables. Healthy foods help beat stress and lessen your anxiety. What I do is try to eat as many vegetables and fruits as I can along with the rich Spanish food. Another thing to do is exercise. I will tell you this, walking throughout Madrid definitely tones your legs. The Universidad Carlos III de Madrid campus has a great gym. It has a swimming pool, volley ball and tennis court, a bunch of exercising classes, including Zumba, and a regular weight and cardio machine section. The down side is that it is not including in the tuition. The gym is extra 🙁 You do get to chose your package: 60 euros per semester for one exercise class, 85 euros for the gym, and if you want everything (including the spa!) it costs 120 euros. What I like about the gym is that they give you a “llavecita” or little key. Each time you go to the gym you are able to track your progress with this key. You stick it into all of the machines in the gym and it tallies up what you have done for that gym session, including the calories.
If you do not want to go to the gym, I suggest running through Retiro park.

Balancing your work and leisure is definitely possible on exchange. You just have to balance your time and plane your trips accordingly.

The other day I found this really interesting article on Buzz feed. It is 100% accurate!!!
41 Reasons Studying Abroad In Spain Ruins You For Life
Especially the following:
2. World-class wine is insanely affordable: Yes! You can find a good bottle of wine here for 3 to 5 euros. Be sure to look for Vino Blanco (white wine), Vino Tinto (Red wine), and others such as Sangria and Tinto de Verano. Which brings me to number 3-
3. And even grocery store sangria will do just the trick: Yup, you can buy grocery store sangria or tinto de verano for one euro, and it is pretty good.
33. …no matter how far you need to go.: This is definitely true. Renfe Cercanias and Renfe Ave are very affordable means of transportation throughout Madrid and Spain. With the Renfe Ave you can visit Barcelona or Alicante in 2.5 hours, versus a 5 hour bus ride.
What is great is that for the Madrid Public Metro Card, the Abono Card, for students, they just lowered the price this month from 40 euros to 20 euros, for all of the sections. This means that you can take any public transportation throughout all of the zones in Madrid for only 20 euros a month. It is definitely a steal.

In Getafe there is a little town area that has a few blocks filled with stores and food places to stop in. You just walk along Calle Madrid–here you will find a Burger King, Bershka, Springfield, and a 100 Montaditos (this chain bar and tapa place is all over Madrid, you can get Jarras very cheaply here, for about 1 to 1.50 euros). I also found a Tastes of America store. Here I found Jiffy peanut butter, Candy Corn, Coke Life, Root Beer, Captin Crunch and Fruit Loops. So expensive though! A box of Fruit Loops would have cost me 9.95 euros, about 11 USD.

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1 Euro Sangria or Tinto de Verano

1 Euro Sangria or Tinto de Verano

Talk to you soon…