A tad bit of culture shock, perhaps…

I don’t know if I’m experiencing culture shock, or just impatience, or stress, or all of the above. I never would have imagined that I could feel culture shock in a place that essentially is a part of my own culture. Maybe, I’ve just been spoiled by the relative ease of access to most things in the U.S.

Getting use to the way things run in this university is definitely challenging. Forget about the unlimited printing at New Paltz, and welcome to waiting in line for an hour at the print shop on campus and paying 5 euro cents per page, then being late to class…

Or waiting in line several hours a day at the bank on campus to open an account, just to find out they lost all of your paperwork, and you have to wait another hour…

Maybe, hopefully, I’ve just been having a bit of bad luck and these are all isolated incidents.

In fact, I was really surprised today when I went to the post office (correos) and I was in and out in 5 minutes! This definitely takes longer in the States. Of course, I have a horrible sense of direction and got lost going back to campus, so I was late regardless lol.

Today was the last day of our 14 day intensive Spanish immersion course and our big final is tomorrow night. I thought this class was going to be a breeze since Spanish was my first language, but having never taken an actual Spanish class, I was completely lost with most of the grammar. Unfortunately for me, 50% of the exam is grammar 🙁 but I’ll be studying all night tonight and hoping for the best! As much as I complained about having 3 or 4 hours of Spanish class a day, I actually wish it would have lasted longer than 2 weeks… Maybe I could have absorbed more information in a longer time frame.

Now that Spanish class is almost done, it’s time to focus on my regular classes! I’m taking two classes that I like A LOT: Markets and Environment, and Game Theory. Both are really interesting and thought provoking. Econometric Techniques is a little more…. technical. And at 9 in the morning, twice a week, it could be considered torture, but the professor is a really nice guy. I saw him during his office hours this week, because I missed class for a mandatory orientation, and he was very helpful. We’ve already started working on a time series project in class using GDP and interest rate data from a country of our choice. He suggested I do the U.S. because I’m the only American in the class. Cheap shot. I’m sure Spain was already taken anyway….

I also signed up for a class in the Journalism major, “Theory and Analysis of the Documentary Film.” I’m SOOOO excited to take it even though it has nothing to do with economics. I’ve secretly always wanted to be a documentary filmmaker so this class will give me the chance to make my own documentary. I’m thinking about tying economics into it in some way… With Spain being in a recession right now, like most of the rest of the world, there’s a lot of opportunity to “document” something.

Speaking of documenting, I admit I haven’t been the best “tourist” in terms of seeing all that Madrid has to offer. These past two weeks have been really hectic, trying to get settled into an apartment, and having Spanish classes at night. We did manage to go out to this cultural event in Madrid called “Noche en Blanco”. It’s an annual event in which all the museums are open as well as restaurants, clubs, exhibitions, stores… you name it. Problem was, there was too much to do and we couldn’t decide! We ended up dancing in Grand Via where a dj was set up outside. It was a lot of fun and there were A LOT of people! I’ll have to borrow some of Madeline’s pictures.

For now I have some pictures of the apartment Madeline and I are living in in Getafe, for those of you who are interested in seeing what a Spanish apartment typically looks like… As you can see, it’s very typical that people dry their clothes on the line outside on the balcony. Most apartments don’t have dryers… But hanging clothes outside works really fast, at least right now that it’s still hot!

I also added some pictures of Getafe, the supermarket, and my lunch the other day (Yummmm gazpacho!)

AND added a really cute picture of a dog I saw waiting at the window for his owners to come home… random, but adorable!

Hasta luego,

Sandy

Exhausted!

This week has been absolutely exhausting! I took a 3 hour nap today and it wasn’t enough. We started regular classes this week on top of the 3 hour Spanish classes in the evening, and finding an apartment, and getting a bank account.  I just keep telling myself that it wouldn’t be worth it if it wasn’t difficult, and as long as I believe that I tend to keep myself going…

Tuesday was my first day of regular classes. I had “Game Theory” around 10:45 am and it was pretty awkward. Classes in the new “Bolonia” Program in Europe are split into Lectures and Discussions, so the class I had on Tuesday was a discussion class with a man that hardly spoke a word of English so he just wrote everything he wanted to say on the board. Strangely enough, most of the students in the class were Spanish even though the class is taught in English, and they understood less than I could.

On Wednesday I had 3 classes back to back from 9am to 2pm and it was pretty rough because I’ve also been taking Spanish classes from 4-7 every day this week. Econometric Techniques is taught by a really nice professor who seems to care a lot about the success of his students. We have to do a time series report using GDP and interest rate data from a country of our choice. The paper only has to be 3 pages, which seems pretty easy. I’m also taking a really interesting class called “Markets and Environment,” which as the title implies talks about the effects of economic activity on the environment and vice versa. The only class I really HATED was Public Economics. The teacher was absolutely HORRIBLE!!! The best way I can describe him is John Nash (played by Russel Crowe) in the movie A Beautiful Mind. He just wrote all these illegible formulas for an hour in class without describing what he was doing. He was going so fast that no one understood what he was writing or saying. His y’s looked like 7’s…. it was just completely Greek to me. He said we needed to know calculus to take his class, and I have taken up to Calc 3 and I didn’t understand a thing. The best part was when he randomly chose my name from the roster and told me I had to prove some mathematical theorem the next class….    I don’t necessarily like quitting when things get rough, but I’m positive if I stayed in that class I would fail unless I stayed in my room all day and studied and, in which case I’d never get to go out and see Madrid.

The other girls from New Paltz and I have final met up with the coordinators of the exchange program between us and UC3M. We had a private meeting with Yuliya and, I think his name is… Juan Carlos… and we expressed how lost we’ve been with choosing the right classes and being completely unprepared for the really high math standards 🙁   . Thankfully they’re really flexible and they’re going to let us change our classes.

So, the good news of this week is that I finally have an apartment and a bank account!!! Of course, neither task was easy, but at least everything is settled with my living situation. After calling at least 30 landlords, and seeing maybe 6 apartments in the city center of Madrid, and Getafe, I decided to live in Getafe with Madeline (one of the girls on the program from New Paltz). We had seen a really beautiful apartment in Madrid for only 300 euros each (for me, Jules, and Madeline) but the landlord was out of his mind and wanted us to pay 4,500 euros as a deposit! So we had to pass. Madeline and I found a really nice place right next to the school with 3 rooms, a living room, tv, bathroom, kitchen, and a balcony. The best part is that it’s 5 minutes walking to the school. I would have liked to live in Madrid but it would have been a 45 minute commute, door to door, and it really would not have worked out for me with 9 am classes. Jules really wanted to live in Madrid so she decided to rent a room there. The pro of living in Madrid is that the Erasmus students (European exchange students) organize “fiestas” almost every night! But, I’m a little more interested in getting to class on time and doing well. There’s always time on the weekends to check out the night life in Madrid. Getafe also has a lot of places to eat, drink, and dance at night on the weekends…. don’t underestimate Getafe!

Our first official night at the apartment was last night so we invited all the New Paltz girls over and made dinner for everyone. There’s a grocery right next door called Eroski, and we bought a lot of food for only 22 euros!!! It was amazing!!! We bought 2 loafs of bread, Brie cheese, crackers, prosciutto ham (jamon serano), olives, eggplant, mozzarella cheese, 3 cans of this really popular bean soup (fabada), 2 bottles of wine, chocolate, and more.  You can definitely save a lot of money here if you buy food at the grocery instead of eating out every night, and now that we have an apartment we can!

One of the biggest things I’ve had to get use to is the fact that nothing really ever works out right away.  For example, in order to change US dollars into euros I couldn’t just go to any bank unless I had a bank account there. So,  I went to open a bank account at Santandar at the school which caters specifically to students, waited in line for 30 minutes, and then I was told to come back 3 days later. I went back 4 days later, waited 30 minutes to find out that they had lost my application and I had to do it again, but this time my account wouldn’t be ready for a week! I explained that it was urgent because I needed to exchange money in order to be able to pay the deposit on my apartment and they finally gave in, but it was really a hassle.

The school itself doesn’t really seem to have everything together for international students. Even though classes officially started Monday, our orientation (for American students) wasn’t until Friday morning, and they told us we would get our student IDs and ID numbers but of course they weren’t ready. I need my student ID number to access Aula 2 (similar to Blackboard) in order to do problem sets and print out homework for class! Then in order to change classes, you need to have your student ID in order to make an appointment online with the international office. It feels a bit like we’re second class citizens at this school. We’re always a step behind in everything, and I’m starting to lose my patience. I like to be prepared for class, and it makes it difficult when I can’t even use the school computers to print my assignments out because I don’t have a student ID or password.

Negativity aside, I’m really looking forward to tomorrow night… There’s this big series of events going on in Madrid to celebrate the full moon. It’s called “White Night” and several museums will be open all night for free as well as stores, and restaurants. There will also be a bunch of free concerts, which I’m really excited about!!!

I’ll make sure to post pictures of White Night, as well as pictures of the new apartment soon! I’m currently using a free internet service which has really bad connection, so I’m not able to post pictures until I get my own internet :-/

-Sandy-

Welcome to Madrid/Getafe, Spain

I’ve only been in Madrid for 5 days and it already seems like at least a month has gone by! I’ve been running around trying to get everything sorted out and settled before my official classes start on Tuesday, September 7th, and already there have been so many road blocks and new experiences and exciting people. I will try to condense everything so as not to bore you with pages and pages.

I want to start by describing the week before I left for Madrid and the first day I arrived just because I think the preparation before the storm is an important part of the study abroad process.

I’m not your traditional study abroad student. Most people chose to go to places that they’ve never lived in before. I chose to go back to my first home. I was born in Madrid and lived there with my parents and family until I was 6 and I’ve been living in Poughkeepsie ever since and visiting Madrid once every couple of years or so. To me this is an experiment. Since I was very young I always wondered who I would have become had I stayed in Madrid my whole life and now I have this amazing opportunity to live in Madrid for a year. Though I am fluent in Spanish and have family as a sort of safety net in Madrid, leaving the comfort of New York was no easy task. For the entire week before I left I was a complete nervous wreck, and the day of my flight I was so nervous I felt physically sick and couldn’t eat or sleep. It was a complete shock to me that I was so afraid of going back to a place that I have loved for years.

But going back to Madrid this time was completely different than it was when I was a kid. This time I was leaving my best friends, my boyfriend, my family, my town, my college, my bands, my life. And this time I would be in Madrid for a whole year which for the most part would be dedicated to studying economics at la Universidad Carlos III. It isn’t going to be a complete vacation!

When I landed in Madrid I was reintroduced to my old home as an adult. My first thoughts…. am I going to be able to find an apartment? How expensive will it be? How hard are the economics classes going to be in this university which is ranked on of the best for economics in Europe? I’m going to have to get a European phone! How am I going to get a bank account? etc, etc, etc….

So far I’ve succeeded in only one task…. getting a cell phone. But I’m well on my way to get everything else settled.

Since this exchange program between New Paltz and UC3M (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid) is completely new, there are no precedents. Thankfully, there are 3 other economics majors from New Paltz who are on the adventure with me and we’ve been helping each other out at every step.

Currently, I am sharing a hostel room with Jules while she, Madeline, and I look for an apartment. The fact that this hostel is absolutely beautiful and has the best shower I’ve ever been in (for only 21 euros a night per person) hasn’t been giving us to much incentive to hurry the apartment searching process. Although, it has been uncomfortable not having a fridge and not really being able to buy groceries. (The hostel name is Carlos III for those of you interested in visiting Getafe)

Since the university is in Getafe, a small city/town 20 minutes south of central Madrid we haven’t exactly decided whether we’d like to live in Getafe near the school or in central Madrid near el Parque Retiro, and all the famous museums, and night clubs. We’ve talked to some of the European exchange students in the ERASMUS program and most of them have opted to live in central Madrid. We’ll be seeing 3 apartments tomorrow: 1 in Getafe, and 2 in Madrid so hopefully we like at least one of those. There is a train that runs from Atocha in central Madrid to Getafe that takes about 25 minutes. By the way, if you’re wondering why we didn’t decide to live on campus… it costs almost $900 a month, while living in an apartment will give us a lot more space for less than half the price!

So although our economics classes don’t start until Tuesday, we started our Spanish language immersion program yesterday. It’s 4 hours a day of Spanish class for 2 weeks!!! It’s a bit intense but I really like my class and my teachers. I’m in the intermediate 2 class with all German speaking students. It’s pretty interesting hearing Spanish in a German accent. We have two teachers for the class and both of them are AWESOME! They only speak Spanish but they are really funny and very animated and passionate.

That’s probably the biggest difference I’ve noticed in Spaniards so far. They are all very animated when they speak and they all have similar intonations and hand movements. Some “Madrileños” can seem rude and harsh when you ask them for help, but a lot of the people I’ve met are really accommodating and will help you a lot. We met this guy Antonio at a rental agency in Getafe who was very charismatic and clearly was THE guy to know in town. As he was showing us around town people in the street would say hi to him and stop to talk. He was quite the charmer and very helpful. We also met a character in Plaza Mayor where we stopped one night for paella. He was our waiter and he called himself “Magic Luigi” and apparently teaches salsa classes in Madrid and has a record coming out. I’m not sure how much of it we believed, but he was funny nonetheless…

And then there’s the man who works at the front desk of the hostel who plays Spanish guitar and sings during his night shift! I brought my guitar so I’m thinking of joining him one night before we move out.

Anyway, I’m going to end my first blog on that note, and leave you with some pictures of the beautiful campus of UC3M. No offense to New Paltz, but it is definitely an upgrade :p

I’ll talk more about Spanish food and the culture that I observe on my next blog!

-Sandra-