Hola, Desde España!

Where do I even begin? Maybe Granada? Sevilla? The airport? The people? Or our advisors? I don’t know where to start. I fell in love with the views, the culture, the people, the history and everything else that España has to offer.

So, let’s start at the beginning. First, I have to say that saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I had to do in my life. I definitely knew it was going to be the start of something good. But I still cried like a baby. To be honest, I’m crying right now thinking about it. Once I said goodbye, I knew I was going to be okay and that it was time to go on this adventure.

When I finally arrived at Granada, I couldn’t believe how amazing it was! Our advisor, Miguel and professor Luis were waiting for us with a private bus. And, let me tell you, Miguel and Luis instantly became family to me. How is that even possible? How can two people that I’ve never met before feel like home to me? In a matter of three days, they showed me the wonders of Granada and won my heart. These places included the Alhambra, Dobla de Oro, Granada’s Cathedral and more.

I keep wondering, how did I get so lucky with this program? I know some people who were unlucky with their programs, but I feel loved and welcomed by everyone here. In Sevilla’s program you get the best of both worlds–we have our own apartment and amazing human beings like Miguel, guiding us along the way. Also, another cool thing was that we had Christian, our SUNY New Paltz advisor there. Do you know how amazing that was? I felt protected and I still do. I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to start this new chapter of my life.

This is where I belong. I’m ready.


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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!

Home Is Where My Eyes Are – And I Can See Better Here

England is more home than home… but also way more exciting, and slightly scary. And I haven’t even been to London center yet.
On a side note, I had my first crumpet today… here it is:

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I know I’m technically in the honeymoon phase right now, but even though I didn’t understand the way the roads worked, or often what people were saying (in my language, mind you), I felt a strong affinity with the United Kingdom as soon as I got there. I hardly felt that I had traveled any distance at all, or that I had only gotten closer to home.

Part of this could be because American culture is just everywhere. I think my sense of American Exceptionalism was bruised by seeing Coca Cola advertised on the sides of all the buses, as well as Doritos, McDonalds, and even KFC for sale in most chain stores. It seems that old Rammstein song is very true: “We are living in Amerika – Coca Cola, Wonderbra.” This Kingston is more like my old haunt of Kingston NY than I would like to admit – it was a wake-up call to realize how much the American market has taken over.

…But then again, there are delightful things that are different about it. Generally speaking, everything’s older. The houses are all in better condition, cozier, made of sturdy brick or old stone and mortar. and there’s more densely packed history here than there even was in Kingston or my home of Hurley NY, two primary destinations for old stone houses in my state.

Things are also smaller and cuter almost all the time here! The streetlights are on little poles! The radiators are paper-thin compared to those in the US, the toilets, sinks, and bike lanes are all smaller, and all the cars on the road are itty-bitty compared to the hunkering American monsters that eat up our roads. I love the sight of so many Mini Coopers pooting by. I love the red public telephone boxes on each street. The only thing I’ve really noticed that are bigger here, are the double decker buses, and the imperial pints you can order at the pub, as long as you’re over 18. Fun note – I have already been carded twice so far, something I’m not complaining about since I’m 25 and have been legally able to drink for four years in the States. So go me!

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There are foxes everywhere, and in our area of London there are way more parakeets than you’d think there’d be! This is due to a classic film shoot decades ago, where a small number of ‘keets were released into the wild, after which they multiplied ravenously. The Thames is inhabited by a million billion swans, and there’s also an expansive park nearby with deer and badgers and other creatures, which makes me feel more at home coming from a rural community.

 

Public transportation here is both more comprehensive and more irritating – You can catch a bus from wherever you are (or close by), and bus fare is paid with just one nuzzle of the oyster card on the panel, but you’d best plan up to a full hour ahead even if you’re just heading across town – because these buses are often late. At least in this suburb of London. I have yet to try the subway, but the double decker buses are very exciting to ride because of all the “humps” (crosswalks) they have to go over, and how fast the drivers drive (apparently they do not need to have a special license to drive them!). It’s like being on a very large, ungainly land speedboat.

Brits seem more conscientious of the environment, and also not. For instance, at Sainsbury’s and most chain grocery stores, they charge 20 pence per plastic bag (these are pretty durable for re-use) at the checkout. But as my boyfriend (also studying abroad through the same program) and I walked down his suburban street, we noticed a small, ransacked heap of garbage (most likely towed by a fox) laying on a lawn for two days, and no one picked it up. It reminded me strongly of my homeland.

Some prankster back home told me that all of the stores in the UK sold only health-food, and as such I would never find an American equivalent of a health-food store. I’ve found that Sainsbury’s is much like any Walmart or Shoprite, with mostly non-organic food and a few organic products with jumped-up prices. And I went to my first health-food store today, and they were not nearly as comprehensive as the one back in Kingston NY. So there – America is not the only “unhealthy” place in the world!

In the United Kingdom, I noticed, value judgements are placed on things in the most official manners in order to control the public. For instance, this sign illustrates the deep scorn reserved only for pigeons, making sure you know exactly what to think of them:

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I quite like the pigeons myself. But I haven’t had a sandwich stolen by one yet.

Some things they have here that (for the most part) they don’t have in the Upstate New York:
-Lemon Curd at an affordable price
-Of course the Double Decker Buses
-A Million Accents
-Super Cheap Playstation Games (Dennis got Arkham Asylum for 4 quid!)
-Fresh Fish and Seafood
-Subsidized Theatre (CHEAP TICKETS, especially for “Youths,” 25 and under! My dream!)
-Wine, Beer, and Spirits for sale in the grocery store!
-Many more options for different kinds of Asian, Carribean, African and South American Cuisine
-Calling Hookah “Shisha” (I almost accidentally ordered this at a Lebanese restaurant, thinking because of the fruity “flavours” that Shisha was a drink)
-1 pound and 2 pound coins (I can pay for a cup of tea with just one coin! So cool.)
-Lots of women openly and shamelessly wearing hijabs! It seems to me like they are very unselfconscious compared to American women wearing the same thing, – I may be wrong, but there’s much less of a stigma here. Makes sense, since even London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is Muslim, and there’s no Donald over here)
-So many mysteries – like what, exactly, is “Chip Butty?”
-And WAFFLEMEISTER (…just …waffles. everywhere, with sweet and savory amazing things on them)

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I think for me, the easiest thing to get used to was the currency. Lucky to arrive in the wake of Brexit, when the Pound is not so strong against the Dollar, I’ve just been adding .30 to each pound I spend and I understand how much it really costs to live here. With proper budgeting and affordable rent, it’s manageable, though this first week I have both invested and splurged. I will definitely have to cut back and cook at home more. Also, I was amazed and delighted to find that there are FREE CASH WITHDRAWAL MACHINES, which I just don’t understand why in America we have to pay to get our own money, and here I just stick my American bank card in, and it withdraws and converts my money into pounds at no extra cost (except perhaps a few cents of a bank fee). What is life!!! Here is more evidence of splurging, when Dennis and I bought “Snogs” (frozen yogurt) and proceeded to… well, you know. Eat frozen yogurt next to each other in front of EVERYONE.
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Oh yes – lodgings. My lodgings situation had to change last-minute (AAAAAAAA) due to “unforeseen circumstances,” so I was assigned new lodgings that became available five days after I had booked tickets to arrive (AAAAAAAAA), thus I had to stay at a B&B for five days before I moved in – a strain on my budget. Luckily for me, Dennis’ landlady, Meow (yes, that’s her name, and it’s wonderful like her), was incredibly kind and offered to put me up for a few days until Dennis’ roommate moved in (Ahhhhhhhh…) and so I had free lodgings for three days, then two days of the totally charming B&B (first time I used skeleton keys in a practical sense!), and now I’ve finally moved into my new room (Yusssss!!!!!).

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I feel that I really lucked out. I absolutely love where I get to live, my landlords are friendly and accommodating, and my neighborhood is rife with foliage. Nearby is a game park full of deer, and I woke up this morning to the clip clopping of hooves from horses that live right down my street. Not only is it beautiful, but they have a lovely dog and four chickens! So I will never be short of animals to talk to!

 

To top it all off, I’ve included a picture of me, my boyfriend, and our friend Hannah (or as we jokingly call ourselves, Harry, Ron, and Hermione… okay, so that’s just what I call us, but never mind). All of us come from the SUNY New Paltz theatre department. I feel like we’re lucky to have each other to bounce off of whenever a hiccup comes along the road (and there have been a few). So far we’ve hung out a lot, but I think we’re all eager to branch out soon and make other friends as well at the university. Classes don’t start for over two weeks, and I am super eager to see what classes are like in the UK!

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If I learned anything from this first crazy week, it’s this: Do not freak out. Everything’s okay. Things will seem totally up the wall. You will most likely worry about things. Stress is normal, you’ll get used to this brave new world. Sooner than you think, you’ll start looking the “right” way before you cross the street. And if you are in a situation where you’re not sure what’s next, don’t worry, because there are many kind people in the world who are willing and happy to help you. You are less of a burden than you think. You will come out okay. I’m stunned by the kindness of people I’ve countered in my first few days, and I have confidence that once classes start, I will make so many more friends and never, ever, ever want to leave this incredible place.

One thought – I wonder if, when we experience and see the world in a slightly different shape, we stop taking for granted an existence that is not so different than our own? Suddenly, we become aware of what we have ignored for most of our lives? Could it be that only by seeing the world “slant,” as Emily Dickinson would put it, do we appreciate the poetry of life and look closer at things that are, deep down, very familiar to us? What if humans, even in their delicious differences, are actually just different colors emanating from the same ray of light?

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The Honeymoon Phase

I’ve been in London for exactly 3 days, and I’m in love. I found a friend who I’ve stuck by since we suffered through a 6 hour delay in our flight out of JFK to Heathrow.
I’ve seen a bit of campus, explored Kingston and walked along the Thames, and had a ‘cheeky Nando’s’ for lunch. I went to walk around central London yesterday–if you ever happen to be in Camden market, make sure to get fish and chips from Poppies. Absolutely amazing.
I just got back from a day trip to Brighton, and I haven’t even thought about being homesick until now. My laptop is about to die, and I don’t have a converter for the charger just yet, so this is it. (There goes my Netflix plans for the night.)

T-6 days ’til departure

So, I leave for London in 5 days. I’ve never been out of the country on my own before, so I’m a little scared. Mostly I’m excited. London is #1 on my list of places to visit; it’s surreal to realize that I’m going to live there for 3 months. I’ve said my goodbyes to my friends in New Paltz, I have all of my paper work mostly in order. Now all I have to do is wait for the day to come.

Home

I’ve been home for over a month, but it doesn’t feel like home. My body has gone straight into a routine but my mind has been lagging, still figuring out where I belong now. I’ve been traveling a lot, and working on moving into a new house; this has made my ‘home’ more fragmented. I’m still figuring out where I want to be and it’s made my transition a bit uneasy.

Being back in the U.S is definitely bittersweet; I’ve missed my friends and family but I crave Melbourne. Everyday I have a little reminder of my life back in Australia, the friends I made there, the places I was memorized by. Looking back on my trip it doesn’t feel like a dream, it feels very, very real. The constant reminders I get bring me back to a good place, full of amazing memories. Though, my stomach can’t handle American portions now-I even think a venti coffee from Starbucks is absurd! I wish I could be there still, but I’m not and that’s okay. I came back with a change in my mindset, and a craving to travel more, and I’ve been able to continue that.

 

 

Reflection

Being back in the United States for a week has given me time to reflect on all of the amazing experiences I’ve had in Spain. In fact, I created an Oviedo scrapbook so that in the future I can look back on the photos, souvenirs and knick-knacks I collected from study abroad. While flipping through my scrapbook I feel extremely thankful that this opportunity to study in a foreign country was available and that I took action to make it happen. In addition, I reflect on my feelings before leaving the US. I was excited but also very nervous to be placed in a completely new country, family, and school. However, the night I arrived, I was consoled by a fellow New PIMG_1727altz student who was in my program. He told me that even though it may be overwhelming at first, by the end of the program I would not want to leave. Boy, was he right! I have gained a greater world perspective by meeting students from all walks of life. Due to this I was exposed to new perspectives, values, and customs that are different from that of the environment in which I grew up. I have gained a new appreciation for history, too, seeing that ancient history plays such a fundamental role in the culture of Asturias. In terms of language, I feel much more confident in my Spanish speaking and listening skills which have improved. Even though I have no definitive way of “measuring” my progress, it now feels second nature to alternate between Spanish and English while in conversation with someone without even realizing that it’s happening. Overall, this has been one of the most influential learning experience that I have had in my lifetime and I am forever grateful for making the most of this program.

Returning Home

These past few weeks in Spain have been absolutely incredible! On one hand, I am happy to go home and see friends and family. On the other hand, however, I know it will be an adjustment settling back into the American lifestyle. I think living with a host mother helped me get accustomed to the lifestyle of northern Spain. Even though I have only been living here for a month, I already feel so knowledgeable about the culture and city of Oviedo. In fact, my parents came to visit and I was able to show them around the entire city, telling them stories as we passed each landmark. I am sure going to miss Oviedo and the wonderful experience that I had while studying here. If I could, I would study abroad again in a heartbeat. It may sound cheesy, but the people I met and memories I made were worth so much more than the six credits that I gained from the program.

O sole mio: pizza and the past in Naples

Between nerves from being on a ship overnight and a broken-down air conditioning system on our deck, most of our group did not get a lot of sleep. We docked in Naples very early this morning (5:30 AM!) and hauling our luggage was exhausting, but the warm greeting we received at our hotel, even down to a welcome sign, made us feel right at home. To wake everyone up, we took everyone to Scaturchio, a famous Neapolitan bakery in the heart of the old city, for traditional local pastries and plenty of espressos and cappuccinos.

Greetings from our hotel in Naples

Greetings from our hotel in Naples

Naples’ name comes from “Neapolis” or “new city,” which is what the Greeks called the new settlement they founded near the earlier nearby colony of Partenope. In fact, the coastlines of Italy from the Bay of Naples southward were so peppered with Greek colonies that the region was known as Magna Graecia or “Great Greece” in antiquity. Like many of these cities, Naples was laid out in a grid plan that is still easily recognizable in the modern road network of the historic center, particularly the three main east-west thoroughfares. Even parts of the ancient walls have been uncovered in different areas.

Getting a little goofy with the sculptures found in the Villa dei Papyri in Herculaneum

Getting a little goofy with the sculptures found in the Villa dei Papyri in Herculaneum

One of Naples’ greatest treasures is its extraordinary archaeological museum, which is home to the finds from the Roman towns and villas buried by eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. and other ancient treasures found in southern Italy. We toured the museum’s highlights, including the infamous “secret cabinet” of material once considered too racy to be available to the public, which gave us all a good chuckle or two.

Giggles in the "Secret Cabinet"

Giggles in the “Secret Cabinet”

We saw incredible mosaics from homes in Pompeii such as the Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun, likely a copy of a Hellenistic Greek painting of Alexander the Great fighting against the Persian king Darius at the Battle of Issus. The students also got their first exposure to Roman wall painting, which decorated both domestic and public spaces.

The famous Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun in Pompeii, now in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples

The famous Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun in Pompeii, now in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples

Ancient Roman wall painting of the riot in the Pompeii amphitheater in 59 A.D.

Ancient Roman wall painting of the riot in the Pompeii amphitheater in 59 A.D.

We admired massive sculptures uncovered in the remains of the Baths of Constantine in Rome, many of which are Roman copies of ancient Greek originals, as well as a special exhibition on depictions of nature in Greco-Roman art, which featured many pieces in the museum’s collections that are rarely on display, including one of my favorite Athenian vases depicting the siege of Troy, and the cover slab from the Tomb of Diver, on loan from the archaeological museum in Paestum.

Roman sculpture from the Baths of Constantine in Rome

Roman sculpture from the Baths of Constantine in Rome

After our lunch break, during which many of us indulged in Naples’ famous pizza, we went back into the city’s past by taking a tour of underground Naples. The modern city rests many feet above the original street level The Greeks built their new city from the bedrock beneath their feet, creating a system of man-made caves that were converted into cisterns, supplying the population with a constant supply of water. Over time, these cisterns fell into disrepair, were filled with garbage, and generally forgotten until World War II when Neapolitans needed to build bomb shelters to protect themselves.

The start of the Naples Underground tour - more than 100 feet under the modern street level!

The start of the Naples Underground tour – more than 100 feet under the modern street level!

The cisterns were reopened, becoming home to thousands of people, and today they are visited by tourists to experience Naples’ 2500 years of history. The tour was a fun candlelit adventure, but definitely not for the claustrophobic because of some of the narrow tunnels at times.

Exploring Naples' past by candlelight

Exploring Naples’ past by candlelight

Due to threats of thunderstorms tomorrow, we have changed our plans a bit to stay closer to home by going to Cumae rather than going to Pompeii and Herculaneum. This meant a last-minute dash for me this evening before all of the stores closed to find picnic supplies for everyone’s lunch tomorrow. Bless the deli down the street from our hotel – they really came to my rescue!

Palermo: Celebrating Cultural Diversity in Medieval Sicily

Sadly the archaeological museum in Palermo remains closed after many years, so we were unable to visit the wonderful architectural sculpture from the temples at Selinunte among other treasures. Instead, we used our time in Palermo as an opportunity to explore post-antique Sicily and how it was influenced by its Greco-Roman heritage. The island’s strategic location made it highly desirable to many groups of people over time because it allowed for control over much of the Mediterranean. In 486 A.D., as the western Roman Empire collapsed, the Vandals took control of the island, only to be pushed out about half a century later by the Byzantine Empire, which made Syracuse the island’s main city and introduced the rearing of silkworms. The Byzantine governor invited Arabs to Sicily in 827, and within 50 years, they had taken over governance of the entire island, bringing with them skilled craftsmen, both Jewish and Muslim, and new agricultural products including rice, cotton, pistachios, and oranges. By the 10th century, Sicily was one of the most prosperous countries in Europe, and Palermo, its capital, was a great center of learning and art, rivaling places like Constantinople, Cordoba, and Cairo. The island’s riches made it a tempting target for Norman knights who served as mercenaries for the Arab leader of Catania, Ibn at-Thumnah. Among these mercenaries was Roger Hauteville, who controlled all of Sicily by 1091. The Normans adapted Arab, Jewish, Byzantine, and Roman traditions extant on the island and respected all different faiths and customs. Norman rule reached its apogee under Roger II and his son William I, who actively built a series of extraordinary churches and chapels decorated with elaborate series of mosaics executed by Byzantine artisans, many of which are in the Palermo area.

The Gothic north doorway of the Norman cathedral in Palermo

The Gothic north doorway of the Norman cathedral in Palermo

We began with a visit to the Palermo cathedral, built by the Norman rulers of Sicily, but preserving little of its original decoration, particularly in the interior, which was given a major overhaul in the 18th century in Neoclassical style. It is here that Roger II and the later Aragonese leaders of Sicily are buried. On the northern exterior is the entrance most commonly used today, consisting of an elaborate Gothic porch of the 1400s in which there is a column preserved from the earlier mosque that stood on the same spot.

Palermo: The Cappella Palatina

Palermo: The Cappella Palatina

However, the greatest Norman architectural treasure in Palermo is found in the Arab palace enlarged by Roger II, which now serves as the seat of the Sicilian regional assembly. The chapel inside, known as the Cappella Palatina, is a marvelous example of the beauty and brilliance that emerges within a society tolerant of all faiths and traditions. The chapel combines the architectural structure of a western-style basilica seen in the rectangular nave, and a centrally-planned Byzantine church, which makes up the sanctuary in the east. The upper walls and vaults are decorated with lavish mosaics, probably the handiwork of Byzantine Greeks, and it is significant that this form of decoration should have been selected by a Western European dynasty that was in almost perpetual conflict with the Byzantine Empire less than a century after the Great Schism (1054) that separated Western Catholicism from Eastern Orthodoxy.

Gawking at the Cappella Palatina

Gawking at the Cappella Palatina

Arab craftsmen also contributed to the project, building a magnificent cedar ceiling in the muqarnas technique covering the nave and side aisles in the western part of the chapel. The ceiling is covered with paintings of figures including drinkers, dancers, and musicians, as well as Arabic inscriptions that appear to be royal qualities like “power” and “magnificence.” The opulence continues with the pavement and lower part of the walls decorated with white marble inlaid with red, green, and gold tesserae in varying geometric patterns. The overall effect is almost overwhelming as one’s eyes hardly know where to look first.

Our ferry to the Italian mainland

Our ferry to the Italian mainland

To get a better understanding of the ancient Greeks’ colonial experience in the western Mediterranean, I decided that we would travel from Sicily to mainland Italy by sea on an overnight ferry from Palermo to Naples. The ferry is essentially a cruise ship that also carries cars, buses, even 18 wheeler trucks!

Arrivederci, Sicilia!

Arrivederci, Sicilia!

Standing on the top deck and watching the coastline of Sicily silhouetted by the setting sun disappear behind us, I think all of us felt a little lump in our throats as we headed off into the unknown of the open sea, despite knowing that we were perfectly safe. I knew that the students would really enjoy Sicily and its wonders, many of which are unknown to most Americans, but I was surprised and touched by how attached they became to the island. In fact, I think many members of the group would have been very happy to stay there for the remainder of the program, and they could readily understand why Sicily was seen as a blessed land to our Greek predecessors, who believed that the island was the home of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture.

Getting ready to leave the Palermo harbor

Getting ready to leave the Palermo harbor

Having a bit of a "Titanic" moment (minus the iceberg)

Having a bit of a “Titanic” moment (minus the iceberg)