Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo

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

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

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

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

 

 

Milanese Withdrawals

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

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

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

Thanks to anyone who followed me throughout this journey!

Un bacione xx

This is not a goodbye.

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

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

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

Thank you, Seville. I love you forever.

 

 

Freedom

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

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

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

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

 

Twenty Four Hours of Goodbye

I can hardly believe that in just over 24 hours, I will be back on a plane heading back home. After watching the unbelievable transformations and crazy happenings in my country from a distance, on the news, through my British and European friends, hearing about several feet of snow in my home state when it’s practically balmy here… Home almost sounds like a foreign country. It’ll be strange to hear snow crunching under my feet again.

It’ll be strange to come home and not see my dog bounding and singing at me, because she passed away just two weeks ago. That’s been hard… but I know she passed doing what she loved, and she’d want me to keep looking ahead. Little bugger.

It’ll be strange to be the me I’ve become, in the home I haven’t seen in so long.

Some things I’ll bring home with me:

Minimalism: I’ve been inspired during my time here to try to live with less. I’ve found that I can live happily without lots of the things I keep around at home – so one plan is to purge the house of unnecessary extra things, to make moving around easier. I want to travel again, and the less I have, the easier that will be.

Teacakes: I couldn’t bear to leave without stocking up on the beautiful teacakes that Lani showed me in Scotland! And they go perfectly with…

Sainsbury’s Fair Trade Black Teabags: These are brilliant. They are better than PG Tips or whatever else fancy, the extra pound cost does not make them taste better, don’t let anyone tell you different.

Citysurfing skills: I can now maneuver around a city I’m unfamiliar with, with minimal confusion and sometimes even beating the ETA on my phone.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Yes, the original version of one of my favorite books of all time. With the original cover art (not quite a first edition, but for 2.50 pounds at a used Welsh bookstore, I am not complaining at all).

British slang: Bril. Bonkers. You Alright? Ta! Cheers (I guess I already had this one, but I’m still bringing it back). Mental. Quite. Every little helps. Calling cookies biscuits, chips crisps, and fries chips… I can see the confundery even now.

Memories: Of some of the best theatre I’ve ever seen, the sweetest people, and the most educational and inspiring adventures.

My landlords left me a note before their trip this weekend, thanking me for being such a great tenant – I was surprised and thrilled that I don’t suck at adulting, and that they liked me. I wished I had a chance to spend more time with them, I’ll never forget their scathing and hilarious comments while we watched The Great British Bakeoff. I also had my last rehearsal with the Kingstones A Capella group this Wednesday, and my last D&D Session on Sunday. My friends have all been inordinately sweet to me, and I’ll miss them so much. I have never liked goodbyes, but it seems like I have no choice but to get used to them, since I’ve absolutely fallen in love with traveling.

Maybe I should just not put so much weight on the goodbye part, because honestly, it’s the time I spent with them before goodbye thatI’ll love and remember the most. There’s facebook, and there’s time. Life is long, even if it’s short.

One thing I am relieved about, is to be done with finals – If I can give one really solid piece of advice to anyone studying abroad in the UK, it’s this – do not put off your finals to the last minute. Ask your classmates what is generally expected from an academic research paper well in advance (for instance, I learned by accident that it’s only acceptable to go 10% over the word limit, and that a proper academic paper has anywhere from 10 to 14 citations for 3,000 words – these were rules I did not follow for my first two essays). And make sure to do the work bit by bit, so you don’t find yourself pulling an all-nighter before a final during your last week abroad. Trust me, you’d much rather be walking around and saying goodbye to things than stressing about university.

Tomorrow I say goodbye to my home-away-from-home: I’ll visit the Christmas market in Surbiton, have lunch with some friends in Kingston, and then Dennis and I will have our last pints with fish and chips at the Albert, down the road from my house in Norbiton. And then that’s it – the next day, after a six hour plane ride, I’m back home…

Funny how home is so relative. How it changes over time. And how you can accumulate so many different ones, all of which speak to a different version of you. Eventually it’s like you learn to carry home with you wherever you go, and it adapts to the space you fill. Maybe that’s what growing up means.

I’ll miss this home and this time here in London… as my landlady Judy would say, it’s been absolutely “bril.” 🙂

#NPSocial #NPAbroad

The Calm Before the Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Denial Phase

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

xxoo

Reflections on Visiting a Sikh Gurdwara in London

Let’s jump back in time to October, when I went to a Sikh temple, the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sab. My British Life and Culture class had a field trip there after a lecture from a local pastor about religion in the UK. At first I was not sure what to expect. I was curious and excited to see an eastern religious practice that I had heard of, but never really understood before.

When we arrived at the Gurdwara, all of us put on head coverings out of respect for their beliefs. There was one entrance for women and one for men. I wondered briefly where gender-neutral people were supposed to enter, and then suspended my indignation for a minute to try to better understand the cultural significance of the separate entrances. We entered a room full of cubbies, through which we could quite clearly see the outside hall and even into the men’s identical cubby room, and here we took off our shoes and stowed them before entering a bathroom, where we washed our hands. It reminded me of the passage from the Bible where the burning bush asked Moses to take off his sandals, because he stood on holy ground. After this point, women and men walked through the same space again. My boyfriend Dennis was given a proper head covering to replace his makeshift scarf hat – they insisted.

 

When we first arrived, we learned a little about the history if Sikhism and its origins in India before heading upstairs to the actual Gurdwara temple. Gurdwara means “home [or door] of the Guru,” and is a place where Sikhs congregate, learn of spiritual wisdom, practice their beliefs, and contribute to their community. The temple itself is a wide, almost circular room with skylights all around it. At the end was an elaborately decorated alter with a canopy suspended over it, and behind this, musicians played and sang cyclical Indian music. We stayed in this room for perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes. I wanted to stay longer just to hear the music. On the alter, though I didn’t realize this at the time, was the Sikh book of scripture, the only object of reverence in the Gurdwara. The Sikhs would approach along the center of the room, bow before the alter in an almost fetal position, and then go to sit cross-legged in the seating area. This struck me as even more humble than the Catholic practice of falling to one’s knees before the alter – nowhere in any religion had I seen such a full physical embodiment of humility.

 

 

After the temple, we sat and listened to one of their leaders talk about principles of Sikhism. Referring to the kitchen downstairs, and to allegories from life, he told us that charity, hard work, respect, and cleanliness are integral to their religious practice and bring them closer to God. They worship no idols, only the scripture and wisdom of their founding Guru. One thing that particularly struck me was that that their two most valued traits are Sweetness (not just kindness or goodness, but sweetness) and Humility. Everyone is equal, regardless of gender, race, or age, and they recognize other religions and beliefs as equally valid paths towards God. Their tolerance overwhelmed me.

 

Our last stop was at the kitchens, where volunteers prepare free food for anyone who comes in, regardless of whether or not they are Sikh. Most gurdwaras only have the resources to do this once a week, but this Gurdwara, one of the largest in the UK, offers free meals every day. The leader had told us that no matter where in the world we travel, if there is a Gurdwara nearby, we can get a free meal there. The food, served in sectioned metal cafeteria trays, was delicious and filling despite its humble presentation. I left feeling very uplifted and inspired by the ability of an organized religion to be so inherently kind, and good… and sweet. What a beautiful religion and culture.

 

I’m so glad I came here, met practitioners, heard their music, had a delicious meal, and learned about Sikhism.I loved seeing this side of the UK, and remembering that there are so many people who are underrepresented and marginalized in mainstream culture, who are nonetheless part of the country and contribute beautiful things to our world. Maybe we should give them more credit.

Exposing ourselves to other ways of life, and being open and honest about our own, is SO important… Especially nowadays, we need to better understand and learn from each other. I worry and hope for Sikh communities back at home in the US – because they wear head coverings, I fear that they could be profiled and discriminated against by the President-elect and/or his supporters in the same way that Muslims are. My hope is that I can help spread some understanding about anyone who wears a head covering, whether they are Sihk, Muslim, or Orthodox Jewish or Christian – they are distinct peoples, each with something valuable to teach us, if we are willing to listen. Turbans and headscarves are not evil: in Sikhism a least, they further embody the wearer’s humility.

I am willing to stand up for those who are targeted and profiled because of how they look, and I hope that after reading this and learning a little more, you might be more willing too. I hope we will not become like France, banning burkas. I hope that people who claim to be Christian will actually try to follow Christ’s tolerant example. I hope that we will open up and see people who believe something different, and practice their love for the universe in a different way, as just following “a different path towards God.”

…If you ever have the chance to visit a Gurdwara, do. They are lovely people, and they are ready to feed you, teach you, and accept you as just as good as they are.

#NPSocial #NPAbroad

Finals Week

There’s only one more full week of classes after this one, and I don’t feel as stressed as I normally would. Maybe it’s because I’m a production major, but all of my final assignments are my finals. I have one more video to create, a full 1,500 word script, and a 1,000 word screenplay analysis of a movie of my choice. I only have one test that I have to take, and that’s for my British Life and Culture class. The British Life and Culture class is the only one that I actually have to put a lot of intense academic thought into. The classes have been somewhat worryingly easy, and they’re very independent.

The professors post reading lists, but they never test anyone on whether or not we’ve read it. It seems like the professors are a lot more relaxed here, which is odd. I don’t feel like I’ve done a ton of work, and I’m unsettled by it. I’m not freaking out like I normally am over studying for finals, mainly because I don’t really need to.

It’s weird, and I’m not sure I like it.

Going Home

I have exactly 11 days until I board the plane and head back to the US. I’n torn about that– on one hand, I desperately want to go home. Turning 21 without my family was rough. Spending Thanksgiving alone was rough. Finding out my cat at home died was rough. I miss my friends, my family, and my pets so much.

But at the same time, I don’t want to leave. I’ve always known I was suited for living in a big city, and staying and traveling around London has only driven that thought further for me. My family didn’t think I would be able to handle the changes, since I got so homesick living away from home last year, but showing them wrong was one of the best parts of this experience. I can live away from home without getting too homesick. I can live in a big city on my own, and thrive while doing so.

Either way, I’m going to go to Heathrow and board that plane home to New York whether I want to or not.