First Week Anniversary!

Hello from the other side of the world!! I have been in Prague for a week and a half now and it has been such a trip already! I feel like this past week and a half has felt like forever and no time all at once. Leaving home was surprisingly easier than I imagined, yes some tears were shed but as I stepped on the plane and stayed awake for all five hours, I didn’t cry once. Arriving in Prague with some fellow friends, felt surreal. My dorm itself was much nicer than I expected, walking into my room I was pleased to find myself really happy. It is a single room, very spacious and has huge windows that overlook Praha 6 (aka has the Prague Castle in it’s view).

I’ve been non stop busy since I got here. The first couple days were purely dedicated to orientation. We took care of basic orientation stuff and were given time to walk around Old Town Square. There was also this nice trivia night at a café with the International Students Club.

Culture shock is real people! And it’s not necessarily bad either. Everything in Prague is so cheap compared to NYC. I can buy a nice dinner for $8. I feel rich here, and I don’t mean money wise. I feel rich in the opportunity to see and feel how it is to live another life. Getting a huge caramel latte for $25=59 crowns, sitting down in a cafe with the bustling life around me and amazing sights, I feel full of light. I thought I’d be a lot more sad than I am. Buying groceries for $35, going home and cooking dinner every night with some friends. I feel like a somewhat actual adult for once.

It hasn’t been a complete walk in the park. Living in a building with so many people is hard because every single person is unique and has a set of different values. The first week I was here, I automatically got attached to a group of people. Friend wise, I put all my eggs in one basket. A week and a half in, I HIGHLY ADVISE AGAINST THIS. As hard as it seems to be give every one a chance and opening up, that’s the key to having a smooth transition into making friends. If you stick to one group and something goes wrong, its very hard. Stick to people who make you happy when you start to get sad, stick to those who offer you anything even when they can’t afford to. Those are the ones who will save you from the bad side of culture shock. I’ve only had one sad day, but it passed fast and I’m ready to continue to be happy.

My Czech intensive language course has been so interesting! Yes, it is five hours a day for ten days, but I got an amazing teacher and class. At first I felt nervous to learn, but as she spoke to us the entire class warmed up and before you know it we were speaking Czech! She takes us out into Prague to really teach us the culture and that way we actually use our Czech and learn through interaction. On top of all that she’s like a mini tour guide who knows the city very well. I’ve had the best time in that class even though it isn’t easy. Today was my midterm, but I believe I passed (I hope!)

The Calm Before the Storm

A year ago, if you asked me if I would study abroad I would have told you that it’s impossible. Last summer I thought, why not just try and then its quickly became a reality that I couldn’t fathom to be real. Coming from lower middle class, studying in another countries university was merely a dream. I remember the day I was accepted it felt as if the moving day was too far, but that day is quickly approaching now. It is a little stressful; I have never left the United States before. Actually I’ve hardly traveled outside of New York. I have never been so far from my family before either; all of this is on my mind. I can’t help but want to focus on the positive, the incredible fact that I am about to move and study in Prague.

It’s a little daunting yes, but I can’t begin to imagine how amazing it is going to be. I know my family and friends will still be home when I get back. When I think about how it’s going to be living in Prague, I get giddy inside. In Prague I’ll be considered an adult; I’ll have to be mostly completely independent. I’ll have to learn the Czech, learn their culture and  assimilate myself. All I know is life in New York City, but I am so ready to go through this change. I feel that this trip is going to change me a lot as a person. I hope to come back more mature and grounded and I don’t think staying somewhere where I am comfortable will help me with growing. SO here’s to the big leap across the world 🙂

Back to “The States”

The range of emotions experienced in the past couple weeks have been stressful, but also taught me a lot about who I am and what I want. My last week in Madrid was both emotional and exciting; I was sad to say goodbye to a city that I now view as a home away from home, but I was also happy to return to the city that raised me (NYC) and the small town that I also consider my home away from home (New Paltz).

Saying goodbye to my friends that I made while abroad was the hardest part, but I know that I have the means and the communication to see them again one day, either visiting them or them visiting me. Other than my friends, what I think I enjoyed the most about living in Madrid was just the pure excitement of being so far away from everyone I knew, in a beautiful new city/country/continent, that was filled to the brim with adventures and new things to see. For me personally, the joy of having something to be excited about and look forward to is almost as good as the actual experience.

That being said, I was also looking forward to coming home; one of the best parts about NYC is leaving and then coming back Almost all of my friends in NYC had already left back to their respective universities, so I still haven’t seen most of them yet, but being home with my family for a couple of days was very relaxing. I immediately noticed the little differences between the U.S. and Europe, such as the brutal line at customs when arriving at JFK, which was much longer than any of the lines I had to wait in while I was abroad visiting other airports. Also the fact that I had to listen to commercials for the entire duration of the line, another little thing that wouldn’t happen in Europe. Despite this, being back in NYC made me realize just how big and grand it is (and how small Madrid is). I also thoroughly enjoyed making my parents get me all of the amazing food that I missed so dearly.

Coming back to New Paltz was a different story. I hadn’t been in New Paltz in around 8 months, but it still felt like I never left. My friends and professors gave me a warm welcome back and I definitely enjoyed sharing some of my incredible experiences with them. Missing syllabus week has me playing catch-up for the time being, but my teachers have been very understanding of the situation. I haven’t had much time to really sit down and reflect on the past 5 months of my life due to how hectic my schedule has been, but I know that once I am situated (I still don’t have a bed yet) and caught up with my classes, I will be able to put things in perspective.

 

Freedom

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

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

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

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

 

The Calm Before the Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milan and Finals

It is now November.

 

Which means I survived Midterms and what is next is of course Finals the most wonderful time of the semester. No mater where you are in the world Finals are Finals. This is the time where you really have to show what you have learned this semester as a student regardless if you are in NY our comfy home in New Paltz, or in Milan!

 

What I learned from Midterms in Milan was that it truly wasn’t that bad. The tests were really a straightforward summary of most of the lessons of the semester. I am currently taking five classes here and to some that may seem a lot especially while studying abroad.

 

But you learn how to delegate your time, your assignments, and your studying time.

 

My Midterm grades came out fantastically. I was and still am so proud of myself especially because this is my first experience abroad this could have been a really trying time for myself EXCEPT it was not.

During my Midterms some fellow new paltz study abroad students NICK ENDERLE AND GAM LAFRANCE came to visit me. Oh boy, some may think how was I able to focus during this time especially when my two best pals were here!?

Well guess what? I did it. Because rightly so when my friends came I was overjoyed to finally have a piece of comfort with me. I know first and foremost I am a student! This is my right!

 

I made sure to devote time at night to really review my material. But honestly, the whole time prior to my friends arrival I have been spot on in class and quite aware of whats been going on in classes. Maybe my friends gave me a boost of luck and renewed purpose.

 

To sum it up, classes in Milan are doable especially if you are the kind of student to engage in class and do work outside of class. If you are not you will be overly stressed. Basically, if I could do it so can you!

 

Picture below is Gam and Nick at Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Milan. My great pals!

 

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My roots

The reason I am here is ultimately because if I were to study abroad it HAD to be Italy. My Grandparents left Italy in the 60’s to come to America to start a new life. They along with multiple other family members began their new life in NYC. They took all their knowledge of living in southern Italy as farmers in the mountains and took that to the Bronx.

Years later here I am. A senior in college going back to Italy to get in touch with my roots. Although Milan and Selvacava the town in which my family came from are 7 hours apart. Similar culture values are found here in Milan. I have been easily able to recognize food and language relations as my family has.

I really am lucky to say that my italian language skills have purely strengthened since I have arrived. I cannot say I am fluent but I am very conversational and I can understand very well.

The food is incredible. Everything is so fresh and so flavorful. Any restaurant or pizza place you go to you know you’re getting a good deal. Most meals are between 10-15 euros which means you will get a big full plate that will leave you quite full.

There is something special here called Aperitivo where you get a drink which can be non-alcoholic for about 5-10 euros and you have access to a full buffet of fantastic Italian cuisine. This is something I will miss extremely when I go back to the U.S.

But here I am..Una Ragazza Italiana.

 

 

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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Pre-Departure

A week before my arrival the nerves were setting in. I had a constant countdown in my head starting from the beginning of August right up until the day before my departure. As the numbers dwindled down to single digits I felt a combination of excitement, curiosity, and fear. I had only been to Europe once before for two weeks, but an entire semester abroad brought about a mixture of feelings I did not know I could feel all at once.

Studying abroad in Italy was my dream for as long as I can remember. I could not believe the time was finally coming when I would immerse myself in an entirely different culture in a place I had always wanted to visit. My trip did not seem real to me. I knew the reality of it wouldn’t set it until I was tucked away in my window seat of Alitalia. I did not know what to expect once I arrived in Italy. What would my apartment be like? Would I get along with my roommates? How many different schools were being represented at my new university? My head was spinning as new questions popped into my head every time I thought about my trip.

When I realized I only had a week to go before I embarked on this journey, I could not control my excitement. My suitcase was teeming with clothes I definitely didn’t need to bring (but when do I not overpack?) and my passport was ready to be stamped. Of course, I knew how hard it would be to say goodbye to all the people I love at home but I kept telling myself how amazing and memorable this experience would be.

Au Revoir, Brussels

Tonight is my last night in Brussels – I can’t believe it! This experience, as I’ve said so many times before, has been amazing. This past year was an extremely hard one for me, and I felt like things wouldn’t get better. After experiencing this new culture and exploring this beautiful country with the friends I’ve made here, I can proudly say that I feel the complete opposite way now. I’m so incredibly thankful I was given the opportunity to come here.

I just checked in for my flight and moved my seat so I could sit near some friends. I used the Delta App, which is extremely convenient! I’m hoping I can sleep on the plane; I didn’t on my last flight, which was not fun. It’s safe to say that I will sleep for two days straight once I get back to the States.

I’ll be heading out with the rest of the New Paltz crew for a final group dinner at around 7. It’s going to be bittersweet, I’m sure. My flight is pretty early tomorrow morning, so I sadly won’t be doing anything tonight other than sleeping, packing, and saying my final goodbyes.