Almost a month has passed by since I have returned from my study abroad trip and I am still struggling to come to terms with the fact that it is over. There are the nights where I don’t think about it at all and it’s almost like I was never there, but there are also those nights where I find myself staying up at night, reliving my experiences and wishing that I could be back. Finding the right balance between being appreciative of these amazing memories while at the same time not letting this nostalgia overcome me with sadness, has proven quite difficult.
They say that many people discover themselves when they study abroad. I believe they say this because it is the first time for many young adults in which the only person they have to worry about is… themselves. In Madrid, it wasn’t about stress, worry, and drama, but rather it was instead feelings of excitement, adventure, and freedom. There was something special about being so far removed from your life and all of the baggage that comes with it. As much as I miss the traveling, friends, culture, etc., it is this freedom that I miss the most.
Now back in New Paltz, with the semester well underway, the stress and responsibilities have come back with a vengeance. It has turned into an intense juggling act between catching up with everything I missed, keeping up with my 16-credit course load, and trying to find a summer internship for after I unofficially graduate in May. This, in addition to the absurd amount of snow since I have returned, has me dreaming about Spain more often than not.
After exploring four different countries in just twelve days, I can say without a doubt that traveling around Europe is an incredible experience, but also an expensive one. It isn’t the flights or the hostels that run up the bill, but rather it is the day-to-day expenses of attempting to see as much as possible when being a tourist in some of the most amazing cities in the entire world. The four stops I made on this trip were London, Paris, Dublin, and Berlin, with the latter two cities not being overwhelmingly pricey, but the first two cities making NYC seem cheap. However, expenses aside, each city presented a much different culture, atmosphere, and experience that I won’t soon forget.
Dublin: My first stop had a little bit of a different feel from the other cities I visited, mainly because I stayed with a good friend of mine from UC3M at his parents house, rather than a youth hostel. Exploring a new city with someone born and raised in the area and who knows the culture well allowed me to see the city more from a resident’s point of view rather than a tourist’s, which I personally think is better. The Irish are warm, welcoming, and love to have a good time (the Guinness is amazing).
London: The second stop on my trip had a much more touristy vibe to it and it’s hard not to in a city as grand as this. Similarly to NYC, it is so big and there is so much to see, but at times it almost felt like everything was just one giant rip off. Dealing with the conversion rate of the pound while also dealing with inflated prices is definitely a hard thing for a college student on a budget to handle. Other than the damage done to my wallet, London was definitely a city that I enjoyed and that I plan on returning to (I also find the slang there to be quite comical).
Berlin: The third stop on my trip seemed like one very long and very dark history lesson. Man, does this city have a lot of baggage to it when it comes to the 20th century. From WWI/WWII to the Berlin Wall, it was quite interesting to see how all of these events were linked and how bad humanity can be in desperate times. In addition to the history, the nightlife in Berlin is also second to none, I’ve never seen people party quite like the Germans do (even though it was freezing).
Paris: Similarly to my stay in Dublin, the final stop on my trip I was with a good friend of mine from New Paltz and crashed at his apartment… and similarly to London, this city didn’t treat my wallet too nicely either. I’d have to say that Paris is the most beautiful city I have ever been to thus far in my life and it was the closest to Spain in that the majority of people didn’t speak English, whereas in the other cities I visited, everybody spoke it perfectly. Going to the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre were unforgettable experiences and this is definitely a city that I would love to come back to in the not so distant future.
Now I am finally back home in Madrid, where I have a little over a week left to enjoy living in this amazing city before returning back to NYC!
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).
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.
HUGE WAKE UP CALL!
Okay, so I forgot what my priorities were for a second. A week before midterms, I went into panic mode. This meant no make-up, messy hair and no sense of fashion everyday. It was hard for me, I’ve been traveling a lot and I thought that was the only reason why I was here.
Trust me, I got a reality check. The only thing that saved me was the strong study team that I had. We were up until 4 AM every single day and drinking coffee nonstop. It was not easy but I made it, and I think I did pretty good. The classes are not hard but you need to be on top of your things. Or else you’re going to go crazy like me!
The best advice I could give you is to PAY ATTENTION. Most of the classes rely on your exams so don’t miss a class because you might not have your usual slide to make up for it.]
THIS IS A SAD PICTURE OF ME AFTER EXAMS! Enjoy!
I’ve been in Spain for 21 days and to be honest, I got super comfortable the first week. The people here are so amazing and they definitely know how to fiesta! I’m still getting used to it because leaving your house at 1:20 a.m. is apparently way too early.
Another hard adjustment was dinner time. You know how you normally eat around 5pm? That doesn’t exist here. That’s siesta (nap)time and dinner time is around 9-10pm. It sounds crazy but, now I’ve become so accustomed to it and I’d probably cry if I don’t get my siesta time!
An adjustment that I’ve struggled so hard with since I have arrived in Spain is the fact that tipping is not a thing here. Since I am the type of person who tips a LOT and even over-tips (Does that even exist?) all the time, it has not been easy. I was speaking with my friend from Spain and she said that the maximum that people give is around 10-20¢. Who does that? If you were in New York, people would definitely spit in your food the next time you went. Right? I am constantly tempted to leave at least 1 euro and it is just unheard of. I tried to do this at a bar while it was really busy and the bartender gave me the most confused look EVER. So yeah, don’t tip while you’re in Spain.
Below I am going to put my personal tips on cultural norms in Spain and adjusting to studying abroad:
P.S. shout out to Alyssa for helping make this list!
So, I did an amazing yet emotional thing recently. I went to New Paltz a few days before going to Spain. Trust me, it wasn’t easy. I let go of my comfort zone. So, there was a lot of crying. But, I will not forget what my friend told me that weekend. Which was to prepare myself for the best experience of my life and not to worry because things will be exactly the same when I get back. That’s when it hit me. He was right, I’m going to Spain. I’m going to Spain. I’m going to Spain. Spain. Spain. Spain.
Me? Spain? I was born in Honduras, I have 30 cousins and 100 tias and tios and I’ve only seen one person go to Europe and now me. AND now me. I’m 22 years old so I know what this experience means to my family. I’m Latina and proud, and everyone in my family is now completely involved. It’s crazy, I have my godmother buying me a purse because I have to represent Honduras, my other aunt bought me some films to take pictures, my cousin is showing me Spain bloggers, my uncle— well you get the point! Do you see what I mean? This is not only my experience anymore, it belongs to my family too.
Also, I can’t even begin to explain how lucky I feel and I owe this to my parents, myself and SUNY New Paltz for making this dream possible. On another note, I feel nervous too. Who’s going to be my roommate? Will she be nice? AND THE CLOTHES, am I packing correctly? How do I know when to stop packing? I’m a huge fashionista and I’m trying to fit my closet inside my luggage. It’s sad, I’ve watched so many tutorials on how to pack but it’s still hard because I want to take my top 100 shoes. haha. But, I’m serious. So many people are telling me that there are stores over there, mhm nope I don’t believe it.
Alright, I’m joking but still. I can’t help it.
Hola! From one adventure to the next. This past weekend I embarked on a journey to Barcelona with fellow New Paltz student, Kara. The truth is we didn’t really have expectations for the trip, it was kind of spur of the moment planning. I never really thought about visiting Spain before, I think mostly because I’ve always associated Spanish speaking countries with my older sister. But I never thought about it for myself, till now that is. I know someone living in Spain right now, although I wasn’t sure where. I just assumed she lived in Barcelona, so without hesitating I texted Kara, and the rest was history.
This was my first study abroad, out of country trip which required an airplane. I met Kara at the airport, and the truth is I was impressed that I made it there on time, in one piece. The independence one obtains while studying abroad is simply mind-blowing. Even growing up in New York City, everyday I still push my own boundaries of independence living abroad. I am always proud of myself even if I just accomplish simple tasks.
I truly consider Kara and I to be blessed to have made it to Barcelona. We waited in the airport, and every five minutes I would check the departure board for our gate. However, every time I would check the board it would say, “check back in five minutes.” This was very disheartening, Kara was pretty sure we were not going to be leaving Milan. I really tried to stay positive, as hard as it may have been. I figured it wasn’t over till the fat lady sang! Eventually a man sitting next to us informed us that our flight had been delayed. He showed us on our computer, something that had not even appeared on the departure board. Kara and I knew about the ground crew going on strike that day, but I really didn’t know the extent to which it affected people. The man told us that almost every flight from Malpensa airport was canceled. So when Kara and I eventually boarded our flight, I was beyond grateful. I felt so fortunate, and lucky to be Barcelona bound.
When Kara and I landed, we headed straight to our airbnb. We weren’t going to let any time get wasted, so we met up with fellow New Paltz abroad student, Hannah. Hannah is studying in London, and just happened to be Barcelona bound when we were as well. New Paltz ate quite a delicious meal. I was especially happy because I got guacamole, something I almost never can find in Milan. Avocado is one of the number one foods I miss while abroad, my mom and I eat entire avocados as a snack. So anytime I find anything avocado related, I pounce. It is so funny how difficult I find it to eat dinner on Italian time, most places don’t open till 7:30ish. But Spanish dinner begins at like 10. We finished dinner our first night after midnight! Man was it worth it for that delicious food!
The next day we met up again with Hannah for some brunch. I am a big brunch girl. I miss Main Street Bistro pretty much everyday, whether I am in Italy, New York City, or anywhere else in between. Milan isn’t really a popular brunch place. The breakfast foods I am accustomed to aren’t big in Milan. One thing I love to eat, and never eat in Milan is eggs. It is so simple, but pretty much all the time I crave a bowl of scrambled eggs. So I was definitely on board to get some brunch. I had the hues rancheros, as well as the cafe con leche. Milan has amazing coffee, but it is pretty much all espresso. So I was also excited for some yummy Spanish coffee! Again, another successful meal!
Kara and I were also beyond excited with all of the American places we stumbled upon in Barcelona. Getting off the bus to see Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and Subway excited us probably more then anything. It’s the little things you know? Don’t get me wrong, Milan has AMAZING food, but shockingly enough the only American establishments we have are McDonalds & Burger King, two fast food places I do not eat. To see these familiar places really made Barcelona feel like home.
After brunch Kara, Hannah, and I went on a free walking tour of Barcelona, which I thoroughly enjoyed. In fact comparatively, I liked it even more than the free walking tour I took in Rome. We also lucked out with the weather! Another Tamara travel tip is to ALWAYS pack an umbrella. Weather is so unpredictable. I so far have not had the best luck, experiencing rain in Milan, Rome, Lugano, and now Barcelona. The rain hasn’t stopped me, but it is always an unavoidable inconvenience. Of course, I did not bring an umbrella to Spain, because I looked at the weather before I left and thought I would be safe. But alas I was not. Our airbnb host was so incredibly welcoming, he told me to help himself to any of his umbrellas. We did luck out though to not have rain during our walking tour, or for most of our time in Barcelona.
After the walking tour, we were very hungry, so we took to the tapas bar near the airbnb Kara & I were staying at. The tapas were unreal. Out of all the incredible things I ate in Barcelona, I must say the tapas were probably my all time favorite. Sure, they weren’t cheap. But it was so worth. It was the best way to sample everything. We made sure to have the traditional Catalan tappa of tomato bread. But all of the tappas I ordered were yummy in my tummy.
Staying the extra day really made the difference. Our last day in Barcelona, Sunday, Kara and I made sure to not slow down, so we took to the metro and embarked on some parks. I have a friend studying in Copenhagen who visited Barcelona recently, and she recommended a maze for me to check out. Let me tell you, this place was aMAZEing (pun intended). It was so beautiful, we made sure to take lots of pictures.
After the maze, Kara wanted to find the balcony the Cheetah Girls 2 shot at. I being down for anything, was up for the trip. We walked more than I probably have walked in my life, my legs hurt to say the least. But, the view overlooking Barcelona was breathtaking. Plus we did eventually find the balcony, because we were determined beyond belief!
The rest of the day was spent buying some beautiful souvenirs for our loved ones, petting an adorable black cat, and sampling some more local cuisine. We felt we couldn’t leave Spain without having Paella, and churros. So we crossed both of those noms off our list later that evening. Like I said, when Kara and I are determined, we do not take no for an answer. Our minds were set on churros and paella and we would be damned if we hadn’t eaten our fill!
After our meal we walked down La Rambla for one last time, and found ourselves amidst a celebration for the soccer game from earlier that day. Personally, this reasoning really was why las ramblas was one of my favorite places. Las Ramblas may be very touristy, but it was also just so action packed, I looked forward to every trip we had to it.
Barcelona truly took our breath away. It is so incredibly alive, and the energy is so contagious. For a place that neither of us were really dying to do, we probably would have killed to stay! I am so, so glad we made it to Barcelona, despite everything. There is no place like it, and no way to describe it. But we both said this was the first place we could actually see ourselves moving. I don’t know if it was the American establishments, the fact everyone spoke English, the AMAZING food, the accessibility of everything (we almost never took the metro), or just the friendly people we met, but Barcelona really did steal both of our hearts. Don’t worry mom & dad I’m not planning on moving anytime soon, but it was truly one of the greatest trips of my life. I love Milan so much, but I would have not minded if our flight had been delayed a few days 😉
Kara and I slept two hours, since Barcelona never sleeps. We returned to Milan, and went straight to our dramaturgy class. Sure, we were exhausted, but nothing would ever seem more worth it.
Till next time, thanks for reading! Adios <3
The day of…
¡Feliz día de acción de gracias! Happy Thanksgiving everyone! This is my very first Thanksgiving not spent with my family–is this that growing up thing Peter Pan feared so much? Thanksgiving in Madrid is definitely no Thanksgiving in New York, but I’m not complaining either (we had our first dust of snow of the season this morning!). When I woke up this morning I yelled, “It’s Thanksgiving!” but quickly felt an emptiness. Spanish stores and food markets have skipped right past to Christmas decorations and treats, so to pay homage I made myself a savory turkey wrap for lunch :p I also put up a little holiday decoration once the leaves started to fall!
When I returned to my room after a quick run to the supermarket, I found a really sweet surprise: a Ferrero Rocher gold, bow-topped box and a Kinder Sorpresa** sat neatly on my desk! My roommate, who was studying at her desk, had bought me the sweets as a Thanksgiving treat, knowing that I missed celebrating at home. Even though it was such a small, simple gift, I felt so happy. She also knew how much I wanted to try a Kinder Sorpresa before I left Spain. I gave my roommate a huge hug as she told me how she wanted to make the a little more special for me.
Although I know of a few international students gathering for potlucks tonight, Thanksgiving generally isn’t celebrated here in Spain…for a rather obvious reason (it’s a celebration of pilgrims’ emigration from Britain to the United States.) The Spanish articles that I’ve read about the holiday are primarily about Black Friday, the ways Americans celebrate the holiday., and President Obama sparing a turkey named “Popcorn.”
The night of…
I went out to Sol with a few close friends [Thanksgiving night] and noticed that a few bars were offering special Thanksgiving menus (pumpkin cream, turkey, cranberry sauce, etc.) I didn’t go to any of these said bars, but I had a really nice night with three of my closest friends here. I felt really happy–even though I wasn’t celebrating the holiday with my family in New York, I was celebrating my time here in Madrid with these friends who’ve made this place a new home. Earlier in the day I was able to Skype with my mother, who showed me her lovely dinner table arrangement, and I got to see my cute dogs as well.
Being away from home this semester has led me to feel thankful not only on Thanksgiving day, but the entirety of my semester abroad. When you’re away from the comforts of home and are pressed to do much more than you’re used to on your own, you learn how to appreciate those things you had so easy. I’m thankful for having such a loving family and caring friends, thankful for coming from a country that is relatively very open to change, thankful for being able to receive a quality education, thankful for being able to spend almost five months in a completely different country…and my list can go on and on.
As I said, Thanksgiving in Spain is no Thanksgiving in the United States, but I had a wonderful day reflecting on the marvelous things I’ve been blessed to give, receive, share and experience.
**Kinder Sorpresa, otherwise known as Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs, is illegal in the United States due to safety reasons; each Kinder Sorpresa has a toy inside, but the chocolate itself is really delicious.