Cultural Adjustment: Food, Customs, Dress, Social Interactions and More

Madrid, Spain is so ancient, yet so modern with its cathedrals intertwined with shops, cafes, and metro stops at every corner. Everyone’s cultural adjustment will be different based on where you grew up. When I first got here, I had a unique experience in that my fiancé’s great cousin was already living in Madrid from the Dominican Republic. So she introduced me around Madrid the first couple of weekends, which was so kind of her. She treated me as if I were her niece, and am very grateful for her welcoming me to Spain in that way. That being said, my cultural adjustment started off pretty smoothly. I was fitting right in with moving around from place to place like a local, and speaking Spanish as best as I could with my Puerto Rican heritage and knowledge of the language academically for 6 years.

It began getting difficult when there were certain things my host mom did that I was thrown aback by. For example, one night my roommate and I asked our host mom if she could save dinner for us in a container (we offered to buy the containers and wash the dishes), since that night my family friend had taken us out and we’d get home late (post 9 p.m.) or rather, after dinner. She was not happy. Although we tried talking with her about finding resolutions, she would not budge on saving food for us. But she did agree to make dinner that was microwaveable up to 12 a.m. on Saturdays, since she figured we would come home late on those days.

Going forward, every other day but Saturday dinner is at 9 p.m. sharp. That obligation was definitely not something I was used to. Also, who doesn’t ever have left overs? Sometimes that’s the best part of a home-cooked meal. You get to have it twice! Since that day, I’ve done my best to keep a conscience effort that every culture is different, and that my host mom comes from a very different place than I do. I have to do my best to understand and respect her norms because I live under her roof.

That being said, never be afraid to have a conversation about something that bothers you. It’s up to you to fend for yourself in any situation you are in, especially when it comes to your living conditions. Here is the place you want to be the most comfortable. It starts with being honest, trying to come from a place of understanding and concern, and working your way towards a better study abroad experience.

My host mom cooks a variety of savory meals. Some of my favorites are pumpkin soup, cauliflower soup, lasagna, French fries with sunny side-up eggs, and breaded chicken. My favorite desert she offers us is sliced strawberries with sugar. Her coffee for breakfast is also perfect to start the morning. Apart from those meals, toast with jam or Nutella is very popular here. A place called “Montaditos” has super good, cheap (in price) tapas. I always get mini sandwiches with Ali oli sauce, and it’s delicious. Get two and you’ll be filled. It always come with potato chips, and I pay 2 euros in total. Bread in Madrid is always good. Side note: if you like your food hot make sure you can ask them to toast your croissants with chocolate, any toast, sandwiches, etc. because most times they will give you room temperature sandwiches or bread.

In terms of clothing, fashion is IN here. Men and women wear skinny jeans on a daily basis. Both men and women wear peacoat jackets. Everyone here wears scarves. That’s a must! It is actually very windy and brisk in Madrid. It has snowed 4x since I have been here in January (2018)– a very rare occurrence. Fur coats are are also very much in style for women, especially older women. Embroidered jean jackets, and jean pants are also very popular here. Many people dress up here. I’ve never seen any locals wear sweat pants,  joggers, or pajamas outside.

Some people in Spain (at least on the metro), don’t say “sorry” if they bump you, or “thank you” if you hold the door. They don’t feel the need to, because their sense of personal space or privacy is not as sacred to them as it is to us as Americans. Don’t be offended, it is just their way of being, as we learned in my Cultural Studies course. Also, keep in mind that Spain uses military time. Spaniards start parties late (similar to New Platz, maybe?), and begin at 12:30 a.m. ish. Most importantly, the metro closes at 1:30 a.m. There is a physical gate the comes down, and an announcement that gives you 5 minutes to get out of the metro if you are still within the station. Be mindful, and careful, and always have an alternate way to get home. Night buses are always an option and you can use your public transportation card to get anywhere in Madrid by metro (the subway), bus, or train (the Renfe, an outside train to other provinces similar to the Metro North or New Jersey Transit).

Lastly, take it easy! All is new. There are good days, and bad days just like ANYWHERE you live or go to school. Remember you are a student traveling and living in another country on your own, but you’re still doing it! Take advantage of this time, and do your best to enjoy it all. Every part of it is a learning experience. Reflect often, and be thankful often. Keep in touch with family, friends, significant other(s), workers, advisors–people who mean a lot to you. Show them love, the way they have shown you love before and while on your journey. Send letters if that’s something you enjoy (ask for international stamps to the US, etc.). Breathe when the wifi gets spotty. It’s okay. It happens. And most of all, remind yourself you are studying abroad in Spain. You’re seeing and experiencing things many people don’t even get a chance to do in their lifetime. Being HERE is a beautiful thing, and something you’ll never experience exactly like this, again.

p.s. The featured image is a photo I took at Buen Retiro Park, a wonderful park similar to Central Park if you’ve ever visited New York City. Lovely lake, music, rose garden, and castle here in Buen Retiro. And, you can reach it by metro, of course!

Initial Reaction to My New Home: Madrid, Sweet Madrid

“It’s just like New York City! EXCEPT: There are no skyscrapers, metros are WAY cleaner, and EVERYTHING is in Spanish.”

That’s exactly what I say when anyone asks me what Madrid is like. So you can imagine how excited I was to get to Madrid, Spain when first landing, and how exhausted, of course! I was relieved as well to feel at home even though I was thousands miles away from home, too. But something about this city at a first glance, was so similar to Manhattan and little Spanish hubs in the uptown Bronx.

I loved how much of a busy city it appeared to be on the first day (and still is).The metro is efficient, tidy, safe, and reachable anywhere. The supermarket, the pharmacy, the post office, school–every sign, every person, every thing you use (even the internet) reads in Spanish. This is a perfect way to practice, comprehend, and gain confidence in the language you’ll be learning, living, and breathing daily. By the way–my home is actually on a street called, “Calle de Padilla” which is my last name. How great! “Muy genial!” as they would say here. When I entered the home, I was wondering, how do I open up this door. The keys here are so different (at least for my building), so that would definitely take some getting used to.

The Spanish is very different. Spaniards believe their Spanish is the correct way no matter your level, understanding, or fluency of Spanish. The way we are taught Spanish in the United States in an academic setting is very different than being raised in a Spanish/Latino home, just the way both those experiences of learning Spanish is very different from the way Spanish is taught to American students in Spain.

The Spanish language in Spain is called Castellano. For example, the word “computer” is “ordenador,” here. But in the States, we’d use the word, “computadora.” So learning Spanish here, is a mix of learning the culture and everyday language. It’s almost like learning code for Spanish, or another language. In this way, you adapt yourself to their way of speaking Spanish. What you know may not be wrong, but it just isn’t as common here. Do your best to use what you learn here in Spain, to apply to your everyday interactions at local places, and conversations with friends and professors. In this way, you’ll be picking up colloquial phrases in no time!

Their customs here are different, too. As soon as I arrived, I gave my host mom a kiss on both the left and right cheek. A handshake may seem offensive, and very “American.” Also, they eat bread with EVERY meal. My first meal was pumpkin soup with bread. Then, another platter of broccoli and chicken. Then my desert was a fruit. And I am always served water for dinner. Fruit for dessert is also common here, and so that was something I noticed right away as well. Side note: I am very fortunate my host mom cooks with flavor. She serves good portions. And if there is extra, she always offers my roommate and I more. Thank the heavens!

p.s. The featured image is a mini market similar to New Paltz’s “Groovy Blueberry” on Water Street. It’s about 20 minutes walking-distance from my home!

Preparing For Your Trip to Madrid: Pack Things You Don’t Want to Forget

As I prepared to pack for my study abroad experience, I thought of all the things I did not want to forget. Of course, my backpack with all my essentials were a must. That meant, my wallet (cash, credit cards, bank cards, health insurance cards, multiple forms of ID), my passport, my coin purse, my boarding pass, my canteen full of water, my travel journal, planner, flashdrive , any medications (pills, and bottles with prescriptions that go in accordance with TSA rules), portable charger, wire, and pens.

After packing my essentials in my backpack, I packed 3 suitcases: 1 carry-on, 1 medium-sized luggage, and 1-large luggage. The carry-on luggage had all my shoes for different weather conditions. Rain boots are a must. 2 walking sneakers are good to switch out. Flip flops are a good option for indoors, or when it is time to head to the beach, or shower in a place you don’t want your feet to touch the ground. Don’t forget a pair of flats, (for ladies), and pair of boots that you can dress up or down for the winter or spring. My medium luggage contained 1 pair of bedsheets and toiletries, and a beach towel, as well as outdoor jackets (a peacoat, a raincoat, and a leather jacket for all types of weather. My largest luggage contained 2 sweaters, an umbrella (most people forget this one), and all the tops, bottoms, pjs, and underclothes I knew I would regret if I did’n’t bring.

Don’t forget a neck pillow, and keep that outside your luggage so you can remember to bring it with you on the plane. Perhaps bring a fleece blanket. This fit in my medium-luggage and it was something from home I am grateful I brought. The heat in Spain turns off some time in the night into the following morning. So, an extra blanket is great for home and mini trips elsewhere.

Know this: You may pack more than once. You may repack more than three times. But don’t give up! Create a list of what you have. Create a list of what you need to bring. Create a list of what you want to bring. Create a list of what you need to buy. Keep track of it all. And last but not least, breathe. You are going abroad! Ask for help and support from family and friends if need be, and enjoy the ride.

p.s. The featured image is a cathedral within a town called Toledo, Spain. Small, beautiful town. Perfect for a day trip.

 

 

 

Prague

My last abroad trip was in Prague. Prague is such a beautiful pace, and truly unlike anything I have ever experienced. I had never encountered the language before, and that was really interesting and cool to immerse myself in, even though it definitely made it harder. Things seem to generally be cheaper there. I spent a lot of time at Christmas markets in the square. One delicious food there is Prague ham. The ham is roasted on a spit in front of people, and then a big chunk is cut off and served on a plate with two slices of bread. The ham is humongous and delicious. I also had boiled corn and sliced potatoes on a skewer. I also tried mulled wine for the first time and it was delicious. I went to a few museums, and did some shopping, and delicious eating. The architecture in Prague is magnificent. Each and every building looks so unique and it’s hard to resist taking a picture of each one. Almost every street is cobblestone and I have discovered that I find these streets to be somehow more beautiful. Nightlife in Prague is also very busy, which is especially nice because I was traveling alone. I felt safe being out late at night, as there were always people around. I would definitely like to go back to Prague one day and experience even more of it.

A Milano Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving might be my favorite holiday- it’s a holiday that my family goes all out for. When I was younger, we would sit around the dining room table on Thanksgiving eve and write out gratitude leaves. My mom would make so many dishes- main and side- all from scratch! I always admired her hard work on this holiday. Then, on Thanksgiving day, my grandma, aunt, and cousins (all 20 of them), would come in the afternoon and we’d spend the day eating delicious food and watching Star Wars. Being away from home on Thanksgiving was going to be tough, so I decided to throw my first Thanksgiving with my flatmates and friends who I made abroad. Half of us are American, so we celebrate Thanksgiving every year. But for the other half of us, this was their first Thanksgiving! It really was special to me that I got to share one of my favorite holiday with people of all different backgrounds.

Another thing about me- I L O V E cooking. I made chicken cutlets (because here in Milan, turkey is REALLY expensive), corn, green beans, gravy and an apple crisp. Others brought mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, veggie lasagna, tiramisu, chocolate cake and lots and lots of wine. It definitely was a Milanese Thanksgiving haha.

We spent hours playing card games, eating good food, chatting and more! It was one of my favorite Thanksgiving’s that I’ve spent so far. I am so grateful for all of the people who came- and some who couldn’t make it 🙁 These people are unapologetic and kind and intelligent. I’m so glad I had this opportunity to be here in Milan. I don’t want to leave just yet!

A Weekend in Sale

This past weekend, my good friend Christine (who attends my Italian university full time), invited me to spend the weekend at her family’s home in Sale, Italy!

About an hour outside of Milan, Sale is in the Piemonte region. Compared to Milan, Sale is completely rural- there are huge masses of land where people tend crops, raise chickens, goats and other farm animals, with only 4,000 inhabitants. For my whole life, I’ve lived in an urban setting. I’ve visited rural parts of the United States but never had a experience actually living in a setting like that- the closest I’ve gotten to living in a rural setting is by being a student at New Paltz. But even then, I still never experienced living on an actual farm.

I was thrilled when she extended the invitation. In the past year, I’ve grown a huge passion towards agriculture and living a sustainable life. Farm life has begun to intrigue me and I felt that going to Sale- even if its only for a weekend- could give me a tiny glimpse onto what it is like in a pastoral landscape.

It truly felt like a home away from home! Her family was warm and inviting, and it was nice to be somewhere that was so opposite of what I’m used to- not only in the states, but here in Italy as well!

Sale will always hold a place in my heart- and I’ll definitely be back at least once in my lifetime!

London, Venice and More Oh My!

While studying abroad, I have been fortunate to do a ton of traveling- both in and out of Italy!

My first trip was to Cinque Terre. It was my birthday weekend; my friends and I visited each of the towns in one day! Each offered a different experience but they all had one thing in common- an amazing view. Cinque Terre was only a 2 hour train ride from Milan, making it a super accessible but fun trip!

After that, I flew to Prague and London! My sister had planned to travel to Prague coincidentally during the time that I’d be in Italy, so we thought it was a perfect weekend to meet up. My sister is 6 years older than me and lives in another state, so seeing her had made me so happy- who knew we’d be in Prague, TOGETHER?! It truly made my heart full.

London has to be one of my favorite cities I have ever visited! It was so metropolitan, and nostalgic. Everywhere I went felt sophisticated and chic. There, I visited shops and pubs, walking along townhouses in Notting Hill, while stopping to drink tea or eat falafel pockets (which were SO yummy). Being in London made me SO happy. I definitely will go back to visit one day.

And lastly, my most recent trip that I did happened to be with my dad! At my university, we just had our mid-semester break and my dad was lucky enough to get some days off so, he flew all the way to Milan and we took a “road trip” of Italy. We went to Lake Como, Venice, and Florence. All of the places were so different from one another; it is mind-boggling to me how you can be in the same country yet certain parts are so vastly different from each other! All were beautiful in their own unique way. Visiting all 3 places were truly enriching, especially with my dad by my side.

Hiking For The First Time

Hello all! I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last post. Assignments all started piling up on top of each other. But now that a bunch are done, I can finally get back to blogging. Since last speaking, I have officially hiked. I hiked in the Comeragh mountains. I’m not going to lie, it was actually really difficult. I had never done an actual hike before. Or, one that was that challenging. We walked through a lot of grass and mud, I learned. My timberlands went through a lot that day. The views are beautiful. The mountains overlook green pastures and see a lot of sheep. The sheep are dyed a bunch of different colors. The ones I saw were either blue or pink. Then we got to a spot for lunch. There was a pond and the mountains were in front of us, and they were covered in patches of fog. It was really cool to see, and pretty unlike anything I’d seen before coming to Ireland. By the end of the hike, I was exhausted, but I am really glad I did it. It was really hard, but I have to admit, looking back, it was rewarding.

Academics

Now that midterms are over, I finally feel like I can give you all a clear view into what I think about the courses I am taking here!

At SUNY New Paltz, I am quite ahead of course requirements. Because of this, my advisor gave me the freedom to take what I please and of what piqued my interest. So, here at Cattolica in Milan I am taking four courses: A Mafia Story: Its Representation in Literature, Cinema, and TelevisionFashion Images and the City of Milan: A Sociological Perspective on Modern Italian FashionCitizenship and Religion in a Multicultural Society: A New Clash of Identities in Italy and Europe? and The Female Character in Italian Contemporary Literature and Culture. All are vastly different from each other, and don’t necessarily have a correlation with my major and minor at home (which is Sociology with a Human Services concentration, and a minor in Deaf Studies), however, I do really enjoy them.

A Mafia Story: Its Representation in Literature, Cinema, and Television would have to be my favorite. In my Sophomore Year of high school (5 years ago) I was introduced to American mobster movies: Casino, Goodfellas, A Bronx Tale… you get the idea. I was always fascinated on the topic, but only got my information about the mafia solely through these movies- I had no other outlets. In this course, I learn about the history of the ‘mafiosi’; how it originated, where it originated and how it is represented in both Italian and American media platforms. I even watched The Godfather for the first time as one of my homework assignments! This class has truly opened my eyes into a huge and important part of Italy’s history: specifically in Sicily. My professor is knowledgable and passionate about this subject, and it truly has rubbed off onto me.

Fashion Images and the City of Milan: A Sociological Perspective on Modern Italian Fashion is the only class that I’m taking that will give me credit towards my major (elective). Since becoming a sociology major, I can’t help but think of everything from a sociological perspective… its in my nature. However this class does more than that- it has taught me about important fashion designers, and how moments in history really affect the world of fashion. When I was little, I dreamed of being a fashion designer. I never really knew why but this class brings me back to that dream, but in a different way. I would never really consider myself stylish, but now I find myself wanting to express in the form of fashion and style, and help others too. It really is enthralling.

Citizenship and Religion in a Multicultural Society: A New Clash of Identities in Italy and Europe? is a class that took me by surprise. I didn’t expect to take it, and to be honest, it was sort of a last minute resort. I didn’t know what I was going into but it has been a pleasant surprise. In this course we look at the history of citizens and societies within Italy and Europe from a philosophical and anthropological perspective, and how these factors have changed over time with modernization. Its very complex, and I often fumble with my words, so I’ll spare you the details 😉

And lastly, The Female Character in Italian Contemporary Literature and Culture. I am lowkey, a literature nerd. I took two AP English courses in my high school, and a few at SUNY New Paltz- including The Novel and Women in Literature (which I highly recommend). The Female Character in Italian Contemporary Literature and Culture is another course I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to. We analyze female characters in books, operas, and movies written by both male and female Italian creators. Like I said, I love literature, and since I’ve taken a Women in Lit course at New Paltz, this class has been nothing but fun for me. I’ve found so many books outside of American and British literature that I now want to read.

Not only are the classes intriguing, but the professors are all super sweet and compassionate. I express my worries to them, or even my curiosities, and they are always there to help and engage.

Overall, I appreciate Cattolica for providing us international students with interesting courses I could never take elsewhere, and for sparking a newfound curiosity within me.

0-100 Real Quick: Dealing with Culture Shock in Milan

This post is loooonngggg overdue. I’ve been caught up with traveling and assignments and just living my life that I haven’t had much time to sit on my computer and be consistent with this blog (which I will work on from here on out). However, tonight I am feeling motivated! I went out to dinner with my close friends that I’ve made here; it was the first time I stayed out past 9PM here in Milan. Being out late made me realized how living in Milan no longer feels like a foreign feeling, but like second nature to me. So, I thought, why not use this time to reflect on the changes and differences in cultural norms I experienced during my first weeks here in Milan.

The food here is all pasta and cheese and meat! Sounds like a dream to most right? As a vegetarian/vegan, I actually found it quite hard to go out to restaurants and find a vegetarian/vegan option, let alone find a vegetarian/vegan restaurant. However, I did make friends (unintentionally) who all happen to be vegetarian! We make it our mission to find good vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and we’ve stumbled upon a few so far.

Dress here also happens to be completely different than what I am used to. After all, I am in the fashion capital of the world! At home, I am used to wearing off-the-shoulder tops, jeans and my vans or boots everywhere I go- overall, super casual. Here, you are expected to be more modest yet still fashionable. Exposed skin definitely gets you some glares but it is something I’ve come accustomed to- my collar bones are my favorite feature, how can I not show them off? Another thing I noticed is that women wear sneakers with EVERY outfit which I’ve come to love and be inspired by. Women wear sneakers with slacks, jeans, dresses and so much more; I never considered sneakers fashionable until this point and now, I can’t stop wanting to buy them! I have a pair of Nike Cortez’s waiting for me at home 😉 Overall, being here makes me that much more into fashion and style; not to mention I’m taking a course titled Sociology of Fashion in Milan at my university here.

A social interaction I wish I could bring back to the states with me is aperitivo! Aperitivo is basically like Italians happy hour; you buy a drink (which can range from $8-$12) and then you either get chips, a meat and cheese platter or even a buffet depending on the establishment. Aperitivo is a great way to socialize with your friends after a long week of classes and have a good time.

I’m not going to lie and say that it was an easy transition coming to Milan- like I was warned by the study abroad advisors, I definitely did get frustrated about certain things not being as convenient as they were in America. However, it is safe to say that I finally am in a groove here in Milan, and I am really enjoying my time here.