The Land of Ice Chronicles: Boarding the plane

“Today’s the big day! Today begins the journey to find truth through intense connection!”, I kept telling myself on the way to JFK airport. I was going to be in Limerick in just a few moments and I couldn’t be more excited. I was all packed and clenching my mom’s hand as we walked to get my boarding passes. I knew I was going to miss her like hell but I also knew that I was going on my very first journey to adulthood; I felt brave and confident to embark on this new journey. Despite studying abroad last summer, I’d never really done something like this before…

My mom came with me to Korea and stayed for a week so I guess in a way she might have been the reason I adjusted so quickly to the time difference. I also had tons of friends waiting for me in the land of miracles so I guess I was never really ALONE.

The thought of that made me feel liberated in a way. It meant that I would have all these adult responsibilities and have to manage them all on my own; it’s like a trial run for when I graduate and have to start doing all that stuff for real. I wasn’t scared at all and I had faith that I would make friends in Ireland and that it all would turn out okay.

So with my boarding passes in hand, I clenched my first and said: “Let’s do this”. I said goodbye to my family and got ready to step on the line to go through security check.

And that’s when it happened… EVERYTHING TURNED TO CRAP IN 0.4 SECONDS! My flight was DELAYED, which meant the connected flight was DELAYED which meant I had to stay in BOSTON for a DAY AND A HALF by myself to wait for the next one which WON’T GET ME THERE IN TIME TO GET PICKED UP or by THE GOD DAMN TIME I NEED TO BE THERE. 

What would you do if you were in my situation? Have a panic attack? Yeah, me too. I called the company I booked through, argued with airlines, cried, yelled, the whole nine yards. Thankfully my family was still there to help but that wasn’t changing the fact that I was so intensely screwed. It was at that moment I just wanted to go back home, take a semester off altogether, and just wallow in self-pity in the place I know best (NYC). But.. that clearly was NOT an option. The best option was the one the airline thought of, and it wasn’t even that great.

They put me on a direct flight to Dublin, which meant I would get where I needed to go in time… as long as I took a 4-hour ride on a bus from that airport to the University. It was an annoyance. On the bright side, however, I wasn’t the only incoming UL student that got screwed. I bonded a bit with Rachel as we sat next to each other on the plane and bus. Even though, something inside me had shifted. I wasn’t feeling that feeling that I felt before the whole delay debacle began. I felt defeated, I felt like I was on the wrong path. Needless to say, I felt like I wanted to stay home. My whole entire outlook was destroyed and I think it corrupted the beginning of my journey in Limerick.

But, as I would later learn…Experiences aren’t always meant to be amazing things that leave your heart full of joy. Experiences are meant to help you improve and grow as a person.

And that’s exactly what happened as I studied abroad in Limerick, Ireland. 

Ready to see how Ireland changed me?

Well you’ll have to wait until next week’s chapter of “The Land of Ice Chronicles”

The Land Of Ice Chronicles: Preparing to leave home

My journey to Limerick was just a week away and I was feeling a plethora of different emotions. I was excited and terrified all at the same time. I had studied abroad before and I absolutely loved it but I was unsure that I would feel the same about this country.

Ya see, I studied abroad in South Korea over the summer. That was a magnificent experience; I fell in love with everything the minute I got there and I absolutely had no problem adjusting to all the differences. It was like I was meant to be there. It was like I had found the missing piece I was constantly searching for; I’d found my home. That being said, leaving had me depressed for quite some time. It took a while to readjust to NYC but once I did, it was like I had this newfound appreciation for it. Yet, I also had this urge to explore everything else the world has to offer. I wanted to travel more and the effects of one study abroad trip were so grand, I yearned for more. I wondered if I could feel an even deeper connection in a country where my ancestors have actually been. And, on a whim, I chose to go to Limerick, Ireland and test that theory.

You can see why this would cause me to feel the plethora of emotions that I did. I mean I was building up the experience in my head thinking it would the most amazing experience I would ever have. I was thinking it would beat out Korea for the best trip ever. I was thinking I would have the time of my life and meet the love of my life. I was thinking I’d never want to leave Limerick and that I’d have this strong attachment to the country where magic, wonder, and little mythical leprechauns lurk around.

I was wrong; I was so wrong. 

Curious to see what I mean?

Find out in the next chapter of “The Land of the Ice Chronicles”

Academic Adjustment at UC3M Getafe Campus: Be Prepared to Ask Questions

Just like an interview, always have questions prepared about what you may venture in. I went to my orientation for UC3M for international students in the Hispanic Studies Program which meant most/all my classes would be in Spanish, and tailored to North American students to help enhance our Spanish language skills. That being said, this orientation was completely in Spanish, and tailored toward safety in Spain and advertising their facilities such as the gym, the library, etc. It would not have been helpful at all if I had not come prepared with questions. My first question was 1) How do we register for classes? Though their was a guide given online, I still wanted to clarify the process because the portal here was also new to me, as it should be for any incoming “first-year.” 2) Where exactly can I find x,y, and z buildings to take my placement exam for my Spanish level and pick up my ID/certificate to be here on campus? 3) Where exactly is the gym, the library, and the bookstore? After I received information about all of those things, I felt a bit more acquainted with how my days would look like at UC3M. There was not a carnival, or student movers, or people in bright blue and orange t-shirts asking if you needed help the way students are at New Paltz for freshman. New Paltz is so friendly, but do not expect the same customer service in Spain.

Moreover, I am taking 5 classes here at UC3M, which is about the same amount of courses and credits I usually take at New Paltz (14-17 credits depending on what’s available, what I need, etc.). Here, I have more group projects; 2/5 of my classes are based on group projects–my radio workshop course, as well as my Cultural Studies course. Also, 4/5 of my courses are in Spanish so that’s very different, and only 3/5 professors speak/know English with confidence. Check your syllabus often, and check Aula Global (portal similar to blackboard) often so you can keep track of when things are due. Most of my professors don’t send reminder emails about what is due and what isn’t. So pay attention to this, too. Overall, my classes are interesting. They are discussion-based, lecture-based, and group-work based–so a combo of everything. Professors come in on time or late (never early, seriously), and usually end early, too. They are usually in a rush to leave, so if you want to discuss something with them, catch them at the end of class or ask to meet with them another time. They always ask if we have questions, or to stop them if we don’t understand something, and I really appreciate that aspect of each course in the Hispanic Studies Program. In my only English class– radio workshop, a lot of the Spaniard students talk over the Professor, and that rarely ever happens at New Paltz without some sort of penalty or consequence. So just be mindful of that, too. I always sit in the front to avoid the chatter.

Other things to keep in mind: You have to the pay for the gym. It is not part of your tuition like at New Paltz. You also have to pay for printing in cash unless it is a significant amount to pay by card (3 or more euros I believe). So there is no printing quota here either. The bookstore here is so small compared to New Paltz (and New Paltz has way better stuff, I promise!). Regardless, budget, budget, budget. Using an excel sheet has been super helpful for me to keep track of my weekly expenses.

Extra curricular activities or clubs are not necessarily a norm here in Spain or Europe. Neither is having a job on top of studies. Most students bring food from home or go home for lunch. They are commuters (as I am, too), and their responsibility is to study. They don’t have debt as the government pays for much of their education as do merit scholarships. There is no such thing as a sports scholarship. Therefore, their reason for being in the university is different as well. American students go to the university to grow and become independent at a much faster rate than Spaniard students do. It’s all part of the cultural difference in education.

In addition, all  the trips are student-run and are mainly based around parties by Erasmus student organizations. Get on their Facebook page to see what events are interesting to you. I would recommend seeking other sites like travel organizations such as: Smart Insiders or City Life Madrid for other cultural outings. 

Overall, most professors are laid back, but still expect you to do the readings, do the homework, participate, be on time, and hand work in by deadline. Do as they say, not as they do, always!

p.s. The featured photo is me on the first day of classes on campus. I fit perfectly in that tiny tree! Beautiful campus. I can’t wait until spring so I can enjoy the quad and surrounding area more.

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.