San Gimignano and a little too much Ice Cream.

The past weekend I ended up taking a day trip with some friends to San Gimignano- which is about an hour away from Siena. It was completely beautiful there, and after climbing up 218 steps, we got to see the scenery in its full glory. After walking around for a bit like the tourists we were, we then decided to splurge the 5.50 euro for a really incredible “tour.” Which in actuality consisted of a ticket that permitted us into various places throughout the town. Splurge was obviously an exaggeration for all those who don’t understand my sarcasm. The museum was amazing- first there was the archeological exhibits, and then a room focused solely on one contemporary artist who I am now in love with- Giannetto Fieschi. There was also an incredible photographic exhibit called “Afinita” by Giuliano Briganti where he documents the construction of multiple projects through an incredibly interesting point of view. All who read this- if anyone really does- you should check it out.

Some pictures from San Gimignano:

We ended up waiting in a long, hectic line to sample some of the “world’s best ice cream,” which was actually, in my opinion, pretty tasty. I got cafe and hazelnut- two of my main flavors here.

Since i got back, i have mostly been taking classes and volunteering around the town. Tomorrow I am teaching fourth and fifth graders english- and i’m a bit nervous actually. Essentially my group director is showing us the school and leaving us there to figure out an hours worth of teaching for ourselves. I have back to back classes tomorrow, so wish me luck!

Unfortunately, Siena’s night life suffers significantly when university starts as most students stay home during the week nights to study. Plus, school is in session on saturday’s here too…so essentially saturday night is a major thing to look forward to each week. There are still bars and cafes open pretty late, so if we do decide to venture out, there is always something to do. Speaking of which- venturing out is not so easy around here. A lot of the time i have been here has been spent waiting for…something- the bus, a call, class to start, etc. My roommate and I attempted to go to the city a couple of nights ago and finally decided to call a cab after an hour of waiting for the number ten bus. Tonight it was late as well- and we were consequentially late for dinner. It’s actually really frustrating the amount of time i am in the state of anticipation. While i have come to terms with the italian idea of “being on time,” I have yet to completely shed my promptness and therefore am constantly in a state of anxiety! Okay, it’s not all that bad, but i cannot deny that I am frustrated at least once a day at the serious lack of any conception of time here.

Okay i’m going to bed because i need to be up early to volunteer at 9! See, there is the promptness again. I can’t get rid of it.

Holiday weekend

I’m not sure exactly what national holiday it is, but I do know the most important thing: 4 day weekend! Coincidentally, in the US right now it’s Columbus Day weekend. I’m not sure if that’s also what we’re celebrating here, but it would make sense since King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel of Spain paid for Columbus’ voyage…

A lot of international students on campus decided to take advantage of the four day weekend to travel around Europe. I was thinking about going to Paris because the flights out of Madrid are super cheap (around 40 euro round trip), but I figured I would stay and see more of Madrid. The only problem has been that this weekend has been pretty dreary. It’s been cold and rainy since Saturday morning ūüôĀ so I haven’t really ventured out much. I did however take the opportunity to visit some family. I spent Saturday with my one cousin Naomi. She took me to a really nice Japanese restaurant near Grand Via. The sushi and different dishes were presented on colorful little dishes that looked like UFOs and delivered to our table on a¬†conveyor¬†belt. It was really cool to see and the food was delicious! Afterwards I went to her apartment and we watched a scary movie. ¬†Yesterday I saw my other cousin, Carolina, and had lunch at her house with my grandpa, aunt, and uncle. Later we went to a nice restaurant nearby to have some tea and coffee.

Today I was planning on going to central Madrid again to either go shopping or go to a museum but the museums are all closed on Mondays and it was sooo cold today I didn’t want to leave the house. I really need to go clothes shopping because most of the things I brought with me are meant for warmer weather.

I realize I haven’t written for about two weeks so I’m going to do a quick recap….

On September 29th there was a general strike all over Spain and in various parts of Europe. The strike was most felt in Spain in Barcelona (where police cars were put on fire) and Madrid. I didn’t get to see much of the action, except for on TV, because most of the metros and trains were down so I couldn’t go to the city center to see the protest, and I had class… ¬†From what I heard the protesters were also active in Getafe. They were ambushing stores that decided to stay open during the strike and putting stickers on their windows and spray painting walls. I wish I could have taken pictures but maybe it would have been a little dangerous.

I did take pictures of the posters that were put up all over Madrid.

So what were Spaniards striking against?

Well, most of you know that Spain is in a major economic crisis right now. They are in a similar state Greece is in although the cause of the crisis in each country is somewhat different. The strike was primarily against the austerity measures the government has implemented in order to get the country out of the recession. These measures include freezing pensions and increasing the retirement age to 62.

I can’t say I can completely relate to most Spaniards because workers in the United States retire at age 65 (or did it increase?), and we usually get only 2 weeks of vacation (most Spaniards get 4 weeks), our unemployment benefits are worse compared to here in terms of length and dollar amount, and we still don’t have universal healthcare, although we’ve made some progress… so I don’t know what Spaniards are really complaining about, but I really haven’t been in their shoes long enough to understand. Being an economics major, I see it logical to cut some of the social welfare costs if a country is facing incredible debt.

On the weekend of Oct 2-3 I went with a group of international students to Salamanca! The trip was organized by a club called ESN which is a group for Erasmus (European exchange) students, but they let non European exchange students join as well. Although the trip was pretty short, I had a really good time! We arrived Saturday at 1pm, check into our hostel rooms ( I was in a room with 9 other people!), and then we had lunch in town. At 4pm we met in Plaza Mayor and had a 2 hour tour around the old part of the city. Then that night we had a fiesta in Plaza Mayor which included visiting 3 different clubs. It was a blast! I met so many new people from France, Germany, Croatia, the Netherlands, and even some people from the US that I hadn’t met yet. It’s funny how I’m making friends with other international students and not really any Spaniards. I guess it’s easier to make friends with people who are in the same boat, but my goal is still to make a couple of really good Spanish friends because I need to start speaking in Spanish! All the international students speak English, so it’s way too easy for me.

Here are some of the best pictures from Salamanca (oldest university town in Spain) :

The week after my trip to Salamanca was pretty rough. I had two tests, one in Econometrics, the other in Game Theory, and a really hard problem set due for Markets and Environment, which involved differential calculus (something I have never done!). I think I did well on the two quizzes from last week but I’m worried about future tests because the math requirements here are pretty intense! Here is an example of one of the problems I have to figure out for my test in two weeks, and I have NO IDEA what it even says even though I go to class every day.

Just some advice to those of you thinking about studying economics here: Make sure you have a strong foundation in calculus, including differential calculus (which in New Paltz is after Calc 1 2 and 3), and some upper level statistics.

Wish me luck,

Sandy

A Month?

My host mother informed me yesterday that it has been an entire month since i got here! Unbelievable. Time passes by so quickly and so slowly here: on one end, yes, I have been here for a month and I can’t believe it, but on the other, the concept of time that I have lived by all my life is obsolete in Italy. Time is not a thing to be set, to be finite, or to be agreed upon by any means. “Al’ ora di pranzo,” or literally, at the hour of lunch, implies a time anywhere from 1.00 to 3.oo in the afternoon. I unfortunately learned this the hard way- as I expected someone to call at 12, but had to wait an hour and a half to hear from them. But, I suppose that is all in the name of living the “Vita Bella,” or beautiful life- there is no beauty or enjoyment in constant efficiency: if this were so, you would have no time to sit down and sip your coffee, staring out the window at the mountainous landscape covered in tress.

My life lately has been mostly centered around volunteer work- which I am incredibly happy with. Namely, I have been volunteering at the Mensa de Poveri- or soup kitchen, for the past couple of weeks. Everyone is so friendly here and so ready to accept you into the group. There was no exception with the soup kitchen- which I found to be completely different from the one I volunteered at back in my home town of Oak Park. I don’t know why I was still surprised, but all those who come to the soup kitchen are greeted with three course meals and as much bread and water as they please. Everyone crowds to sit over a delicious, large, and warm meal- which I thought perfectly epitomized the very essence of life in Italy- good food, and good friends/ family. Though my language skills are sufficient enough volunteer without worry of totally misunderstanding, I can’t believe how much simply being there has helped me improve my abilities. Whether talking with the attendees, or with the staff afterward (all the volunteers are welcome to a family-style meal after work in which we similarly all crowd around one long table and eat pretty much the same delicious food that was served while the Mensa was still open), my vocabulary and ability to hold conversations in general has significantly improved. In addition to all this good, I met some really interesting/ incredible people while working there, and can never wait to go back.

Group picture on the beach at Viareggio

The most spectacular gelatto place I have ever seen, Florence

Mi in the Piazza del Campo, Siena

Via Del Amore e La Vita Bella

So I have been without internet for a while now, and let me tell you, it feels pretty good to not rely on technology once and a while. For the last four days I have been traveling Italy with my Siena Italian Studies group to Pisa, Viareggio, La Spezia and the Cinque Terre, and finally Lucca. Mostly we just walked until our bodies couldn’t take it anymore and then ate until our stomachs were more than fully satisfied. The food was incredible, and I’m pretty sure we were supplied food or a hundred instead of thirty.

In Pisa, of course, we saw the leaning tower- and yes, it does look the same as it does in postcards. Except a bit more real and a bit more surreal at the same time. Apparently not that long ago, the town made an attempt to stabilize the bottom by putting heave weights on one side and inserting cement into the base. As the tower is built on sand and as underneath that sand there is water- the plan didn’t really work and there was a mandatory evacuation of all surrounding houses just in case of collapse. Now, and again, the tower is stable- but it is also still leaning.

La Spezia and the Cinque Terra was my favorite part of the trip. We began by walking the “Via del Amore” trail which runs along the coast and has the most amazing view. The walk itself was not far, but with the amount of times we stopped in awe, I am sure we were there for at least an hour. After this less intense hike, a few other students and I decided to take the train to Vernazza to try out another path. It turned out to be the most “real”¬† hike I have ever been on- there were little to no railings to protect you from falling hundreds of feet into the oceany/mountainy abyss. We even were forced to traverse across a waterfall- and by forced I mean were really excited to see if we could survive the current. The air was incredible on the mountain- I actually felt healthier just being up there. I am starting to realize why Italians are known for living “La Vita Bella.” With the unavoidable exercise that comes with walking the hilly streets of Siena, with the inevitable digestive health that comes with eating only organic food, and with the promise of beautiful scenery wherever I go, I am starting to loose my American need for efficiency and opt for a more relaxed and more enjoyable way of life.

Via Del Amore

Via Del Amore

Via Del Amore

Via Del Amore

Retiro, Rastro, and very little rest

I wish I had time to write a blog entry more than once a week because so much happens in one week that it’s hard to recap everything….

Last Sunday I visited the Retiro park in Madrid for the second time, but this time I took some pictures! It is a humongous park, comparable to Central Park in New York City. I left Getafe around 5pm and arrived at the Atocha train station close to 6, then waisted some time walking around lost as usual, but I ended up running into this huge outdoor book sale. Most of the books were in Spanish, but I also found A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway so I was surprised.

When I finally reached the Retiro I walked around this man-made lake where people were rowing boats. Around the lake there were a lot of street performers. I took some video of this one band covering a Bob Marley song. They were pretty good. I also spotted Minnie Mouse and Barney walking around. It was pretty funny.

I ended up finding a place to sit underneath a tree and I did some homework and wrote a letter back to the U.S. For only 78 euro cents you can send a letter to the US and it takes less than a week! It’s great.

On Monday I started my first week of classes without Spanish, and for the most part my week went pretty well. I start most of my classes at 9 or 10:45 in the morning and get out either by 12:15 or 2 and then have the rest of the day to nap, or be productive….

On Monday I got a pet fish, Norton! He’s adorable. He’s a telescope eyed goldfish and has these HUGE eyes and tiny little body. Although he has such big eyes, their positioning makes it hard for him to see straight ahead of him so I have to direct him with my finger in order for him to find his food. He’s really dumb but very cute.

On Tuesday, I started my documentary film class and I LOVE IT!!!! It is so much work but it’s a lot of fun. For this one week I had to watch 3 full length documentaries just to catch up on the past two weeks, and I had to write a paper on what we had learned the weeks I had missed, and I still have to analyze a short documentary for this coming Tuesday.

On top of all the individual work, I am working with my group to produce our own documentary. Our topic is the aftermath of dictatorship in Spain; how Franco has affected people’s lives and how Spaniards deal with such a negative past. The crazy thing is that when we all went to meet in Sol (central Madrid) to discuss our project, we landed right in the middle of an anti Franco protest. Members from la Asociacion para la Recuperacion de la Memoria Historica (directly translated: Association for the recuperation of historical memory) were there with posters of family members that had been killed during Franco’s reign and we’re protesting against the reopening of the monument to Franco at Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), where Franco is¬†buried. We met a lot of great people that were very eager to be interviewed for the documentary. We even met Emilio Silva, the author of the book “Las fosas de Franco” (The mass graves of Franco) which I’m reading right now. Everything seems to be fitting right into place with this documentary project and I’m really excited!

As for my economics classes, I’m more worried. They all seemed reasonable until Friday when my econometrics professor went over the first problem set and I was completely lost! And of course I was the only person lost in the class because they had all learned all these formulas in their previous classes. Even though I’ve taken econometrics before in New Paltz I had no idea what was going on so I’m pretty disillusioned right now. I have a quiz on Friday and I’m probably going to have to stay in my room studying all week in order to pass. Not fun.

What was fun was Friday night. Me and the girls from New Paltz along with an Italian girl and a girl from Denmark that we both met at UC3M went to our first Spanish concert, with Spanish music. Believe me its actually rare to go out at night in Madrid and hear Spanish music. It’s insane how many times a day I hear Lady Gaga. My neighbor sings “Alejandro” every day, and unfortunately for me the walls are paper thin. Spain needs to start embracing Spanish music more because the band we saw on Friday, El Sombrero del Abuelo, was really good! They were a mix of flamenco with funk and rock. I might go see them again in a month when they return to Madrid. In the meantime, Getafe is having a music festival this weekend so Madeline and I might go for a day and check out the Spanish artists.

Today I went to Madrid’s famous Rastro, this huge outdoor flee market, but I really wasn’t too impressed. I was expecting more antiques and hand made items but most of the stands all offered the same kinds of clothing, bracelets, etc. There were some interesting stands. For example, one was selling these strange gas mask/ military mask things… and there were a couple of stands that had some authentic Spanish comics… most of which were adult comics lol. Other than that I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary or anything that caught my eye. The highlight of my trip there was the food, of course ūüôā All the little restaurants around there were serving “tostas” which are open-faced sandwiches on baggette bread. They are delicious!

Anyway, here are some pictures of el Retiro, el Rastro,  some pictures of a night in Sol, some of the protest in Sol. I tried to upload video of some street performers and the protest in Sol but unfortunately the files were too big.

Hasta luego,

Sandy

Am I really here?

Off to Lavinia’s (The program director) for a picnic: We took a very long, hilly walk to Lavinia’s house a couple of days ago for dinner- you would think that the hills become easier to climb after a while, but they really don’t. But the scenery was beautiful all the while, so no one really minded the walk. In order to get to her house, we all entered a narrow passageway, one-by-one, and slowly climbed our way through a long tunnel. It was the most fun I have ever had physically entering a house in my entire life. While there were massive amounts of mosquitos outside, the backyard picnic was really refreshing- especially after the long and grueling walk. I, along with some of the other students, stupidly thought the meal was one course of pasta with bread and then dessert… but after stuffing our faces with pasta, we soon found out that there were in fact three courses (like every other italian meal i have been served), and chose to then really stuff our faces to the point of explosion. The food is worth it here- and the hills, for the most part, make up for the massive amounts of food eaten. Today, I somehow woke up at 1:00 pm ( I really needed sleep), to a three course meal of pasta, chicken, and baked potatos- with an offering of ice cream at the end. That was the biggest breakfast I have ever eaten hands down.

The group at Lavinia’s:

Friday was spa day- or rather, hot springs day.I didn’t know how stiff my body was until after emerging from layers of warm, (and really smelly), sulfer infused water.

And finally: yesterday I went to Florence and had the most incredible time: the architecture is surreal, the streets look like they’re from a different time, and the artwork is breathtaking. While it is essentially the mecca of tourism, (apart from Rome), you completely forget about the millions of people around you when staring in awe at the massive and intricate Duomo. I can’t wait to take the hour bus ride again with my class to visit the Ufizzi museum. Some other girls and I wanted to see the Caravaggio exhibit on display there yesterday, but it cost around 20 euro, and required a long wait in line to get into, so we opted to wander the streets of Florence instead. After some wondering, we came across an outdoor market that sold more leather bags and pashmire scarves than is ever imaginable. Haggling is really not a known part of italian market life, so I didn’t buy much, but I most definitely had an urge to splurge on everything.

Here are some pictures of the day trip:

A tad bit of culture shock, perhaps…

I don’t know if I’m experiencing culture shock, or just impatience, or stress, or all of the above. I never would have imagined that I could feel culture shock in a place that essentially is a part of my own culture. Maybe, I’ve just been spoiled by the relative ease of access to most things in the U.S.

Getting use to the way things run in this university is definitely challenging. Forget about the unlimited printing at New Paltz, and welcome to waiting in line for an hour at the print shop on campus and paying 5 euro cents per page, then being late to class…

Or waiting in line several hours a day at the bank on campus to open an account, just to find out they lost all of your paperwork, and you have to wait another hour…

Maybe, hopefully, I’ve just been having a bit of bad luck and these are all isolated incidents.

In fact, I was really surprised today when I went to the post office (correos) and I was in and out in 5 minutes! This definitely takes longer in the States. Of course, I have a horrible sense of direction and got lost going back to campus, so I was late regardless lol.

Today was the last day of our 14 day intensive Spanish¬†immersion¬†course and our big final is tomorrow night. I thought this class was going to be a¬†breeze¬†since Spanish was my first language, but having never taken an actual Spanish class, I was completely lost with most of the grammar. Unfortunately for me, 50% of the exam is grammar ūüôĀ but I’ll be studying all night tonight and hoping for the best! As much as I complained about having 3 or 4 hours of Spanish class a day, I actually wish it would have lasted longer than 2 weeks… Maybe I could have absorbed more information in a longer time frame.

Now that Spanish class is almost done, it’s time to focus on my regular classes! I’m taking two classes that I like A LOT: Markets and Environment, and Game Theory. Both are really interesting and thought provoking. Econometric Techniques is a little more…. technical. And at 9 in the morning, twice a week, it could be considered torture, but the professor is a really nice guy. I saw him during his office hours this week, because I missed class for a mandatory orientation, and he was very helpful. We’ve already started working on a time series project in class using GDP and interest rate data from a country of our choice. He suggested I do the U.S. because I’m the only American in the class. Cheap shot. I’m sure Spain was already taken anyway….

I also signed up for a class in the Journalism major, “Theory and Analysis of the Documentary Film.” I’m SOOOO excited to take it even though it has nothing to do with economics. I’ve secretly always wanted to be a documentary filmmaker so this class will give me the chance to make my own documentary. I’m thinking about tying economics into it in some way… With Spain being in a recession right now, like most of the rest of the world, there’s a lot of opportunity to “document” something.

Speaking of documenting, I admit I haven’t been the best “tourist” in terms of seeing all that Madrid has to offer. These past two weeks have been really hectic, trying to get settled into an apartment, and having Spanish classes at night. We did manage to go out to this cultural event in Madrid called “Noche en Blanco”. It’s an annual event in which all the museums are open as well as restaurants, clubs, exhibitions, stores… you name it. Problem was, there was too much to do and we couldn’t decide! We ended up dancing in Grand Via where a dj was set up outside. It was a lot of fun and there were A LOT of people! I’ll have to borrow some of Madeline’s pictures.

For now I have some pictures of the apartment Madeline and I are living in in Getafe, for those of you who are interested in seeing what a Spanish apartment typically looks like… As you can see, it’s very typical that people dry their clothes on the line outside on the balcony. Most apartments don’t have dryers… But hanging clothes outside works really fast, at least right now that it’s still hot!

I also added some pictures of Getafe, the supermarket, and my lunch the other day (Yummmm gazpacho!)

AND added a really cute picture of a dog I saw waiting at the window for his owners to come home… random, but adorable!

Hasta luego,

Sandy

Allora…

Okay so a whole bunch has happened since the last post. The intensive Italian language courses that we are currently taking are definitely intensive. I have homework every night which gives me an excuse to go to the “bar” or cafe, and buy yet another cup of cafe latte. Delicioso. Yesterday I went to the sea with my roommate, Emily, our friend Sam, and her really awesome host mom. It was about an hour drive there and the view was incredible the entire time, even when we were driving five miles per hour behind a grumpy old man and his wife. Italians, like new yorkers, are crazy drivers. I would love to rent a vespa and drive throughout Siena, but I am a little too scared for my life to do so. Anyway, the beach was great, the water was the bluest I have ever seen, and the American obsession with censorship was no where to be seen- and by that, I mean there were plenty of topless women around. Oh to be free.

Going a bit further back in time, on Saturday, after our Intensive language class, the group took a trip to il Museo Santa Maria Della Scala. I wanted to stay there for hours, but unfortunately my stomach wouldn’t let me. The museum was full of giant frescoes, statues, and religious paraphernalia that was set up in a way to make you feel as if you were alive in the 14th century.

Saturday night was my first experience at a Sienese contrada party. Siena is divided into 9 regions, or contradas that most people hold true to for life. Each contrada has its own flag and respective mascot, colors, ect. Every summer there is a horse race called the Palio in which each contrada enters an elected horse and an elected rider to compete in the race. We watched a video in class of the event (unfortunately i will not be able to experience it in person), and it was so incredible to see how emotional people get before, during, and at the end of the race. It is essentially like the world cup in terms of support and dedication, only on a smaller and more local level. There is a sense of pride here though for one’s contrada that surpasses that of a fan’s love for their team. The race is built into the culture- people live for the race and some have been waiting more than 20 years to experience a victory. The bragging rights of the winning contrada last throughout the year and are in no way seen as snobbery or conceit, but rather as a truth.

Here is a picture of my friend Sara and a poster of the flags of each respective contrada behind her:

more later.

Exhausted!

This week has been absolutely exhausting! I took a 3 hour nap today and it wasn’t enough. We started regular classes this week on top of the 3 hour Spanish classes in the evening, and finding an apartment, and getting a bank account. ¬†I just keep telling myself that it wouldn’t be worth it if it wasn’t difficult, and as long as I believe that I tend to keep myself going…

Tuesday was my first day of regular classes. I had “Game Theory” around 10:45 am and it was pretty awkward. Classes in the new “Bolonia” Program in Europe are split into Lectures and Discussions, so the class I had on Tuesday was a discussion class with a man that hardly spoke a word of English so he just wrote everything he wanted to say on the board. Strangely enough, most of the students in the class were Spanish even though the class is taught in English, and they understood less than I could.

On Wednesday I had 3 classes back to back from 9am to 2pm and it was pretty rough because I’ve also been taking Spanish classes from 4-7 every day this week. Econometric Techniques is taught by a really nice professor who seems to care a lot about the success of his students. We have to do a time series report using GDP and interest rate data from a country of our choice. The paper only has to be 3 pages, which seems pretty easy. I’m also taking a really interesting class called “Markets and Environment,” which as the title implies talks about the effects of economic activity on the environment and vice versa. The only class I really HATED was Public Economics. The teacher was absolutely HORRIBLE!!! The best way I can describe him is John Nash (played by Russel Crowe) in the movie A Beautiful Mind. He just wrote all these illegible formulas for an hour in class without describing what he was doing. He was going so fast that no one understood what he was writing or saying. His y’s looked like 7’s…. it was just completely Greek to me. He said we needed to know calculus to take his class, and I have taken up to Calc 3 and I didn’t understand a thing. The best part was when he randomly chose my name from the roster and told me I had to prove some mathematical theorem the next class…. ¬† ¬†I don’t¬†necessarily¬†like quitting when things get rough, but I’m positive if I stayed in that class I would fail unless I stayed in my room all day and studied and, in which case I’d never get to go out and see Madrid.

The other girls from New Paltz and I have final met up with the coordinators of the exchange program between us and UC3M. We had a private meeting with Yuliya and, I think his name is… Juan Carlos… and we expressed how lost we’ve been with choosing the right classes and being completely unprepared for the really high math standards ūüôĀ ¬† . Thankfully they’re really flexible and they’re going to let us change our classes.

So, the good news of this week is that I finally have an apartment and a bank account!!! Of course, neither task was easy, but at least everything is settled with my living situation. After calling at least 30 landlords, and seeing maybe 6 apartments in the city center of Madrid, and Getafe, I decided to live in Getafe with Madeline (one of the girls on the program from New Paltz). We had seen a really beautiful apartment in Madrid for only 300 euros each (for me, Jules, and Madeline) but the landlord was out of his mind and wanted us to pay 4,500 euros as a deposit! So we had to pass. Madeline and I found a really nice place right next to the school with 3 rooms, a living room, tv, bathroom, kitchen, and a balcony. The best part is that it’s 5 minutes walking to the school. I would have liked to live in Madrid but it would have been a 45 minute commute, door to door, and it really would not have worked out for me with 9 am classes. Jules really wanted to live in Madrid so she decided to rent a room there. The pro of living in Madrid is that the Erasmus students (European exchange students) organize “fiestas” almost every night! But, I’m a little more interested in getting to class on time and doing well. There’s always time on the weekends to check out the night life in Madrid. Getafe also has a lot of places to eat, drink, and dance at night on the weekends…. don’t underestimate Getafe!

Our first official night at the apartment was last night so we invited all the New Paltz girls over and made dinner for everyone. There’s a grocery right next door called Eroski, and we bought a lot of food for only 22 euros!!! It was amazing!!! We bought 2 loafs of bread, Brie cheese, crackers,¬†prosciutto¬†ham (jamon serano), olives, eggplant,¬†mozzarella¬†cheese, 3 cans of this really popular bean soup (fabada), 2 bottles of wine, chocolate, and more. ¬†You can definitely save a lot of money here if you buy food at the grocery instead of eating out every night, and now that we have an apartment we can!

One of the biggest things I’ve had to get use to is the fact that nothing really ever works out right away. ¬†For example, in order to change US dollars into euros I couldn’t just go to any bank unless I had a bank account there. So, ¬†I went to open a bank account at Santandar at the school which caters specifically to students, waited in line for 30 minutes, and then I was told to come back 3 days later. I went back 4 days later, waited 30 minutes to find out that they had lost my application and I had to do it again, but this time my account wouldn’t be ready for a week! I explained that it was urgent because I needed to exchange money in order to be able to pay the deposit on my apartment and they finally gave in, but it was really a¬†hassle.

The school itself doesn’t really seem to have everything together for international students. Even though classes officially started Monday, our orientation (for American students) wasn’t until Friday morning, and they told us we would get our student IDs and ID numbers but of course they weren’t ready. I need my student ID number to access Aula 2 (similar to Blackboard) in order to do problem sets and print out homework for class! Then in order to change classes, you need to have your student ID in order to make an appointment online with the international office. It feels a bit like we’re second class citizens at this school. We’re always a step behind in everything, and I’m starting to lose my patience. I like to be prepared for class, and it makes it difficult when I can’t even use the school computers to print my assignments out because I don’t have a student ID or password.

Negativity aside, I’m really looking forward to tomorrow night… There’s this big series of events going on in Madrid to celebrate the full moon. It’s called “White Night” and several museums will be open all night for free as well as stores, and restaurants. There will also be a bunch of free concerts, which I’m really excited about!!!

I’ll make sure to post pictures of White Night, as well as pictures of the new apartment soon! I’m currently using a free internet service which has really bad connection, so I’m not able to post pictures until I get my own internet :-/

-Sandy-

Lost and Found

Caio tutti! I am finally settled here in Siena, after 4 days of near havoc. I have yet to experience the epic-like-feeling of culture shock, but have unfortunately gotten to know life without clothes, without phones, and without computers. The latter two were actually things that I wanted to understand. I wanted to break free of my reliance on technology and enter the world of simplicity; But it could not be so. I quickly realized the importance of a cell phone to not only keep in contact with friends, but to have a means of help when you find yourself lost in the depths of the city. Speaking of which, it is incredibly beautiful here. The town is slowly getting more recognizable, and as it does, I am better able to focus on the beauty of my surroundings.

My host family is wonderful. Ada and Francesco are essentially my parents here- supplying me with all the incredible italian food I can eat and then offering some more to top it off. Gelatto is everything you would expect. I recently tied cafe and muffin (I know, not really a traditional Italian flavor, but still), and couldn’t even finish the two scoops due to the thickness and richness of the cream.

I began my Intensive Italian Language course a couple of days ago, and have found that my grammar is less than great. I can hold a conversation, and have been able to get my point across for the most part, but am corrected often by my host family and other students that I have gotten to know in the past couple of days. I encourage their scrutiny though, as I hope to really perfect my Italian while I’m here. Volunteer work will definitely help with the fluidity of my speech as I have elected to work at a high school, partake in a language course for Italian immigrants, ride in an ambulance and attend to whatever I am asked, and any additional art type activities that come my way. What will perfect my Italian though, in the end, is really interacting with everyone I can possibly learn from- which I haven’t found too hard so far because almost everyone here is willing to give you a few helpful tips.

Off to class for me.

More later.