The Calm Before the Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to?

Portugal?  Italy? Madrid? Cordoba? Granada? ok ok ok . ….. Yes, I’ve done A LOT of traveling. Where do I even begin? My life here is different, i finally have the opportunity to fulfill my passion for traveling. When I first arrived here, my mind immediately began to plan every weekend that I had free to travel. However, three months or to make it easier, twelve weekends is not sufficient for my long list of places I want to go.

But an important factor that a friend of mine told me was that, i must remember that I will be back. I can’t keep thinking that this is my last time in Europe and hearing this, my entire outlook changed. I decided to take a break from traveling and to stay four weeks in Sevilla. This allowed me to get to know my own city and actually make some Sevillano friends.

I never thought I would fall in love so quickly with a city and all the hidden gems within it. A lot of people don’t think about sevilla when they think of Spain. Rather, people with go straight to Madrid or Barcelona. But why? We have everything here! History, Culture, night life, tapas (food), ancient architecture, and the list goes on. Trust me, if you need a tour guide- I got you! I love that I don’t get lost here anymore and that’s because I decided to say here. Tons of my new friends especially in my classes are gone every weekend making it impossible for us to go out! But don’t get me wrong, I understand why being in Europe can entice you to travel wherever, especially since it’s so cheap.

However, I did save some big trips for the end of the semester! In my last three weeks I will be in Morocco, Amsterdam and closing off my trip in Paris. I can’t believe it. I’m going to Paris. I cried when i booked the flight because Paris is very special to me, I always thought I would go when I was way way older and a had a career. But, no. I’m going now in my 20s, my prime years, exactly when i feel invincible.

I am throughly looking forward to my last weeks living in Europe.screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-23-25-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-23-10-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-23-04-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-22-51-pm

Art, Culture… and Airports

This past weekend I traveled outside of Spain for the first time since I arrived here on my study abroad trip, making stops in both Brussels and Amsterdam. Being in Spain for so long I was almost unaccustomed to speaking English when talking to other people, but it was most certainly refreshing. Both cities were absolutely beautiful and shared many similarities.

In Brussels, the beer and chocolate were as good as advertised. I couldn’t walk more than 1 block without seeing a chocolate shop or waffle house, but I wasn’t complaining. Being able to see the European Parliament was a surreal experience, knowing that it is in essence the de facto capital of the European Union. The buildings and architecture all around were stunning and the people were all very warm and friendly.

Amsterdam as a whole was a surreal experience, at certain points I almost felt like I was in a movie. However, despite what most people know about Amsterdam, the best part was easily the museums. The Rijksmuesum had some of the greatest artwork I have ever seen and due to its size you could easily spend the entire day in there and still not see it all. My favorite painting had to be the The Night Watch, Rembrandt van Rijn’s most famous painting in the museum. The Van Gogh museum was incredible as well and I’d have to say my favorite painting by him was The Potato Eaters.

But what really hit home for me was going to see the Anne Frank Haus, where Anne Frank infamously wrote her journal while hiding from the Nazis. With my father being Jewish, I felt it was important for me to go and I knew it would make him happy. I thought I wouldn’t be able to at first because the line was hours long everyday, but I stuck it out on the last day to see it and it was definitely worth it.

In regards to the airport, I experienced an abundance of emotions. In the image above you will see a plaque in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks that took place in Brussels Airport on 3/22/16. I remember how much it meant to me being from NYC to see the 9/11 memorial for the first time and while this is attack was on a much smaller scale, I knew it still meant a lot to the people of Brussels.

However, this feeling would not last long. My friend and I were going to make our flight just in time, but we got stopped by security for having cologne… This delay resulted in us missing our flight and ended up costing me over $200. Once again I hope those of you reading this will learn from my mistakes, I’ve made plenty of them so far and I’m sure there will be more to come!

Battle with Customs

Before I get into the title of this post, I wanted to discuss something not quite as depressing… In the image above, you will get a mild glimpse of the raucous crowd outside of Vicente Calderon Stadium, home of the beloved La Liga football club, Atletico Madrid. The stakes were very high in this matchup, for it was a Champions League game against one of the premiere football clubs in all of Germany, if not the entire world, Bayern Munich. Now I’ve been to my fair share of sporting events in the United States, from playoff games at Yankee Stadium, to star-studded battles at Madison Square Garden.

However, I can easily say I have never been to any sporting event quite like this one. People were dancing and singing in the streets with reckless abandon prior to the game and the police couldn’t seem to care less. Inside the stadium was even more surreal. In sporting stadiums in the United States they constantly are playing music, trying to start chants, having performances between every little break in the action. From the second the referee blew the whistle every fan in the stadium was locked in, no stoppage in play, no music, just the well synchronized songs and chants of the crowd. It felt so much more cultural, so much more embedded into the fabric of their society, and it was truly amazing to be a part of.

Now to the depressing part I was talking about. Never and I repeat never send medication from the United States to Spain. Ever. I don’t know if this is how they do it in the rest of Europe, but it is truly a nightmare. My parents tried sending me some medication about a month ago and customs seized it without us knowing. Eventually I got a letter from them outlining what I had to do, which ended up being a very bureaucratic and tedious process that no one wants to deal with. After completing these steps and submitting the required documents I received an email from them saying that in order to acquire my medication I would need a Spanish citizen to go to the airport for me, pay the customs tax for me, and sign off on it for me. The worst part was they told me I would need to submit a photocopy of this Spanish citizens ID with their signature on it within 72 hours of the email. After frantically going to the international office at my school, speaking with the US embassy in Madrid, and making a variety of other calls, they all agreed with me that this was a bizarre request and alas I was not able to make the deadline, losing the battle and my medication to customs.

The two biggest takeaways one should take after reading this post: 1. If you’re in Spain, try to go to as many soccer games as you can. 2. Make sure before you come to Spain that you have enough medication to last you for the duration of your stay.

PS: The beaches in Valencia and Barcelona are beautiful, but be careful with your phone if you go to Barcelona! (I got my phone stolen on my second night there, another hassle not worth getting into).

Next stop: Halloween weekend in Amsterdam!

Hope This Helps!

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:

  1. Don’t tip.
  2. Do not skip siesta.
  3. Do not walk in the biking lane, they will hit you.
  4. It’s okay to talk to a stranger, you might make a friend.
  5. Don’t get freaked out if you see people openly partying in the streets.
  6. It’s okay, you can wear the same outfit… no one cares.
  7. Walk slow, you’re not in the concrete jungle anymore.
  8. I hope you have someone like Alyssa as your partner in crime.
  9. Give your body some time to adjust to the food, I am still trying to.
  10. All you have to say is “I’m from New York.”
  11. Don’t book three trips in one week. You’ll want to die. I almost did.
  12. Ask questions, remember, just like your first-grade teacher told you, “there is no such thing as a stupid question.”
  13. Speak with other internationals, they’re having similar experiences too!
  14. DO NOT EAT OUT EVERYDAY.
  15. Don’t leave your friends and family at home completely out of the loop, they miss you.
  16. When it comes to ordering food at a restaurant, I am bilingual and I don’t understand half of the food options.
  17. Get Sprint, the international service is beyond amazing. Seriously, I had to ask three times to make sure that there will be no international fees.
  18. Well, this is all I have so far and considering it’s only my third week abroad, I’m sure things will change. However, I will keep you guys updated.

P.S. shout out to Alyssa for helping make this list!

 Ta Luego 

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Life in Madrid

The very fact that this was my first opportunity to post here since I arrived in Spain exactly 3 weeks ago speaks volumes to the kind of hectic scene I flew into (and one that I was certainly not as prepared for as I should have been). Two of the most important things I’ve learned not to do while you are about to embark on your study abroad journey: 1. Don’t wait until the week before your flight date to figure out your housing accommodations. 2. Make sure you have access to Wifi when you arrive. In hind-sight these both should have been givens, but alas… maybe someone will learn from my mistakes.

Trials and tribulations aside, my limited time here in Madrid has truly been an amazing experience. The amount of friendships made from people all over the globe is a once in a lifetime experience and I know that it is only the beginning. The ESN (Erasmus Students Network) team here at UC3M provides the students with more than enough opportunities to meet other students studying abroad with a variety of trips, tours, parties, etc.

Despite the tardiness, my friend Nicolas (another fellow New Paltz student) and I are very happy with the apartment that we got. It isn’t the closest to our university or to the nightlife, but it is right next to the beautiful El Retiro Park, one of the staples of the city. The food in the neighborhood is also delicious and for the most part pretty cheap (at least compared to NYC).

Speaking of NYC, “the city that never sleeps” nickname might be even better suited for here. A theme I have noticed since being here is that these Spaniards like to do everything later. People eat lunch at around 3-5pm, dinner past 9pm, and the clubs are all open until 6am. Getting used to the time schedule here has been very difficult and I still haven’t quite got the hang of it.

Other than a few tours of the city and seeing some amazing art museums, I haven’t really done as much traveling or done as much sightseeing as I would like. One thing that I have done is witnessed my first bullfight last Sunday at the world renowned Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas. At first I enjoyed it; the atmosphere, the culture, the history, but then it really took me by surprise just how violent of a sport it is. After seeing the way that people in the U.S. reacted to the death of Harambe, I found it mesmerizing that every Sunday in this bullring they brutally kill 6 bulls in front of a huge raucous crowd. I’m not one to talk badly about another culture, but I can’t see this sport being around for much longer (I could be wrong though).

With classes well under way things are beginning to settle down a little bit for me over here, but a trip to Barcelona this weekend awaits and I couldn’t be more excited!

 

 

Okay. Breath in. Breath out.

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.

 

 

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New Paltz


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On Being Home

I’ve been back in New York for almost three months, and I still think about Spain everyday. I knew that it would take me a while to get acclimated and find a new normal, and I’m glad I have a whole three months to do so. This summer I moved into New Paltz, took an online class, and started working at a rock climbing gym. I’ve also gotten to do a lot of the things that I love doing like going for hikes and practicing yoga. It’s comforting knowing that although a lot of things have changed, in a way some things have remained the same.

 

My level of Spanish improved greatly while I was aboard thanks to living with a host family, having all my classes in Spanish, and having local friends. When I got back, I knew that I wanted to continue practicing and not lose all that I had learned; however, it’s obviously very hard to maintain the same level of immersion, so I had to try extra hard to surround myself with Spanish music, movies, and books.

 

There’s nothing I love more than meeting someone who also travelled or studied abroad and sharing our experiences and comparing our opinions. I met someone at the gym that also studied abroad in Andalusia and it’s been great talking about how similar and different our trips were, and I also get the chance to practice my Spanish with him!

 

Talking to other people with similar experiences has been great because it was hard for me to talk to my friends about my time abroad because so much happened. Honestly, I found it a little difficult to try and sum up my time without just saying “it was so great, I had the time of my life!” My friend’s lives continued on normally, they experienced everything together, their lives weren’t put on hold for months. It’s difficult for me because now eight months have passed, and everything is completely different. I knew that I wasn’t going to come back and that everything was going to be exactly the same, but I also didn’t expect to come back to almost a different life.

 

Even though the I’ve lost touch with a few friends and the dynamic of some relationships have changed, I’m embracing the change because I also know that I am not the same person I was when I left. This whole experience has further solidified and taught me the belief that everything is constantly changing and progressing, and all we really have is this moment. No matter how good or bad something is, the moment will never last, so there’s no use in trying to make something last forever.

 

I’m really fortunate and happy I had the opportunity to study abroad and sad that it’s over, but it truly has taught me a lot and put a lot of things in perspective. I know for a fact that I’m not done travelling and this desire to explore has motivated me to continue to work hard in school and to save money to make travelling a priority in the future.

 

I can’t believe how quickly the Fall semester is going to start, and how long ago the beginning of my adventure feels. It’s been just about eight months since I boarded my plane to go an ocean away, and had my life changed for the better. I can’t wait to take more classes in Spanish and to also encourage as many people as I can to also study abroad!

Week One

cathedralNora plazaEspichaIt has officially been a week since I arrived in Oviedo, Asturias, Spain! I was nervous upon arriving since this has been my first time traveling internationally without my parents. However, once I met my host mom at the bus station, received my luggage, and started my classes on Monday the nerves turned in to pure excitement. This is my new life for the next month and I couldn’t be happier. I have met so many amazing people from my classes in just one week. All of the other international students here seem very open and kind, which has definitely helped me adjust to being away from home. In addition, I have been busy outside of classes with various activites. It is easy to spend a whole afternoon wandering around the winding paths of the city. Every street is dotted with sidrerias, carnicerias, and confiterias where you can shop for the three main Asturian staples: cider, ham, and pastries. On Tuesday, I attended Ayuntamiento with classmates, which was a tour of the Oviedo municipal building. We learned about the rich history of the city, ancient rulers, and different saint festivals that date back to the medieval period. On Friday, my class attended Espicha, which is a traditional Asturian welcoming dinner. The tables were filled with an assortment of tapas and giant barrels of cider. Bagpipe players (due to a strong Celtic influence in the city) and traditional Asturian dancers with castanets performed as students mingled. On Saturday, I went to Playa de San Lorenzo in the local beach town of Gijon. It was a spectacular afternoon as students dipped in and out of the warm waters of the Bay of Biscay. I cannot wait to explore more of this wonderful country both in and out of the classroom.

A Few Opening Thoughts… (pre-departure)

Today marks the ten day countdown to my study abroad journey to Oviedo, Spain! I am more than excited to begin classes, meet international friends and my host mother, and to explore the city of Oviedo and surrounding areas. I am excited yet slightly apprehensive about this new experience. I know that once I arrive and get settled in with my host family, however, the nerves will pass and I will quickly get accustomed to the new lifestyle. In addition, I have been busy this past week arranging last minute details of the trip before I go. There is a lot of preparation and I know this experience will be well worth it. Overall, I’d like to set several goals that I hope to reach by the end of the program. My first goal is to improve my conversational Spanish speaking skills to a near fluent level. Secondly, I am eager to learn more about Spanish culture and the history of Oviedo. My third goal, though not as academic based as the first two, is to simply cherish this opportunity in every way possible by being immersed in a new culture and by meeting new people. I have a lengthy “weekend” list of places to go and landmarks to see, such as the rugged Picos de Europa and the breathtakingly ancient cathedrals. Obviously there is a lot to look forward to, so stay tuned, reader, as I embark on my study abroad journey to Oviedo, España!

Hasta pronto

-Nora