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

The More Things Change

Despite the fact that Granada is 3,664 miles away from New Paltz, there are many similarities between both of these places that I call home. The most obvious thing being the atmosphere and the feeling I get while walking around. There’s parks here are filled with young people sitting with their friends, playing guitar, singing, juggling, hula-hooping, and just enjoying the moment. You can find these things on any quad on campus during the fall or spring. The people are also just as friendly and willing to starting conversation in both places.

The mountains and views are breathtaking from both places, and I can’t imagine living anywhere that doesn’t have these types of views. I’m in love with everything that I see when I’m walking around Granada, and it’s hard for me to imagine not living here. New Paltz is the place that made me fall in love with the mountains and showed me how easy it is so escape somewhere that is peaceful and healing. For this reason, I was very excited about going hiking in Granada and experiencing the same feeling an ocean away.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve done a lot memorable hikes and met a lot of great people along the way. My friends and I try to go hiking almost every week, and sometimes twice if we all have time. It’s an activity that allows us to bond and have a good time together. The friends that I made hiking or the ones I go on hikes with are some of closest friends I have here.

Hiking and yoga are the two things that I made sure I continued when I came to Granada. I was never really a fan of having routines because it always made me feel like I was living the same day over and over again. However, I like having activities that make feel like myself and that I enjoy. When I first got here, I joined yoga classes with the University and I’m glad I did. The classes were different than the ones I was used to in New Paltz, but I still enjoyed going.

Granada and New Paltz are two places I feel fortunate to call home, even for just a while, that have undoubtedly shaped me into the person I am and continue to do so. It’s amazing how much a city or a town can teach you about people, the world, and yourself.

Exploring

 

As much as I love Granada, I also love exploring the cities that surround me and other ones in the country. It’s relatively easy for me to travel everywhere because I’m a short bus or a taxi ride to the train station, bus station, or airport. I’ve found that the bus is the best option for me because it’s cheap and convenient.

In the two months that I have been here, I’ve explored a good portion of Andalusia, the southern coast of Spain where I’m living. Andalusia has mountains and beautiful beaches, so I can’t really ask for anything else. It is also a very relaxed and laid back area where life isn’t taken too seriously. I admire the lifestyle and also love hearing local opinions that “Americans live to work, and Spaniards work to live”. It’s refreshing because it helps solidify the fact that there is more to life than getting a paycheck.

Some of my favorite cities so far have been Sevilla, Cádiz, and Málaga. Sevilla was the first city that I visited, and I absolutely loved everything about it. It was more modern and bigger than Granada, however, I don’t think I could’ve spent my whole semester there. I prefer the size of Granada and the fact that I am in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Another one of my favorite cities was Cádiz, which is a port city surrounded by the sea. I went in early February for Carnaval, which is one of the things the city is known for. Carnaval is basically a celebration or “street party” before Lent starts, and the whole city participates and dresses up in costumes. I meet people from all over Spain that came to Cádiz to celebrate, and it was one of my favorite weekends so far.

I loved Málaga and have visited three or four times. The beaches are beautiful even in the middle of January, and sometimes there are even people swimming in the ocean. One of my favorite things about this city is an indoor market called “Ataranzas” that sells fish, meat, cheese, bread and fruits and vegetables that are really fresh and cheap.

One of my favorite things about travelling so far has been staying at hostels and meeting tons of interesting people from all around the world. Most of the hostels that I have stayed at have meals or events that are meant to bring people together, and for the most part everyone is pretty friendly. I can’t wait to travel and explore more in the next few months!

making lifelong international friends abroad

I did not except to meet the girls I met abroad during my fall 2015 study abroad experience at Universidad Carlos III in Madrid. The girls I met will forever be my best friends. Yes distance separates us, but we overcome it. We plan to reunite one day, hoping from country to country, catching up over our favorite pastimes–including drinks and tapas at our local bar. Except this time we will be sharing our favorite food or place to visit from our home country. For me, I’d definitely introduce my friends to some delicious New York pizza or even spend a day touristing throughout the Big Apple.

If you ever decide to study abroad, it is a great experience. You will meet a ton of people from different backgrounds and be intrigued to learn all about their culture, their language, and their customs. You’ll be surprised to hear all of the American stereotypes they think we have. I’ve been asked the one about those “epic college ragers” depicted in the movies, and whether or not I religiously watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians. I don’t.

I miss them.But thank god for the twenty-first century. Through Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, and more you can connect with people around the globe in an instant.

Not sure where I’ll find my self meeting these girls again–whether it be in Sydney, Rio, Buenos Aires, Thailand, or even New York. Wherever it may be, I definitely look forward to seeing these girls real, real soon.

What is even greater is that I already got to see one! We met up recently while she was on vacation in New York City for a few hours to catch up.

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Chicas, ¡Los extraño!

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My advice to all of you college students: study abroad and get yourself some international friends…You won’t regret it!

Academic Adjustment

So far classes are pretty different than what I’m used to at New Paltz, which is what I was expecting. I’m taking 5 classes in Spanish: one grammar class, one oral production and writing class, and 3 electives in culture and language.

The style of the classes all vary, as they do in New Paltz, but one thing that is different is at New Paltz you are explicitly told what is expected of you. Here, the first few days of classes we were assigned group projects and dates, and the topic and everything else is up to us. There’s a lot less structure and we are encouraged to be more independent, which I really like, it just took some getting used to.

In some of my classes we got syllabi, but not as detailed and thorough as the syllabi at New Paltz. We have the dates of midterms and finals, but other deadlines and outline of the class aren’t explicitly laid out. Which is fine, it just means I have to be more aware of what’s happening in class and be more independent.

The class size is small, comparable to size of the classes I was taking at New Paltz, but I find that the classes are more focused on group work rather than note taking. Sometimes I like to work in groups, but other times I wish we could work alone or have some lectures.

My favorite class is Civilización y Cultura hispanoamericanas (Civilization and Culture of Hispanic America). For this class we got to do a group project on any topic, so my group choice banned literature from four countries- El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. I love being able to do a project and present about what I’m interested in; it makes the learning experience more enjoyable. This class is really interesting and I love going in-depth about a part of the world I’ve only learned about briefly in the past.

So far classes are going really well, there are some differences which I expected, but in the end it’s not a huge drastic change. I’m really enjoying the content of my class and learning about Spain, the world, and the Spanish language. I know that this semester is going to be difficult, but all the work and effort I put in will be worth it.

First Week In Madrid

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Madrid is so much more than I ever expected!I have been here only a week but the architecture and the history of the city is so beautiful it takes your breathe away! One thing I didn’t anticipate was how long it would take to get over the Jet Leg. It has taken me about a week to get over the Jet Leg. The mid day siesta helps a little bit with the sleepiness, that is something I can definitely get used to. My first night here I went to a local bar for crepes and a glass of wine.
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I am living in La Latina one of the older neighborhoods in the city center. It is so beautiful, I feel spoiled by the monuments and beautiful architecture at every corner.I am living in an apartment with two other people a girl from New Paltz and a boy from the UK. I live about a 40 minute train ride from my university. The transportation here is incredibly cheap, upon arrival you have to get an Abono right away so that you can use the train, metro, and buses unlimited for only 20 euro a month. The best place to get the Abono or transportation card is at the Tobaco shop in Tribunal, because you do not need to make an appointment.
Abono
So far I have gone to El Parque Retiro twice once on my own jogging.
Running through Parque Retiro
The second time I went was on a picnic with a bunch of other students from my school. We all brought some type of food and spent the day in the park. The people here are very nice and laid back. I was very nervous about making friends here but I found that it is kind of like freshman year in college, everyone is eager to make friends and they’re all so friendly here! So far Madrid has been a blast I’m excited to see what the next four months has in store!

This is a museum within the park you can walk in for free and see all the art work. They are currently showing the work of Wrobleski

This is a museum within the park you can walk in for free and see all the art work. They are currently showing the work of Wrobleski

Picnic in the Park

Front of the Crystal Palace

This is the back  of the Crystal Palace

This is the back of the Crystal Palace

Picnic in the park

All the students in this photo are from different places all over the world!

All the students in this photo are from different places all over the world!

Preparing for Madrid

I can’t believe that my trip is finally here it is surreal to think that in two weeks I will be living in Madrid! I just arrived home from visiting family in Florida and I am sitting on my bedroom floor with a million clothes and shoes and only two luggages. It seems like an impossible task to fit everything but after many tough decisions I’ll hopefully be able to fit all I need. I am nervous about going to Madrid all on my own; however I know that it is going to be the trip of a lifetime. I am not looking forward to saying goodbye to my parents and family but I can’t wait to get started on this adventure!

Go With the Flow: Adjusting

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” Alan Watts

The first time I was greeted by someone in Spain, they instinctively went to give me a kiss on both cheeks. Naturally, I was a little thrown off and I’m sure I made it very obvious that that was something I was not accustomed to. However, there’s not an awkward moment that laughing about can’t fix. Now, it’s no longer a strange or awkward concept, but a custom that I have adapted to and utilize when I meet new people.

There were many stereotypes of Spaniards that I heard about before coming to Spain, some hold more truth than others, but in reality you have to go into this adventure with an open mind. I learned that if you have an open mind about pretty much everything while travelling, you will always be pleasantly surprised rather than disappointed.

Also, having an open mind allowed me to try new food that I may not have tried in New York. I’m staying at a homestay with a host family, which is just a host mom who loves to cook. She has her own garden and grows most of the food we eat, which I’m a big fan of. I love all of the food that I have eaten so far, which is a lot of vegetables and beans. I was nervous about the food situation coming here, since I’m a vegetarian and big part of the Spanish diet is meat and fish, but it’s been relatively easy.

I also love my homestay apartment because it’s in the center of the city, which is close to everything and a 5-minute walk to class. My apartment is uncommonly big for the center of a Spanish city; I share the bottom floor with a girl from my program and our host mom is on the floor above us. I was a little apprehensive that I wouldn’t like staying at a homestay, but I really think it’s the best option for truly immersing yourself in another culture. I get to practice my Spanish all the time while having genuine conversations, and I get to eat really good food.

One thing that I was expecting to be different about the Spanish culture was the schedule of their meals. We all eat breakfast at different times because of our own schedules, but we normally eat lunch around 2PM, then dinner at 9PM. I actually prefer eating dinner at this time, compared to the typical time in America at 6PM or 7PM.

So far, adapting to this new culture has proved to be an enjoyable learning experience. It’s true that the customs of the Spanish people are a little different than the people I am used to in New York, but I love noticing these cultural differences and comparing it to the norms in America. I can’t wait to learn more about this culture and way of life.

My New Home

As I stepped off the plane and into the terminal, Spanish engulfed my ears. First thought: Shoot, what did I just do? Seriously what was I thinking coming to a country where I can barely speak the native language? How am I supposed to get a taxi to my apartment? Where even is my apartment? Is it too early to call my parents?

I somehow got a taxi to the other side of Madrid.

Stepping into my apartment was like stepping into a stereotypical grandmother’s home. I glanced warily at the old carpet, old couches, and old books on the library-style shelves. How is it possible for everything to appear so…old? Even the microwave looked like it should have been buried sixty years ago.

The landlord chattered away in speedy Spanish as I sized up the place I would be living for the next four and a half months. I offered her plenty of affirmative “Sí” answers in hopes that she would believe I understood half of what she was explaining.

Here are some things I did understand:

  1. How to flush the toilet (answer: pull on the broken chain hanging from the ceiling)
  2. They oven doesn’t work, but the microwave (if that is actually what it is) does. She clicked a bunch of buttons on it and said the words meaning temperature and time about a million times because apparently she thought this was one of the most important things I should know.
  3. The wi-fi password! My grandma-apartment is very high-tech.

When she eventually handed me the keys and left, I was left to wander the place alone. Its old appearance wasn’t getting any better. It was still a very grandma-like apartment for young students. Although I did have misguided dreams of some posh Madrid flat with a working oven, this is it. This is my grandma apartment. My grandma apartment that is less than a two minute walk from my favorite coffee shop to get the typical Spanish café con leche (the picture at the top of this post). My grandma apartment with three new friends to live with. My grandma apartment…in Spain. And that’s really all that matters.

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Fun fact: there are no dryers in Spain. No more saving my favorite shirt to wash an hour before I need it!IMG_6742IMG_6743 IMG_6744

 

Instantly at Home

Falling in love with Granada wasn’t a hard thing to do, simply one look around and it’s difficult not to have your breath taken away. I’m surrounded by more natural beauty and lovely people than I ever thought was possible. I have never been in a place as unbelievably beautiful as Granada. I guess this city’s captivating charm is what led the Mexican poet, Francisco de Icaza, to say “for there is nothing sadder in life than being blind in Granada”.

It didn’t take long, or much, for me to call this fascinating city “home”. There seems to be beauty everywhere I look, which constantly reminds me how magnificent this world is in spite of the unspeakable events that are happening. There’s a dreamlike feeling simply walking around and being surrounded by mountains, incredible architecture and a culture that’s just as wonderful.

At the risk of sounding cliché, this city is magical and enigmatically enticing. When I try to describe how much I love it here, I feel like I can’t find the words to accurately depict the feeling I get. Granada is a place where remnants of its history are undoubtedly present, yet it somehow manages to feel fresh and new. The Alhambra, whitewashed houses, and Islamic tiles and patterns are a symbol of the city’s eventful past, while politically charged and thought-provoking street art reminds us we’re in the 21st century.

From the views I was greeted with the minute I got off the plane, to the scenic taxi ride to my homestay, I knew I made the right decision choosing Granada. I have never felt more in awe or more in love with a place as I do here.