Catedral de Sevilla and Life 3 Weeks In

Things have been fantastic here in Sevilla. It really feels like we live here now. One way I can tell is I’ve actually become used to hanging up my clothes to dry, because here in Andalucia, Spain, they don’t believe in driers apparently. Just one of those simple things that makes the experience extra authentic.

Every Friday we have a class that counts towards our 3-credit orientation. The class consists of elaborate tours of historic spots around the city. The professor, Rosio, is a history genius! She knows everything about everything it seems. This past Friday, the seventeenth of February, Rosio took us to the Cathedral of Seville. It is one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world. Part of its architecture is of Arabic origin, which is very unique. There was also some Italian influence in a few rooms. We walked up its tall tower to get a beautiful view of the city. Although it was a lot to take in, the entire tour was breathtaking.

The weekend following was Carnaval. Cadiz, a city one hour away from Sevilla, holds the world’s third largest Carnaval celebration. We all went through one of the organizations for international student excursions. The trip was really easy and inexpensive. The streets in Cadiz, unlike in Sevilla, were packed with people in costume. It seemed like everyone in Cadiz was outside to celebrate. A group of us dressed up as fairies. It was a really cool experience being apart of Spanish culture like that.

Sevilla, Finalmente

Since my last post, we traveled to Marbella, a beach town near Malaga. The resort we stayed at was absolutely beautiful with a straight view of Africa across the ocean. The two days in Marbella we got to spend relaxing and winding down before the big trip to Seville. One day we went into the busy city of Marbella to shop around. We walked right on the sand and then got tapas at the beach. It wasn’t warm enough to swim outside but the sun was still great.

Moving to our homes in Sevilla was very exciting. We dropped off our things and went out to shop for all the things we needed. Luckily our apartment building is right in the city center. There is a big shopping mall across the street and next to that is a huge store (similar to Macy’s) called Corte Inglés. Everything is really accessible, including the Universidad. It’s about a 20 minute walk to school but it’s a nice walk and way to get in a little activity each day.

My classes are really interesting so far. I’m taking two literature classes (Obras Maestras de la Literatura Española and Cervantes y el Quixote). The Obras Maestras [Master Works] class is really interesting. It covers very similar topics as many other classes but the teacher is so enthusiastic that it forces you to pay close attention, even though the class is 7-9pm at night. At the moment we’re focusing on Don Juan Tenorio– intriguing so far!

I’m also taking La Imagen de España a través del Cine which is all about Spanish cinema. That professor is also really engaging. He obviously has a passion for cinema and I think we, as students, can identify with that. My other class is a Phonetics and Conversation class but I haven’t gotten a real grasp on what the class is like because I just added it and my professor may change next week. So far it’s been really great because I love linguistics and phonetics.

In addition to having cool professors, we’ve also had fantastic program leaders- Miguel, Luis, and Rosio. We always talk about how much they do to make sure we’re comfortable and safe.

The weather is also really beautiful here. There’s almost too much beauty here in the architecture and in everything for me to say in words. So I’ll post some photos and leave off with that!

Arrived in Granada!

Today is Day 2 in España and I am loving it. We arrived yesterday just after noon at this lovely hotel in Granada, Spain. That was only after a very long trip via two airplanes. At JFK I found the rest of the group waiting at the gate for our plane to Madrid. We all introduced ourselves and everyone is super nice. We all had separate seats on the plane and reunited in Madrid where we waited another five hours before the next flight. Our second flight was on a much smaller plane. We boarded the small plan from stairs outside like celebrities and presidents do! Exciting right? I thought so. I used to have a fear of flying and the small plane was a little more rough so I was glad when our feet reached the solid ground in Granada. Luis and Miguel, our program directors, met us right when we arrived in the airport of Granada.

By the time we got to the hotel I was hardly awake. After a nice lunch we went to our rooms and snoooooooooozed. Then, after a total of only two hours of sleep throughout the trip, I couldn’t resist sleeping. They say you’re not supposed to nap in order to quickly adjust to the time difference but after a shower and then feeling my eyelids gain weight, yeah, I gave in. I forced myself to wake up at 6:30pm and take a walk to get cash and some fresh air. My roommate, Rachel, came with me and we explored a couple of blocks near the hotel. Walking outside of the hotel made us say “Hmmm, okay NOW we’re in Spain!”

After dinner with the group, everyone else wanted to take a walk also so we went on another outing and then returned for some real sleep. At 9:30am we boarded the bus for a tour of La Alhambra, the famous castle in the mountains of Granada. The castle was filled with beautiful Islamic artistry. My favorite spots were the most serene and peaceful. You could really imagine how easy it must have been to pray in peace. Los torres had fantastic views of Granada and its surrounding mountains. We saw the tallest mountain in all of Spain, covered in snow just like many of the others. My toes were frozen by the end of the tour, but it was worth seeing those beautiful sights.

The bus then took us to a mountainous part of Granada that had a gorgeous view of La Alhambra. This was probably my favorite part of the day because of the area itself. We were in a residential area filled with houses on a steep hillside. We saw and heard men playing flamenco on their guitars. The sun shone just right. The walk through the beautiful Arabic architecture was precious; really something unique that I can still smell and taste in my memory. I almost felt at home seeing people in their natural state. There were numerous people with dreadlocks which I thought was fantastic! It was like being back in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, or back in my childhood. I didn’t think I’d see that here. There were a lot of places to see Flamenco. (We didn’t see any Flamenco dancing but I can’t wait to see some in Sevilla!) There were also cute little shops on the way back into the main part of Granada. After a lunch and siesta, we took a tour of la catedral de Granada, then got some chocolate con churros.

There are two things you should know about today- one is that it was cold. Be prepared because I wasn’t. Granada is surrounded by snowy mountains unlike a lot of other Spanish cities. The second- chocolate con churros is a legitimate reason to visit Spain. When you ask for hot chocolate here, it’s nothing like American hot chocolate. It’s almost like hot chocolate pudding, plus you get churros to dip in it. Enough said.

Now that it is 1am I must sleep to be up and ready for Malaga tomorrow! I’ll share a quote before I go from the “Powerful Thoughts” book by Louise L. Hay. “I feel good about everyone I meet. All my relationships are healthy and nourishing.”

Buenas noches!

One Week to Go!

It’s snowing in New York City today and somehow I’m going to have to adjust to 64 degree weather in one week! I don’t think that adjustment will be an issue though.

So I’ve begun the packing process. I just bought a gigantic suitcase that could probably pack a person. There are still a few things to be done like laundry, which is the only part of packing that I can’t stand. This week is going to be filled with preparation so hopefully I won’t be too stressed out by Saturday.

All of the New Paltz students are heading back to New Paltz this weekend and it is so sad to say goodbye! I didn’t think I would be sentimental at all but it is a bittersweet farewell for now. At least I won’t be waking up for class on Monday! However, I will be waking up early. The time difference in Spain is 6 hours ahead of New York. So waking up here at 9am is like waking up for Spain’s 3pm. So for almost the entire winter break I’ve been trying not to sleep late. Yesterday I woke up at 6:30am accidentally and decided to stay awake. Hopefully by the time I arrive in Spain my body will be adjusted to waking up around 6am EST, or 12pm in Spanish time. I really don’t want to be jet-lagged when classes begin.

Also, I have a little book of inspirational quotes that I think I’ll share here on this blog. Each quote is a little daily affirmation for us all to remind ourselves of. There’s one for each day of the 2012 year. So, to leave you guys with a little food for thought: “I have many dreams, and I know that I deserve to have these dreams come true.” – Louise L. Hay

Madrid Disposables

Disposables are trendy, sure, but it’s also just nice to have physical photos you can paste in an album (not the Facebook kind). Here are some disposable cam shots of Madrid from January to March 2011

A view from the street of some classic Madrid apartments

I found these goons at The Feast of Fools in Plaza Mayor, one of the Madrid Carnival events in March

Metro moment with my friends from France

The view from my bedroom balcony. Madrid gets balconies right. Balconies for errybody!

Angela is my good friend from New Paltz. She is in a separate program from me and goes to school in lovely Alcala de Henares. (Taken in my bedroom)

Party Morgan. Me dolled up at a party

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Subjective Advice: Ways To Live Abroad

This is a real-life, unrehearsed, unscripted, [awkward] tour of my homestay apartment. Enjoy.

Homestay Tour

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Prospective study abroad students: a big question is what’s the best choice of living arrangement. Stay with a native family? Hunt down your own flat upon arrival?
Umbrella suggestion: it depends on what you want out of your abroad experience. For example, my choice of homestay (in which I was paired with Senora Pilar Gonzaléz Chao and my NYC roommate, Denisa) was motivated by my aspirations to be integrated into the culture.
However, after living with in a homestay for a few months I’ve detected some highs and lows I hadn’t considered before.
Here is a break down of experience of friends living in apartments, homestay families, and student residences in Madrid in the form of- you guessed it- a pros and cons list.

HOMESTAY FAMILY
Pro
– “True cultural experience.”
– Gain little wisdom nuggets from a native you wouldn’t get anywhere else:
historical facts, recipes, best places to eat or get a haircut.
–> 68 year old Snra. Chao told me where the free museums are, how to roll croquetas, where every festival in Spain is, and that the reason she didn’t learn to drive until her 20’s was because she refused to take the homemaking course mandatory with getting a license under Franco. Our dinnertime talks were one of the most meaningful aspects of my homestay experience.

Con
– Full board meal plan = No control over diet. If you’re a selective eater (dieting, vegan, picky), don’t get full board. Be prepared to eat as they people do. Madrileños: small breakfast, large lunch at 2-4 PM, tapas, dinner 10 PM.
– Language barrier (if you have one).
– No friends over. This came as a huge bummer to me because I prefer socializing by throwing pot lucks, having friends over for drinks or movies.
– Not recommended if you need your space.
– You have to eat within acertain time period

Depends
– You can’t be shy about specifying your wants. And prepare yourself for miscommunication. A health conscious peer of mine requested her senora add more vegetables to her carb/fried meals; croquetas and calamari became batter-fried cauliflower and peppers
– You can’t cook for yourself. Cooking is a hobby and creative outlet for me, so it was annoying to be forbidden from even frying an egg. Adding to the bother is when I’m scrutinized or fussed over when I’m just trying to spread jam on bread.
– Yes, you can still maintain a nocturnal social life; they know you are young, funky, and like to go out. You don’t have a curfew. BUT you do need to respect the family you are living with, such as being quiet as you can when you do

APARTMENT/PISO
– If you’ve already spent college living in an off campus apartment, why not try pressing the borders of your comfort zone and do something different? (ie, homestay family?)
– tend to live with other exchange people/ may be from other countries, but they are rarely Spaniards
– you control your own meals: you control your own diet, you miss out on cultural food because you cook what you’re used to

RESIDENCE
– The ones I’ve heard of come with a dining hall and your meal plan is mandatory since you don’t have a kitchen. If you’re a picky eater (or vegan, vegetarian) you may not want someone else deciding what you’re going to eat everyday. The girl I know lives on French fries.
– It’s dorm life. With a roommate.
– Probably procure a gym membership with your residence
– May have to eat within a certain time period; not whenever

*Advice based only from me + a handful of other people, from 1 semester in Madrid, Spain. Take it with grains of salt.

Leaving New York (and Why It Was For Madrid)

January 2011

Throughout the winter break, “I’m leaving for Spain January 23rd” was something I said all the time but didn’t know its meaning until two days after I unpacked in Madrid. I was excited to leave, of course I was excited, but fall and January swept past in a blur of To-Do lists and goodbyes without giving me pause to grasp, “I am going to live new country for half a year… I am going to live new country for half a year.”
Regardless, I suppose mental preparation can only yield so much until you finally leave! I did all kinds of other planning up until spring, such as choosing what country to study and how I wanted to live there. During class I would draw lists in my notebooks that looked like this:

PRAGUE _______________ MADRID
Pro – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Pro
* nice bridges – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – * I can speak some Spanish
* humanities program – – – – – – – – – – – * paella
* it’s got that gritty, sad-poet cool vibe

Con
* How long do I think I can live
on meat and potatoes?

My values might be questionable (and largely food-based), but they did help me discern what I wanted. A few Quito/Madrid, Monterrey/Madrid lists later, Madrid was my winner. Money and program availability factors aside, my guiding concern was finding the place I could make the most of; ie, finding a culture I thought I could immerse myself in rather than observe from a distance all semester. Speaking the language was going to be key (and I knew some Spanish) and if I could choose what sort of attitude I was going to come away with, I wanted a Madrileño one! To me, the Spanish capital epotimized a playful and relaxed mentality that I aspired to learn.

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And thus, January 23rd I was flying to Madrid! It was night as I took off from JFK and from my window seat I could see the length of Hometown Long Island outlined in street lamps, passing by below. Being a LI gal, it was a meaningful send-off, so I sketched a memory and said goodbye to every county.