Arrivederci NYC!

Since my summer began, all that had been on my mind was my countdown until I would be in Milan, Italy. The range of my emotions were quite extreme- I was excited yet nervous, curious yet anxious. I had no idea what I would be flying into, considering the farthest I’ve been from home is to Hawaii- and that still is part of the United States! I’ve always had a desire to travel elsewhere, out of the United States and dive into cultures where I could only daydream what they were like. Yet here I was, about to travel to Europe for the first time, and completely immerse myself in Italian culture.

When choosing where to study abroad, Italy was on the top of my list; the Italian diets consists mainly of carbs and fish (both of which happen to be my faves), the Italian culture is so rich with history, and the university I will be studying at had courses that both sparked my curiosity while fulfilling my major requirements here at New Paltz. Day and night I would think about Italy- what I would eat there, who I would meet there and what I would learn there! Questions started to arise in my mind: Would I come back fluent in Italian? Would living in Milan make me more fashionable and push me to experiment with my style? How much pasta can I eat that is humanly possible? It all felt so surreal that I was going to actually be living there for an extended period of time.

As my summer dwindled to an end, and saying my farewells to family and friends, I couldn’t help but be ecstatic to embark on a new journey that would hopefully be a transformative one. Saying goodbye was definitely hard and tears were shed, but I knew what is to come will surely be amazing.

Breaking stigmas about traveling alone & making friends abroad

Someone once said that traveling means nothing if you have no one to share the experience with. Well, that’s one of the most depressing things I’ve ever heard especially since almost all of my traveling has been done alone. I want to break that stigma that you need to travel with someone, that you need to make friends abroad. Traveling alone, living abroad alone, teaches you so much about yourself. Maybe it’s things you don’t like, things you need to improve, but don’t ever let anyone tell you that traveling alone doesn’t mean anything. It may mean more than traveling with people, honestly it takes a lot to be able to spend 5 day alone in a country you’ve never been before. So, take that leap.

You learn to love yourself more, even if you think you aren’t. Making international friends is such an amazing feeling that shouldn’t be played down because making connections all around the world is something of value. But it’s easy to fall into this idea that you must make friends, hey you might not vibe with everyone around you and that’s fine, this is your time. Spend it with those who matter.

Study life

The semester has been going for about a month now and things are falling into place. Luckily I got into the classes I wanted and I’m thoroughly enjoying the material I’m learning as well. My classes are relatively small and we meet for 3 hours once a week. Because it is so long and full of information we take a small break. We are all foreigners in the classes, but most of the people are American. In New Paltz, there is a comfort that I know what is expected of me and that I can reach it. Here, I feel like I don’t know what the professors expect or want, I’m doing all my work but I’m never sure if it’s any good. I only have class Tuesday and Thursday so it really isn’t bad. For every class, we usually do a part of the day’s work outside in the field which is really nice. I feel like I’m learning the information differently; I supposed that’s possible because of the location. I’ve been going to museums and famous, historical locations. I’ve been learning about the time and history preserved all throughout Prague.

And the cherry on top of it all is the constant view I have from anywhere I turn.

FOOD! Isn’t it the best?

If there is one thing to know about me, it’s that I absolutely love to eat. I am a picky eater, but in the last year I have become a cook and decided to grow up and try foods that normally I would say no to. Well, to no surprise, Prague has a lot of amazing, quality food. Most of my money probably goes to the food here. If you travel anywhere, I would say that it is a rule to have to signature dish of the country in a local restaurant. The first night here I tried goulash with bread dumplings, a classic Czech dish. It was really good, but extremely heavy. The breakfast here is very different; in America we have a mixture of carbs, sweets, and meats. In Europe, it’s meat, meat, vegetables and yogurt. Breakfast here hasn’t been my favorite since all I tend to have are the pastries, but wow are they good. Other than breakfast, I find the meals here to be amazing and Prague has amazing variety in all honesty. My favorite cafe, U Zavesenyho Kafe (where I am currently writing this) has casted a spell on me. From the sausages, chocolate tarts, and classic pivos, I think about visiting almost every day. The staff gives this charm where you want to become a regular, I hope I do.

Kolej Komenskeho is a great dorm! From the pictures that I saw and the descriptions I read, I wasn’t really excited to live in a communist style building. But when I first arrived, I felt this charm I couldn’t kick. My room is huge, I am in a double bedroom dorm where there are two single rooms with a little outside/kitchen area. It isn’t a full apartment, but for some reason it feels like an apartment that is yours. My windows are huge and fully open to reveal the cutest view. My room mate is sweet and it doesn’t feel uncomfortable. The staff in the building is also interesting, they are helpful and nice, but if you treat them badly, don’t expect any kindness in return. The weekly breakfast we get in the dorm is different, but it makes it feel more like home. And one, if not the best part about living in this dorm is the dorm mother, Zuzana. This woman is so amazing, influential, so full of spunk that I feel it is impossible to write about her. She goes out of her way every day to make our experience the best it can be. Because of her I have signed up for volunteer work, I’ve gone to the Opera, I have gotten to meet Czech people, discovered amazing places, and learned wisdom that could only come from someone who has lived through enough. The building might not be modern in the slightest, but it does have it’s charm.

The food in Prague can also be bad, in a sense. There are these famous desserts called “trdelnik” and boy is it a CON. A good con at that so my advise is yes have ONE, and don’t pay over 60 crowns for one either. It isn’t Czech in the slightest and it is just a capitalist scheme that someone came up with the idea of and has become rich off of it. If you do any research, you will find that this treat has only become popular within the last couple of years and that it has no ties to Czech culture at all. I tried one because hey it’s food and I’m curious, $2 is worth my curiosity. I personally enjoyed it the first two bites and then it became “too much”; it had way too much of well everything. Try it once, but don’t try it again. Instead try the honey cake, a original Czech dessert that will honestly be 200% better than any trdelink.

One more note, everything in Prague seems CHEAP. And it is to Americans, but ask the Czech questions. When you do, you will begin to realize that truly amazing food can be even cheaper. Czech people live differently than Americans do. Where $5 to Americans is nothing, especially if you are from NYC, it can mean the world to a Czech. This isn’t bad, if you ask around you will find places where you can get a spectacular Czech meal for $3 (like the cafe I am currently in). A great pivo can only cost you a single dollar if you go to the right place. If you stay in the tourist areas and where there aren’t any Czech people, expect to pay A LOT more than you should for anything.

Have the beer, it’s the culture and a given, have the goulash it’s also a given. There are many other Czech traditional dishes like fried cheese and hot wine, but my advice is give everything a try at least once. Coming from a picky, cheap eater; I must say that food is one of the only cultural doors that are always open.

Getting Familiar With The Unknown

It’s now been three weeks, almost four since I moved to Prague. Researching culture shock and reading all the charts can’t really prepare you for it. Writing this is weird and I don’t mean that in a bad way; it’s just that I’m trying to reflect on things that just happened but feel like a lifetime ago. Getting used to Prague isn’t hard or bad, it’s absolutely beautiful here. The amazement hasn’t really passed either, I continue to be amazed at the history and beauty that I discover every day. The hard part is home: thinking about how it is back home, what your friends are doing without you, what your family is doing, what your significant other might be feeling and not telling you. It has been hard. I try to not to sit in my room because when I do I just scroll on social media waiting for it to update. Thinking about my parents at home working for me to be able to do this makes me sitting in my room even worse. I’m not sure if there is a way to break the shock or not feel it, but whenever I find myself sitting at home sad, I just put my jacket on and walk out the door and go anywhere. Sometimes, i’s better to be alone in public than at home.

I feel like the first two weeks, everything felt magical and unreal. I had no actual concerns and then reality set in. I’m surviving in Prague alone. I have to be smart, I can’t spend crazy amounts of money because everything is cheap, it adds up. I can’t be alone nor can I be surrounded by people all the time. I haven’t been able to find a middle ground. I’m constantly thinking about when I get home how life will be so odd and there’s this thought that maybe I don’t have to go back home. Maybe I can find happiness here even though “it’s not a destination”. And as sad as it sounds now, almost all of the times where I have felt so lucky to be here is when learning about the tragic history this country has. Last night I saw the film Anthropoid, it was so moving and it’s hard for me to believe all those events happened where I walk by every day. It really puts things into perspective.

Adjustment is hard, I would be lying to you if I told you I haven’t spent nights lying in bed unhappy and being unhappy because I am unhappy in such a beautiful city. It’s a paradox I hope to break soon.

First Week Anniversary!

Hello from the other side of the world!! I have been in Prague for a week and a half now and it has been such a trip already! I feel like this past week and a half has felt like forever and no time all at once. Leaving home was surprisingly easier than I imagined, yes some tears were shed but as I stepped on the plane and stayed awake for all five hours, I didn’t cry once. Arriving in Prague with some fellow friends, felt surreal. My dorm itself was much nicer than I expected, walking into my room I was pleased to find myself really happy. It is a single room, very spacious and has huge windows that overlook Praha 6 (aka has the Prague Castle in it’s view).

I’ve been non stop busy since I got here. The first couple days were purely dedicated to orientation. We took care of basic orientation stuff and were given time to walk around Old Town Square. There was also this nice trivia night at a café with the International Students Club.

Culture shock is real people! And it’s not necessarily bad either. Everything in Prague is so cheap compared to NYC. I can buy a nice dinner for $8. I feel rich here, and I don’t mean money wise. I feel rich in the opportunity to see and feel how it is to live another life. Getting a huge caramel latte for $25=59 crowns, sitting down in a cafe with the bustling life around me and amazing sights, I feel full of light. I thought I’d be a lot more sad than I am. Buying groceries for $35, going home and cooking dinner every night with some friends. I feel like a somewhat actual adult for once.

It hasn’t been a complete walk in the park. Living in a building with so many people is hard because every single person is unique and has a set of different values. The first week I was here, I automatically got attached to a group of people. Friend wise, I put all my eggs in one basket. A week and a half in, I HIGHLY ADVISE AGAINST THIS. As hard as it seems to be give every one a chance and opening up, that’s the key to having a smooth transition into making friends. If you stick to one group and something goes wrong, its very hard. Stick to people who make you happy when you start to get sad, stick to those who offer you anything even when they can’t afford to. Those are the ones who will save you from the bad side of culture shock. I’ve only had one sad day, but it passed fast and I’m ready to continue to be happy.

My Czech intensive language course has been so interesting! Yes, it is five hours a day for ten days, but I got an amazing teacher and class. At first I felt nervous to learn, but as she spoke to us the entire class warmed up and before you know it we were speaking Czech! She takes us out into Prague to really teach us the culture and that way we actually use our Czech and learn through interaction. On top of all that she’s like a mini tour guide who knows the city very well. I’ve had the best time in that class even though it isn’t easy. Today was my midterm, but I believe I passed (I hope!)

The Calm Before the Storm

A year ago, if you asked me if I would study abroad I would have told you that it’s impossible. Last summer I thought, why not just try and then its quickly became a reality that I couldn’t fathom to be real. Coming from lower middle class, studying in another countries university was merely a dream. I remember the day I was accepted it felt as if the moving day was too far, but that day is quickly approaching now. It is a little stressful; I have never left the United States before. Actually I’ve hardly traveled outside of New York. I have never been so far from my family before either; all of this is on my mind. I can’t help but want to focus on the positive, the incredible fact that I am about to move and study in Prague.

It’s a little daunting yes, but I can’t begin to imagine how amazing it is going to be. I know my family and friends will still be home when I get back. When I think about how it’s going to be living in Prague, I get giddy inside. In Prague I’ll be considered an adult; I’ll have to be mostly completely independent. I’ll have to learn the Czech, learn their culture and  assimilate myself. All I know is life in New York City, but I am so ready to go through this change. I feel that this trip is going to change me a lot as a person. I hope to come back more mature and grounded and I don’t think staying somewhere where I am comfortable will help me with growing. SO here’s to the big leap across the world 🙂

Back to “The States”

The range of emotions experienced in the past couple weeks have been stressful, but also taught me a lot about who I am and what I want. My last week in Madrid was both emotional and exciting; I was sad to say goodbye to a city that I now view as a home away from home, but I was also happy to return to the city that raised me (NYC) and the small town that I also consider my home away from home (New Paltz).

Saying goodbye to my friends that I made while abroad was the hardest part, but I know that I have the means and the communication to see them again one day, either visiting them or them visiting me. Other than my friends, what I think I enjoyed the most about living in Madrid was just the pure excitement of being so far away from everyone I knew, in a beautiful new city/country/continent, that was filled to the brim with adventures and new things to see. For me personally, the joy of having something to be excited about and look forward to is almost as good as the actual experience.

That being said, I was also looking forward to coming home; one of the best parts about NYC is leaving and then coming back Almost all of my friends in NYC had already left back to their respective universities, so I still haven’t seen most of them yet, but being home with my family for a couple of days was very relaxing. I immediately noticed the little differences between the U.S. and Europe, such as the brutal line at customs when arriving at JFK, which was much longer than any of the lines I had to wait in while I was abroad visiting other airports. Also the fact that I had to listen to commercials for the entire duration of the line, another little thing that wouldn’t happen in Europe. Despite this, being back in NYC made me realize just how big and grand it is (and how small Madrid is). I also thoroughly enjoyed making my parents get me all of the amazing food that I missed so dearly.

Coming back to New Paltz was a different story. I hadn’t been in New Paltz in around 8 months, but it still felt like I never left. My friends and professors gave me a warm welcome back and I definitely enjoyed sharing some of my incredible experiences with them. Missing syllabus week has me playing catch-up for the time being, but my teachers have been very understanding of the situation. I haven’t had much time to really sit down and reflect on the past 5 months of my life due to how hectic my schedule has been, but I know that once I am situated (I still don’t have a bed yet) and caught up with my classes, I will be able to put things in perspective.

 

Freedom

After 4 final exams in the span of 72 hours, I have finally completed my studies here at UC3M. It was an exhausting week that included a lot of studying and very little sleeping, but I have just recently recovered and am ready to reflect on my classes here.

Education in Europe is much different from the United States in my experience, not necessarily good or bad, but just a different approach with a different emphasis on certain things. For instance, every final that I took this past week accounted for 50-60% of my grade and I felt the increase in pressure while studying and taking the exam. It almost made me feel as if the work I had put in the entire semester boiled down to this 2 hour exam and in my personal opinion students should not be put in that position.

However, in other instances I thought that the professors here in Spain afforded us a lot more leeway than professors in the U.S. would have. I am talking in terms of assignments, deadlines, circumstances outside of the classroom, etc. Many would argue that this approach would allow students to slack off, but I felt that I took away as much knowledge in these courses as I would back in New Paltz and isn’t that the point?

While my time at UC3M may be over, my time in this amazing city, country, and continent is far from over and now that I don’t have my classes to worry about, I am very excited for what comes next. I will be visiting a few other cities in Spain prior to the arrival of my family on Christmas and then in January I will begin my “Euro-Trip,” which includes stops in Dublin, London, Berlin, and Paris. This will all be uncharted territory for me that I have only been able to dream about and I am counting down the days!

 

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!