Archive for the ‘Pre-Departure’ Category

h1

Recordando

September 7, 2011

I went back and looked through my blog a couple days ago and it made me smile. Overall, it’s been a super easy transition. (Almost) Everything I worried about was silly and unnecessary. The whole “culture shock cycle” or whatever… hasn’t happened. At least not yet. They say you’re supposed to experience a “honeymoon” phase where everything is exciting, a freakout/depressed/withdrawal stage where life basically sucks, an adjustment phase where you get your routine down, and then a belonging phase where you don’t want to leave.

I feel like I skipped over the sucky part, and have moved on to the belonging/not-wanting-to-leave part. Already. After a bit more than two weeks here. But that’s me, I guess. I was in love with Spain before I even came here. I had my withdrawal period before I even left–mentally, in my worries. But, who knows, maybe it’ll hit me later. All I know is, I LOVE it here.

So here’s a silly, worried paragraph from a blog entry on August 18, three days before I left:

“I don’t know what to expect about anything, really. I’ll be living with a host family for the length of my stay and I don’t know what it’s like to live in a Spanish home. I don’t know a whole lot about the food or the routine of the average Spanish person. Sure, I’ve heard a couple of things, but reading up on things or watching movies does little to prepare you for the actual shock of the cultural difference. And, really, living with a family that is not my own is not something I have much experience with. I don’t know much about international travel either. I’ve never been through customs… not that I’m worried; I have a passport and a visa and everything will be fine, but it’s still a bit nerve-wracking. And when I get there, if my flight is delayed and I can’t meet with my group I have to take a bus and figure out how to get where I’m going and it’s all a bit frightening.  And how am I going to let my parents know I’m safe when I won’t be able to use my US cell phone? And then there’s the whole group dynamic–how will I fit in with a bunch of other American college students who probably aren’t a whole lot like me? I’m not really your typical American college student, but then again I guess anyone who wants to go to Spain for a semester of intense Spanish immersion must have more than a couple things in common with me.”

Alright so, here we go, attacking my ridiculousness.

  1. My host family is AWESOME. I have un padre y una madre, and they’re both super nice, accommodating, and chill. They have 3 guest rooms so they have people from various programs coming and going all the time. I’ve already had apartment-mates from: Poland, Belgium, Estonia, and Mexico. It’s really cool for me to meet and get to know people from all over the world, because that’s what I’m interested in. So, for me, it’s ideal.
  2. It did take me a bit of time to get accustomed to the eating schedule, but really, with jetlag and everything, it wasn’t hard. I have breakfast at 8, get to school at 9, have a break at 11 in which I eat a snack or something, get out of class at 12:30, walk around some or do something fun with friends, have lunch around 2:30 or 3, do more fun stuff with friends, and then have dinner at 9. It sounds strange to an American, but my body has gotten used to it pretty easily.
  3. Going through customs? Piece. of. cake. I didn’t even have to do anything. There wasn’t a line. I just gave them my passport, and they said I could go. It was too easy.
  4. Ok, the worry about flight delays was legitimate. Read this post and this post if you want to hear about THAT horror. But, sobre todo, it wasn’t so bad. Easy for me to say now, eh? But even though I was tired, hot, and sweaty, I found the hotel where my group was. I survived the tour of the University. And then, after dinner that night, I could sleep. And that really helped with jetlag, that I stayed awake the whole time.
  5. Letting my parents know–piece of cake as well. When I arrived at orientation, after sitting through part of a lecture, I got to send an email to my parents and that was that. And, after I got to my new home, I was able to skype with my dad. No prob.
  6. And, finally, the group dynamic. I have friends! And it wasn’t even that hard! haha. It’s true what I said about people having things in common with me. I mean, we’re all here for the same purpose, so we’ve all got our minds in similar places. Apart from politics and religion, which is something that should be avoided until you’re close anyway, I’m on the same page with a lot of people here. I have more in common with some of my friends here than I do with some of my friends back home!

In sum, apart from travel delays, which are always hit-or-miss anyway, all my fears were unnecessary. See? Don’t be anxious about anything. It’s all good.

Advertisements
h1

Not yet…

August 22, 2011

No, I am not in Barcelona. No, I am not in Europe. I have not yet left the US. Sigh.

To make a long story short, I’ve spent the last 9 hours waiting in at least 7 different lines, talking to at least 20 different airline employees, breaking down and crying once, and only taking a single hour-long flight.

Stupid thunderstorms.

I would give more information about what the heck is going on here but my “safety and security” meeting from Gordon told me not to share exact flight information over the internet to protect from “cyber kidnappers”. So, whatever.

The main point is: I am still in the US. I will be late to orientation. I have yet to hear from CIEE about anything, and I get to spend most of the day tomorrow in a semi-crappy US city waiting to take my flight. Oh, joy.

On the bright side, there are some really great people out there. 🙂 While I was breaking down and crying in the airport, some really nice woman came up to me and talked me through it and bought me a coffee drink at Caribou. We talked everything through and she even managed to find me a better flight than what the silly airline woman was able to get me. Of course, my plane was delayed so long that I didn’t make that flight that would have gotten me to Barcelona by tomorrow evening, but ah well. It was nice anyway. Also, I found another study abroad student who had the same problem, but she’s on her way to India instead. We teamed up so that we can at least comfort each other in this airline mess.

Oh, and I also was sitting next to a guy from Madrid on the plane. That was cool! I was gonna talk to him more about Madrid/Spain but I kind of retreated into my little hermit-like shell and so that didn’t happen. Stress will do that.

Ah, life. Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, life goes on, brah, la la how the life goes on.

h1

Wrapping things up

August 18, 2011

So here I am, still in the US. But not for long. I’m leaving in three short days for possibly the most life-changing event of my life to date.

Spain. For 4 whole months. A different world.

I have so many different emotions. A twinge of guilt for leaving my family and friends for so long, with little contact apart from this blog and maybe a few skype dates here and there. A good dose of sadness about leaving my family, my newborn adorable little niece, my friends, my college (granted, I’ve been gone from there for a good three months, but I’m not returning until spring so it’ll really start feeling like I’m gone when school starts there in a couple days),  my hometown, the wonderful little bubble in which I live in a small town in Virginia, USA. But I’m also, of course, immeasurably happy. Inexplicably excited. Along with that comes a fair amount of nervousness and anxiousness.

This is me, in a couple days.

I don’t know what to expect about anything, really. I’ll be living with a host family for the length of my stay and I don’t know what it’s like to live in a Spanish home. I don’t know a whole lot about the food or the routine of the average Spanish person. Sure, I’ve heard a couple of things, but reading up on things or watching movies does little to prepare you for the actual shock of the cultural difference. And, really, living with a family that is not my own is not something I have much experience with. I don’t know much about international travel either. I’ve never been through customs… not that I’m worried; I have a passport and a visa and everything will be fine, but it’s still a bit nerve-wracking. And when I get there, if my flight is delayed and I can’t meet with my group I have to take a bus and figure out how to get where I’m going and it’s all a bit frightening.  And how am I going to let my parents know I’m safe when I won’t be able to use my US cell phone? And then there’s the whole group dynamic–how will I fit in with a bunch of other American college students who probably aren’t a whole lot like me? I’m not really your typical American college student, but then again I guess anyone who wants to go to Spain for a semester of intense Spanish immersion must have more than a couple things in common with me.

Anyway, I know I’m rambling a lot, but these are just a couple of the emotions that are coming up as the day draws near.

The Beach! 🙂

 

But, to try to steer away from the anxiety and fear, here’s what I’m most excited about for the first couple days of Spain:

  • The beach! I get to swim in the Mediterranean Sea! 🙂
  • The food. Tapas bars, here I come!
  • The alcohol. The drinking age is 18 in Spain. Don’t take me wrong, I’m not gonna go all crazy and get drunk or anything, but I’m excited to legally be able to drink in a public place. Plus, Spanish wines are supposed to be great!
  • The people. I’m excited to see the metropolitan city that is Barcelona and see how the locals interact.
  • Antoni Gaudi! I LOOOVE his work, and I can’t wait to see it for myself!

    Barcelona Skyline--Isn't it beautiful?!

  • Speaking Spanish. Even though I must say that I’m quite nervous to use my Spanish in an actual Spanish-speaking country, I’m excited to hear it everywhere and start getting comfortable with the idea.
  • Las Ramblas. Assuming I have time and I’m all read-up on the latest pick-pocketing avoidance strategies, I hope that in the first couple days I can visit one of the coolest marketplaces in the world, Las Ramblas. Even if I don’t buy anything, it’ll be a cool experience, and I can scope it out for maybe buying stuff later.

Well, there you have it. That brought my mood up quite a bit. See, I am gonna have a good time, once I get through all the scary stuff.

h1

¡¡Dos Semanas!!

August 7, 2011

This is me right now.

Dos semanas. Two weeks. A fortnight. And I am leaving for Spain. Two weeks from today, I will be getting onto an airplane, then getting onto another airplane, then getting onto another airplane, then arriving in Barcelona.

My journey to come!

It still hasn’t fully hit me exactly what I’m embarking on, but I get glimpses of it every once in a while. I just hope I don’t have a nervous breakdown when I board one of the 3 planes I’m taking to get there. This is–by far–the furthest from home I’ve ever been, not to mention the longest chunk of time that I’ve spent away from home. Not that I’m really afraid or anything. I’m used to being far from home–Massachusetts may as well be across the Atlantic Ocean from Virginia; it takes long enough to drive there. But it’s still a bit nerve-wracking. Quite a bit, actually.

When I’m through with my 14-hour journey, I will be stepping off into a different country, a different continent, a different world. (well, really, before I’m through with the journey, since one of my layovers is in Munich). It still puts me in awe whenever I drive or fly to and from Massachusetts because it’s weird stepping into a new world after traveling (and yes, Massachusetts is a different world from rural central Virginia). No matter how long the journey is, it’s still mind-blowing to me that you can get somewhere so far away in such a relatively short time. I guess it’s because I’ve read too many Jane Austen novels where it takes 3 days to travel 100 miles, when nowadays, some people drive further than that just to get to and from work every day.

All that aside, I am facing a lot of different emotions right now. I must admit that there are some things that make me happy to leave the country. Personal conflicts, annoyances, working my ass off, etc. But for the most part, the people and places I’m leaving behind will be sorely missed. But that’s life, isn’t it? You have to leave some things you love to pursue something you love more, even if it’s only for a season. But honestly, I don’t know if it will just be a season. There’s a high chance that I’ll move to Europe or some other country after I graduate college. I know–that’s not really on the menu right now; all I’m worrying about now is the semester I’ll be living there, but still, it’s a bit scary to imagine that the farewells I’m going through now may be amplified times about a million if I decide to move far away one day. But let’s not think of that right now.

So wow. I have two weeks. I have to tie all the loose ends and do everything I’ve been putting off all summer, and then pack whatever I’m taking with me, and go. Go. Ahh! (That’s one of those little glimpses of it “hitting me” that I mentioned before.)

This whole two weeks thing has inspired me to start packing! Well, actually, I was going to start packing and then it overwhelmed me so I decided to start to start packing instead. I made up a packing list spreadsheet so I can make sure I pack everything I want to and so that I can make sure everything is accounted for when I come back home from Spain. Maybe I’ll start actually packing when I’m done with this blog entry. Or maybe I’ll work on the 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle I’ve started instead… one is more productive and one is more fun. And packing is productive too. 😉

Alright, well I guess that’s enough of  my ramblings for now.

Readers (if I have any), have you ever had to pack enough to live off for a significant amount of time into three (relatively) small suitcases? Any advice or fun anecdotes?

h1

My Spain-Obsessed Lifestyle

July 2, 2011
Spanish Flag

I ❤ Spain!

Okay. I’ll admit it. I have a one-track mind this summer. I don’t think I’ve ever been so fired up about one single thing in my entire life. I’ve built my entire existence around it for this summer. Don’t believe me? Look at what I’ve been up to this summer:

  • Working my butt off. Tomorrow is the first day off that I will have had in 21 days straight. When I’m not working at my exhausting full-time job that, including breaks and drive-time, takes up 46 hours of my week, I am working at Hallmark, the radio station, or babysitting. This means 7-days-a-week of working, sometimes at two different jobs in one day. Why am I subjecting myself to such exhaustion? Simple: I need money to have a good experience in Spain, and my savings account was dwindling far too close to zero after last year of living off-campus in an apartment and commuting in a busy city with $3-4 gas prices.
  • Watching Spanish movies. See my blog entry on Spanish movies. Here’s the run-down. I asked my brother to add me onto his Netflix account as his birthday present to me. Basically, every day, as soon as I get home from work and eat dinner, I pop in a spanish movie and watch it. My family thought my obsession with Spanish movies would die out after a couple weeks or so, but on the contrary! I’m watching them like a madman. If it’s not in Spanish, it’s by a Spanish director, filmed in Spain, or stars a famous Spanish actor/actress. Seriously. Every last one of them.
  • Researching Barcelona, CIEE and Spain. I went to the library the other day and checked out a couple books on Spain and Barcelona. I haven’t had a chance to read them all yet, but sometimes in my rare free moments (when I’m not doing one of the two above), I pull them out and read a bit from them. I’ve also been religiously following the barcelona photo blog, checking into the 3+ years of archived photos if he hasn’t posted recently. I’ve also spent a lot of time exploring the CIEE website and looking into Spanish news websites so I can get an idea of what kind of current events are going on there. I found a brilliant and hilarious video about Spanish economics. I’ve been reading about everything from Spanish cucumbers (which have been cleared as NOT carrying e-coli, contrary to German belief), Spainish politicians’ views on the Libya revolts, and the Barcelona soccer team.
  • Randomly talking to myself/thinking/dreaming in Spanish. It’s true. When no one’s watching, I start talking to myself in Spanish. I’ve picked up some expressions from Spanish movies, and now I can’t stop saying them. And since no one in my family speaks Spanish, I have to resort to talking to myself. That, in addition to my exposure to multiple movies a week, has made me start to think in Spanish a lot (sometimes without even realizing it for a couple minutes!), which leads to dreaming in Spanish, an interesting phenomenon indeed.
  • Trying out Spanish cooking/food. If, by some obscure miracle, I have time when I am not doing one of the above-mentioned tasks,  I’ve been trying out some food items. See my blog entry on tapas to hear about that marvelous experience. In addition, I found a recipe online for Spanish magdalenas, which are sort of like a lemon-flavored cross between cupcakes and muffins which are DELICIOUS, especially with cafe con leche (coffee with milk). I’m hoping to try out some more recipes when my full-time job ends in early August and I have a bit more time on my hands.
  • Reading Spanish books. I have not been reading nearly as many as I would have liked, but with all the above time-eaters, this one has been shoved aside. However, thanks to my awesome roommate Sarah, I have read two good (and easy to read) Spanish novels: La chica de los zapatos verdes and El hombre del bar. I got another one for my birthday, and I have a few others that I hope to get to someday. It’s kind of frustrating, since I’ve been reading in English nearly all my life and found it quite enjoyable, but reading in Spanish forces me back to an elementary level which is boring and tedious. I’m trying to work on it though. With my Spanish movie list growing longer and longer, I feel like one of those kids I was always glad not to be: the ones who would rather watch a movie than read a book.
  • Talking about it ALL THE TIME. I feel like I am talking my poor friends’ and family’s ears off, with all the factoids and exciting news bits I’ve been intaking through all of my movie-watching, research-reading, book-reading, and Spanish-thinking. I think my parents think I’m a huge bum because all they see me doing is watching movies and clicking away on my computer. That is, when I’m not talking to them about how wonderful Barcelona will be.

Well, there you have it. That is what my life has been comprised of in recent weeks. The only non-Spain-related things I’ve been doing this summer is sleeping (that is, when I’m not dreaming in Spanish), hanging out with family and friends (that is, when we’re not watching Spanish movies together, eating Spanish food together, or talking about Spain), and reading a couple of good old American novels (which I mostly read only while I’m at work at the radio station, making money for Spain).

In sum, I think I’ve gone loca para Espana.

h1

Tapas

June 19, 2011

For my birthday, I asked for my family to go out for a Spanish-style dinner, at a tapas bar. For those of you who don’t know, tapas are traditional Spanish appetizers or snacks, small samplings of delicious dishes. But when you get a whole bunch of them at once, it’s a meal.

So the six members of my family all piled into Mas Tapas in Charlottesville for a Saturday dinner after I worked part of the day at Hallmark. The place was buzzing with activity by the time we got there, a little after 7. It was a cute little place with an umbrella-ridden terrace, upon which we would have eaten had there not been ominous rain clouds in the distance.

As is customary at any restaurant, the first thing we had to decide was what we wanted to drink. After debating between bottles of Spanish wine, my brother suggested Sangria, a traditional Spanish wine drink with fruit soaked in it to give it an extra kick. Since it’s my 20th birthday, not yet my 21st, I ordered a pomegranate limeade, which was delicious, although sadly virgin. However, I got to try the Sangria, since it came in a large pitcher, and Mike and Billy had already had Mojitos. Two cars meant two D.D.s, and Nell–the only one who vowed to not drink a drop, because of the baby–couldn’t drive Mike’s manual transmission. I got a taste of my dad’s Spanish cider too, which was strange, but I liked it a lot. That with my taste of Sangria started to get me even more excited for Spain with its 18-year-old drinking age.

Billy and Nell looked over the menu and picked out their favorite dishes, since they had been there multiple times before and tried most of the menu items. We all added in a few of our own picks, and sent in the request. Our waitress came back smiling and told us that we’d picked 12 raciones (double-rationed tapas, meant to be  a meal for one person) and 2 tapas, which was enough to feed 13 people. Since we were only 6, that seemed a bit outrageous to her, so she suggested we cut back. Billy scoffed and marked out precious few menu items, assuring us we’d be able to finish what we had.

And boy, did we. Everything was delectable, igniting a fiesta inside my mouth for my taste buds to enjoy. They brought out the tapas 2-3 at a time, and we passed them around, making sure everyone had at least a taste of everything. Delicious cheeses I’ve never heard of mixed with just the right blend of spices, herbs, vegetables, bread, and everything in between. Not to mention the  prized Spanish jamón (ham), which even I, the vegetarian, had to try, and had to admit was pretty delicious. And I even tried the porktopus wrap: a garden wrap with lettuce, cheese, sauce, pork, and octopus. Sounds odd, but it was wonderful. It was like a never-ending supply: the waitresses kept bringing more and more tapas, reminding us of what we had chosen on the menu when we had forgotten.

When we were all pretty stuffed, but with a bit of room left, my brother asked if the shrimp and the steak sandwiches were coming. The waitress said we hadn’t ordered those; we’d marked them out. But my brother decided we should order them anyway, and accidentally asked for raciones of both rather than just tapas of both. We were all getting fuller the more we waited, but when the food came, we couldn’t resist. The shrimp, like everything else, was fantastic. I didn’t bother tasting the steak sandwich because it looked a bit too meaty for me, and I was full to the brim.

We placed bets on what the price of the bill would be when we finally finished. I won’t bother mentioning the price, but since we ended up buying to feed 12 people, plus plenty of alcohol, it was a bit more than an average family outing. My dad didn’t complain when he paid the bill. Yet another reason to nominate him for the best father’s award, now that Father’s day is almost over.

All in all, my meal was more than I could have asked for. I was excited to eat tapas, but I had no idea they would be that extraordinary. A lot of the tapas we had were traditional Mediterranean and Spanish dishes, so now that I’ve had a taste, I can’t wait to taste the real deal in a couple months. And this meal just indicates a recurring theme for my summer. I am developing a slightly unhealthy obsession for learning everything about the Spanish way of life and trying to experience it firsthand. I’m learning to walk, talk, sing, eat, drink, and be entertained like a Spaniard, all with hopes that I’ll discover a new home while I live there, perhaps enough to convince me to live there after I graduate. But we’ll see about that…

h1

A Bit of Research

May 31, 2011

I’ve been reading up on things.

Barcelona is beautiful! I keep saying that when I go to Spain I’ll spend a ton of time traveling, but honestly I think I might just want to stay in Barcelona the entire four months.

Look at this, Barcelona tops the charts in best architecture

And this, Winter in Barcelona

And this, At least according to one  travel blogger, Barcelona is an incredible city to live in

Not to mention this, which claims Barcelona as Spain’s most beautiful city.

Can you tell I’m getting excited!? 😀

Also, I watched the European fútbol championship this past weekend: Manchester United versus Barcelona. So glad I watched it; Barcelona won 3-1, and it was a great game! Apparently the Barcelona football team is the best in Europe. I feel bad now that I didn’t keep up with the world cup, because Spain won. Maybe I’ll watch some Spanish soccer game reruns from the World Cup in addition to all the movies I’m watching. Football is a big deal in pretty much every civilized country except for the US (unless you want to talk American football, but that’s just silly), and I need to get excited about it. Hopefully I can see a game or two when I’m abroad. But I have so many incredible things planned that I don’t know if I’ll manage to do all of it! I’m wishing more and more that I’d opted to do a year-long abroad rather than just a semester-long one. But oh well, I’m sure I’ll manage just fine as it is. And besides, I hope to go back to Europe someday soon after I graduate.

%d bloggers like this: