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3 posts categorized "Amanda Thorson"

12/15/2010

Not Adios, But Hasta Luego.

Here’s the sad, sad truth. I’m just going to put it right out there. I only have one more week left here in Spain. Una Semana. Wow. Multiple times in the orientation of this program the program leaders’ discussed how quickly this point in the semester would come. I guess I should have prepared a little more.

In the midst of these past four months I have learned a lot about Spain, life, and myself. I don’t know if I have mentioned before how notoriously bad of a packer I am, but I feel like it should probably be mentioned again. With this said, packing up my room at my Spanish host family’s house has proven to be so difficult, mainly because I have gotten so comfortable there. At this point, right around the four-month mark, I have passed by the hostility stage, leveled out the thrilled stage, and just become comfortable with living in Spain, being part of a Spanish family, and attending a Spanish university. Four months ago, I don’t think I could have ever seen myself being at this point. The point of stability and comfortability living over 4000 miles away from anything I considered ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’. The thing is, Spain did not magically begin to resemble a small mid-west city, or become any closer to America; instead, my idea of what was ‘normal’, or ‘typical’ altered. Spain, in itself, has become a home away from home, and also a continual reminder that commonalities can be found in the most foreign places and people. But before I get too ahead of myself…instead of packing (because, let’s be honest, that’s just depressing) I began to make a list of the specific things I will miss about living here. Instead of an ‘I wish list’ I call it, an “I Will Miss List” …A little on the corny side, I know…but here it goes!

*My Familia (Some of the kindest and warmest individuals I have ever had the privilege of meeting. They have really have transcended their position as my ‘Spanish Family’ to always being considered a part of my Family, and having a place in my heart)

*Context Friends (When is the next time you will be able to meet 25 different people from all over the United States who share the same passion for traveling as you? They are wild, crazy, and amazing and I would never have wanted to go through this experience with any other group)

*The Spanish Sun (Did you know Spain actually gets cold in the winter? And by cold I mean 45 degrees, which is like a sauna compared to the Mid-West cold. The Spanish Sun is fantastic to live and study in…no wonder why the people here have such warm personalities!)

*The Mediterranean (…is fantastic. ‘nuff said.)

*Walking! (Alicante has the amazing quality of being a medium-sized city just small enough where walking pretty much everywhere is possible. Some of the most amazing memories I have of Alicante are getting a little turned around and ending up stumbling on an amazing new park, or a new street, or a pretty building that I had never noticed before.)

*Universidad de Alicante (Basically makes my campus at home look like a very large ice cube. I am so happy I had the opportunity to study in such a beautiful place- Even if it only was for four months)

*Tortilla de Patata (Spanish food in general has grown on me. Though I don’t think anything will ever surpass my Madre’s Tortilla de Patata. I don’t know if I will ever be able to have an American French fry again without thinking of it.)

*Learning Something New Todos Los Dias. (Whether it be a new Spanish word, a new phrase, or a new custom, I will miss easily stumbling upon something I didn’t know before everyday)

*Spanish Customs (Dos Besos – this custom just makes you feel like a movie star, or extremely European. Spanish attitude- I’m convinced that this non-chalant attitude is the reason why Spaniards don’t have as many wrinkles as Americans (though this has not be statistically proven…) Also, the friendliness shown by Spaniards is amazing, and definitely gives the mid-west a run for its money…)

*Spanish! (Learning any new language is great, but I have come to really like the Spanish language…to the point where using the correct form of Subjunctive in a Spanish phrase can make my entire day)

I’m sure there are a million more small things that I am not giving justice to right now, that I will definitely miss about Spain. As well, there are lots of little elements that I miss about America (among them Chicago pizza, Carpet, Central Heating, and of course my friends and family at home). Even though I am dwelling a bit on the fact that I am not quite ready to depart from Spain yet, I can’t help but realize how amazing of an experience this was. It honestly exceeded my expectations in so many ways, and I know, will continue to be an unforgettable memory that I can draw from for the rest of my life.

So, instead, I am not looking at this as goodbye, exactly…but rather, goodbye for now. I do hope to return back to Spain, and specifically Alicante someday in the future. But for now…Hasta Luego España…Muchas Gracias.

11/14/2010

Who's your favorite person in the world – and what do you love about them?

“Que Será, Será / Don’t Worry, Be Happy”

Pictures are worth 1000 words, right?

This is Alicante, in 2000 words mas o menos. (More or Less)

image from http://ciee.typepad.com/.a/6a010536fa9ded970b0133f5da6610970b-75si

image from http://ciee.typepad.com/.a/6a010536fa9ded970b013488faa5f6970c-75si

Today when skyping with a friend from home, she began discussing her incredibly busy schedule, in which almost every moment of her day was devoted to work or school, and without even realizing it I began nervously tapping my foot, and wringing my hands. I have only been here in Spain for 2 and a half months, have I really forgotten how to be a busy, driven, and productive American student? What has Spain done to my motivation?!

Spain is clearly a very different country from America, however; one of the greatest dissimilarities I have found is actually beyond clearly cut cultural norms, it lies in the attitude and expectations that Spanish society places on their youth. Here, the youth, (los jóvenes) are, at first glance, given a lot of power in Spanish society. Since the economy is bad, and especially horrible in Spain, the youth are not necessarily expected to have jobs. They go to school, and eventually the University, at times until they are almost 30 years old. During this period of time, unless they finish their degrees, get offered a job, or get married, they are still living at home with their parents, who in turn, feed them, clothe them, and basically ensure their well being.

Now in America, anyone living with his or her parents, without a job, between the ripe ages of 27-35 years of age would probably be classified in Webster’s Dictionary under the term “Loser”, however, in Spain, it’s a completely different ball game. Just the fact alone that individuals reaching and exceeding the age of 35 are still considered “youth” is quite an interesting differentiation from the continually driven concepts enforced in American society. Yet, when pondering the fact itself, living at home does have its benefits. The Spanish youth are allowed to basically free-load and enjoy life without having to stress about how to make next weeks rent. They are still intellectually challenged at the University, but, they don’t have to continually have a map of the future in their back pocket, which they need to pull out daily just to make sure they are ‘on track’. So where’s the negative? Why have American’s not caught onto this Spanish trend?

Well, first off, the American dream just wouldn’t stand for it. Can you imagine “In the future I want a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence, a significant other, approximately 2.4 children, and a dog named max…” turning into, “In the future I want to live in my parents basement for as long as possible becoming extremely familiar with European films and roaming the streets at night with my friends…” Nope. Definitely not happening.

Although, I’m not entirely sure that the Spanish youth actually enjoy the financial freedom that they have. This past weekend my padres left to visit their son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren in Madrid, leaving me alone with my 27-year-old sister. I have grown quite fond of my hermana española, however, in the past 2 and a half months, I haven’t really gotten to know her entirely that well. Besides our shared fascination with The Beatles and the movie Across The Universe, my hermana doesn’t really make it to many family meals, and spends the majority of her time out of the house with her friends.

This past weekend when I returned home to eat dinner on Friday night, I saw what I thought were the makings of a Spanish house party taking place in my living room. Upon closer inspection I realized, my hermana had just invited about 13 of her closest friends over, and instead of the rowdy party that I had expected to find, they were all gathered around the dinning room table, eating dinner, and playing cards. I was a little shocked until I realized how unordinary this was for them. To have a place of their own to just hang out, no questions asked. In Spanish society homes are mainly made to occupy family, and it is not very common to have friends over in large quantities. Not to mention, living with your parents puts some boundaries around who, where, and when you can have guests. Automatically, I was so thankful for my tiny little apartment back at school where my friends and I like to hang out watching old Friends episodes or the newest episode of Glee. I guess I never realized how extraordinary that sort of experience was until I saw it being unordinary for someone else.

After that experience I have come to see positive and negative aspects on both sides of this cultural divide. I despise the way that even thinking about next semester’s courses makes me begin to bite my nails, and I still believe that the stress and expectations of American students gets to be a bit much, however; along with all of the stress there is undoubtedly some form of success, and the great feeling of being somewhat independent, of being just on the brink of adulthood. Yet, is the final outcome worth all of the stress that just becomes a daily and accepted occurrence in the life of an American student?

One element of Spanish society which I have absolutely fallen in love with is the stress-free attitude that Spaniards have. The idea of always being “tranquilo”(calm) and “no te preocupes”(Don’t worry) is like an anthem that courses through the culture. I have actually begun to enjoy the way my Spanish professors don’t have exact dates for assignments, and may not start class exactly on time. How buses may be a little (up to 30 minutes) late, and you may be late to class but tranquilo, tranquilo, no te preocupes. Que será, sera (whatever will be, will be). At first, coming from a very calculated schedule, I hated this concept, but the idea began to grow on me. Besides, most things that happen, can’t be altered, so why stress out about them, right? With this newfound ideal, I may be able to handle the stress of next semester’s class…maybe.

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10/21/2010

Some things in life are better when you share them. What are your favorite things to share with friends and people you love?

“Vamos a la playa” ((Orientation and Host Family Life))

After arriving to Alicante and settling in, I began to realize, this is where I will be for the next 4 months. Beautiful Weather? Check. Beautiful People? Check. Beautiful Surroundings? Double Check. However, I am realizing more and more that there is so much more to Alicante, to Spain, and to the world.

After meeting about 9 other students who are in my program on the flight from New York to Madrid, we all decided to endure the 6 hour lay over in Madrid before finally arriving in Alicante. After almost 24 hours of traveling, we arrived, were immediately greeted by Spanish students from the Universidad de Alicante (University of Alicante), and taken to our orientation hotel (which just so happened to be right on the beach). If orientation is any indication of how fast this experience will go by, it will be over in a hot second (Hot Second- a term I was introduced to ((comparable to a hot mess))- and will plan on using in the States ) During orientation we had sessions with the 27 of us students from all across the United States participating in the language in context program. The sessions were comparable to fast survival skills and relevant information that would allow us to live in Alicante (i.e. Spanish culture, Health information..ect.). During free time we took tours around the city of Alicante and were introduced to a few specific, but important, places (the barrio, the beach (la playa) and the rambla (the main street running through the city)). It was so easy to get caught up in the hype of this amazing beach town where old retro 90′s hit are continually playing on the streets like Vamos a la playa (Lets go to the beach). Then after 3 days we met our host families on Sunday and began intensive Spanish language courses on Monday.

Mi Familia

I am just going to be brutally honest. Learning another language is like shoving a llama into a 5-gallon bucket. Entertaining, but almost impossible (unless it’s a baby llama- But that’s besides the point). I am not sure if I have ever experienced such a sense of isolation. It may just be a vulnerability of mine breaking through the surface, but speaking in a second language is scary! Between the intensive Spanish classes and literally living with the language all around me in my Spanish host family, I am for the first time surrounded by a form of communication I am always guessing at. The first couple of days living with my host family, they attempted to make pretty advanced conversation with me, and I unfortunately often wore a blank stare on my face…or nodded like a bobble head and repeated “Si! Si!”

Thankfully, my family (mi familia) is amazing. Mis Padres (my host parents) are named Victor and Pepita. They are both in their late 60′s and have 3 kids (one of which- my host sister Elena- lives at home and attends the University of Alicante), and they have 3 grandchildren. The youngest grandchild is named Eduardo. He is 3 (soon to be 4) and I think the reason I really like talking to him so much is because our language skills are at the same level. (okay. I lied. I still can’t understand what he is attempting to say half the time).

Spanish families operate much differently than American ones do. For instance, Spaniards have a break during the day known as a siesta. It starts at 2 in the afternoon, when pretty much everything closes down and everyone goes home to eat with their families, then rest until 5 or 6 o’clock, when siesta time ends. Being American, I was, at first, a little annoyed with this idea. Soon, I realized how amazing it is that the country values family time so much they set aside a span of time each day for families to have time to converse with each other. Plus, since the days in Spain are so much longer (Spaniards eat dinner (cena) around 10 o’clock and don’t go to bed until 12) it doesn’t really effect the businesses negatively since everyone stays up so much later.

Even though the lack of communication definitely creates a wall when getting to know others, my host family has been nothing but kind to me. They treat me like part of the family, which is an amazing thing for complete strangers to do. I am definitely growing attached to them every day a little more. Yesterday my host Madre explained that she did not feel well, and today I was told she has an issue with her gual bladder and will be in the hospital for a couple days. I think we are going to visit her tomorrow. I am told she will get better and I really hope she does soon! I already miss our conversations in broken Spanish that mainly exist around the topic of Eduardo.

So far, the things I have learned can be summed up in the following…

1. Don’t pack a lot. Bags break.

2. Have faith in the kindness of others.

I can sense a change in stages from the honeymoon (Yesss! I am in Spain!) to the contemplative (Okay, how do I adapt to living here?) stage. Knowing the language will hopefully help. I am really attempting to learn quickly, but I feel like to fully grasp another language is much more difficult than people let on. But I will keep trying, and that has to count for something, right?
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