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01/31/2011

Culture Shock!

It’s been three weeks already and my experience so far has been quite interesting to say the least. The flight here was no joke - I literally traveled for 24 hours. Though, I’m sure my stay here will be well worth it. Alicante, the city itself, has been pretty good so far. Minus the overcrowded buses and cold, rainy weather I can’t really complain. Alicante has great scenery with many large hills and miniature mountains that have great views of the city.

During our orientation they go over many things concerning our stay here in Alicante, one of which is culture shock. Now I have been outside the country many times before so I was sure that wouldn’t apply to me. Boy was I wrong! For those of you staying with a host family this may apply to you. Electricity usage here is expensive so they advise us not to leave lights on when we are not using them. I completely understand this but being a so-called “typical American” for me it takes a little getting use to. Making sure my light is off every time I leave my room or not using light in the daytime because I have a window isn’t really at the top of my priorities. Though, this of course will vary from person to person. Another thing is although it’s not required to have any prior knowledge of Spanish it’s definitely beneficial. Living with a host family will prove this. Even for those living in a dorm because they may know English but their friends probably don’t. So it may seem a little awkward if you’re in a group and the only person you can converse with is the Spanish helper. As far as the host families go, they mention this in orientation but I’m going to reiterate it. When your host Madre, or anyone for that matter, tells you something in Spanish DO NOT just nod and shake your head ok. Even if u think you understand but didn’t catch that last part. Make sure you clarify with them what they’re saying. I made the mistake of guessing that my host mother was going out to lunch with a friend alone only to be proven otherwise after she started yelling, in Spanish of course, why aren’t you ready we are leaving in five minutes. A simple misunderstanding but completely thrown out of proportion. So communication is key; but it is difficult to communicate in Spanish, right off the back, when your main reason in coming here is to do just that. I have yet to find a solution to this little problem but I will be sure to find an answer and share it as time progress.

Oh and another thing about learning Spanish. While I was applying all I could think of is how fluent I was going to be when I returned. Though, every time I ask is it possible? Has anyone done it? I always get the same answer “ you get what you put into it. ” Sorry to say but I hated that answer. To me, I could put my all into to it and still not be able to communicate or at least not as well as the next person. So here’s my answer to that question. I have no doubt everyone in the program will pick up a mass amount vocabulary and common phrases. However, it’s all about being able to have casual conversations in Spanish. Consistently practicing speaking is necessary and here is when the “it’s what you put into it” comes into play. Limiting your time speaking English and working with a Spanish student so you can practice will make a big difference. I believe it will help if everyday you pick a subject and talk about it. Taking note of the vocabulary you need in order to express your feelings. I guarantee by the end of the month you’ll be amazed on how much you pick up on outside of class. I’m looking forward to amazing myself.

 

Well I think that’s enough for one day so until next time.  Luego!

01/10/2011

Fall 2010 LIC Farewell Message

Almost three weeks have gone by since we said our final tear-filled farewells on December 22nd, and I realize now as I am writing this final blog for our Fall 2010 LIC program blog (and tears are beginning to fill my eyes again) that this semester will be just as unforgettable for me as it probably will be for all of you (the Context Crew), for various reasons. First of all, as you all know, we all experienced this program together for the first time (you all as participants and me as Director) and as I told you in the Closure Ceremony, I could not have dreamed of having a more interested, unified, motivated, hard-working, funny and FUN group of students. I want you all to know how much I appreciate your dedication and hard work this semester, as well as your spontaneity and sense of humor.

 

The last ten years of my life have been filled with heart-wrenching goodbyes and because of this, I have developed an aversion for long goodbyes, so I will try to keep these final words succinct. Thank you for the bouquet of flowers and the framed group photo. It was so thoughtful of you all. My house smelled like roses for two weeks, and every time I am feeling challenged or down, I can look up from my desk (onto the top of the cabinet across from my desk) and see all of your smiling faces to motivate me! Thank you for honoring me by breaking into the final “Con-text, Con-text, Con-text” farewell chant during our final Closure Activity group lunch, I was so touched! Thank you for opening yourselves up to this experience as completely as you have done; I think we have all learned so much this semester because of it! Y por último, y creo que es más apropiado que os lo diga en español, esto no es un “adiós”, sino un “hasta luego”…

12/23/2010

What do you think is the coolest feature of handheld tablets?

Right now, I am actually back in my living room in Chicago. This semester has been one that I will never be able to forget. Integrating into Spanish culture for the past four months has been such an amazing experience. CIEE had done more than a wonderful job providing chances for our group to see not only Alicante, but Seville and Valencia as well. I feel accomplished. I have not changed as a person, but I am not the same as I was four months ago. My advice for you to make the most out of your experience is put yourself out there, you only have one chance, try the weird thing on the plate put in front of you. My spanish is not quite perfect (broma), but do not be afraid speak spanish no matter what level you are at. It can only help and by the time four months has passed you do not even realize how much you have learned! I think that I am very lucky to have had chosen CIEE because they made all the difference along with every single person in my group. It's a great program run by great people and I experienced with great people! Thank you CIEE for this absolutely once in a life time amazing experience!
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12/21/2010

Closing Time. Tears Ensue.

Well. The time has come. The fastest four years of my life are coming to a close. And I am at a loss for words--a paradoxical situation to be in for trying to compose a blog right now. I don't know where to begin. I've done so much, I've seen some amazing things, I've been knee deep in confusing cultural situations (my jokes still don't quite translate in Spanish), and I've met incredible people. And THAT is my excuse for not writing in this blog more. I was busy doing all those things. Seriously.

Man. What to say? When I first got here I was scared out of my mind. I was so nervous, so confused. I was tan and I weighed a bit more, also.  All of these things, including the weight, faded over the course of the semester as I grew into a more mature individual, as I learned about myself by being forced into uncomfortable and challenging situations. Trying real hard to avoid cliches here. But really, when you've just had the best time of your life it's pretty hard to not say things like this was the best time of my life. Because it was. The best time. Of my life. And everything I've seen and done in these 4 months will be things I will carry with me forever. I am a compilation of everything that's happened this semester, and I know my life will never be the same because of it. More cliches. When in Rome.

I've been on a lot of buses, a lot of planes, a lot of trains, I've seen a lot of cathedrals and street performers, I've consumed way too much cafe con leche, I've confused way too many Spaniards in my attempts to communicate, I've gotten lost in lots of places, I've made a lot of friends and I've set foot in 5 countries in 4 months. This is one of the rarest opportunities anyone will ever have in their life. If you have the opportunity, take it. Make yourself uncomfortable. Try new things. Eat octopus. You'll thank yourself later. It's all worth it. As they say in spain, it values the pain.

And here's the biggest pain of all: leaving. The friendships I've made here are some that I will never forget (even if I try). The experiences I've had are like none other. And man, it pulls on my heart. I can't even organize my thoughts. I guess the only thing I can do is thank everyone for what they've done. The staff was amazing, the teachers were amazing (and patient! Real important with 27 American goofballs), the program was amazing. And I am thankful to every single individual for contributing to the wordlessness I am now experiencing.

Everyone that has studied abroad knows what I'm talking about. Everyone who's considering it: do it without hesitation. And then you'll know, too. And you'll wonder how to reduce such an overwhelmingly emotional thing into a blog. Man. My heart is gonna burst. I'm home.

Adam, signing out.

12/20/2010

Final Post !

November 9
Last Couple of Weeks and Sevilla

Saw my second bullfight (two weeks ago now). I knew what was going on a lot more after reading Hemingway’s guide to bullfights, Death in the Afternoon…went with my friends Craig and Mike L. We saw the 16 year old matadors we'd seen fighting two months prior sitting in the row in front of us. I'm maintaining my prior stance on bull fights in general. It's culture! This was a top end novillada (amateur bullfight), with the winner gaining rights to be a full on matador next season in Valencia. Lots of extremely dangerous contact with the bulls. A banderillero had his leg broken after being tossed a solid 7 or 8 feet in the air.
The night before that had been spent with those two friends and 3 other girls (two of whom were full on Spanish). Great night of practicing Spanish and staying up late. Now on to a recap of Sevilla.

image from http://ciee.typepad.com/.a/6a010536fa9ded970b0148c6e8c83a970c-75si

Colombus´Tomb!

Trip to Sevilla was a total success really. Jennifer and the good people at CIEE really put together a great trip for us all. This was a 2 day trip that is included in the study abroad experience. Nice 8 hour bus ride each way and $40 of spending money for four meals. Not great for the students who don’t like bus rides…luckily I am considering joining the endurance driving circuit, so it suited me just fine to be passing the time in my seat as we were making moves back and forth across southern Spain. Upon arrival we very quickly made our way to a private Flamenco performance, the type of dance that Sevilla is very famous for. Very technical and emotional.
We were then free to go out and take in the Sevilla nightlife. One of my favorite nights out since I’ve been in Spain; most everyone in the bar area is hanging out on the street and it takes the form of a giant block party. Pretty awesome scene, and I had several successful and relatively long spanish speaking interactions as the night progressed. Good times.
Large-scale breakfast buffet upon wake-up! Hell yeah. Had a group visit to the Catedral de Sevilla in the morning, the third largest cathedral in the world. Some real cool history lessons to be had about the Muslim-Christian influences in Sevilla and specifically the Cathedral which was formerly a giant mosque and was actually totally modified/changed (but not fully razed and replaced like most mosques were after the Christians retook Spain). The Cathedral was a real center for the conquistadors and mariners of Spain to come and pray before their voyages, and Christopher Columbus’ remains are actually currently in the Cathedral after a journey back and forth across the Atlantic (back to Sevilla due to the Spanish-American war in 1898). I discovered these facts from our tour guide who spoke Spanish for us at the slowest pace imaginable. Nice to know I can comprehend that a bit at least. Also visited the Gardens of Alcazar, the Plaza de España, and an oldtime Jewish barrio?(something about Don Juan having lots of women there? I was becoming less attentive at this point…)
It was a funny scene throughout the weekend with many of us not having gotten our full night’s sleep either night and most struggling with their abilities to embrace the historical/architectural/ cultural aspects of the weekend. There were several groups of us…mostly attentive, partially attentive, and disruptively unattentive!
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2010

Happy Belated Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving day in Alicante was a great time. Group football game on the beach during the day (with a gamecap dip in the Med for me) coupled with a giant banquet dinner that night made it a really great day.
Miguelito (or should I say 'Miguelete') put on a performance of two OCMS songs in front of the entire group (close to 150 people?) along with our friend Adam. Mike sang and played guitar+harmonica and Adam provided additional vocals. He closed it out with "Wagon Wheel" which was a huge hit as would be expected!
The last two days have been another group trip, this time to the nearby city of Valencia (3rd largest city in Spain). Today we visited the newly famous "City of Arts and Sciences," which included giant aquariums with whales, sharks, heaps of other fish, and a dolphin show. Dolphin show was really cool. Dolphins jumping 15+ feet out of the water, throwing humans around, and being very impressive and well-trained.
Pics to come.
Nick

December 20
Here´s a final quick lookback on my time here in Spain
I’m going to really try not to try to explain my feelings and conclusions about my semester abroad by replacing what I actually feel and think with vague clichés to define what I was supposed to feel and think after living abroad for four months. Hope that wasn´t too convoluted for ya´ll. OK, we’ll see how it goes. Probably better to stick to some facts to support any waxing philisoph I’m throwing in there, so I’ll try a list format. I’ll call it “Nick’s Feelings and Conclusions about Living Abroad in Alicante, Spain for 4 months.”
1. I’m proud of the amount of Spanish I’ve picked up. That being said, I could’ve improved more with a different scenario. Different scenario would mostly entail a hell of a lot less interaction with my American friends and a hell of a lot more with Spanish people, their movies, and their literature and periodicals.
2. I’ve made a few good friends here and get along real well with everyone in the group. We got really lucky I think with our social setup
3. One of the issues I have when thinking about wanting things like ‘study-abroad,’ backpacking (the gap year style Europe/SE Asia/S. America variety), and ‘traveling’ in general is that I feel like I’m really only thinking about living out the ‘bourgeoise dream. ’ The ‘adventurous’ goals of the small percentage of the world that can afford such goals that is.
4. There was a lot of downtime this semester due to school not being too difficult and me not being a part of any organized sports team. People use their downtime in different ways. I successfully instigated a reading binge for myself and read more books and articles these past four months than I have in any period of time since before I had my license (when social things became very easy to organize reading pace slowed down significantly). I think reading books of all genres and eras and also trying to read about different perspectives on current events (globaleconomictrendanalysis.blogspot.com is a decent spot to start if you don’t know where to look) are important things. I’ve always thought these were important things and Alicante has given me a bit of a break from a life of ‘constant socializing’ mostly because I’ve been living in a house with a 65 year old Spanish lady.
5. Expectations before going abroad are always going to be way different than what the experience actually is. This can be evidenced by what people bring. For example, I was convinced that it would be totally unstylish to wear sneakers in Spain. I believed I would be going out until 6am every night with a large group of Spanish troublemakers who also played pickup soccer. Thus, I didn’t bring sneakers. A little philosophy for you right here: if you are something at home, like a kid who likes going to the gym and running, you should not abandon that thing. I got myself a pair of sneaks after a couple of weeks and life improved.
6. I think my ability to ‘go out’ and actually have a good time has been steadily improving in Alicante. Going out when it’s not just me and close friends and acquaintances is something that has never given me good vibes, but I’m getting more into it. A good skill to take back to CU.
7. Going into study abroad I would’ve been far more gung-ho about doing things like traveling somewhere where I can’t even converse with the locals.
8. Communication among people about their lives is something that I’ve increased my belief in since being abroad. I think I’ve actually improved my English from trying to speak about ‘real-ish’ things (more real than what I had for breakfast or how drunk I got last night at least) when I’m passing it with my American friends.
9. I’ve changed in four months. But I change every four months.
10. I’m fascinated by how easy it is to let your life go in a given direction without giving much thought to that direction. Last night I had one of my few dinners out of the house and I let myself be led halfway across Alicante to a MALL where we took the escalators to the third floor, entered a restaurant where you order mini-sandwiches full of processed meat and condiments, and sat on a stool. The sandwiches were not sufficient in terms of quantity or quality. So it goes.
OK, hope that wasn’t too much generic study abroad blah, blah. I had a real great time. Bring sunscreen if you decide to come, I forgot that (and sandals). Alicante is like a tropical beach resort (something I didn’t get through my head when packing back in August).
Also, I recommend against traveling to Norway in the wintertime. If you want to see more pics or words about how my study abroad life went, check out my actual blog at weareinalicante.blogspot.com.

-Nick

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Traveling in Spain

IMG_0669
This is a view of the Pyrenees from Andorra this past October.  Top notch day.

September 27
Mallorca

For getting all of an hour and half’s worth of sleep last night, today has been stellar. The dearth of sleep was due to the fact that I slept in the Palma de Mallorca Airport and the stellarness is due to a variety of things. I finished my book, a map of the Sierra Nevada Mountains arrived after three weeks of waiting, and most of all I just finished up an awesome weekend; Miguelito, Pato and I accomplished a lot…a Thursday evening departure and a Monday morning return (with a taxi to class) helped make this three day weekend to Mallorca just top notch.

Saturday evening found us checking the bus schedule in the minuscule village of Lluc in northwestern Mallorca…and what do you know the last bus out just left and tomorrow happens to be Sunday…always a slow day in Spain, only two buses will be coming to Lluc and not really in the direction we hope to go or by the time we hope to leave this one horse village. But we are relatively wiped out after a mondo day in the Serra de Tramuntanas, a mountain range that seems to rise right off the coast, reaching elevations as high as 4,300 ft. We’d trekked from the mountain village of Sóller with the plan of either staying at a mountain ‘refugio’ or making the full 25-30km trek via the GR-221 trail to Lluc. The first refugio we saw was a ‘bring your own food to cook’ type location, and all we’d brought to eat was lunch + snacks…a scrumptious array of Mallorca produced cheese, ham, fresh baguettes, apples, peaches, and bananas. OK, so the bananas and maybe the melocotones (peaches) could have been imported to be sold at the local ‘mercado’ where we purchased breakfast and lunch Saturday morning in Sóller.

In any case, we were going to walk all the way to Lluc because we had not purchased dinner materials and were making good time on a gorgeous day through some freaking cool mountains.The climb up from Sóller was steep; a stone walkway with hundreds of other seemingly hand created stone walls and walkways covered the valley as we ascended. You don’t get the same atmosphere hiking the Whites. We consistently saw sheep throughout the day roaming the mountainsides along with cattle. I’ll mention this again, there were heaps of rocks!

Being stuck in Lluc, we choose to do the only thing anyone seems to be doing and reserve a three bedroom room for $46 euro at the local tourist hub; a monastery! Don’t see any monks. We wake up to $6 euro breakfast buffet and decide to get a quick dayhike in before the first bus comes at 1. Not much to do in Lluc as it turns out. However after about 30 minutes of walking we see the GR-221 sign posted with ‘4 hours 45 minutes’ to Pollensa, the next pueblo (town) on the northward track of the ‘Camina per Mallorca.’ Miguelito and I jump on the idea and convince Pato it’s the only thing to do. This day is close to as long mileage-wise, but it’s almost all downhill valley and flat country road walking. My feet are certainly feeling it as we amble into the small village around 3 and find the bus stop and a convenient bus to Palma at 3:30!

First night we spent in Arenal, a German and Dutch tourist dominated Hampton Beach type suburb of Palma, and stayed at the quality ‘Hostal Tierramar’ where we were provided with a bar and some solid information about the island. Friday we explored the city around the Catedral de Palma and even walked out of the main city a bit and climbed up to the Castillo de Bellver to catch some views and check out a castle. Yesterday evening was spent along the coast of the city.Over dinner Pato regaled us with stories of geology and the good life in Kansas. So awesome.

-Nick

MONDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2010

Fall Break 2010- Spain Edition- First 3 days

The break started off a bit rocky with last minute Thursday night organization of hostels for Granada and a plane ticket to Barcelona from Granada on Thurs. morning in order to get to that Parc Nacional with the tricky name (an interesting purchase to make, as it turned out, when the rest of the logistics were yet to be figured out). A bit stressful with schoolwork to complete for me and I was happy to go out and have a few drinks with my buddies in the program in the few hours I had before the 8am bus to Granada. Friday was spent exploring the city and getting psyched on being on a vacation…highlites include the $1.50euro drink + Tapa (a traditional Spanish side dish that comes with the purchase of a drink). The tapas I experienced in Granada were both bigger and cheaper than what I’ve gotten in Alicante or Mallorca (you have to order a pint of beer to get even olives or some chips in my experience in those places), yet with a small beer we were getting things like full hot dogs in hamburger buns in Granada. I enjoyed a full dinner that happened to coincide with my beer purchases. Miguelito is a little tougher to please in the food dept/is allergic to huevos (eggs) so he wasn’t as psyched on the dinner/night of drinking combination...he also didn't polish his night off with a kebab and complimentary crepe.
Can't get tickets to the Alhambra for Friday and have to book them for the following Wednesday night when we plan to return to Granada.

Saturday
Day began with not the best night’s rest at ‘El Clandestino,’ a hostal in the city, and a bus to the Alpujarras, a series of ‘pueblos blancos’ (white towns) set in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the Southeast of Granada. Plan was to walk from town to town until we reached Treveléz, the most northern and isolated of the Alpujarras, from where we would make every effort to summit Mulhacén, the tallest mountain on continental Spain/the Iberian peninsula at 3,478.6 meters (10,000+ feet people). If we succeed it will be a 6,000 ft elevation gain to reach the top from Treveléz. Walking began in a little pueblo called Bubión and continued on for about 10kms when it started to really pour rain. It was dumping cats (see above) and dogs. Luckily we happened upon a large tent and bar with the entire village of Portugós celebrating an arbitrary Virgin while keeping out of the rain... (jokes jokes; I'm sure she was very carefully picked out). They gave us egg sandwich tapas with our $1.50 beers. Unfortunately the local hostal was full due to the celebration...a bit of confusion involved as I am inquiring with the locals as to where places of lodging are and whether rooms are available, but thankfully rain lets up and it's on to Busquistar! Not too many English speakers in these mountain towns as it turns out...kinda fun that way.

Sunday
Busquistar →Treveléz = 14km…manage to locate a fine hostal sans heat after asking the owner of a different establishment if hers was the cheapest in town and getting a 'no, no sé' (I don't know) in reply...a mere $30 a night in exchange for room, two beds, and bathroom. Miguelito is also a little tougher to please in the heat dept; luckily there is an extra blanket in the closet. My preparation for the Mulhacén summit attempt includes the pasted picture below.

The next few days were spent in Trevelez. Mike and I summitted Mulhacén, the tallest mountain on the Iberian Peninsula along with some other smaller peaks. One of the most spectacular places I´ve ever been.

 

The second half of break was spent in Andorra do to a burst of spontaneity...

Andorra la Vella.The city of 22,000 people and 1,000 stores. Super random; apparently a tax haven of sorts? Not fully clear how that all works but the Wikipedia page tells us that 80% of GDP is derived from tourism. For Mike and I, logistics worked beautifully up in Andorra…maybe that's typical in countries whose total area amounts to 468 km2.
Friday morning: a $2.75euro bus ride from the city took us straight to Arinsal, a small mountain town at the foot of the ski resort, 'Pal Arinsal' owned by Vallnord, and the Coma Pedrosa natural park beyond the resort. A bit cold to start off, but a real bluebird day! Maps weren’t great but, again, this is not a huge country, and thus the park wasn't too vast. Found the access to the park after a small walk up a ski trail. We followed the GR 11, a trail that runs through much of the park, and it treated us just fine. Met a Spanish guy thru-hiking it, from the Basque country west to east through the Pyrenees all the way to Cadaqués (a town north of Barcelona on the Mediterranean), who was on his 29th day (out of 42 or so he figured)! Peaked a mountain called Port de Baiau (2,756meters) on the Spanish border. Gettin’ steep up there boss! A solid day hike and we were back on the bus heading for Andorra la Vella by 5pm.
I managed to leave my water bottle on that bus, and was waiting for the ‘L5 line’ to roll back through town in hopes of recollecting it at about 6:30, that’s when I saw Micaela walking down the street. Kind of nice to run into old friends on the streets of Andorra. Who would’ve guessed? Originally, Mike and I had pictured Saturday being relaxed because of Micaela being there and it being my birthday night (kind of) on Friday (maybe we’d want a recovery day?). However, that didn’t really happen, Micaela insisted on wanting to ‘do something epic tomorrow,’ and who were we to decline such a gung-ho mentality? I was awake at midnight, but not much longer!
Saturday (my 21st Birthday) we went back to the same Natural Park via the bus to Arinsal and intended to do a lesser version of what we’d completed the day before. After all, this was Micaela’s first ‘real hike’ in her own words…but when the opportunity to head up into the middle valley rather than the western valley of the park arrived, it was a little too appealing… at shortly after that point we realized this was another perfect bluebird day in the Pyrenees and a summit attempt was a real possibility! Hell yeah! Passed some cows, stopped, hydrated and ate when Micaela became mildly dizzy, and then made the final push to reach the summit of Pic del Pla de I’Estany (2,859m) on the French border! Solid first hike right there for Meeks. I was feeling good and made the semi-perilous trek across a 200 yard ridge of cols to the true summit. Descent was also a success, Saturday night too. Andorra la Vella isn’t the most exciting city and instead of the standard American 21st birthday experience of drinking very excessively, we found a Fresca, a franchise restaurant with an all-you-can-eat buffet. After a week of walking my taste buds forgot about that little thing called ‘decreasing marginal-utility;’ I think I consumed something like 3,000(+)? calories. There was heaps of laughter that slowly became more painful than enjoyable as plates of food were polished off. Great finale to a great week!
Below is a link to a decent map of the Coma Pedrosa Natural Park
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This is me on top of Mulhacén! Hollah
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12/15/2010

Wait, a Week? Seriously?

Alas, my friends, it's true- we now have a mere week left in our beautiful city of light. Everyone is back from their whirlwind weekends exploring Europe and beyond, and we're all hunkered down for final exams, papers, and presentations... unless you've found a way to procrastinate. If you haven't, here's a hint: write a blog entry! It's a win-win situation!

But seriously folks. As the semester draws to an end, the winter sun fighting bravely to warm the sandy beaches where we once siesta'd entire afternoons away, we inevitably begin heave great sighs and generally look wistful  as we reflect back on the people we've met and the things that we've lea-- Okay, too cheesy. You know where this is going. We've had the time of our lives here, experienced extreme highs and lows, learned two new languages (Spanish proper as well as our own special brand of Spanglish), and frankly, it's starting to feel like maybe just one more week would make us happy. It's only ending one week too soon. We've all got things waiting for us at home, but still-- just a few more days of navigating the streets by the position of the sea, wearing out our camera batteries trying to capture the beauty of the sunset from the castillo, studying at fnac (okay, maybe we won't miss that part), and just generally reveling in the splendor that is Alicante.

But it's time to deal with it and begin to pack, much to the chagrin of our bocadillo-wielding Madres and much to the delight of our poor provincial amigos Americanos. Time to make sure we've bought presents for everyone, nice enough to be thoughtful but not nice enough to instill jealousy in anyone who needed to be cut from the list. Time to count how many pairs of socks, if any, we have left to our name.

I can tell you one thing about the end of something this great-- that it's Family I'll remember most. The family that taught me not only how to speak Spanish, but how to be Spanish, and also the family formed by my fellow strangers in a strange land, the Context crew that shall never be bested. You know who you are.

Don't cry for me Alicante... The truth is I'll never leave you.... etc. etc. etc. You get the picture. Sad to leave, it's been great, now i'm all sad.... thanks a lot study abroad blog.

¡Hasta luego!

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.

11/29/2010

Better Late Than Bitten by a Monkey - Morocco

I know. I know. I'm how many weeks late. But that's okay. To save some time and effort I've used what I wrote for myself and copied it and then appropriately adjusted it here. Ta da! Here it is. Begin!

Of course, the excitement leading up to finally departing Alicante exceeded my desire to make physical contact with Natalie Portman. Margaret was also apparently so cripplingly excited that she forgot to pack underwear. I forgot to pack a tooth brush. Good start.

The flight was uneventful until we finally touched down on African soil, an occurrence which prompted Margaret to make some sort of guttural screech and my hands to start sweating like fat kids in a sauna thinking about homemade fudge. Similar to that one time I was in a Spanish brothel, I could only think of how freaking cool it was that I was here (that is, in Morocco). I got let into the country despite some language confusion and my giddy winking at Margaret while my passport was okayed. Sick. We caught a bus from the airport to the Medina (the old part of the city where we were staying), decided eff it man, how hard could it be to find our hostel and embarked on what wound up being quite the journey. Through all the contradicting directions we were given, we made it. After several hours. Yus.

The hostel was fantastic, if not a little hard to find. The middle of the building is kinda like an indoor courtyard and it was so cute that birds flitted around it serenading us in French. Upon checking in, they gave us complementary Moroccan tea (which is soooooo good) and confused looks in response to my Spanish. I left Margaret to the communication duties mostly. For the record, for pretty much the whole trip, Margaret navigated everything beautifully with her magnificent French skills. I would’ve been way lost without her, despite the fact that a decent number of people spoke English.

The hostel bathroom was pretty good and clean, although the stalls were incredibly small which made it quite the journey to take pants on and off. Also, I think the toilet paper was serrated, but it apologized by also being pink. I forgave it.

Our first excursion into the city took us into a place called the Souks, which is the world’s largest open air market. It’s nuts, so much going on, so much weird stuff being sold, and it can be pretty overwhelming at times. Everyone here vies for your love and affection and business with super friendly greetings but we learned quickly that responding to these solicitations excites them beyond anything they’ve ever experienced before and to prevent anxiety attacks it was best to ignore their advances. Regardless, we still had a grand time going around the Souks and teasing venders across the city. At one point we could’ve bought turtles and a squirrel. Excitement ignited. But would ryanair let that fly on the return flight? And then, hey, a joke about an herb to get Margaret to stop snoring was interpreted as “I’d like 5 kilos of that powdery stuff, please.” Excitement through the roof. No thanks. Oh! Hopes crushed forever. :( Sorry vendors.

I caught on that bargaining is the thing to do here rather early when Margaret and I decided that we were in fact married and that I therefore needed a ring. So our buddy Abdul (who, oddly enough and like most people in Morocco, for whatever reason, thought we were Spanish at first. This tickles me.) takes us into his shop of goodies and pulls out a whopping crate of assorted rings. The process begins. Found a winner, asked how much and Abdul responded: 500 DH. DH is the currency in Morocco. Wasn’t entirely sure what DH stood for at first, but decided that it’s most likely duckheads and that people of Morocco pay for things with the heads of ducks. 100 duckheads, more or less, is about 10 euros. So I respond to Abdul’s response, hey buddy I only have 100 duckheads and he’s like “Alright fine, 400 duckheads.” Dude, only got 100. “300.” 100. “250.” 100. “200.” Still 100. Long story short I got it for about 106 duckheads. Score. Talked down from 500 to 106 in less than a minute. He claims I got a great deal because it’s real silver, but it’s staining my finger as I write this. Either way, I’m effing married now. Not sure how to feel about that. This wound up being, of course, the source of endless jokes and a few awkward situations when we told varying accounts of our marital status to fellow hostel-stayers.

Adventuring around the market was quite interesting. When we entered a main plaza at one point we saw a man with a monkey. Margaret, being the uncontrollable person that she is, immediately shouted “MONKEY!” Now keep in mind, if eye contact makes the street venders smile and start pitching you on everything from pointy shoes to alligator skin, one can imagine what enthusiastically shouting 'monkey' might do. Bam, like a crowd of frat boys to the only woman in the room, this guy zipped over. He started off in broken Spanish, following the pattern of everyone thinking I’m a Spaniard, introduced himself and it was here where I made my first mistake. I shook hands with him. He does not let go. Gripping my hand, he tells me in poor Spanish to “guard my monkey. Here, take it.” I know these gypsy tricks. They want money for everything here and holding a monkey is as good as signing a contract that I am now obliged to give this man a metric truckload of duckheads. I think not. I protested immediately with a no, hey, no, let go of my hand and he’s like “Oh come on. Guard my monkey,” and tries to hand it off to me, causing the monkey to get totally stoked and nearly bite me. Context: I felt teeth on my hand. I got my first chance to say some real rude stuff in Spanish and pulled my hand from his grasp, monkey-free. Needless to say, while I’m shaken up and adrenalined-out, Margaret thinks this is the funniest thing in the world. Realistically, the whole scene probably lasted under 30 seconds, but when a man is not letting go of your hand and trying to hand you a monkey that just tried to bite you, that’s 30 seconds too long.

Another highlight of the market was purchasing a gift for a friend (dead chameleon) and then having the vendor try to talk Margaret and I into purchasing some aphrodisiac, the effects of which he proceeded to describe in a mix of French, English, whistles, and crude gestures. He’s looking totally stoked at the idea of Margaret and I having a bedbreaking tossfest with this herb and we’re like “Ho ho, you’re too kind. But no thanks.” We begin to walk away after a ridiculous talk and he calls us back over. Slightly confused, we head back over and he gives me two things of aphrodisiac for free and seems really really happy. I thanked him graciously but I’m yet to consume the herb. With my luck I’ll just get soul-shattering diarrhea from it. Also, what does this say about how the dead chameleon is supposed to be used if it comes with an aphrodisiac? Huh.

And this was all just the first night.

The rest of the trip was odd, spent in a trance-like state that comes with going somewhere so drastically different. We spent a good deal of time being lost but it was never that big of a deal, it seemed like it was just part of the experience. We saw some mosques, some palaces, some out-of-commission schools, a museum, and just weird stuff. It was quite the adventure. One day we opted to get away from the bustling of the Souks by going on a hike with some French people. This was probably some of the prettiest (and rockiest…and most, uh, trailblazingest) hike I’ve been on. We really just made our own trail through these gorgeous mountainous areas. The reward was a waterfall. Pretty sweet. Although the French seem like sissies they have badass habits like taking cigarette breaks during their hikes while I’m huffing and puffing without the smoking. Huh. However, in a massive symbolic victory for the states, Margaret and I beat the Frenchies on our way down the mountain. America: 1 France: 0. This is, of course, ignoring the fact that we booked it down the mountain primarily because I misread the time on my phone and thought we had like 20 minutes to catch our ride back to Marrakesh. Heh.

The trip was awesome. It was really like nothing I’ve done before and I am so glad I did it. Woo! I think I’d probably go into more detail about everything, but I’m already behind by hella days on all this journaling and I think I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves. Also, the captions will help. Read as: Next post, coming soon, pictures!

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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