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6 posts from October 2010


Oh yeah, almost forgot. Morocco tomorrow.

My apologies for not properly introducing you to the type of person I am. If I am a pool of ice water, here you go, jump in. Forgive my excitement.

I'm leaving tomorrow after my last midterm to go to Morocco con mi amiga, Margaret, aka Calabazita. This is quite the impromptu trip in the sense that we both are two really awful planners paired together to plan something. I mean, I knew I wanted to go to Morocco, but it was looking more and more like it wouldn’t happen and I didn’t have anything to do for Halloween weekend (which would be a bummer since we have All Saints Day off…which would mean an extra day of travel missed), but all of a sudden Calabazita pulled through and was like “Hey man, let’s go to Africa.” Algeria was too complicated to get to. South Africa was a little too far. Kenya was busy. So we found a flight to Marrakesh, Morocco and the rest is history. But we still need to book hostels. And Margaret thinks its a good idea to only bring 20 euros in anticipation of finding a bank. No pasa nada. Maybe we’ll wind up sleeping on the streets for a few nights, that might be neat. Adventurous even. Yeah adventure!

Now, I’ve heard mixed things about traveling here. Like be careful with your women sort of stuff.

The plan was to pretend to be a married couple so that it’s more kosher that one guy and one girl are traveling together, but I failed to find a ring that would fit my fat finger. So, what this means is sure, we might get harassed, BUT on the brightside I’ll be able to trade Margaret for two camels or something as a practical joke. Tee hee. I’ll have two camels and she’ll be hauled off somewhere to wash some floors and she’ll be like “Oh man, Adam sure got me good.” It’ll probably be rough to convince Ryanair that two camels don’t count as checked baggage though. Hmm.

Anyway I’m really excited. If I die, hey, I want you to know I’m happy. If I don’t die, but I come back without Margaret and perhaps I’ve been followed by some camels, tell Margaret’s parents that I have no clue what happened. Wink.

God this is so exciting.

AFRICA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! COOLER THAN  SANTA CLAUS SURFING! NEAT OH!!!!!!!!

This will also provide me with a better excuse than “I hate needles” to not donate blood now! Yay!

Lesson for future study abroad students to take away from this: Alicante is sweet because you can do cool stuff like this. How often can you go to Africa?


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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Drawing Parallells: How walking 70 miles is kind of like studying abroad.

So. Alright.

I recently spent five days walking through the gorgeous greenery of Northern Spain, with vaseline filled socks, an open mind, and the ever present thought at the back of my mind of "what the hell am I doing?" This is, more or less (mostly less when it comes to vaseline socks, but I guess this varies from person to person), what studying abroad is like.

I'll spare you the finer points of the journey, known as Camino de Santiago, because I could go on for way too long about just how awesome it was. I'll get right to the important stuff here: the striking similarities between my 70 mile stroll and the overall experience of studying abroad.

I assume you are reading this because you are contemplating the vast endeavor of studying in another country. And I assume that I am writing this to help you out with that decision. So here. Here is my figurative hand, outstretched to aid you in figuring things out.

Both the Camino and Studying Abroad are difficult to capture with concise words. They're both experiences that remove you from your comfort zone (I mean, really, when's the last time you walked for 5 days straight?). At times they're difficult (do you have any idea how hard it is to communicate in another language? There's a fine balance between trying not to sound like you've just recently attempted a lobotomy on yourself and trying to say what you're trying to say) and the easy thing to do is just quit. But listen man. In the end, despite the second guessing thoughts of "what the eff is this" and despite an uncomfortable situation here or there and missing certain comforts (peanut butter), somewhere along the journey everything just clicks. You feel empowered, self-reliant, and (no BS here) you are a better person for having done it. If you're not, something went wrong.

I'm doing my best to not sound too cheesey here, while making a point by comparing two things I've been involved with...but I'm worried I'm making less sense as I go. This is what happens when you try to think after the feast that is a Spanish meal.

Alright, here: Studying Abroad is incredible. Alicante is incredible. The Camino de Santiago is incredible. But these journeys are not easy ones. They're filled with misunderstandings, perhaps some figurative blisters here or there (figurative vaseline in your figurative socks helps with this), and a whole lot of adjusting to new circumstances. But when all is said and done, hot damn. It's something you'll never regret.

Nicholas Utter- First Post

Hello world!

My name's Nick Utter, I'm a junior at the University of Colorado at Boulder.   However I was born and bred in a fine area of the world called New Hampshire.  

I've actually been keeping up a separate blog outside of CIEE about my life here in Alicante, thus I'm going to post a plethora of my past entries to provide ya´ll with closer-to-immediate reactions to different things that I've been up to.  


August 31, 2010

I arrived in Madrid Friday morning direct out of Boston to await a connecting flight to Alicante, Spain; Barajas is a HUGE airport, this makes it a large effort to find connecting flights considering the gates aren't assigned until within the hour of takeoffs.

Arrived in Alicante and got picked up by the CIEE folks.  Then a group of us were bussed to the orientation hotel which happened to be absolutely seaside and next to the main city beach. Went out to eat with my new friends that are in the program and had una pinta de Cruzcampo, not my best idea, with una tapa de eggs and potatoes. Afterwards my new friends wouldn’t let me sleep in the hotel room, and we were off to the beach… the playa was very crowded and we saw a significantly larger quantity of topless females (of all types and ages), than I've seen in my life up to this point. Looking back on it, my standard line of wanting to “go people watching” likely freaked out/estranged me from any prospective females in the group.

We went to el barrio that evening and had a few beers etc. Very tired and slept well. Three girls in the group stayed out until 8am! Great work out of them. The next day was orientation etc. and one more night at the hotel before we would meet our host families.We stayed out later on this night (with a nightcap dip in the Mediterranean for me and some others).  There was plenty of trepidation as the hour of meeting our host families drew closer.




Camino? More like Cami-YES

So here in españa, I am taking a course all about the Camino de Santiago, which is a Catholic pilgrimage route that ends in Santiago de Compostela in the Northwest corner of Spain. For the class, we got to actually complete the camino ourselves, walking more than 110 km from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela (that’s 70 miles for you Yankees) with just our backpacks.

The Atheist in me cringed at the idea of making this great trek to a gaudy Cathedral honoring a saint who was supposedly resurrected to slaughter Arabs by the thousands in the historic battle of Clavijo. That is, by the way, what he is most celebrated for– winning Spain back for the Spanish. There are depictions of St. James Matamoros (Moor-Killer, literally) in churches across the country, and for this figure almost a quarter of a million people wear down their feet each year, hoping to get the chance to hug his holy likeness and have their sins erased.

St. James Matamoros

However, the huge cultural significance of the pilgrimage and the lure of exploring northern Spain’s countryside and architecture won me over and I transferred out of an almost equally tempting class on Politics and Identity in Spain (incidentally, it turns out that I didn’t have to do that… details are irrelevant). So I packed my bags, broke in my new hiking boots, and prepared to make the camino.

As with most things in life, my experience matched almost none of my expectations. I had no idea how much I had missed the lush greenery of my home in the U.S. until I was walking through tunnels of trees covered in ivy, the morning mist just beginning to clear. I expected to get a lot of good, productive thinking done– about my academic plans, about my relationships, about my family– but what I was able to do was clear my mind completely, to walk and to not think at all. Much of the peacefulness of the journey came not from the more social aspect of the walk itself, but in the hours after we had reached our destination for the day, wandering the small towns as the sun set and just being quiet.


One expectation that unfortunately (or not) was met was that getting to Santiago and beholding the great Cathedral of St. James was my least favorite part of the trip. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it by any means, it just didn’t compare to the days of walking with purpose through fields and forests and tiny villages. The sudden bustling town, combined with the knowledge that the journey was over cast a bit of a shadow over my arrival… not to mention my now almost non-functional right knee. The cathedral was very beautiful, and we met interesting people of all flavors along the way.


Ultimately, I said farewell to Santiago fondly; the journey was long but exactly the fall vacation I needed- a time for friends, the beauty of nature, and learning to appreciate a decent meal. It was a unique experience, and while many of my friends went to other exotic places in europe in planes, trains, and taxicabs, I wouldn’t have traded this trip for any other.




What will your story be?


As the Resident Director, I would like to welcome you to the Fall 2010 Language in Context Program student blog at the Alicante Study Center. Several of our current students will be sharing their real-life experiences, perceptions, hopes, successes, and maybe even disappointments with you on this site. I hope that if you are considering participating on this program, these blogs will give you some insight into what this experience is all about. I'm sure this site will be filled with many one-of-a-kind adventures, so please enjoy!