Spain | Reciprocal Exchanges Blog - Part 7

Today is HALLOWEEN!!!! I am feeling a little torn about what to do today because my host mom is making a traditional Spanish Halloween dinner, but the group at the church is having an open mic night/costume party. I was planning on going to this party until I saw her cooking this morning. Ugh! This struggle is real! Right now I am sitting in the school café drinking a café con leche desnatada con canela! MMm! So, I have finally started to settle in! I somewhat have a routine, school work is piling up and I am continuing to procrastinate, I am making friends and life is finally not stressing me out every two minutes! I am loving my time here. I definitely still miss my friends and family and fiancé, but I have figured out a routine to where I get to talk to most of them from time to time. AND, Brian is coming to visit me in t minus 22 days! I am beyond excited!!! Right now I am working on a plan for what to do when he gets here, this weekends trip to Monserrat, and various travel plans! School is a little more difficult than I thought it was going to be, but I am managing. The main thing I want to write about is what I did this past weekend, VISIT MI FAMILIA IN SICILIA!!

So, this is an entirely crazy story and I am going to start from the very beginning. Bea and I, like the responsible young women we are, booked out flight a good 3 weeks to a month before our plane was scheduled to depart. It was scheduled to leave on Friday November 24th at 12:40pm. On Thursday night, right as we are getting ready to sit down for dinner (around 10pm), Bea gets an email from the airline saying that our flight was canceled due to a recent transportation strike in Italy. Not only was it canceled, but we were going to have to pay to change our flight and we were not going to be refunded for our return ticket, since it wasn’t technically effected by the strike. Seriously?! Not only is this horrible news because meeting my Sicilian family is literally the only thing that got me through the week and now it wasn’t even going to happen, but I am going to have to pay for the trip reguardeless?! Ugh! I was furious. That night, we stayed up late trying to find another weekend to visit them that wouldn’t be too much more money than we had already spent, and we made zero progress. I went to be completely angry and bummed and all sorts of negative emotions.

The next morning, I woke up early because I was too upset to sleep. I tried for at least an hour to get a hold of the airline on the telephone and had no luck, so I bit the bullet and deciding I was just going to go up to the airport and talk to them in person. Then they will have to deal with me right then and there! After an hour of wandering around, taking metros, busses and shuttles I found the customer service desk, in which I waited in line. SIDE STORY. While I am in line, this woman, probably in her late twenties, comes busting through the line passing everybody up. I thinking to myself, this is weird. The woman behind me in line, probably in her late 40s, becomes enraged at her lack of courtesy and decides to make the young woman go to the back of the line and wait like everyone else. Clearly this young lady was distressed, who would go pushing through a line at the airport customer service desk if they weren’t? So when the older woman approaches her, things get UGLY. And I mean they literally start fighting, physically! Pushing, pulling, hitting, and I have a front row seat! Meanwhile the guy at the customer service desk does NOTHING. He is just watching too! Haha finally both of the ladies boyfriends come and pull them apart and they both eventually get to talk to the customer service desk. One of the weirdest experiences of my life. Okay so then it was my turn. Im talking to this man(in broken Spanish), and he is talking to me (in broken English) and as I am telling him which flight I booked and how it was canceled and blah blah blah, he tells me that no, it actually has been rescheduled, and is leaving in an hour and a half! WWHHHHAAATTT???? I am at the airport with nothing more than the clothes I have on my back, Bea is not with me and actually she is sleeping at home because we stayed up late last night trying to find other flights, and I have no cell phone to call her. OH MY GOSH! (panic ensues). I am talking to this man saying stuff like “what do you mean?…But I don’t have my bags… my friend is supposed to be coming with me and she isn’t here… there is no way I can make it”. His only response was to tell me to go up to the check in desk and have them print my boarding pass. Thinking he doesn’t understand me, I let out a distressed “YO TENGO NADA!!! HOW AM I JUST SUPPOSED TO PRINT MY BOARING PASS?!?!” well this is all the help I was going to get from him, so I proceed to the check in desk where I meet a super nice lady who helps me so so so much! She pointed me in a direction where I could use a phone, printed my pass, and helped me avoid lines so I could speed up the check in process. I finally get a hold of Bea, she scrambles to pack not only her bag, but also mine, snags a taxi, runs to the airport, and we somehow manage to make it on the plane 5 minutes before take off. HOLY COW! PRAISE GOD! It all worked out. But wait, another problem arises. I realize that my family is no longer expecting be because I told them last night that our flight got canceled. They are supposed to pick us up from the airport and provide us with a place to sleep (such generous people), and now they have no idea we are even coming! AND I have no way of contacting them because wifi does not exist on a plane… Just when I thought the mayhem was over! Well long story short, 1 plane, 1 bus, 2 internet cafes, and a train later, we make it to Cefalu, the town where my family lives and the town my great-grandfather grew up in. My family picked us up from the train station and all is well. We were greeted by Donatella and Eleonora, my third cousins. They are so sweet and welcome us with hugs and kisses. I had only spoken with Donatella on facebook messaging so this was the first face-to-face meeting and the first time I heard them speak. They were so cute apologizing for their English and saying how horrible it was, but it really wasn’t that bad! Definitely better than my Italian! I immediately felt comfortable around them, like instant family connections took away an possible awkwardness. I seriously can’t put into words how amazing they are. So now that we finally made it to our destination, Wow! I am HUNGRY!!

So after all this craziness of a day, D and E take us to our room at the Bed & Breakfast they own. They literally had an entire full one bedroom apartment for us! Complete food stocked for us for breakfast! What? SO nice! Then they ask us if we are tired or if we want to go out and get some food. Hallelujah! FOOD! Bea and I quickly freshen up and meet them downstairs to go get a bite to eat. Donatella and her boyfriend, Guiseppe (aka Pino), meet us at their car and take us to their favorite pizza place in town. I ordered a pizza with jamon, fungi(mushrooms) and some super good cheese and sause. OH MAN!!! It was sooooo delicious! And, being sicily, we all had an entire pizza to ourselves. There was no way I was going to finish it, but I wish I could have! After dinner, they ordered us a round of limoncello, an icy cold refreshing liquor shot that is a common drink in Italy after your meal. It is a digestive and is supposed to help settle your food after a big meal, which is literally every meal in Italy! After that, Donatella and Pino took us on a little night car ride tour of cefalu. I have been missing car rides so bad. I haven’t been in a car since my host mom picked us up from the airport. It was so nice. After the little tour, they took us back to out apartment and we got some much needed sleep.

The next morning, we woke up, ate breakfast on our terrace that overlooked the ocean to our left, and a small citrus orchard to our right. Oh man! Talk about luxury! The weather was a little chillier than we had anticipated, so we struggle with our clothes a little the whole trip (probably also due to the fact that Bea had to pack 2 bags in 10 minutes). Haha. We took our time getting ready for the day and when we were ready, I texted Donatella and she met us downstairs for an actual tour of the town. Her and Eleonora, her younger sister, showed us around the whole town. The town was absolutely beautiful during the day. Old narrow streets, a big cathedral, the ocean, a big mountain called La Rocca, an old clothes washing station, a couple harbors, and so many gelato, food, and gift shops! I loved it! When lunch time rolled around, we went over to my family’s apartment where we met D and E’s parents, Salvatore (Toto), and Conjetta. Conjetta had been cooking all morning for us and treated us like royalty. The food was SOOOOO good! And so much! She had prepared and 4 course meal, yes 4. The first couse is typically a pasta of some sort, we had rice thing. Second, we had a chicken patty, and some salad. Third course was fruit, which we ate the cactus fruit, and lastly was postre. I had a canolo for the first time! Everything was delicious. After lunch we sat down with Salvatore and he showed me our family tree which he has been working on for YEARS. I helped him fill in a few blanks and I enjoyed the whole experience so much. I have always been curious about family history and it was like discovery a side to myself I have never known before. He had family traced back to the 1700s! holy cow! And he hasn’t been using the internet to find this information, he literally has 300 year old documents that he is deciphering and finding where they fit. WOW! So cool! I was in awe! Just absolutely amazed. He even made me my own condensed family tree and let me keep it. Right before I left, he gave me a copy of his big one. That is a present I will cherish my entire life and share with my entire family! Later that day, we walked along the beach and went to a few shops in town. Bea and I found a few souveneirs to take home and it was so so so much fun! That night we went out to dinner with D & E and their boyfriends, who are both named Giuseppe! Haha this name translates to Joseph and is an extremely common name in Sicily. We went to a neighboring town that was a 30 minute drive through the mountains. I got a little car sick, but it was so worth it. It was called Castelbuono, meaning good castle! Mushrooms were in their peak season and a nice restaurant was have specials for all their meals that had mushrooms. It was amazingly delicious and we had great company. We laughed so much that night about being starving, about communication barriers, and just poking fun at each other. It was like we had all been friends for years. Afterwards we walked through the town, saw the castle, and drove back to Cefalu.

The next day, we had a relaxing breakfast once again, and then met up with D & E for a morning hike up La Rocca! I was in Heaven! Apparently, the water levels in cefalu used to be much higher so the town used to be a little bit up the rock. We got to see ruins of the old roman city on our way up which was so cool. I love hiking so I fully enjoyed the entire thing. I was probably the only one who wasn’t slightly miserable at some point. But one of the things I love about hiking, is that as you walk, the view is the best thing you have ever seen, and you think there is no way it can get better, but the higher you go, the more amazing it gets! From the top, we could see the whole town, the ocean, and the rolling mountains of the country side! Wow! Loved it! On the way down, we got to see some goats just chillen eating some grass. They let us get so close to them and they didn’t run away. I love unexpected surprises like that! After the hike we were all exhausted and had worked up an apetite. We went over to their house again, where we met the rest of the family, the oldest sister Annalisa, her husband Cicho, and their 2 week old baby girl(bambina) Carla. This day we had a HUGE meal and it was even better than the first day. The first plate was some penne pasta, which was to die for! The second was some sort of meet that was so tender and absolutely delicious, a red pepper stuffed with ground beef(perfect flavor). The third we had fruit once again, today we tried a Sicilian banana which is much less sweet than a normal banana and a lot fatter. I really enjoyed it. Then for dessert, we ate a profiterol pie which was balls of yummy dough filled with cream all stacked on top of each other smothered in chocolate mouse and drops of the same cream that was on the inside of the ball. OMG! YUM! I could have eaten the whole tray! After lunch, we went back to our apartment for a little siesta. We rested, then walked around a little looking at different shops, then met up with the family for a small dinner. We ate some street food. A calzone thing that was so so so so yummy, and a fried stuffed rice ball, apparently Sicily is famous for them and this is the only place you can get them. That was also delicious! That night we said good bye to some of the family and I had to hold back a few tears. They are a part of my family now and it was so hard to say good bye to such amazing, generous and loving people.

The next morning Donatella and her father Salvatore took us to the airport at 4am so we could catch our 6:50 flight back to Barcelona. We had a connecting flight in Rome but it was only a 2 hour lay over so we didn’t get to leave the airport. We got back to Barcelona around 12pm and back to school we went. The trip was so wonderful! I hope that I can see them all again someday. We talked about making another trip to Cefalu in which I bring my whole family, and they talked about coming to the US to see Texas and fulfill their dream of going to New York City! I truly hope to see them again! What an amazing time!

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Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

Hola! It’s a little surreal to believe that I’ve been in Spain for a month! If you think time flies while you’re in College Station, just try going on a study abroad and see how quickly everything goes! Spain is everything I thought it would be, but of course it has a few surprises. Every street, corner, avenue, and plaza is charming in its own way. It’s completely unique and different than Aggieland. There’s a history and story behind every building that dates back farther than you thought. I absolutely love living in the center, and I was surprised at how familiar and comfortable everything became once I settled into my apartment. I love being being able to walk downstairs and order a mixto (a ham and cheese sandwich) from a cafeteria. I live about 15 minutes by foot from Puerta Del Sol, the heart and center of Madrid and also technically Spain. It is the area in which roads begin their direction to other Spanish cities; there’s a sign on the ground that reads “Kilometro O.”  I find myself going there basically everyday, as it is an easy and common meeting point for people. Tapas, sangria, paella, jamon and churros have all been consumed in abundance, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it. I completely embrace Spanish food, and I can already tell I’ll miss it when I’m back in Texas. I’ve been able to also visit Toledo and Valencia. Toledo is a town that dates back to Roman Empire times, and it genuinely feels like you’ve gone back hundred of years. I became amazed at the fact that I was able to walk down streets and into stores and plazas that people from 400 years ago did too. It’s the town where the famous painter, El Greco, spent his life and completed master works of art. Valencia, on the other hand, is a newer city that offers not only historic sights but also an incredibly modern area called “The City of Arts and Sciences” that hosts the largest aquarium in Europe. The buildings are something you’d imagine in Startrek or some futuristic movie that takes place in space. To be honest, it isn’t something you’d expect from a beach town in Spain, in particular, the city that the world-famous paella originates from; it’s intriguing and beautiful in its own way. I have to say that my favorite part so far has been just meeting new people and immersing myself not only in Spanish culture but also the culture of other countries where other exchange students originate from. I love meeting people from all over the world and hearing about what is normal for them. In my opinion, there is almost nothing better than finding out something different than what I’m accustomed to. I love trying new things, seeing new things, learning new languages, and meeting new people that add to a more whole and complete perspective of life. School has been in session for three weeks. The way it functions is totally different than A&M. It’s an incredible opportunity to have insight to see how another university works. It’s so easy to only think of your own university and become accustomed to how one country’s school system works. It took a little bit of adjusting to the school, but I’m enjoying my classes. I especially like  Spanish History of the 20th century and learning about the recent history of  Spain. Also, it’s interesting to gain a different perspective on business principles and teachings, yet also observe similarities and shared knowledge. So far, I adore Spain and am trying my best to say yes to everything and live in the moment. I love to document as much of my experience as I can (often I’m a little overzealous with picture taking.) I feel insanely lucky and happy to have this opportunity, and I can’t imagine not doing it. Until next time! Hasta Luego! -Laura Madrid! September 2014 Toledo Toledo 2 Toledo 3 Plaza Mayor Flamenco Puerta de Sol Ham Palace Palace 2

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

My experience so far in Barcelona has been full of fun, excitement, exhaustion, frustration, adventure and many many surprises! First off, my flight here was not bad at all. After an emotional goodbye with my family, it was basically smooth sailing. Beatriz and I flew Turkish Airlines and it was very nice. We got meals on both our flights, had access to movies, and the seats were relatively comfortable. We asked for a seat between us so we had a little wiggle room (highly recommended). The only not so fun part was the time it took to get here. I’m easily entertained by nature and all its beauty, so looking out the window in amazement was a good time passer for me, as well as sleeping. Once we landed in Barcelona, our host mom picked us up from the airport (This was so nice since we didn’t have to worry about taking public transportation at 11:30pm). We had no idea what to expect since we hadn’t met her before and hadn’t seen a picture or anything. Honestly, I was freaking out that she wasn’t even a real person, just some hacker who ran off with my deposit. But thank God she was real. She was waiting in the terminal with a little sign that had our names on it (just like in the movies). It was great. I speak very little Spanish so initial communication was extremely awkward since she hardly speaks English. That has improved with time though. Our apartment is in a more family oriented neighborhood of Barcelona, which I really like. Quiet at night, but not too far from the lively parts of the city. We both have our own rooms to retreat to at night, and the whole family shares one bathroom (not as bad as I was anticipating). We get breakfast and dinner every day, which is absolutely amazing! Homemade authentic food and we have the luxury of not having to figure out what to eat for dinner. I would seriously be starving if I wouldn’t have done a homestay. The grocery stores are completely different and so confusing! She has made us Spanish Tortilla, Paella, African chicken, cous cous, hummus, fried fish, pork, chicken, soups, salads, and a few desserts. All so so yummy! Side note, back in the US I refused to eat tomatoes. Here, I eat them all the time and LOVE them! Also, gaspacho is like my new favorite thing. Its a cold tomato soup. Sounds a little strange but SO YUMMY! To anyone who is trying to figure out where to live when they study abroad, look into a homestay! I get food, housing, linens, towels, and laundry washed every week. It is very reasonably priced! All the other students we have met are paying either the same price or more to live in normal apartments and they don’t get all the perks we do.

My first week here, I did lots of errand type things like getting a Spanish SIM card, opening a Spanish bank account, buying groceries, and figuring out my way around Barcelona. It is important to know that if you want to open a foreign bank account, you have to have a local phone number, I learned this the hard way and wasted sooooo much time. I am also very directionally challenged, so I am still getting the hang of navigating myself around town. I just have to go out into the city not afraid to get lost and not afraid to ask for directions. For the most part, people are nice and willing to help you. During our first week here, we took a Barcelona City Tour, which was a little pricy, but it helped us become more knowledgable about the city and its history, as well as provide us with a little layout of the city. We saw La Sagrada Familia, Tibidabo mountain, Park Guell, many Gaudi buildings, the beach, the Gotic quarter, and so much more. It was a nice investment.

Our first Sunday here was the first Sunday of the month, which means FREE MUSEUMS. We took this opportunity to go to the Picasso  museum. I thoroughly enjoyed our time there. It walked your through his life of painting and the exhibits were beautiful.

Our Second week here, we took our first trip out of the city. We went to Madrid and Toledo, Spain. Madrid was a lot of fun. We did a few touristy things and had the chance to meet up with a fellow Mays Exchange student who is studying there. My favorite restaurant there was called d’Norte, absolutely delicious. The city literally never sleeps! They stay up all night long if they go out. We got an early train out of the city at like 8am, and people were just starting to go home. It was insane. My favorite part of Madrid was the Royal Palace. HOLY COW!! So beautiful. the whole place was insanely ornate. Tapestries, porcelain, silver, gold, statues, murals, from floor to ceiling. Each room had a description plack that said what the room was used for. One of them said that the room was where “the king performed his daily changing ceremony”. haha. Basically his closet. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but it was so amazing, no picture would have done it justice. After Madrid, we went to Toledo which is a little town in a valley. SO CUTE! The streets were crazy narrow. Half the time I thought I was going to get ran over by the cars zipping through these little alley ways. I seriously don’t know how they were driving, the streets were so small. We enjoyed going to little shops, buying mazapan cookies, and taking a nature walk along the outside of the town near the river.

Since returning to Barcelona, We have had student orientation (less than impressive) and welcome week with the ESN (Erasmus Student Network). We have made lots of friends from all over the world, experienced La Merce (Barcelona’s big week long fiesta) and started school(biggest headache EVER). This past weekend we went to Tossa de Mar which is an adorable town along Costa Brava beach. Absolutely beautiful! Seriously felt like I was living in a calender. We went to a little beach that was kinda hidden so there weren’t as many people. There were cliffs on either side, the water was crystal clear and astonishingly blue, and there were really cool rocks to climb on and jump off. It was a little freaky being able to see big bright fish swimming beneath you, but a completely surreal experience. I loved it so much!

Now school is getting started and the chaos has officially set in. Classes are so difficult to get into, and the university is crazy unorganized. I’m sure in the end it will all work out, but I would be lying if I said I haven’t thought about just giving up at times. I’m not going to lie, its been hard. I miss my family, friends, and fiance. My class schedule is a mess and getting a complete makeover. My sleep schedule is still needing adjustments. I still get lost walking around town, and learning a new language is really difficult. But the “goods” truly outweigh the bad. I know I am growing through this whole experience, even though I feel like crawling into a whole sometimes. I have found a Church community here called ICB (International Church of Barcelona) and I can’t tell you how comforting it is as a Christian to have that support. God is the only thing that has remained constant through all of this and I am learning to rely on Him so much more. Getting connected at a church has provided me with so much peace, and helped my make even more friends, both local and international. If you are used to having a church community at home, I HIGHLY recommend getting connected to one abroad. Even if you don’t get super involved, its nice to have Sunday mornings feel like they do at home.

So as of right now, Barcelona is amazing and I’m slowly realizing how much it has to offer. Classes are crazy disorganized but getting simpler by the minute. Slowly but surely I’m establishing a community of friends from all over the world that are so much fun to be with! I can’t wait to see how my time here progresses and changes. Oh, I’m also planning on visiting some distantly related family that live in Italy within the next month so that will be what I write about next. I’m so excited! 🙂

Tossa de Mar

Tossa de Mar

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

¡Hola!

My name is Beatriz. I will be attending Universitat de Pompeu Fabra, a relatively new yet internationally ranked university that is quite well known in Europe. This being my first blog entry, I apologize beforehand if it is so long. I just have so much to say and I feel like I can only touch on everything briefly.

I have been in Barcelona for three weeks now, and although it may seem like a long time I still find myself learning the ways of the Catalonians.I was lucky that another fellow Aggie, Katrina, is also studying at UPF and so we have been going through the journey together. Classes have still not begun so we have been exploring the city and visiting the tourist sites. So far I have found Barcelona to be such a diverse city. As you travel through the city you can go from a small historic community, to large buildings and skyscrapers, to the Gothic quarter, to mountains, and to the beach. It is evident that the city is still evolving, with new up and coming neighborhoods. Katrina and me are both staying with the same host family. We live in an apartment with Teresa and her teenage daughter, Alba. Our apartment is located in El Poblenou, an area of the neighborhood Sant Marti. This specific area is a developing family oriented neighborhood that used to be filled with factories and business buildings. Just two streets away is the Torre Agbar, a beautiful glass building that houses the water services company.

Around the city there are numerous tourist sites. Some I think are worth paying to see the inside of and others are okay to just take look at. All around the city you will find famous Gaudi works. You can’t leave the city without going to all if not atleast some of his works which include: Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, Colonia Guell, Palau Guell, and Casa Vicens. Depending on when you come some of them might be closed for repairs. This was the case when I went to La Pedrera. There are other remarkable sites around the city such as the Tibidabo mountain, the Monjuic mountain, the Picasso Museum, and the Catedral de Barcelona just to name a few. It would honestly take someone at least a week to truly get a good glance at Barcelona. There are many other museums not mentioned that I haven’t gotten around to visiting.

After about a week of being in Barcelona we took a trip to the Madrid, the capitol, and Toledo a nearby town. Just a short recap on the differences between Madrid and Barcelona (based on my observations, I could be wrong):

  • Barcelona is more spread out
  • The streets of Madrid are so much busier
  • Barcelona has more tourists
  • People in Barcelona are more open to trying to speak English for tourists
  • Madrid has 3 really important and extensive museums
  • Madrid has a much better park (Parque del Retiro)
  • The nightlife in Madrid seemed to take place all over the city where as in Barcelona it is only in certain areas
  • The metro system in Barcelona is better maintained, more useful, and a bit cheaper
  • And OFCOURSE in Barcelona they speak Catalan as well as Spanish

In general, the cities in Spain have basic similarities. For example, unlike in the US people in Spain are so much more relaxed and never seem to be in a hurry. It is very common for people here to be late so everyone walks at a slow pace and takes 2+ hours to eat meals. Although I’m not very fond of people not being punctual, I do appreciate that meals are a social affair. When ordering at a restaurant it is not uncommon to not have drinks listed on the menu. I find that the only time they are listed is when they are house specials, which means its only cocktails. It is assumed that all restaurants serve the same non-alcoholic beverages. Nightlife is extremely different. Here clubs are open from 12am to either 5 or 6 am, and then there are also after hour clubs. So when I say that they like to party, I mean they REALLY like to party.

At the moment I am attending my university’s orientation week, which is filled with ERASMUS events. Through the program I have gotten to meet people from all over and am just now starting to keep track of people’s names and hanging out with. The third week of September Barcelona has huge festivities. The event is called Festes de la Mercè and they have events for families, musical performances, parades, fireworks, and free music concerts all over the city. If you are in Barcelona during La Mercè, you must attend the Correfoc (fire run parade), the Castells (human pyramid), and at least one of the fireworks show.

Well I think I’ve over done it for sure. Stay tuned for next month. ¡Hasta luego!

(Below is a link to my dropbox folder because there’s simply no way I could only pick one or two pictures)

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/k0d8lfbe61cxhls/AADLp5eZAPkdiXh5I0QB406za?dl=0

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

Five short months have passed and I am already back in the US. I am grateful for my experience and believe I have changed and matured significantly since my arrival. I made a great group of friends representing every continent except Australia (but one had lived there for a while). Having so many viewpoints surrounding me constantly challenged my own causing me to change some and reinforce others. Checking out of my dorm and closing my Catalunya Caixa account went smoothly, and while there are cheaper places to be found in nearby areas (I recommend Cerdanyola or San Cugat) I was very happy with both the dorm and my bank.

 

Before I left, my brother Jonathan came to visit, and we rented a car and went on a thirteen day, seven country Eurotrip. The trip was long, about the same distance as driving from coast to coast in the US. The first and last country we visited was predictably Spain. Here I was mostly in my element and was able to navigate us to where we needed to go to rent a car and show Jon around a bit. I even managed to play translator when my roommate chatted with us about the basic American topics like guns and the wars in the middle east. We started our journey with no cellphones that worked outside of Spain and no data plans. We used, and I highly recommend, the offline map called GPS nav & maps. It cost about $5.99 for the app and the map of Europe.

 

Our second country was Andorra, the sixth smallest nation in Europe. It was pretty, mountainous, and small. We really only stopped for breakfast and continued on.

 

Our third country was France. Here we visited Normandy and the point where Rudder stormed the shores with the aid of grappling hooks fired by rockets. We also visited a small vineyard and purchased some nice local wine. I was amazed at the number of windmills and nuclear power plants we passed here. One thing to consider when going through France by car is the tolls. They can run very expensive. I suggest googling how much they will cost and including that in your finances. Tolls easily cost us about 150-200 euros when all was said and done.

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The fourth country we visited was Belgium. This is another country we were really just passing through, but it was beautiful and had nice food. One of my favorite memories abroad is being in a bar in Belgium watching a losing Belgian team score two points to win in the very last minutes. The reaction of the crowd was priceless.

 

The fifth country and our main goal was The Netherlands. Here we took the boat tour and learned a lot about the history and culture of Amsterdam. We also saw old windmills and ate local food.

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After a quick pass through Germany for the autobahn and  some delicious German food, we headed to our seventh country Switzerland. This turned out to be the absolute best part of our journey. Hiking in the swiss mountains was beautiful, I don’t think there is much out there that can compete with their snow capped mountains, multiple waterfalls, old buildings, and plentiful wildflowers.

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Both the eurotrip and my study abroad were long, and at times stressful, but I wouldn’t trade the experiences, lessons, and friendships from either for the world. Thanks for reading.

 

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

This post is being written from my apartment in Madrid on my last night in the city before I leave to travel Europe for seven weeks. It’s crazy to me that the semester is over. It went by so fast! And yet, I’ve gotten to experience so much. Basically I’m blessed beyond belief. I’ve loved every second of my time here in Madrid and this city will always carry a special place in my heart. It’s pretty ironic that I am at last feeling so at home in Madrid, and now I have to leave. I know my way around, I’ve mastered the public transportation system (Whoop!) and I know all the good restaurants. I achieved the status of a local (nearly) and that thought is so wild to me! I’m proud of myself and all the things I’ve learned this semester. Things about the world, about people, and most importantly about myself. If you have the chance to study abroad I’ll only tell you one thing: DO IT. It’s been one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made. And while it comes with it’s own set of struggles, they are easily outweighed by the rewards.

I won’t say goodbye just yet. I’ll be back in Madrid at the end of June with two friends. I’ll get to show them all the things I love about this city. And then I’ll be back again towards the end of July to make that leap across the Atlantic and finally make it home to Texas. I can’t wait. I’m so excited to travel this summer but I think I’m even more excited to some back home. I can’t wait to give my mom a hug, go to the movies with friends, go to church with my family, eat Whataburger for days, and see Aggieland again! I can’t wait to give out that Junior wildcat on game days, (A-A-A Whoop!) to put a penny on Sully, and to just be engulfed by the support of A&M again.

I am blessed to have had this beautiful experience of a semester. But I get to go home to a place that’s even cooler.

Texas, y’all.

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

Has it been four weeks already?! A lifetime of memories have already been made and this is only the beginning of it all. It will be incredibly difficult to recollect all thoughts I’ve had thus far, but here’s goes:

Pre-departure: Before leaving, friends were visiting and sending well-wishes for my travels abroad. Honestly, the last couple of days were so swamped with running errands and making sure all travel documents were in place, it really hadn’t hit me that I would be leaving home for 5 months. Everyone would always ask, “Where are you going to visit while in Spain” or “You’re going to have the most amazing time”, but imagining myself here was so difficult because I knew NOTHING about Barcelona or the culture. It was the first day of January and last-minute tasks were being completed and as I began to compile a list of phone numbers and addresses in case anything happened, my dad checked my flight information and checked me in. That’s when he realized that my flight was approximately 5 hours before I had thought it would be…oh and the best part was that I HADN’T STARTED PACKING. How does one pack for 5 months? After a couple laughs and some yelling about how “irresponsible” I was, I began rummaging through my closet and took over the entire living room just figuring out what would be practical to take. My best friend, Sonali, came over to help and 4 hours later, my bag was ready!

THE DAY OF DEPARTURE: TODAYYYYYY! I know it’s hard to believe but it STILL hadn’t hit me. I felt like I was just going on a vacation for some time, but as I said goodbye to Sonali (Yes, she came over at 8 am to wish me safe travels, the sweetest I know) I just kept thinking, “wait, I’m leaving??!”. It became unreal when I had to leave my dog and unimaginable when I was about to enter security after leaving my dear family. I don’t like being publicly emotional but this was easily the most difficult thing I had to hide while saying goodbye to them. I DIDN’T CRY THOUGH (people know I have that tendency, but that’s a completely different story)! Finally after getting through security, I got to my gate that would fly to JFK, that would later connect to the last leg taking me to Barcelona! A couple hours later, I was at JFK and almost 5 hours and a VERY expensive last American burger, we were finally 7 hours from landing. The travel time took twice as long, but the wait was SO worth it when I finally arrived in the beautiful land of the Spaniards! Okay, now the blog gets more interesting…

Arrival: Just to summarize, I made my way into the city and to our NEW APARTMENT! It was so exciting to finally meet Karlee, Leah, and Sarah to begin our new chapter. Our apartment is located right next to the Parc Ciutadella, which is also just a 10-minute walk to Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF- our university)! It’s also very close to several metro stops and the beach. After moving in and for the next few days, we visited different restaurants on La Rambla and Port Olimpic, two extremely touristy parts of the city. Exploring the city and getting accustomed to the social culture was definitely one of the most eye-opening parts of the first couple of weeks. The lifestyle here is, as many people already know, much more relaxed. We rarely see people glued to technology while going from one place to another, which is one of my favorite parts. All the history and culture in the small streets really allows us to soak in the atmosphere and local habits of the country. They’ve even have ‘Siesta’, a period during the day where small shops and pharmacies close. Pretty cool until you stab yourself with a knife while cooking and won’t stop bleeding…yeah, NEXT TOPIC.

The Girls: Alright, so I know my pictures may as well answer this question but just a sort explanation. I’ve traveled here with three other AMAZING women: Sarah Wallace, Leah Mendes, and Karlee Scheel. We’re all business school students and met through our study abroad decision since we’d all be attending the same university. We had only met a couple times before actually arriving in Barcelona just to plan out living situations and of course out of excitement. Words can’t explain how close we’ve become in four weeks. Our personalities are like pieces to a puzzle and we all get along so well. Reciting inside jokes are daily rituals and certain habits have already rubbed off on one another. We’ve also invented games that have sparked an interest in our friends here; people think we’re crazy but it has made our experience here so much more hilarious! I really couldn’t have lucked out on better girls to study with; I love them.

Sagrada Familia/Tours: It had to be done! The last day before classes were about to be spent as tourists (we sort of pride ourselves on how we’ve become locals since we’ve brought out our Sacagawea). We spent the whole day touring the Catholic Church and taking a bus tour around the city, ending at Montjuic, a hill overlooking the city! Barcelona isn’t as historically significant as cities like Rome or Berlin would be, but the rich Spanish culture truly gives the city an identity of it’s own. This is when I fell in love with the city!

Welcome Week/Classes: The first week of the trimester had begun, so school was more relaxed at this time. Classes had begun but exchange students were given a week to “test out” their schedule, then later add/drop what they wanted to change. Us girls utilized that week to meet other locals and exchange students. It was probably my hardest week because I was incredibly homesick and socializing was not a priority on my list; honestly, I just wanted to go home! I know, it sounds awful, but once we settled in it was time to face the anxiety of a new semester and new friendships. Luckily, the Erasmus Student Network, an organization present at universities all around the European Union to help integrate locals with other exchange students, planned out a whole week around the city to introduce us to each other through various social and service activities. Every night there would be an event either at a restaurant or a pub. All of the amazing people we got to meet are mainly from other European countries and will be living here until the end of June…and EVERYONE knows more than two languages. So much respect and envy. We realized it’s very common and since then, we’ve all made some degree of effort to learn Spanish and different phrases from different countries. It’s amazing how a group of people from different parts of the world can encourage you to learn a little more about unfamiliar cultures. Once welcome week ended, ESN continued to host weekly activities like karaoke and night’s out at different venues. THESE nights have been the most memorable ones by far. In fact, this past weekend was spent with all of ESN members and coordinators in Lleida, where we all spent time in a deserted farmhouse playing fun games. One of the most fun nights ever, no exaggeration. Part II will happen next in Madrid! All of us are ecstatic to visit the capital and spend some more time getting to know one another, especially if it’s like the previous trip. *Additional details can be provided upon request regarding this weekend and other nights; there are just too many thoughts to write out!*

The Food/Daily Thoughts: Before coming here, people would tell me Spanish food is NOTHING like Mexican food from Texas; slightly ignorant of me to even try to make any connection I know, but there must’ve been a similarity right? NO. Tapas, Patatas Bravas, Sangria, Paella, to name a few, are common foods and drinks found here. The food is delicious but definitely something that took a while to get used to. Since Barcelona is a coastal city, Seafood is everywhere and EVERYTHING tastes like it. Even the Chicken. I mean, I do like seafood and Salmon here and there, but not when my pasta or salad tastes like a fish lives in it. Not complaining, but definitely a hurdle especially being the foodie that I am. Secondly, menus don’t explain the ingredients very well. A salad will say there is lettuce, dressing, olives, etc. in it, but when your order comes out, “SURPRISE: TOMATOES!”. That was just an example but it’s definitely something we now expect. Last thought: the language barrier was highly underestimated. Everyone would ask if I knew Spanish and all I could respond with was, “Oh yeah, I know a few phrases from Spanish 3 in high school like, ‘Tengo Hambre’ “, but I was in for a surprise. Cab drivers, employees, and workers only know Spanish and a daily conversation with any of these people is the most awkward and confounding encounter. Imagine a simple job, like getting a haircut or withdrawing cash, becoming a 3-hour excursion that involves getting directionally lost and additional costs at the metro station. I should’ve been more prepared as a foreigner but it’s definitely a humbling learning experience. Lesson learned: English is not a Universal language.

The People: As mentioned earlier, other exchange students that are also in ESN have such interesting lives! Some are completing multiple degrees and it’s great seeing that other young adults are just as, if not more, ambitious than people from back home. Everyone here is always eager to go on an adventure and explore the city. I always thought I’ve traveled quite a bit in my life, but it’s nothing when you hear stories of people backpacking across borders with absolutely no connection to the outside world. One thing I’ve learned from meeting all these people is that even though everyone comes from different places, we can all agree that a conversation about a stranger’s life becomes the most interesting story you’ll get to hear. Karlee, Sarah, Leah, and I have become so incredibly close in the past month and we’ve gotten to meet the greatest group of people already. We know people in our classes and have a handful of friends that we’ve gotten to know so well that we’ve even considered trying to extend our trip (sorry parents).

**DISCLAIMER**: THIS IS ABOUT TO GET REALLY CHEESY AND DEEP.

You always hear that people participate in a study abroad to visit a new city and meet new people. Although, that IS partially why I have come here, it goes way beyond that. Living in the same city for more than 13 years and following a set academic plan (middle school, high school, college, etc.), I felt like my life had become very similar to everyone’s around me. I love to visit new places and experience a different lifestyle, I mean I don’t even get tired of visiting my close friends in Austin, but living in a completely different country AWAY from my reality was something I decided I should experience as a young adult. I don’t like change or being away from people close to me, but I knew that by doing this I could start a different life elsewhere, as well as force myself to struggle through all the drastic changes. To conclude: it was hard at first but it’s easily been one of the best life decision’s I have made yet (first being attending A&M of course, WHOOP)!

The END: An incredible past four weeks! Not much studying done (or really required) but learning so much about other people and their cultures. We’ve already made so many international friends and hundreds of memories that others won’t find even half as funny. The next two months are basically planned out with different trips and visits around the city! I can’t wait to talk about my experience more but until then, Salud!

P.S. Just a few pictures!

Montjuic!

Montjuic!

View from our apartment's terrace!

View from our apartment’s terrace!

Trip to France! Laduree :)

Trip to France! Laduree 🙂

Night out with great friends!

Night out with great friends!

ESN Integration Weekend in Lleida, Spain

ESN Integration Weekend in Lleida, Spain

 

 

Ritika Harchekar

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

¡Hola!

I’ll be spending this semester in Madrid, living just south of the city center (Puerta del Sol) with a host family, and attending Universidad Carlos III. Margarita, my host mom, doesn’t speak any English, so I’ve already gotten a lot of practice in Spanish. Strangely enough, the most difficult part for me so far has been talking about food; we chat about books, movies, and school all the time, but the food has been a bit of a challenge. I’ve only ever studied Spanish in literature classes, so there are a lot of names for foods and appliances that I just didn’t know. Speaking of which, the food here is amazing! In Spain, it’s more common to have a big lunch around 2 o’clock (during siesta, when most places actually do close for a few hours in the middle of the day) and then a light dinner closer to 9 or 10. Tapas are great – I wish we had them back home! Here’s a fun fact: in quite a few of the places we’ve been, a glass of wine is cheaper than a soda.

Just outside the Palacio Real

Just outside the Palacio Real

UC3M’s exchange student program has done an awesome job setting up events for all the international students to get to know each other – there’s been something every night for the past two weeks! I’m having a blast getting to meet people from around the world and being surrounded by so many different languages. A few of us got together one night, and between the ten of us, we could speak seven languages (almost everyone spoke at least two)! I especially enjoyed our trip to Toledo last Sunday – the city was beautiful and full of history.

Toledo

I got really excited about all of the Don Quixote allusions throughout the city (Toledo is the capital of La Mancha, after all).

Don Quixote

We also just finished our first week of class! It’s very different here – every class has a practical component worth 40% of the final grade (it seems like it’s usually a presentation of some kind), and then a final exam worth 60%. I know it’s only been a week, but there doesn’t seem to be as much homework assigned here (I’m certainly not complaining). I’m taking Marketing Management (MKTG 321) and Art History (my visual and performing arts credit) for sure; the other two are still up in the air. Registration was pretty hectic, and I have until Monday to decide. Very few of us got all the classes we wanted, but the professors here have been extremely accommodating so far about letting us join their classes or swap sections. The practical section of my marketing class is a simulation program, and we’re all competing for grades – I’m excited to see how this goes!

That’s all so far – thanks for reading!

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

Hello! My name is Leah Mendes, and I am spending the semester studying at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, a city in the Catalonia region of Spain. Through this REEP Program, I have the opportunity to take classes in International Business and Marketing, practice some Spanish that I never typically speak at home, and earn a Certificate in International Business through Mays. Barcelona is absolutely wonderful, and I’ve been busy getting to know the city- this has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world, and nothing I see fails to amaze me. I know that these three months are going to fly by so quickly, and I’m going to soak up as much of it as possible.

I have been so excited about my classes so far, and even though they haven’t been too demanding yet I know I’m learning a lot. I was able to take classes I would normally enroll in at A&M without falling behind, and they cover a lot of similar concepts but everything is taught from a global perspective. I am enrolled in two marketing management classes, a consumer behavior class, and an operations management class, all with excellent professors. Registration was a little bit frustrating, because a majority of the exchange students didn’t get the classes we requested (I got two out of four of mine, but they’re scheduled at the same time.) However, after the add/drop session I was able to get all four that I needed. I feel like I’ve finally gotten into a routine for school, so I’ve been able to venture out to more sites and have a bucket list I’m working on. Even when I’m not intending to go somewhere cool, I find myself stumbling upon breathtaking places- it seems like everywhere I turn, there’s another beautiful cathedral, monument, port, or quaint street filled with little cafes and shops. Not a bad place to live. Additionally, we’ve been able to see quite a few of the typical “touristy” sites- La Sagrada Familia, Montjuic, Barceloneta Beach, Parc Guell, etc. My roommates and I (who are also from A&M and studying at UPF) made a trip to Paris a few weekends ago, and attended a retreat in the Spanish countryside with the other exchange students from the university. We have a few more trips planned in the coming months. I can’t wait to explore more of Europe!

Using Spanish has been humbling to say the least, but also really exciting. I am a Spanish minor, so that was one of my main motivations for choosing this country for my study abroad experience. I had heard mixed things about learning it in Barcelona because this region of Spain speaks Catalan in addition to Spanish, but I’ve been able to use it everywhere we’ve gone and have had some great conversations with people, so I think I’m making progress. Disregard the times when I’ve used the wrong word or the person has replied in English. I signed up for a non-credit Spanish class at UPF that is helping tremendously, and I have a wonderful conversation partner I found through a program at the university. I am also in a group project for one of my classes with all Spanish students, which has allowed me to practice more business-related terms. Barcelona is such an international city that most people speak at least a tiny bit of English too, but I’ve been trying not to use it with locals unless I have to. That being said, a majority of our friends here are exchange students from all over the world, and English is the predominant language spoken among that group. We have met people from about 30 different countries, and all of them spoke at least two languages. Talk about motivation! I absolutely love how many different kinds of people there are here though and have enjoyed being able to talk to them about their countries and cultures.

A few observations about the Spaniards- first of all, their whole pace of life is at about 50% of what it is in the US. I guess when you live somewhere this beautiful you want to stop to take it all in, because they walk. so. slowly. It sometimes rivals a crawl. They take much more time eating meals, have multiple courses, and start dinner around 10pm. It’s also really rare to see “to go” anything. They have siestas in the middle of the day when everything closes around this city so that people can rest. In general, people just seem less tense. I have so much respect for how fully present they can be, and that they take time to appreciate and really experience everything. I’m learning to become better at this, and am thankful to not be constantly rushing, especially when I’m surrounded by so many incredible things. Thank you for reading about my experiences, and I will keep everyone updated as the semester continues!
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Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain