Spain | Semester Exchanges Blog - Part 8

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.

2014-06-28 14.57.23

2014-06-28 10.42.01

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.

20140630_141506

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.

20140630_214319

20140703_112440

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!
1489231_10152201175729789_1309492073_n

1551645_10152201169429789_1412376032_n

Categories: 2014, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain