martes, 1 de marzo de 2016

Pros and Cons of Studying Abroad 2 Semesters

Fun fact: I'm in the 2% of students who attend Towson University who choose study abroad for two semesters instead of one.  These two semesters have honestly been completely different, but in the best way, so I feel the need to represent the 2% with pride and promote others to be as cool as me.

I guess I'll start out with the cons so this gradually gets more cheery as I go along.

  • Biggest difference between this semester and the last one is that my squad left.  My dance partners, the people I had travelled the world with, watched Real Madrid games with, eaten all the food and drank all the tinto de verano with aren't here anymore.  The city is not the same without them, and I love to remind them every day through Snapchat that they should have stayed the year.
  • Funding is not what it used to be.  I travelled to 6 countries last semester, which was 100% worth it.  However, it also means that this semester I actually have to be aware of how much I'm spending on a week to week basis.
  • Because funds are lacking, my nightlife now mostly consists of Netflix or chatting with my host family.
  • I've become far too accustomed to living the Madrid life; I'm always late to everything, I spend most of my day eating, drinking wine, and napping.  The longest paper I've had to write in the past 6 months was 2 pages.  For now, this can be considered a pro, but the reverse culture-shock is going to bite me in the batookey as soon as I land back on US soil.
  • No Chick-fil-a
Onward to happier things! The pros:
  • My host family and I have become so much more close this semester.  Last semester, I spent so much time out with my friends and travelling that I didn't really spend too much time with them.  This semester we watch the wonderfully creepy reality TV show Gran Hermano together, and I have cancelled plans multiple times just to spend more time with them (sorry Trenton and Sena).
  • My Spanish has improved beyond what my expectations were when I arrived and I still have 3 months to go!  I've finally gotten past the point of learning new grammar and am now able to focus on applying what I've learned when I speak and write.  Quite a few times, I've had to look up the definition in English of some of the vocab I've learned.
  • More time to travel: I have trips planned to Italy, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Pamplona, and Valencia this semester and I cannot wait!
  • Julio and Carlos- the best program directors to ever exist
  • More time to explore: I spend most of my time now wandering around the city.  I've also become more aware of the cultural activities and have now been to a Spanish Improv theater as well as learned to dance bachata.
  • I'm at the point where sometimes I need to remind myself I'm in Madrid because everything has become so routine.  I've also learned that reminding yourself that you are in a foreign country does wonders for improving bad moods.  I may be in a bad mood sometimes, but hey, at least I'm in Spain!
  • Paella, croquetas, churros, tinto de verano, fuet, and tortilla- those things alone are worth the extra semester
I actually feel like now I've finally stopped being a tourist on a year-long vacation and begun to immerse myself in the culture.  This semester has been far more tame than my previous one (you're welcome mom), but I don't consider that a bad thing because I'm accomplishing what I came here in the first place to do.  Madrid has become a second home, and being a part of that 2% that study abroad for the academic year is one of the best decisions I've ever made.

martes, 23 de febrero de 2016

My Vacation Home

So, as most of you know, I went home for the first weekend in February to see my family and to be home for Monty's (my Lithuanian international student/best friend) senior night of basketball at my old high school. So here's how it all went down!

Long story short my parents and I decided I was going to come home as a surprise the weekend of the game, so my parents and I (and my two best friends from home) were the only ones to know that I was coming.

I landed after a beautiful 8-hour flight (I had the whole row to myself on the plane, so I got to make a nest) and got to hurry up and wait for my luggage to come through so I could run into my mom's arms after 6 long months without her.  Finally got my luggage, and I tried my best to act casual so as to not draw suspicion from my favs (TSA) as I half walked, half ran toward the International Arrivals Hall and into my mom's arms.  After a lot of really gross crying in front of strangers, I was sitting in my car on the way home to see my dad and surprise my brother and Monty.  It felt like a dream.

I beat the boys home because they were at one of Monty's basketball games, so my second reunion was with my dog... who did nothing.  She wandered up as usual wagging her tail, and after getting one pat on the head from me, turns to my mom to ask for dinner.  She tried to ruin my vibe, but it's cool...I know she was internally stoked to see me... deep down.

My dad came in next, and seeing him come in, there are no words it was just awesome.  Then we formed our plan of attack, because the boys were in my brother's car 5 minutes behind my dad.  I ducked behind the counter and waited for them to walk in while my dad had my phone to capture the moment on video.  I can honestly say I shocked the linguistic skill out of them, because all I heard for the next 5 minutes after I surprised them was, "What the hell?" and "Holy shit!"  I gave each of them a hug, but it took a second hug from each and a whole lot of staring for it to sink in that I was finally home.

The next day, Friday, I went to visit my high school in the morning to catch up with my old teachers, got a haircut for the first time since I'd left, and then spent time at home with my dad before leaving for Monty's senior night.  I surprised my grandparents at the game, and I got to see a ton of my old friends.  Then the game began, and I got to see Monty play while sitting with my family in our matching Monty shirts, cheering my head off.  In that moment, there was no where in the world I would have rather been.

Saturday, Monty had another game and I repped the Lithuanian flag with pride.  After the game, we went to Chick-fil-A, and my tastebuds cried they were so happy to finally have buffalo chicken.  Then, I went out to dinner at Sakura (my favorite hibachi grill) and then to Red Lobster to say hi to my old coworkers.

Sunday I got to sleep in and woke up to cinnamon buns (#blessed).  I went shopping with my mom and Monty and then returned home to curl up and watch the Superbowl and Downton Abbey.

Monday I woke up early to say goodbye to everyone, spent the morning drinking tea on the couch and packing my suitcase with 42 pounds of food and beverage (yea 42 pounds judge me) and then I was on my way to the airport and on my way back to Madrid.

It was the longest-shortest weekend of my life, but it was 100% worth it to be able to see my family (and eat all the food).  It was weird in a way though.  Since I talk to my family and close friends every week, after the initial excitement of my being home, it felt like I had never left.  I've changed so much, but small town Bel Air, MD has barely changed at all.  I'm happy to be back in Madrid, but also eager to see what the future holds for me once my study abroad ends and I return home in 3 months.

domingo, 10 de enero de 2016

My Spanish Holiday

      Honestly, my holiday was pretty boring.  I watched a lot of Netflix, but that's beside the point so I'll just highlight the interesting culture stuff.

  • My friend Trenton and I went on an awesome Christmas-bus tour of the city.  Madrid goes all-out as far as Christmas lights and seeing the city lit up from the beginning of December until now really helped enhance the holiday spirit.
  • I spent Christmas Eve with Gonzalo and Rodrigo who are essentially my second host family.  Christmas Eve dinner is like Thanksgiving.  You basically stuff your face and drink while spending time with family.
  • Christmas day is more low-key than Christmas in the states; at least from my experience.  I returned to my host family that day and we had presents and then I skyped my family.  The Reyes are far more important than Santa (I know this because here there are mall Reyes and not mall Santas) and they don't arrive until January 6th.
  • New Years Eve is like Thanksgiving part 2.  You get dressed up, stuff your face, and then sit around watching Spain's version of the Times Square New Years Eve show until the ball drops.  Spain's New Years Eve show was slightly more uhh provocative than the one in the states because they had a bit where the hosts came out in lingere before putting on gorgeous suits and dresses for the ball drop.  I guess no one tries to protect the innocence of children over here, but the male models were hot so I'll get over the emotional scarring.  In Madrid the ball drops in the clock tower, but the ball drop is not as important as the bells chiming.  In Spain, they have the tradition to eat a grape every time the bell gongs.  You are supposed to make a wish but I was so stressed by trying to chew and swallow a grape every gong that I didn't have time to make a wish.  Naturally, there is a fireworks show as well and then you watch a bunch of musical performances before crashing at around 3am.
  • Then every child is focused 100% on their second day of presents: the reyes.  On the 5th of January, there is a huge parade in Madrid called the Cabalgata which is essentially the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade only it ends with the three kings instead of Santa.  That parade was nuts.  In Spain, the kings have the tradition of giving the parade-goers candies.  Basically, throughout the 3 hours the parade lasted, I was pelted with hard candies as the people marching in the parade walked by.  And let me tell you, parade-goers are savage about those candies.  They will scream at anyone walking by who doesn't give them candies that they are "shameless."  But nevertheless once I ignored the people angry at me for being 5'11 and in the front row and the tiny boy behind me hitting me with his balloon, I thoroughly enjoyed the parade.  I'll just remember if I ever get the chance to go again to wear armour.
  • Then the kids go home and go to bed for Christmas part two the next morning.  Not only do they give letters to Santa, but they get to write two letters because they have two days of gifts (not that I'm bitter or anything).  All family-owned businesses were closed for the day and most people spend the day with their extended family so they can get even more presents and eat even more food.
So basically to summarize; this holiday season I stuffed my face, spent a lot of time relaxing at home, and was pelted with tiny candies.  All in all, an awesome time with people whom I now consider family.

walk-through Christmas tree in the city center

the three kings on their floats

jueves, 17 de diciembre de 2015

One Semester Down, One to Go!

       As my semester is slowly coming to a close, and in the spirit of the holidays, there are a few things I would like to thank my study abroad experience thus far for:

· For introducing me to lifelong friends. We’ve travelled together, laughed together, and eaten a hell of a lot of food together. Those are the memories I will cherish the most from this trip, because of the people I know I’ll never lose contact with.
· For my wonderful host family, who make me aspire to one day be a host mom myself.
· For giving me a new global perspective. I have met Italians, Chinese, Dutch, English, Koreans, Syrians, Russians, and Spaniards. Learning about all their different cultures in class has opened my eyes to how different each culture is yet how similar they can be at the same time.
· For giving me the ability to travel the world. I have now been to Portugal, France, Poland, Morocco, and Amsterdam as well as cities all over Spain. I hope to next semester visit Italy and Ireland. I still can’t believe that this is my life, and I just feel so incredibly blessed every day.
· For teaching me how to pack a backpack for a weekend trip to another city or country in less than 30 minutes.
· For introducing me to new foods like beet soup, couscous, fuet, baby pig, huevos rotos (fried eggs and ham over French fries), and so much more.
· For teaching me how to use public transportation and my own two legs to get me everywhere I need to go.
· For giving me enough fantastic “throwback Thursday” pictures to last a lifetime.
· For showing me the joy that is Burger King delivery.
· For helping me realize that distance really does make the heart grow fonder, and how much I should cherish my time with my family and friends back home.
· For improving my Spanish language skill to a level I had never dreamed possible.
· For teaching me that I can survive without all of the things I am used to having at home; like a shower curtain or buffalo chicken.
· For helping me learn how to adapt to changes and remain calm in a crisis.
· And above all, I’m thankful that I still have another semester here.

       Not all of this semester has been easy, with the hardest blow being the one to my wallet, but I wake up every day feeling blessed. This experience has made me more confident and less terrified of airports. I have friends from all over the world now as well as a new global perspective that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

domingo, 15 de noviembre de 2015

Pro Tips from the Travel Guide

       I’ve talked about safety and how to be a tourist, but these are just random things I have learned throughout my trip that those of you reading these and considering studying abroad might enjoy.

       Keep a journal. Religiously. I had always tried to keep diaries and journals as a kid but I never succeeded. When I arrived here, I forced myself to begin journaling every day. I try to write about what I do every day down to the food that I’ve eaten. I’ve written this journal for me and no one else, so that later in life I can look back and relive all of the adventures as many times as I want.

       Keep tickets from all of the touristy places you go. I have a drawer full of what looks like meaningless scraps of paper, but each one is a memory. I’m not an arts and crafts type person, but I do hope to make something out of all of the tickets and information pamphlets I’ve collected from places all over the world.

       Have set in your mind one thing that you want to get each place you travel to. Whether it be a snow globe, a ceramic plate, or a shot glass, collect something small and inexpensive instead of blowing all of your money on souvenirs.

       If you eat somewhere delicious, drop a pin. Study abroad is a group effort of friends tag teaming to find where the inexpensive, delicious food is. The notepad on my iPhone is full of foods I have tried that I wrote down because I thought my friends would enjoy them. You are also going to be returning to the United States a walking guidebook, and having names of places and exact addresses will make you an awesome guidebook.

       If you don’t think you are going to make it on time to either a bus station, train station, or the airport; take a taxi. The metro-gods are pretty incredible, but it is much safer to shell out the extra cash than then end up paying to reschedule the ticket.

       In light of everything that happened in France, when things happen, whether in the country you are studying in or a country close by, always get in contact with your family and tell them you are safe. Keep your family informed of your travel plans and always text your parents when you land and take off when travelling. I try to make sure that I communicate with at least one person in my family every day.

       Most importantly, cherish every moment. All of my friends except one are only semester students who will be leaving in the end of December. Thinking about them leaving is heartbreaking, but we are all doing our best to spend as much time together as we can. Seize the day every day and then write everything you did in your journal so you can remember the jokes and memories forever.


       Our trip to Krakow, Poland began where else but McDonalds. After a 5 hour layover in Frankfurt, my friend Emily and I wanted none other than America’s finest in Poland. We quickly learned that most people in Poland speak English, which was a huge relief since we speak 0 Polish. We then went to our Airbnb and crashed because we had to wake up early to catch our van to Auschwitz.

       The next day we had an hour van ride to the Auschwitz one camp for a tour. The feeling I had walking through the gates that foggy morning is one I will never forget. It is very hard to describe, but my heart felt extremely heavy and I felt in that moment like I would never be able to smile again. Auschwitz one is brick cell-blocks where the prisoners of war lived and Birkenau is where the Jews mass-murdered. Birkenau is made up of wooden cell-blocks, so most of them are no longer safe for people to walk in so the majority of what we saw was at Auschwitz one. We walked through a cell-block that showed us how the prisoner’s lived, beginning from straw and then being upgraded to wooden slats.
Walking through the gate

       Originally, before the use of tattoos, prisoners had their pictures taken, and the next block we walked through was filled with pictures of the prisoners. Many people had placed flowers on top of some of the pictures and candles were lit everywhere throughout.

       When prisoners first arrived at the camp, all their stuff was taken from them and stored in warehouses called Canada 1 and Canada 2. When the camp was liberated, everything found in Canada 1 and 2 were kept and put in exhibits in a few of the cell-blocks. We walked through rooms full of hair, luggage, pots and pans, glasses, and shoes. The worst for me was seeing a small display case full of baby clothes and booties. It was really hard to walk through each room knowing how each of the people died.

       When then went to the prison of the prison where we saw starving cells, standing cells (a 5x5 cell where 4 people had to stand until either their punishment was up or they died), there was one cell where there was so little ventilation that the prisoner’s suffocated, and we also saw the wall where the prisoners were lined up and shot.

       All of the gas chambers and crematoriums that were at Birkenau had been destroyed before the camp was liberated, but Auschwitz one still had one gas chamber and one crematorium which we got to see as well.

       We then took a brief tour of Birkenau and saw a children’s cell block, a train car, and the wreckage of the gas chambers and crematoriums.

       After leaving the camp and heading back to Krakow, Emily and I were emotionally exhausted and decided to spend the rest of the night exploring Krakow. We saw the cathedral, the palace, and took a carriage ride through the city center which was incredible.
St. Mary's Basilica

       Overall, the trip was very powerful, one I will never forget. I do hope to return to Poland one day, in the summer, when it isn’t 30 degrees and foggy.

Krakow city center

jueves, 29 de octubre de 2015

Amanda takes on the Spanish Health Care System

         There are some parts of the trip here that I would gleefully trade away for a day or two at home, but none as much as October 27 and 28th. October 27th began as a completely normal day, but that’s how days are supposed to begin before all hell breaks loose. I returned home after a day of taking midterms and took a nap. When I woke up, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I knew I was sick, but I had to finish reading a book for one of my classes and write a paper on it. This I knew was not a feat I could accomplish under heavy doses of medication. Therefore, I decided to push through and finish the paper and then fall asleep.

       The next morning was even worse, I woke up, tried to force down some breakfast and in my feverish stupor attempted to go to school. Thankfully my host mom was awake and able to tell me to go back to bed. I slept until four that evening before waking up and realizing I needed antibiotics and badly. I called my study abroad office and they set up an appointment for me that I needed to leave for almost immediately. Stupid, fever infested me figured I could handle walking to the metro and then finding the hospital. After I got off the metro to switch lines, I had to sit down and put my head between my knees to avoid passing out in front of a bunch of random strangers halfway to my destination. I then regained strength and vision and was able to gingerly pick my way to the next line I needed to be on. At this point, all I could do was pray.

       I finally got off at the metro stop by the hospital, and a 5 minute walk to the hospital ended up taking 20 because I got so turned around. I collapsed into a chair in the international office, heard the sweet sound of the English language, and I knew I had made it. Doctor #1 immediately diagnosed me with strep and sent me off to get meds. Little did I know this was only the beginning.

       I woke up the next morning running a fever of 103. I took a second dose of meds and fell back asleep only to wake up again still running a high fever of 101. Realizing the meds I was taking were not strong enough, back to the hospital I went. This time I got to see a general doctor instead of one who spoke English. Doctor #2, affectionately known as my hero, immediately gave me a shot because my tonsils were so swollen I had trouble breathing and he prescribed me the good stuff. Now taking three different types of medication, I finally felt back to my old self, but those two days were a blur of taking whatever medicine I was given, drinking something, and going back to sleep.

Moral of the story, if ever sick abroad, take a taxi to the hospital.