The value of Home

Standard

I have spent the last 111days in Europe (mostly in Granada, with 4 other countries mixed in there). In 12 days and 17 hours, I will be on my way back to sunny, beautiful Los Angeles, California. I have missed my home oh so terribly at times, but it is without a doubt that I would do this all over again (and maybe bring my dog along, because everyone has a dog here!)

Being away from home soon made me realize what I value about home…and what I am looking to transplant from Spain to the USA.

1. My family and friends. I just so happen to live in what I consider to be the most amazing place in the world (geographically) but I would trade that all in as long as I am with those I love most, namely my parents and pup. Honestly, I could be from a snow-covered land in Alaska and I would still miss my loved ones terribly. Home is not just a physical location that holds your comfortable bed (although I am looking forward to my plush mattress!), it is about who you share your home with. Or better yet- “Family is not just who you live with, its who you cannot live without.”

2. The Sunshine State. I never realized how lucky I am to live in a place where it can be 75 and sunny year-round. Some people say “But you don’t have seasons!” Oh, we have seasons alright. We just skip the bad ones! I chose Granada in part because I was told the weather was very similar to home. Let me tell you, its not. It has been pouring rain for 3 days straight- in May! But in all fairness, it has been the coldest weirdest winter/spring seasons throughout all of Europe (just my luck). I have realized that the weather really affects your mood and motivation to do anything, especially when your primary mode of transportation = your two legs. When the sun came out and the temperatures peaked 70 degrees, the people of Granada flooded the streets. The Alhambra looked more majestic than ever. This change in ambience in the city made me value what I get to go home to.

3. Structure. When we first arrived we were told not to stress about anything. Spaniards are far more relaxed than Americans, and after all, we were 20-some year olds studying abroad. Really, our only care should be where we wanted to spend Semana Santa. We learned a key phrase- No pasa nada which basically means “Everything is alright.” If you drop something, No pasa nada. Spill something, No pasa nada. You’re running late… Ok so this is where I draw the line. I’m a stickler for punctuality in part because my parents are always running late. So adjusting to “Spanish time” was interesting. I liked it at first. I don’t have to sprint to class if I’m a few minutes late- awesome! But at the same time, I don’t like the idea of making others wait, especially not an entire class. There are only so many hours in a day and so many days that we get to spend abroad, so I don’t want to waste a single second. So my dearest España, thank you for helping me relax. But at the same time, sometimes Sí pasa algo.

4. Let’s go to… The Spanish culture is very social. And I LOVE IT. At any given hour of the day (including 4am on your way back from a discoteca) you will find people walking in the streets of Granada, which is a beautiful thing because you are truly never alone. Cafes and tapas bars are never empty. And good company is always abundant. I am really going to miss being able to call a friend and say “Hey let’s meet at our favorite place for churros and chocolate.”

5. 65 is the new 20 So not only are the streets full, but they are full of people of ALL ages- babies, teens, adults, senior citizens. Even pups roam happily! One of my favorite memories comes from my walk home back from a tapas bar at around midnight and an older couple was walking, arm in arm, with not a care in the world. They were dressed very sharply and were just taking an afternoon stroll. It was truly an inspiring moment. So often we are told that retirement = time to slow down. Ok, so maybe you stop working 40 hours a week. But life goes on, and you can still keep strolling!

It’s been a pleasure, Granada. But America is my first love…

(Not) just your average day

Standard
(Not) just your average day

Dear American students,

I’m sure almost everyone you know has urged you to study abroad for one reason or another. And it’s starting to sound like something you want to do. Opportunity to live abroad, to learn a new language, meet cool new foreigners, travel a bunch, etc. etc… But what exactly does the daily life of an American student studying abroad look like? Well, I’m here to tell you. (Photo: the amazing view of the Cathedral from my bedroom window)

20130505-130626.jpg

If you have been following my blog you know that I have been living in Granada, Spain (located in Southern Spain in a region known as Andalusia) since the end of January 2013. I live with a host mom named Luisa who is just the sweetest woman! The first thing she told me upon my arrival was “I am like your mom here, so if you ever need to talk, laugh, cry, whatever- just let me know and I will be here for you.” She has truly lived up to her word. We gossip like best girlfriends and she gives me great advice like a mother or grandmother would. She makes me breakfast and lunch, which I will explain in further detail below.

7:15am Wake up, shower, and have breakfast to be out the door by 8:30am. We take “Navy showers” here, which means you turn the water on and off in an effort to make it quick and conserve water (Brrrr!). Breakfast consists of toast and jam, yogurt, OJ, and tea, with a pastry and piece of fruit to-go!

8:40-9:45am Advanced Spanish class. I am in the highest level grammar class because of my fluency, which means that this class is not very “grammar” based, but rather, more about learning to speak in your daily life. It’s pretty useful for learning the “Spanish” way to say things!

11am-2:00pm More classes! They vary from day-to-day but can be anything from “History of the Sephardic Jews” to an Anthropology class called “The Spanish Experience of the ‘Other'” to, my personal favorite, “Islamic Art and Architecture.”

2:10pm-4pm Lunch and Siesta! Lunch is the largest and most important meal of the day in Spain. The shops usually close and just about everyone goes home for a hearty lunch and siesta time. My señora is an amazing cook! (See photo) And she usually makes very healthy things, which is a huge plus! A typical lunch would be bread and salad, some dish or soup with chicken and veggies (I personally don’t eat red meat, but that’s also very common here), and a piece of fruit or “natilla” (custard) for dessert. By the end of it, I can hardly move! I don’t always have time to nap but I always make it a point to allow myself to just sit and digest for a bit.

20130505-131702.jpg

4pm-6pm Class at the University of Granada (Introduction to Social Change) or an Islamic Art visit to some beautiful site in the city. You are not required by the program to take a class at the local university (my home school requires it due to my language level) but it is a pretty neat experience. The European university system is very different from what I am accustomed to coming from a small liberal arts college- big, lecture-based classes with your semester grade resting on 1 or 2 assignments/tests.
The Islamic Art visits are every Wednesday afternoon and they are essentially field visits where we take notes on what profesora Lupe says. Its really interesting to actually BE at the site that you are learning about as opposed to just reading about it in a book. This to me has been one of the coolest aspects of “study” abroad.

20130505-131548.jpg

6-9pm Get some homework done. It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of the day even when an assignment is pending. There is a simple solution to this: time management. You have to make use of your free time and know that after all, you are here to STUDY (at least a little) each day. Study Abroad isn’t the time to stress about turning in perfect assignments either. Classes and assignments are designed to be a “manageable challenge,” or at least that’s the way I see it. So just don’t put things off until it’s too late, and you will be A-OK.

9-10:45pm TAPAS! Because lunch is such a big deal here, dinner is usually a social event with a little something to fill your tummy: the tapa. Granada is famous for its tapas, in part because they are free with your drinks. Yes, a little yummy dish to complement that refreshing “tinto de verano” or “caña de cerveza” (beer). With two or three of these, you can dine at night without breaking the bank.

11pm Head home and rest up- another busy day is ahead! (Note: this is just during the week, if you go to bed early on a weekend, your señora might think you’re depressed)

As you can tell, your days are pretty busy. But no day is or should be the same. After all, it is important to make the most of your time abroad since your days are limited (I only have 20 days left here and it seems like my plane just touched down yesterday!) One of my goals upon arriving was to try a new tapas place for dinner every night. This hasn’t quite been the case since some places have just been soooo yummy that I have had to go back for more! But in general, I can say that I have explored some cool new places and have been surprised at least a few times per week.

20130505-132230.jpg

I guess my best piece of advice would be to have a general “routine” but to break it in every way possible. Try new things, explore new streets, do your homework outside, siesta in the park (see photo), ask about cool places your friends have found, etc etc. If you’re home sick, it’ll help keep your mind off of it. And even if you’re not, it’ll help enrich your experience!

20130505-132447.jpg

Happy travels abroad!

XO, Claudia

Study Abroad: MythBusters edition

Standard

My fellow Americans,

I write to you from across the pond to discuss the foreign beings we are oh so curious about. Yes, Europeans. I have met many of them, from all parts, and have lived with Spaniards for almost an entire semester. So I have a few Myths to affirm, and bust.

Myth 1: Spaniards are lazy.
“Spaniards are late to everything,” and we’ve all heard about this wonderful thing called a “siesta” that is very characteristic of Spain. Well my friends, I am here to report that yes, siesta is a thing, but it is not quite what you think it is. Siesta is a time after lunch meant for relaxation and maybe a quick 15-20 minute nap– NOT a 3-hour snooze in the middle of the day. More or less, it is from 2:30- 5 or 6 (I’ve noticed that it really depends). At this time, most of the stores close and everyone goes home for lunch and siesta. You might be thinking “Wow that’s nice. I’d like to close up shop and go home early. That’s a lazy thing to do.” But I am here to report that this misconception is very erroneous. First of all, Spaniards start their days at about +/- 7am and go until 2 or 3, start back up at 5 or 6, and don’t end until after dinner (which is at about 9:30 or 10pm). So as you can see, it is a very long day and is very different than the hours we Americans are accustomed to. 9-5. This difference does not make Spaniards any less hardworking than Americans. Myth: Busted

Myth 2: Spaniards are very passionate.
This one is easy. On any given night, you can see couples all over showing affection for each other (very passionately in public. Or getting into heated, passionate arguments on the street. Myth: Upheld

Myth 3: Spaniards are very loud.
YES. Particularly Andalusians.

Myth 4: European men and women dress very well.
I have partially addressed this myth in a previous post (Take my word for it…or not) but would like to elaborate…
Personally, I love getting dressed every morning. It is honestly my favorite part of the day. I feel like a little girl playing dress up! And I have been told that I have a great sense of style (for which, I thank my mom). But I will be honest and say that I was very intimidated and nervous about dressing in Spain. Do they really not wear shorts or sneakers? You can’t show skin? No wet hair? While some of these are generally true, there are other things that have proven false. Young people in Spain, like those in the US, really like to explore with their fashion statements and basically anything and everything goes. However, there must be some element of “cohesion” and “polish” in your outfits or else you look out of place, especially when going out. Myth: Upheld

Now, this whole “stereotyping” is not a one-way street. They stereotype us too, both accurately and inaccurately. My señora (host mom) and her friend have asked me a few (sometimes uncomfortable questions) about the US and where I come from.

For starters, she was very surprised by my proficiency in Spanish, and the fact that I look Spanish and have a Spanish name. Was I Spanish? Yep. Not all Americans, and not all Californians, have blond hair and blue eyes. And that’s one of the things I LOVE about home!

Next, Americans overuse “Thank You” (or gracias). Personally, I am of the belief that you can never be too gracious or too polite. But I guess we do say it quite a bit: Here’s your water (gracias), here’s your food (gracias), here’s a napkin (gracias)…

Finally, the question of money. Now this one was particularly awkward and difficult to address. In light of the economic crisis in Spain, money is a big topic of conversation, and it is one that happens to make me pretty uncomfortable. “Americans are very very wealthy,” said my host mom’s friend as we watched a home improvement show. “Just look at the size of that house and yard!”
But one must remember that the common living situation is very different in Spain than it is in the US. Here, living in an apartment is the norm. Whereas having a home in the suburbs is the norm for a family (although I’m not sure that there really is a “norm” anymore in the US). That is because, as it was explained to us as a group, apartments allow people to live closer together– something that is really valued in the Spanish culture. Whereas space is really valued in the American one.

This last stereotype about Americans and wealth made me realize that appearances and stereotypes only mean so much. Are they helpful? Sometimes. They definitely help you prepare for certain things and understand them, but only when they are put into context. I think the danger of stereotypes comes about when they are applied on a universal scale, to every person, in every situation, everywhere. You need to keep an open mind about people and cultures, particularly when you will be living among them for an entire semester. But sometimes, the stereotypes are true…
Stereotype: Californians love the sun, hate the cold, can’t function in the rain.
I am Claudia. I am from California. When it rained in Granada for a month and a half straight, a little piece of me would cry internally. But when the sun came out, I threw on my bikini and rejoiced to the sun gods! My sanity was restored. Myth: UPHELD!

20130421-164440.jpg

A California girl finds Home in Boston

Standard

As an American living in the States it is often very easy to take my Great Nation for granted. I know I never really took a second to understand, much less appreciate, what makes the US my “home” far beyond just my zip code. This has changed a bit in recent months…

Now, I am an American living abroad. I have been to 5 countries in the past month and have lived as a European for about 3 months, truly immersing myself as best as possible. That is not to say, by any means, that I know everything about Spanish culture or any other culture, but it has been a hearty immersion period and obviously some observations have been made. As a temporary “outsider” to America, I have been able to identify (and not judge or rank) many general similarities and differences between Americans and Europeans. It has actually been really fun (and sometimes funny) to do!

But something very key to my understanding came about early this week. While I was in Italy, heading back to Spain, I saw: “President Obama releases statement about bombings in Boston.” At that moment, I was confused, concerned, sad – just a plethora of emotions were felt all at once. But why? I don’t have any family in Boston, don’t know anyone who studies there or is currently living there. Why was I so affected by this news? (I knew zero details at this point, and would not know until about 8pm in Spain)

Obviously, watching full coverage and knowing the details of what had happened was very troubling and hard to stomach. Note: there is very little censorship in Spain, so graphic images are unavoidable. But amongst the horrendous images and details of deaths and injuries, there was also news of heroes and aid, selfless acts. And just now, I watched the opening ceremony of the hockey game between the Boston Bruins and the Buffalo Sabers. I can honestly say I am blown away. I no longer wonder why I was so affected by the news, or why anyone else was. It is all very clear to me. I care because I am an American, and we Americans inherently bond together in the best and worst of times.

My host mom gave me her condolences for the what had happened. She then told me that there were a good amount of Spaniards at the race, all (I am not sure of this) safe and en route back to Spain. There is a saying in Spanish that says “La sangre llama” which literally means “Blood calls.” And I believe it is true. Her Spanish blood called to those in Boston. And me, well, by blood, I am and will always be a California girl. But from thousands of miles away, I found a home in Boston. Because we Americans are united by One Nation, under God, INDIVISIBLE.

And as wonderful as Europe has been, I can hardly wait to be back HOME <3

A midway evaluation: #winning

Standard

Dear self,

Seeing as how you’re about half-way done with the program (boy that went by fast!) how would you evaluate the way things are going?

As far as language proficiency, it’s no secret that you were at a very high level coming in. That was very much visible when you were labeled “fluent” by the program administers. But I’m so happy that you decided to go ahead with an advanced grammar class anyway. I think it has served as a good “refresher” for you. Not to mention how fun it is to have a group of you all be really really confused as to what exactly is being asked of you on your midterm! Oh the joys of being in a foreign country! That leads me to my next point…

One of your goals for the trip was to become friends with most of the chicas y chicos on the program. I think it’s safe to say you have met that goal. Like I said, how great is it to have a group of you all in the same situation? -helping each other out or simply exchanging confused looks.

As far as getting to know Granada, I think it’s safe to say you fell off the boat a little bit during the month of March. But then again it was freezing! However, I’m really glad that you have been taking afternoon strolls with Corey to different streets and “barrios”. I think it’s really important to truly get to know “all” of Granada and not just the central parts or the tourist attractions. I mean, how great was that waffle you found after class last week?! And all by accident! These are the small “victories” I know you enjoy.

All in all, I think you are in a good place. You have met a lot of your language proficiency/immersion goals, you have kept up with friends and continue finding common points of interests with others, and last but not least, you keep finding great places to eat! I would definitely mark that as a “win”.

Xoxo,
Claudia

Take my word for it…or not

Standard

Dear underclassmen of CMC (and really anyone thinking about studying abroad),

I was asked to reflect on my biggest mistake so far during my abroad experience here in Granada. Believe it or not, this was quite easy to identify and I knew immediately that I had to direct my blog post to those of you currently doing your research about going abroad (Let me suggest Spain!)

Plain and simple: My biggest mistake was taking the packing advice of others too literally. At first glance, this might seem a little shallow (Oh gosh, she forgot her favorite pair of flats because she thought she wouldn’t need them- boohoo) But let me explain…
As an adamant lover of fashion and style, I was really excited and a bit concerned about studying in Europe. They say that everyone is so glamorous in Europe; that you shouldn’t dare wear sweatpants to class or sneakers. (Ew, how American of you.) But the reality is a little different. Yes, European women tend to be very put together and glamorous when they are out and about. But the bottom line is that comfort should trump everything. Now, I’m not just talking about comfortable shoes.

My best friend studied abroad in Paris and she told me “don’t overpack and bring a robe”. Well, I brought a robe and didn’t pay much attention to the “do not overpack” rule and boy am I glad I did this! My robe has kept me warm after morning showers and while, YES, it was hard lugging both of my big suitcases down the cobblestone streets of Granada, Europe has had the coldest winter and beginning of spring season EVER (these are facts). So, I’ve managed to stay both stylish AND warm.

However, I find myself missing some of my everyday college essentials that I was advised to leave at home, like my thick comfy sweats (a must on cold lazy Sundays!) I’ve also really missed my North Face fleece and my Uggs. Oh how American of me right? Wrong! People here literally wear EVERYTHING we wear back home, fleece jackets and Uggs included. When it’s 35 degrees outside, anything goes.

So do European women really dress that much better than American women? Some. But I ask you, don’t you usually put in a little more effort when you are going out somewhere? Of course! “I am meeting up with my friends for drinks at 9 and so I am going to put on my sweatpants and running dirty shoes” – said no woman ever!
I think the key difference between most Europeans (in this case, Spaniards) and Americans is that socializing is a BIG part of their everyday lives and so, they have to dress the part EVERY DAY (more or less). Not to mention, the layout of the cities are much different than what many of us suburban Americans are accustomed to. People here pretty much walk everywhere or use public transportation of sorts. I know back home, I can run to the grocery store without seeing anyone I know because I jump into my car, grab my groceries, and head back home ASAP. But here, you run the risk of running into TONS of people you know during the 15 minute walking trip you have to make (so some aesthetic effort is kind of expected, but not necessary).

So in summary, my advice is don’t take the advice of others too literally. How ironic. Don’t be so concerned with blending in that you sacrifice your own comfort. But if you love playing around with your everyday style like I do, take this opportunity to really get creative. Find alternatives to break up your wardrobe staples (I’ve turned to layering sweaters and button-ups to create a cute preppy look that is also really warm!)

Study abroad is a time to discover yourself outside of your comfort zone- and to eat really yummy food!

XO
Claudia

Appreciating Madrid

Standard
Appreciating Madrid

Studying in Granada has definitely had its perks so far. Great food. Free tapas with your beverages. “Good weather.” And most recently, no classes for El Dia de Andalucia. I took full advantage of the long weekend by traveling to Madrid with other friends from the program. Let me tell you, I did not want to leave.

Probably the most well-known Spanish city (with Barcelona close behind) is Madrid. Everyone loves Madrid and Madrileños have A LOT of pride. It reminds me a lot of the pride that many Americans feel for their respective states or cities. For example, I do not find myself saying that I am American, but rather, that I am a Californian (an Angelino, if you want to get specific). But why do I do this? It is because, like Madrileños, I am PROUD of where I am from, and I want to share it with the world. After spending the weekend in Madrid, I now understand this pride just as well as I do my own.

Like the other big cities, Madrid has everything any person could ever need in one place. But it also has special pieces of history that make it unique and breathtakingly beautiful.

What I saw (and loved!):
-Parque del Buen Retiro

20130307-154558.jpg
-Palacio Real

20130307-154944.jpg
-Catedral
-Plaza Mayor
-Mercado de San Miguel
-Museo del Prado

20130307-154732.jpg
-Museo Reina Sofia

20130307-154741.jpg
-Puerta del Sol
-Plaza de Santa Ana
-Estación de Atocha
-Gran Via
-Plaza de España
-Estadio Santiago Bernabéu
-Puerta de Alcala
-Plaza de Cibeles
-Kapital
-and many many other beautiful things I took pictures of even though I had no idea what they were.

There was lots I was not able to see because of the limited time, however, the most important factor is that Madrid left me wanting more. And I think that is really important for loving and understanding a city. So, I now get it, Madrileños. You have a lot to be proud of.

We spent our third day, Saturday, closer to the stadium, Estadio Santiago Bernabéu because El Clasico was going on. For those who do not know what that is, it is the name given to the rivalry soccer game between the two most popular soccer teams in Spain, Real Madrid (Madrid) and FC Barcelona (Barcelona). Yes, this game is so big that it is literally referred to by its own name, “The Classic Game.” What is so special about it? Though divided by allegiance, it is literally the coming together of all of Spain- a clash of allegiances and pride. Watching the game just a block away, in the ambiance of the tension and excitement, was one of the coolest things I have ever experienced as a spectator.