Week 10 – Recap

I never thought I’d be so happy for a week in Madrid to be over! Between school work for my third midterm of the semester, and paperwork for potential summer jobs and internships, I just had too much work.  Add to that travel plans, and I wasn’t sure that I’d make it to the end of the week.  But travel was the light at the end of the tunnel; on Friday, spring break begins.

Known in Spain as Semana Santa, or the week of Easter, I have next week off to travel, explore, and relax.   My itinerary is packed with slightly overambitious planning, but I am excited to see more of Europe!   With time in six cities, I know that I will be exhausted by next weekend, but I made sure to be back in Madrid by Easter to celebrate the holiday with the madrileños.  Traveling sans computer, I’m taking the week off from publishing, but not from writing, so expect many stories to come from my European spring break!

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.

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Week 8/9 – Recap

I am academically halfway!  It’s crazy to consider that I’ve finished learning two entire semesters of Spanish in just eight weeks.  I’m excited to be completing my classes and improving my Spanish skills, but regretful to realize that my time abroad is truly flying by.  In my two months of residency in Spain, I’ve also developed conflicting feelings about the people, country, and culture.

Studying abroad has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life.  I have learned a lot about myself from both the triumphs and the challenges.  Without years of hard work, patience, focus, and support from family (thank you, Mema and PopPop, for your generosity, and help in making my travels possible), I would not have been able to pursue my passions of exploration and discovery.  I am infinitely grateful to have the opportunity to analyze foreign behaviors, and consequently, analyze myself.  For as easily as I have accepted Madrid as my new environment, however, there are some things, both theoretical and physical, that, as an American, I still value.  With the upmost acceptance and affection for Spain, I list some constructive complaints, followed by a few compliments, that I may have to learn to live with should I decide to make Europe my future home.

 

Complaints:

  • Smoking and then going to the gym seems dysfunctional to me.  I don’t care what you do to your body, but when it affects mine, as I smell a mix of sweat and smoke seeping out of your pores from the next treadmill over, we have a problem.
  • Best $9.99 I’ve ever spent.  My BRITA filter water bottle compensates for the disappointing and inconvenient absence of water fountains in this country.
  • Peanut butter alone requires a map and a good recommendation to obtain, so you can forget about finding Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups.
  • I drink it when I’m sick. I drink it when I’m tired.  I drink it want to be healthy on-the-go and I’m too lazy to cut up an apple. Though not always as nutritionally beneficial as they seem, tasty Naked Juice does not exist in Spain
  • Between Auntie Anne’s and Philly Pretzel Factory, I’ve never experienced soft-pretzel withdrawal.  I guess Spain is too far from Germany to have adopted the salty snack.
  • “If we had them, they’d be in the aisle with the Mexican food.” Jalepeños are universal, Spain!
  • So maybe Goldfish are a stretch, but can I at least have Cheeze-Its!?
  • It’s mid-March and I am no closer to getting a Shamrock Shake. I know I already complained about it, and I know it’s only for one month. But still.
  • I’m not going to blame Spain for neglecting cottage cheese.  It’s definitely not an international favorite, though it is one of my favorites.
  • Grapes?  You can find them in most grocery stores.  Seedless grapes?  Nothing in Spain is that easy.  Except the metro.

 

Compliments:

  • The Madrid metro is the closest thing to perfect in Spain.  Even though it closes at 1:30 a.m. every day of the week, the signage is clear and the fares are cheap.
  • Topping any street-style, best dressed list, Spanish fashion, or European fashion in general, is simply better.
  • You haven’t had hot chocolate until you’ve had San Ginés, but even Spain’s grocery store mix is good!
  • Tapas=snacking=my kind of eating.  Though I don’t like what is served, I like how it’s served.  I prefer small meals throughout the day to a large dinner, so tapas are perfect for my snacker’s appetite.  I do miss, however, being satisfyingly full after a good, home-cooked meal.

 

These observations are only the beginning!  With an entire second half of the semester to go, I am well-adjusted to my new life, prepared for new experiences, and eager to discover more about, Madrid, Spain, and counties beyond.

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.

Week 7 – Recap

If I wasn’t getting out of my comfort zone on my own after seven weeks in Spain, my teachers were going to force me out.

As a part of the second of four oral presentations that I will give in Spanish this semester, I had to survey Spaniards on the street.  All presentations are about our anticipated professional field.  For me, it is public relations.  To get the most insightful answers in the most efficient way, I created questions that could be answered in just a few words, or even numbers, to assure that I understood my data.  I was anxious to approach the Spaniards because of the language barrier, with my embarrassing pronunciation and limited vocabulary.  My victims, however, were extremely patient with my speaking attempts, and participated whole-heartedly in my survey.  These enjoyable exchanges were a pleasant surprise after the expected coarseness that I had experienced just few weeks ago.  It seems as if you put your best efforts forward, the Spaniards will reciprocate.  I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I may actually be picking up a thing or two while studying abroad—  I’ll be a madrileña yet!

My intrusions, however, have just begun.  Learn about my current photography project, 50 Strangers, and check out my most recent photojournalism post to find out what I’ve been working on!

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.

Week 6 – Recap

No pasa nada is the unofficial motto of Spain.  No problem, don’t worry about it.  We siesta, and close our stores for hours in the middle of the day.  We charge more for water than for alcohol.  The Spanish way of life is much different than that of the United States.  It is slow-paced, pleasure-oriented, and can be confusing for type-A personalities like me.  Being over seas has turned life as I’ve lived it upside down, but I have never been more grateful for the change.

Some know better than others my need for schedule and structure.  From school, to sports, to employment, I have dedicated countless hours to assuring that I perform to the best of my abilities.  All A’s have to be A-pluses, I always strive to contribute something powerful and valuable to my team, and if I ‘m not scheduled to work as much as I can during the week, then I’m not working enough.  I’m not complaining about the rigor of my activities; I like feeling productive and accomplished.  Since coming to Spain, however, I have had a lifestyle makeover that only a change in culture could have caused.

Studying abroad, even with all of its foreign experiences, has given me sanity.  Here, I can enjoy my life, without worrying about the next test or losing sleep over fine-tuning an assignment.  I can spend hours touring a museum, wandering around a park, or chatting with friends at a restaurant long after I’ve finished my meal.  I can afford to get out of class and wonder what I’m going to do with the rest of my day, instead of having it planned out from the moment I get up to the moment I crash.

Wow, congratulations on the 5-month-long vacation.  Though it seems like an escape from responsibility and reality, being in Madrid has taught me more about these very fundamentals.  I have finally absorbed the idea that things don’t always have to be going my way, or going at all.  Relaxation, flexibility, and faith are equally as important as ambition, dedication, and drive.

“I miss you but glad you are LIVING!” my mom wrote to me.  She knows better than anyone how I will benefit and grow from studying abroad.  While it is slightly concerning  that I had to be on another continent to realize that I was limiting my life, I now know what it feels like to slow down and embrace your surroundings.  To travel is to see new things, in both foreign and familiar places.  As I am exposed to European experiences, I explore greater qualities within myself.  I have learned so much in these past six weeks, I can’t wait to discover what the next three months have in store.

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.

Week 5 – Recap

Singles Awareness Day, better known as Valentine’s Day, is basically everyday in Madrid.  Because the economy is bad, many young Spaniards live in the family home until their 30s, forcing them to engage in their romantic acts while out in the city.  Between daily public displays of affection and the commercial nature of the holiday, Valentine’s Day generally goes ignored in Spain.  Nonetheless, I wasn’t going to pass up an excuse to eat good chocolate with good friends.  Because that’s what Valentine’s Day is really about.

As a celebration of the end of my first class, and a consolation for the weeks of difficult classes to come, a few friends and I got together for an American movie night.  Brownies in hand, the five of us sat squished on the European-sized couch to watch “P.S. I Love You.”   The film was, coincidentally, dually appropriate.  Not only was it a sappy Valentine’s Day movie, but it is also about a girl who meets her true love while studying abroad.  As I get older, romantic comedies seem much more “rom” than they are “com.”  Though I don’t have any intentions to find my soul mate in Spain, the movie preached that one never knows what one will find while traveling.  It showed that in the end, no matter who or what you loved, the love for adventure, exploration, and life will carry you on.

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.

Week 4 – Recap

Evils of España

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been careful, or maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I had spent my first month in Spain wondering where all of the pick-pocketing warnings had come from.  As if the cautioners were proving a point, my roommate’s phone was taken out of her unzipped crossbody bag on the metro this weekend.  Because the bag did not fasten, it was easy for the man to “bump into” her and slide the phone out of its compartment in her purse.  Though unfortunate, the situation could have been much worse than a stolen phone, and we are grateful that it can be easily replaced.  The experience has reminded us that at four weeks, we cannot be too comfortable while traveling, even within Madrid.  It is okay, and necessary, to be confident in our commutes around the city, but also to be as alert as we were when we arrived.

 

Super Bowl Sunday in Spain

Allowing ourselves a day of American indulgence, a few friends and I ate hamburgers and milkshakes at a TGI Fridays while watching the Panthers, the Broncos, and Beyoncé.  Though I did’t have an strong investment in the teams, I had to go and appreciate the last game of the season, Super Bowl 50.  The 12:30 a.m. kickoff was later than we were used to, but my good company passed time quickly and was the next best thing to Super Bowl commercials, which we didn’t realize we would miss out on.  Causing even more of a concern, our broadcast was delayed, so when American friends began to praise the halftime performance, we were watching Seal.  Our late night attention, though, paid off, and I was grateful to have been able to watch a dynamite musical performance laced with powerful and positive messages of equality.  Despite a sloppy, somewhat flat game, Coldplay, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, and even Lady Gaga with the National Anthem, made it worth crawling into bed at 4:30 a.m., satisfying my “America” craving.

 

A month into my European journey and Spain is feeling more like home each day.  I know, however, that I will never be a “local” and will most likely always be identified as out of place here.  For now, though, that is okay with me, because I’ve realized that there are many aspects of American culture that I am not willing to let go of.  Both is better.  I hope that by the end of my time in Spain, I will be able to blend the best of the American and European lifestyles, to be twice as mindful, twice as wise, and ready to take on the rest of the world.

 

Travel Tips

  • You can never be too careful.  I know, I know, something your mom would say.  But after this weekend, I understand how important it is to be mindful of your surroundings.  You don’t have to clench your purse to your chest or travel with a first-aid kit, just be smart.  Carry a secure bag with a zipper or flap, have some cash on hand for emergencies, and always be able to make a call for help.

 

Destination Locations

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.

Week 3 – Recap

After my Moroccan-dominated third week, I have confirmed my love for travel and discovered within it a thread of yearning for home.  Before coming to Europe, traveling the world was a dream, something that I thought I would love the idea of, but did not have too many adventures to base my enthusiasm off of.  After visiting Africa, I know that years of travel talk are valid, and that this is one of my passions.  Among these exciting thoughts, however, is a slight sadness.  I am not usually emotional, but with all of my adventures, I find myself thinking back to my world on hold.  Whether I miss an aspect of American life, am reminded of a friend or event, or wish a family member were with me to share an experience, there is often a longing for what is far away.  I am glad, though, to have these wistful thoughts, because they remind me that travel is only beautiful if you have something to call home.

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.