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.

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January 15, 2016

First Day of School

Classes have begun.  There is Spanish to be practiced and culture to be learned.  I will be taking four consecutive Spanish courses in one semester, equivalent to two years of Spanish at my American university, so I should be more comfortable with my lingual abilities in no time.

Running in El Retiro

Campus is only a short metro ride away from my apartment. Also near my building is the Parque de El Retiro.  What I call the Spanish Central Park, in terms of a natural and recreational presence in a metropolis, El Retiro is a runner’s paradise.  The park offers trails, inclines, declines, and most importantly, safety.  Everyone, though, seems to spend a part of their day weaving through the garden paths, lounging in the mild winter weather, and admiring the beautiful statues that surround the Retiro Park Lake.  Even in January, the heat of the sun is enough to sustain parkgoers.  Visitors be warned: El Retiro is a hot spot for couples, so if you’re longing to spend your days with a special someone, you may want to take a stroll with a group of friends.

America?

New night, new nightlife.  My friends and I left the high maintenance Madrid club scene and opted for casual night at the bars instead.  First impression thoughts of Sidrería El Tigre were that it both sounds and looks like a place you would never want to be.  The cheesiness of the giant print of a tiger head on the side of the building nearly turned me away before entry.  I knew, though, why we had come: free, endless tapas.  The inside of El Tigre proved to be much more inviting than its exterior.  Crowded with young people who appeared to be locals, the brightly lit wood and stone space was filled with chatter as cheerful waiters wove in between tables to deliver the main attraction.  The purchase of a drink grants you unlimited tapas to share with friends, a great deal for travelers on a budget.

My group continued our night at Dubliners, an Irish pub recommended by a fellow student who had studied abroad in the fall.  In Dubliners, and in its next door neighbor twin, O’Connell St., I was back in America.  With American music, American people, and American sports on TV, there was no sign of Spain.  Though I enjoyed my time at the pubs, I do not plan on being a regular.  Studying abroad is about stepping out of your comfort zone.  I will not gain from spending my time in a place that feels like home, nor do I want to miss out on all of the other unique and exciting nightlife options in Madrid.  Though I may return to watch the Super Bowl in a few weeks, I can check Dubliners and O’Connell St. off of my explore list.

 

Chocolate con Churros: A Madrid Tradition

The final destination of the night was the famous Chocolateria San Ginés.  Open 24 hours, the sweet shop offers chocolate in various forms, but is best known for its hot chocolate and churros, or chocolate con churros.  These sticks of fried dough are not my pastry of choice, but when dipped in the hot chocolate, which I have found can be served anywhere on a thickness scale from melted chocolate to pudding, they transform into warm bites of perfection.  In a city as large as Madrid, I am hesitant to visit anywhere twice, but I know I will be back at San Gines soon.  Yum!

Destination Locations

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.