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


50 Strangers

My largest photography project thus far, the 50 Strangers assignment is exactly what it sounds like— I must photograph 50 strangers around Madrid.

This assignment utilizes portrait style composition, with options for selective focus and framing.  Outside of photography, it forces use of Spanish and charisma.

Some of my strangers were shot HONY-style in my Humans of Madrid assignment, but 50 photos allow for endless creativity.  Because “50 Strangers” is long term, you won’t be able to meet everyone at once, but below are a few strangers of Madrid that are now a little less strange.

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Humans of Madrid – Assignment 3

Though nothing is ever as charming and as satisfying as the original, my photojournalism classmates and I were tasked with producing Humans of Madrid.  Based off of the humorous, heart-breaking, and humbling Humans of New York, I had to seek out the most interesting souls in Madrid and share their stories for all of Instagram to see (#usachumansofmadrid).  As a photography student, looking the part with an obtrusive camera hanging from my neck, I did not have a problem snapping photos of the people of Madrid.  The flaw in the execution, however, was communication.

Though slightly more daunting in a foreign country, I was not uncomfortable approaching someone and presenting my scripted question, “¿Puedo hacer tu foto para mi clase de fotographía?”  Somewhat more difficult was asking them to share interesting or personal information to a complete stranger who now also had their photo.  If you found success after the first two steps of the process, it was all for nothing if you could not comprehend their response.  Understanding my subjects’ stories was the most difficult part of the assignment for me.  I did not mind interacting with strangers, but so much of this interaction got lost in translation.  I wish I had a greater knowledge of Spanish, like some of my classmates, for deeper, more intimate quotes and anecdotes to accompany their photographs.  Because I did not have the language comprehension ability to simply approach a person and ask for an interesting fact about themselves or what they did that day, I had to use my surroundings and create settings where I could utilize my environment to deliver the appropriate amount of depth with my captions.

This assignment, though at times frustrating, was interesting, entertaining, and in the end, a welcome challenge.  I got to practice my Spanish, as well as exercise my creativity.  Below are the photos and captions of some of my Humans of Madrid.  Check back on my Photojournalism page for more strangers, without stories, coming soon from my biggest photo project yet!


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“I am a [photography] student too.  Always learning.” (translated from Spanish)

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Coco & Carla: “They’re only one, but they already want to run.”


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“People ask to take his picture everywhere we go.” (left, of right)


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“I like the chocolate and orange fudge bars… too much.”

February 28, 2016

Sundays in Spain

With enough trips to El Rastro to start my own morning market, I decided that this weekend was the perfect time to try a different Sunday activity in Spain: go to church.

Though I do not attend services at school, I visit my childhood church when I am home.  One of my roommates in Madrid was also raised Christian, so with her, and her break-the-ice visit a few weeks before, I had the courage to go to a Spanish service.  As God would decide, my roommate’s grandmother is friends with the cousin of a former pastor of the Iglesia Evangélica Encuentro con Dios, only a few metro stops from my apartment.

It was my roommate’s second visit, but the congregation still greeted us with excitement, joy and love.  I could feel the acceptance with each welcoming embrace.  As no surprise to me, the non-Catholic, Spanish church service began around noon.  With enough time for a good night’s sleep and a few cups of coffee, we were singing songs of praise for the first half hour of the service.  Because the lyrics were projected, I was able to sing along to and understand much of what was being celebrated.  While I did not comprehend a lot of the sermon, I felt that the closing was delivered with my friends and me in mind.

The pastor first compared a congregation to a fútbol team.  He stressed that no one individual is better or more important than the other, neither on Earth nor in the eyes of God.  Rather, we are all together, on the same team, helping each other live life in God’s name.  Pastor Washington continued to say that it did not matter who you were or where you came from- Spain, other countries in Europe, America, Latin America- because we are all brothers and sisters, children of God.

Similar to my church in Pennsylvania, there was a post-service reception with juice, coffee, and other refreshments.  The Spaniards, though, were incomparably friendly and helpful, offering their assistance to us for anything and at any time of the day.  Though the setting and proceedings were much more informal than what I am used to for a Sunday morning church service, the faith was the same.  Many of my upcoming weekends will be spent far from the little church in Madrid, but I am happy to have gone to express my thanks to God, and hope I will make it back again.


Travel Tips

  • Like Nike preaches, just do it.  I wanted to go to a Spanish church service, but I was nervous to go to such an intimate place where I was clearly an outsider.  With supportive friends and a nudge from above, I went, and it was worth it.  Whether it’s a person you’ve been meaning to talk to, or an activity outside of your comfort zone that you know you should try, just do it.  You may only have the opportunity once in a lifetime, and you can’t afford to let it pass you by.


Destination Locations


Paz, Amor, Madrid




February 21, 2016

“Excuse me,” she said.

I’m on the right side of the escalator, I’m not in the way, I thought, not even realizing she spoke in English.

“Sorry,” I mumbled, annoyed that a Spaniard was annoyed with me.

“Do you go to Maryland?” she asked.

My backpack. I was wearing my cheer backpack, with the school’s name and my own embroidered on the front pocket.

Finally becoming aware of my situation, I replied, with a smile, that I am a student at Maryland. She asked if I played a sport, and I told her that I cheered until I came to Madrid.  She explained that she’d know a school-issued athlete backpack anywhere, and shared that she was an ex-field hockey player at Michigan, currently doing a graduate school business program in Madrid.  We chatted about collegiate sports and the Big Ten briefly, and then she asked where I was from. I told her Pennsylvania, and was a little surprised when she asked, “Where in PA?”  Pennsylvania is only Pennsylvania to people who don’t live there.  To those who know, it’s PA.  Though she was from New Jersey, both of her parents were from areas of Pennsylvania that I was familiar with.  We were taking different trains so we had to cut our conversation short, but this 5-minute exchange on the walk through the metro station was a welcomed encounter with a stranger who felt a little like home.

It’s interesting to consider the communities you belong to.  I’m from Pennsylvania, I’m a student at the University of Maryland, I was a Big Ten athlete, and I’m an American.  While abroad, these groups can set me apart from the locals, but unite me with others on a similar journey.  Though everyday in Madrid is a blessing, reminders of home are an extra reason to smile.


On a semi-related note, what is going on on Maryland’s campus!? Armed robbery, burglary, indecent exposure… I have received more UMD Alerts while two months abroad than I have all of last semester!  I never feel unsafe in College Park, but I am concerned and confused at the amount of questionable activity at school.  Be smart and safe UMD friends!


Paz, Amor, Madrid


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


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


February 14, 2016


Just like it’s name, Restaurante Ojalá is unique to Spain.  With an indirect translation of “hopefully,” or “God willing,” Ojalá’s label reflects its laid-back atmosphere in Madrid’s creative neighborhood of  Malasaña.  Another novelty restaurant, Ojalá has a touristic catch— you can dine in sand.  Though the idea of having a meal sitting cross-legged on a just-barely raised cushion in a basement full of sand would be a nightmare for some, I could not wait to experience the novelty.

Unbothered by the hour-long wait for our abajo (downstairs) seats, I was intrigued by the aesthetic of the establishment.  American music by some of my favorite artists, such as Kendrick Lamar, Future, and The Weeknd, floated around the aqua blue dining room, over hanging spider plants and tables of friends out to brunch.  Offered from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., we came for the eggs and juices on the brunch menu.  Upscale diner fare, the eggs Rancheros that I ordered was a sophisticated twist to the usual omelette-with-hot-sauce that I prepare on Sunday mornings.  My milkshake, though it tasted delicious, was runny like regular milk, not thick, like I prefer.  A great meal for a great deal, ojalá que I return!



Más Mercados

Madrid has many markets.  From food, to flowers, to groceries, to everything else, meandering from stall to stall on a lazy Sunday is relaxing retail therapy, even if you don’t make a purchase.  Open only on the second weekend of each month, the Mercado de Motores was a priority on this weekend’s schedule.

The Mercado de Motores is held in Madrid’s Railway Museum in the old Delicias train station.  Not only did historic locomotives serve as the backdrop to vendors’ booths, but shoppers could venture inside the vehicles for a visual train ride back in time.  Customers were continually transported to decades past with vintage clothes and décor. Food trucks, homemade goods, and innovative products, however, assured patrons that the Mercado de Motores is alive and thriving, a must-visit market in Madrid.

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These pictures are for you, PopPop.  You would have loved the trains!


Travel Tips

  • Use an ATM connected to a bank.  Just before brunch at Ojalá, one of my friend’s debit cards got stuck in the ATM.  Fortunately, our program advisor warned us that this could happen to foreign cards.  The rule is to use an ATM outside of a bank, so that if the card gets taken, you can return at opening the next morning for the best odds of retrieving the card.


Destination Locations


Paz, Amor, Madrid


February 13, 2016

Mimi’s Creperia

Though France is the home of the pancake-like sweet filled with even sweeter delights, my roommate and I were craving something different than the usual Spanish pastry.  A trip to Mimi’s Creperia fulfilled our dessert desires.  The creperia offered many sweet and savory options, but we had our sights set on the dessert crêpes.  Though I am sure what we ate was only a representation of the delicacies served in France, an average crêpe is still a delicious treat.  Stuffed with Nutella and white chocolate, topped with vanilla ice cream, I was proud to have finished my massive meal.


A work of art.

Mimi’s Creperia is closed this month for renovations, but we plan return when the doors reopen in the spring.


The Year of the Fire Monkey

New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Madrid… there seems to be a Chinatown in every metropolitan city!  With the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Fire Money, underway, event festivities drew in audiences from all over the city.  A celebration seemingly more popular than Valentine’s Day, with which some Chinese New Year proceedings shared a weekend this year, the Year of the Fire monkey meant positivity for many because of the symbolic prestige the animal holds in Chinese culture.  The New Year parade, which wound through the streets of Madrid’s Chinatown, radiated bright colors of the traditional costumes to contrast the overcast sky, while crowds of onlookers grasped monkey masks in honor of this year’s animal sign.  Similar to last weekend’s Carnaval parade, I did not expect the strength of cultural pride exuded by the people to be present in Madrid.  The Chinese people, as well as others in the Chinese community, put on a beautiful show of dress, dance, and song.  Even more powerful was the age range of the participants, with performers seemingly anywhere from 5 to 85 years old.  This dedication to the expression of their culture made watching the parade more inclusive, impressive and entertaining.

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Destination Locations

  • Mimi’s Creperia
    • Calle Postas, 17, 28012 Madrid
  • Chinatown, Madrid
    • Usera metro stop


Paz, Amor, Madrid


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