First week of classes and weekend recap

Once again, I’ll start with the negatives so this isn’t only a space to complain. Whoo sorry this is gonna be a long post. Buckle up.

My first week of classes was….overwhelming. It pretty much sums up the culture shock I’ve been feeling recently, which can best be described as a rollercoaster of emotions. I’ve also heard culture shock can make one more moody and irritable… sorry guys. This is bad news for me because for everyone who knows me, I am already a moody and irritable person :/. But ANYWAY – these are some crazy ups and downs I have been experiencing.

1) My Spanish: I swear, one minute I’m happily rattling off sentences with near fluency, and the next minute I can barely get a word out. It just depends on who I’m talking to, how tired I am, how much English I’ve been speaking recently, etc. But it also seems completely random! I just don’t understand it. Also related is my motivation with regards to speaking Spanish. One second I’m furiously scribbling down vocab words to look up later, watching movies dubbed in Spanish, and contemplating going to the library to start reading books in Spanish. The next second I’m on Facebook reading Georgetown Confessions and trying to get on Netflix.

2) How Spaniards feel about me: This one is really weird. In my French class, for example, everyone thinks it’s super guay (cool) that I’m from los Estados Unidos. But in my Art History class I feel like a social pariah. I don’t understand any of the teacher’s jokes (although I assume he’s super funny because everyone keeps laughing) and it seems like none of the Spaniards have any interest whatsoever in talking to me for more than 0.5 seconds. I have even started bringing my dictionary to that class because I feel like if everyone already thinks I’m weird, I might as well understand what’s going on. (Mom, this is why there is no way I’m wearing chacos to class. I don’t want to lose any tiny chance I may have of making friends).

3) My classes in general: My dean was so nice as to return my email, 9 days later, and tell me that two of my classes might not count at Georgetown. Apparently, if I’m taking a theology class the professor needs to have a doctorate in theology (seriously Georgetown WTF). She also is concerned that my Languages of the World class might be too linguistics-focused a.k.a she is reading a google-translate version of the syllabus or something and just doesn’t get it. Anyway, I’m pretty pissed that I might have to change my schedule again AGAIN. As for the classes I am actually in, I don’t know how I feel about those either. The first day in French was confusing as hell, because usually when I don’t know a word in French, I think about it in English, not in Spanish! Halfway through the class I wanted to cry and convinced myself I was going to drop it because I couldn’t handle the mental overload. However, the second day the professor spoke only in French and for the most part so did the students, so I think I’ll be able to handle it. The rest of my classes are okay. My religion class is particularly interesting in that every Monday he lectures, but every Wednesday we go out into the city to see religion-related things. This is the class taught at the study abroad center so it’s just foreigners (although still taught in Spanish). However, it might not count towards my theology requirement- AWESOME. Hope I graduate on time.

Okay, enough about school. This weekend I decided last minute to go to Córdoba, another city in southern Spain. I can’t remember if I’ve already mentioned it, but my study abroad program does a cultural reimbursement for my program up to 250 Euros a semester for travel and cultural activities within Spain. This is because with the other groups they do organized travel, but the Advanced Liberal Arts group has more Spanish skills and therefore more independence, so CIEE figured we should be able to choose where we want to travel. I LOVE this because I feel like I can travel in Spain without totally destroying my budget! So far I have been to Ronda and Córdoba. Next weekend I’m going to visit my friend Emily in Madrid, and later in October I have a visit planned to Bilbao and Santander in the north.

Anyway, I realized that since I have never really been anywhere, my style of tourism is a bit… disorganized. It basically consists of choosing a destination, writing down a few cool places I might want to go to in that destination, and then going. Once there, I (sometimes) get a map and wander around a little bit, decide I don’t really want to use the map, and end up walking for hours. This is cool in that I sometimes end up outside the touristy areas and see cool things, but I also feel sometimes that I might be missing out on the important stuff. Is being a tourist something that one has to learn how to do? Do I need to practice? No idea.

I have also decided that I love traveling alone. I am anonymous, my time is mine, my agenda does not have to meet the expectations or wishes of anyone. It is bliss. Obviously I would be open to traveling with a good friend, one or two acquaintances, or even a stranger I meet along the way. But so far, the only other option to traveling alone is traveling with a large group of Americans. And I just can’t get behind that. Especially because some of the people in my program have goals very different to mine. Which is completely fine, but I would rather not travel with someone who speaks English whenever possible and takes every possible occasion to get drunk. That is not my goal for my experience, and therefore for now, traveling alone is perfect for me. Don’t worry, I’ll be safe.

Anyway, Córdoba. I was scared at first because of a forecast for rain but it ended up only drizzling a little bit at the beginning and end of the day. I took a train bright and early and arrived at 10:00. (By the way, dad, you are completely right. Travel by train is amazing. It’s efficient and I could never get bored looking out the window. I will take the train whenever it’s the cheapest or around the cheapest option). I wandered around for a bit and eventually found myself at the Museo Vivo de Al-Andalus. It was really cool! They give you a headset when you walk in, and then you wander through rooms with dioramas as the headset gives you information about each thing. The people working in the museum seemed surprised I wanted a Spanish headset – all about busting those stereotypes.

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-Model of the Alhambra at the museum

After, I wandered around for a few hours until I found myself at the archaeological museum. I guess it’s because I’m from America where “history” starts in the 1600s, but I go CRAZY for old stuff. It blows my mind that they have stuff in museums from the B.C.E. And this might be a cultural thing, but I’ve noticed in Spanish museums the objects are more accessible – either they have so much old stuff that it’s not as precious, or they just trust you not to touch that column built by the Romans in 17 A.C. I also keep forgetting that the Roman empire stretched all the way to Spain- I’m always surprised to see Roman artifacts in Spain, but I really shouldn’t be.

Next, I wandered around the more commercial downtown area and saw the end of a  pro-choice manifestation! (Sorry to my pro-life relatives, but this MADE MY DAY). I finally worked up the nerve to approach them and they were super nice despite my less than stellar Spanish. Like many in Spain, they were protesting the government cuts and from what I understand, impending restrictions to abortion. I had to challenge some of my own stereotypes about Spain for this one. Although I have in my mind that Spain is overall more conservative, abortion is legal here. One of the many contradictions I will have to think about. Overall, though, I was so happy that I got over being shy to talk to these women and that feminism is alive and well worldwide! I left with a huge smile on my face.

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The last thing I did before coming home was visit the Mezquita, Córdoba’s biggest tourist attraction. It was beautiful, but I didn’t have a guide so most of the time I didn’t know what I was looking at. Overall, though, Córdoba is a beautiful city and if I have the opportunity to go back I definitely will take it.

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Highs and Lows of the Past Few Days

I knew I shouldn’t have posted about that job. It didn’t work out with my schedule, which as it turns out does not work out with ANYTHING. So I guess I should start with the lows.

Classes started yesterday, and so far have been disheartening, to say the least. My schedule (which I have already spent hours on) is still subject to change. We have a maximum number of 3 kids from our program that can be in any given class at the University. In my anthropology class, there are 5. I have the opposite problem with my religion class, which might get cancelled because there are only four people in it. Also, it’s hard to tell whether or not I am in the right level of French. I asked a girl next to me who said her level of French is pretty low, but when the professor asked, the years of French experience of the students in the class ranged from 1 to 7. I don’t want to waste my time in an easy class, but neither do I want to get myself into something too advanced.

When I thought it couldn’t get worse, I went to my 19th century art class last night and it was the biggest. mistake. ever. First of all, because it’s a night class, all of the “students” are in their 30s at least. Secondly, the teacher spent, I kid you not, an hour and a half reading and elaborating on the syllabus. I swore to myself that I was never going back. So basically, my schedule is up in the air. It also doesn’t help that I feel like a freshman again, with the added handicap of not having enough language skills to make friends. It seems like all of the Spaniards have known each other practically since birth. I talked to a few who were nice, but the second I open my mouth I’m branded as “foreigner.” One girl even started speaking to me in English because she thought I wouldn’t understand her Spanish (Which when you think about it wouldn’t make any sense – for me to go to a foreign university and take classes in Spanish you would think I would have to know at least a little?). It’s disheartening to say the least. Why can’t I just study abroad without the “study?”

On the positive side, I had a fantastic weekend. The Advanced Liberal Arts group (about 30 of us) went with around 15 Spaniards our age to the Sierra Norte en Sevilla. As the schedule explained “NO ES UN FIN DE SEMANA TURÍSTICO” (Rough translation: This is not a weekend to be a tourist). The entire purpose was to speak Spanish, the entire time, to everyone. We started the weekend with rubber bracelets proclaiming “Hablo español.” If you were caught speaking English by someone, they could take your bracelet away and at the end there were prizes for those with the most bracelets. 

Luckily for me, my intercambio went to the immersion weekend so I finally got a chance to meet her! (At the beginning of the year, I signed up for a Spanish language exchange partner. The goal is to meet once a week, speak for one hour in English, and speak for one hour in Spanish. It’s a win-win situation with language practice for both of us. Also luckily for me, I LOVE MY INTERCAMBIO! Her name is María Luisa and I look forward to many fun intercambio sessions with her.

Someone captured this picture of us. She wanted a trenza (braid).

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Although it wasn’t a “tourist weekend”, the place where we stayed was beautiful! The second day, we had free time for activities such as mountain biking and piraguas (kayaking). At night, we had dinner and after one of the Spaniards (I guess he’s a DJ in training) played music for everyone to dance to. It was really funny because a lot of the songs were the Spanish version of something you might hear at a barmitzvah (Cha-cha slide, hokey-pokey, etc) but they were new to us so we had a lot of fun making fools of ourselves following along.

The weekend wasn’t all physical activity. We also enjoyed a Cata de Vino (wine tasting) and a cooking class where we learned to make tortilla española and paella. All the Spaniards were incredibly nice. By the end of the weekend, I felt really great about my Spanish and the possibility of finding friends here.

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(P.s., for pictures here you don’t say “cheese” – instead you say “patatas!”)

A Job, Some Classes, A Race

I hesitate to write about any of this because none of it is finalized, but I have three things coming up that both excite and terrify me.

1) A Job: I feel like I must have some sort of 6th sense for sniffing out work. One day when the group was at the University of Seville for a tour, I saw an ad posted to the wall. “Must be native English speaker! Must be here until June!” Wait, I think I fit those requirements! Last Sunday, I went to an interview with Señora Lucena (the woman who posted the ad), not really knowing what to expect. As she explained it, she is an English teacher. My job is simply to teach the children. She will make the lesson plans by month, give them to me, and I will go to their houses and teach them. I’m trying to work around four hours per week, for nine euros per hour. I’m not trying to pad my savings account or anything, but at the very least it will help me run out of money less quickly. And plus, I like kids. Win-win situation. The only problem is the rigidity of the schedule – I had to give her my free time for the rest of the year, which is actually fine with me. I feel like having a job, although it will be English-speaking, will help me immerse myself in the culture as I’ll have less time to waste.

2) Classes: Also subject to change, but here’s what my schedule is looking like for the first cuatrimestre (semesters don’t exist in Spain). Also noteworthy is the fact that ALL MY CLASSES ARE IN SPANISH (except French). Good thing I’m taking these classes pass/fail!

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  1. French Language: I’m a little bit worried about this one, a) because languages are much better taught here and b) because I already confuse French and Spanish as it is. We’ll see how it goes.
  2. Anthropology and Social Exclusion: I’m actually excited about this one, because I’ve never taken an anthropology class before and this one definitely sounded interesting.
  3. Tolerance and Fanaticism: Basically a class about the history of religion in Spain. I need this for my second theology requirement at Georgetown. This is the one I’m worried about- there are currently only about 3 people enrolled, so it might get cancelled.
  4. 19th Century Art: Also have never taken Art History, so this should be fun.
  5. Languages of the world: A class about the history of languages, their development, types of languages, and a little bit of linguistics. It seemed really interesting.

Although my goal was to have no classes on Friday to facilitate travel, my schedule just didn’t work out. After all, I am here to learn. (Okay so I’m also here to travel – I definitely will be missing a few of those Fridays – sorry in advance to my professors!)

3) A Race: After a summer of gluttony and laziness, the running bug bit me again. After getting an email about some smaller races in Seville, I started looking for a half-marathon I could run in December. As luck would have it, there is one is Lisbon, Portugal on December 8th, the very same time we have a five day weekend! The timing could not have been more perfect. The race itself is only about 30-35 Euro, although I think I’m going to buy a GPS watch to train – a little more pricey, but I figure I’m saving money on a gym membership. I still have time to back out, but I think it all worked out too well to not do it.

 This weekend we are going to the Sierra Nevada for a language Immersion with Spaniards our own age. This will be my true leap into completely speaking in Spanish, which will be perfect since my classes start on Sunday. Hopefully I will also make a few friends. I’ve been getting really lazy speaking English with my American friends here. I need to make some Spanish friends so that doesn’t happen.

Now I’m off to watch the Lovely Bones dubbed in Spanish instead of studying for my grammar final. Okay, so I’m lazy with this whole pass fail thing, but at least I’m watching a movie in Spanish.

Quick Recap of My First Two Weeks

I can’t believe I’ve only been here for two weeks. It feels like so much longer, but at the same time, when I look ahead I realize how much longer I have to go.

My first few days here, I was dazed, confused, and incredibly happy. The first day was a little stressful, because I almost missed 2 of my 3 flights through a combination of flight delay and not enough layover time. Then I arrived at the airport in Seville only to find out that my suitcases were either in Madrid, New York, or Washington. Unfortunately, that meant that the first Spanish I had to use was arguing with the Customer Service rep at Iberia. As I arrived and started talking to both the Iberia woman and the guías (there are people here around our age that CIEE employs for orientation), I realized just how bad my oral Spanish is. Combined with how tired I was, communication was pretty difficult. After, I went to the house I am living at and met my Señora. She is incredibly nice and full of energy: she is around 75 years old, but she looks much younger.  She has no problem with the fact that I’m vegetarian, and she is a very good cook. The first day I had tortilla española (similar to an omelet, made with eggs, potatoes and onions) and vegetables. I quickly realized over the past few days that tortilla española will be a staple in my diet as a vegetarian in Spain. I also made my first eating mistake (the very first day!) with a “salad” typical to Spain made with potatoes, mayonnaise, carrot, and lobster – of course I didn’t see the lobster, and asking if there was meat in it wasn’t helpful because nobody in Spain considers fish as meat. I can’t get mad at myself though, I’m learning and I realize that I will have to take these moments in stride in order to soak in the culture.

The next few days were full of presentations and info sessions, and at night neighborhood tours and tapas. The Americans in my program are nice, and so are the Spanish guides. This led to a very nice first night out in Seville. Obviously, being able to head to the bar without worrying about breaking any laws was a new and amazing experience. And (no surprises here), because the culture is more realistic and open about drinking, it’s not a problem here! Spaniards very rarely get wasted and trashy, preferring instead to have a few drinks over the course of the night and have nice conversations. Another trend I like is that here people grab a drink at the bar and take it outside into the street. Essentially, the street is one big party. Occasionally, someone shouts “policía!” and you have to put your drink down for a minute as they cruise by (so much for not breaking any laws). That night, I actually talked for the first time extensively in Spanish, to Spaniards. Everyone was so nice! They taught me bad words, and we talked for a while about the process of learning languages. That night, I went home elated, mostly because I was so excited to have the confidence and skills to actually communicate with people from another culture.

The past week and this current one have been filled with 3 hours of intense Spanish grammar every day, which isn’t exactly the most exciting thing on the planet. I have also had my highs and lows dealing with the Spanish University system. Here, the majors are much more rigid, so, essentially you pick a major and your schedule gets handed to you. Since I am building my own schedule to fulfill requirements at home, it’s REALLY hard trying to find a combination of classes that fit together.

I’ve also had a few more pessimistic moments when I’ve realized that, although my Spanish is “good” in the sense that I can communicate [sometimes], I still have so much to learn. There are so many random words I either never learned, or learned and forgot – completely random things like “una loncha” (a thin slice of something, usually meat or cheese), apio (celery) and pulsera (bracelet). And that’s not even including the Andalucian accent and slang. Maybe I’m feeling a little bit of culture shock, but this past week I have been determinedly working my way through English books when I really should be reading in Spanish. Oh well. When my classes start, I will definitely be thrown headfirst into Spanish immersion. 

These past few weeks have also been centered on being a tourist in my new home. I have done several touristy things in Seville, including visiting the center of the city several times, La Catedral, La Plaza Española, El Real Alcazar, and The Museo de Bellas Artes (fine arts). I need to remind myself to slow down and remember that I have all year to explore Seville!Image

Well, this is it.

I really didn’t want to be one of those people that thought leaving the country necessitated telling every tiny detail of my day to anyone who will listen. I understand that I am not backpacking through Tibet or experiencing what it is like to live in a third world country. My journey is not unique or particularly exciting. However, I started this blog for a few reasons:

1) For myself. I want to remember this experience, every minute of it. It’s actually harder than I thought to force myself to hand write in a journal – I feel like I have way too much to say and too little time.

2) For my family and a few close friends. This is for you guys so I can share all the random details I forget to share when we Skype or text. I know that for some of you (MOM), photos on Facebook are not enough.

What I will do with this blog:

  1. Post random thoughts and musings on Spanish culture, society, etc.
  2. Document my travels in and out of Spain
  3. Update every once in a while with what I have been doing

What I will not do with this blog:

  1. Post every day. I don’t want this to become an obsession, and I really do want to fully integrate myself into speaking Spanish
  2. Post a million pictures. That is what facebook is for.

And with that, here I go!