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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2 thoughts on “First week of classes and weekend recap

  1. Yes, travelling alone by train is the best way to see Europe. And you should never feel shy about talking to people. Even though “America” is not universally beloved around the globe, individual Americans usually are welcomed by most Europeans in a most gracious manner. Also, don’t worry about the emotional ups and downs. Sounds perfectly normal to me. Things will smoothe out once you get into a regular class schedule. And you can’t rush language. The brain will start to absorb things in its own time. Just keep being open to new experiences. Notice them, but don’t judge them. You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be at every moment. Love you – Dad.

  2. I am so happy to be able to follow your experiences along with you. Your Dad is right. It is all part of the natural progression of immersion. Keep your chin up–it will get easier.
    As far as traveling alone, other than being with your uncle, I too enjoy doing my own thing. Some of the greatest discoveries are made while simply wandering alone. I had the best time the other week just wandering through the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona–it got too hard to follow the map anyway, I always figured that as long as I could find my way back to the Cathedral, I would know how to get back to the hotel. Found the most interesting shops and photo ops. But you should try to see some of the “tourist sights” as well. There is a reason that they are important–if you can just try to see beyond the crowds–nothing like seeing the Sisitine Ceiling with thousands of other elbow-poking, they’re not supposed to talk or take pictures but they do visitors! But as soon as you can zone that out, magic!
    Sorry your art history class is disapointing so far. I so would have loved for you to have a professor that sparked your deeper love for the subject as I was lucky enough to have. Hang in there though, since it will still make a difference in your travels to have persevered.
    I forgot to remind you to make xerox copies of your passport, credit acards, etc. and store them in a safe place–maybe you have already…just trying to remember all the tips I learned through all my travels.
    That’s it for now. Will check in later.
    Love, Aunt Jan

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