Los primeros días

Hi, everyone! I am thrilled to announce that I have arrived safe and sound in Seville, Spain! It was my first time traveling alone internationally, so I was pretty scared about checking in bags, going through passport security, and finding the right gates. Unfortunately, I had a rough start in the Chicago O’Hare airport; I ended up riding the transit to three different terminals before finally finding the Iberia flights check-in. It’s terminal 3 in case you were wondering. I then successfully made it to my gate where I met some other students who were also traveling to Seville for the CIEE liberal arts program. We were all so excited to begin our adventures!

When I arrived in the Seville airport, I was greeted by the CIEE orientation guides who are students at the University of Seville. They gave me the orientation folder which contained the orientation schedule, the address of my host family, my CIEE student ID, and a map of Seville. They also helped me and 20 other anxious students fill out the missing luggage form. (Thankfully, my suitcase arrived 2 days later.) I now understand why people pack extra outfits in their carry on.

From the airport, the CIEE bus took me to my alojamiento (homestay) where I met my señora, Maria. I am known as Alison to Maria because Alli is difficult to pronounce. Maria lives alone, next door to her older sister, and has one married daughter who has kids. Because Maria’s daughter lives nearby, she enjoys walking there to play dolls and soccer with the grandchildren.

When I met Maria, we greeted each other with dos besos (two kisses) and she welcomed me to Seville and to her home. In Spain, it is culturally appropriate for women to greet men and other women with dos besos and for men to greet other men with a handshake or dos besos if they are family or good friends. Like most sevillanos, Maria lives in a small apartment equipped only to sleep, eat, and do laundry. Entertaining guests at homes is not a thing here like it is in the U.S. If a group of friends want to hang out, they will go to the bars or the plazas.

For breakfast, Maria and I normally eat toast with olive oil and jam or a muffin and drink milk or juice. Lunch and dinner has varied from veggies to pasta to soup to fruit, but I can always count on a basket full of bread or pretzel-like breadsticks…sorry Coach Cole. Maria and I eat lunch and dinner in the living room while chatting (in Spanish of course) and watching some of her favorite TV programs: “Yo soy del sur” (a singing competition for southern Spaniards), “Parejas” (contestants go on a blind date hoping to start a relationship), and “Cámbiame” (contestants receive an extreme makeover and wardrobe alterations). It has been so great getting to know Maria and she has been very sweet and understanding about my imperfect Spanish. I’m excited to spend more time with Maria, learn more about the culture, and improve my Spanish!

Orientation fun and sightseeing will be coming up soon!


¿Dónde empezar?

So much has happened in the past few days that I feel a gallery of photos would better express my excitement for the wonders that I had the privilege of beholding.  The enormous Palacio Real (ironically, the king and queen do not live here), the beautiful and monumental Almudena Cathedral where the current king and queen of Spain held their wedding, the awe-inspiring Madrid town hall (El Ayuntamiento de Madrid), and the oldest restaurant in the world (el Restaurante Botín, which was founded in 1725) are just a few of the sights that made me beam with life.

Love At First Flight


It felt like love at first flight when I first landed in Madrid.  My first time being outside of the continent of North America gave me unbearable happiness.  I could not help but release some of this joy through expressive eyebrow raising, dramatic gasps, and oh-my-goshes as I watched my dream unfold before me.  While everyone seemed to stay calm around me in the airport, on the bus to the CIEE office, and in the public squares, I was bouncing with anticipation.  I felt like a child overflowing with innocent God-given wonder.  The friendly Spanish people were not hesitant to sit next to me, a stranger, nor were they too reserved to happily answered my questions as I ordered tapas. I felt very free.  I felt so free that I got lost on my way back to my lovely home-stay!  I took that time to ask for directions in Spanish, to sight-see, and to act like a local.  It feels like I am falling in love with Madrid already, and I have only been here one day!

Best of Salamanca

I love Salamanca. As my semester is drawing to a close, I’m reflecting on some of the best memories I have here and why this city is so special. Since I’ve been here around four months, I think I am qualified to give native advice about visiting and living in the city. Here are the most important things to keep in mind before a visit to Salamanca:

Top five things to do in Salamanca:
  1. Go to the top of the tower of the new cathedral: the view of the city is incredible!
  2. Sit for a while in La Plaza Mayor: people watch, order a coffee, take in the beautiful plaza.
  3. Watch the sunset over by El Río Tormes and La Puente Romano
  4. Find the hidden frog on the facade of the University of Salamanca
  5. Go shopping. Calle Zamora and Calle Toro have the best shops, and I’m lucky enough to pass by the multiple times a day on my way to class!
Top three places to shop:
  1. Zara
  2. Mango
  3. H&M

They’re my go-to’s. Clothes are reasonably priced and very stylish. One of the two Zara’s in Salamanca used to be a church, so it’s worth checking out.

Top three things to eat in Salamanca:
  1. Tortilla de patatas: egg, potatoes, and onion. In English, a potato omelette, the best ones are made by Spanish mothers.
  2. Chocolate con churros: you know it’s good chocolate if you set a spoon on top and it doesn’t sink. I recommend Valor or Las Torres for the best churros.
  3. Croissants: they’re good anywhere. My favorites have chocolate, I recommend a “Napolitana Blanco y Negro” from Croissantería París because it has white chocolate and dark chocolate and it tastes heavenly.

Honorable mention: Paella. A must-try, the classic is “Paella Valenciana” and is probably the most famous and most commonly served dish in Spain.

Top three things to drink in Salamanca:
  1. Café con leche: Coffee with milk. Coffee here comes in smaller serving sizes but it just tastes better.
  2. Zumo natural: Fresh squeezed orange juice. Delicious.
  3. Sangria: I recommend trying sangria from multiple places because some restaurants do it right and some just don’t. When sangria comes with fresh fruit, that usually means it’s good.
Top three things to learn a little bit about before coming to Salamanca:
  1. The Spanish Civil War and the Franco Regime: the most important part of Spain’s history from the past century. Modern culture relates to what happened during the dictatorship and it’s impossible to understand Spain without understanding that era.
  2. The Reconquest: very important to understand the history of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity in Spain. Nine hundred years of conflict, a general knowledge is a must.
  3. The current economy: not doing very well and unemployment is high.
Top three souvenirs to buy:
  1. Botón charro: the symbol of Salamanca! Check out any tourist shop and they come as earrings, necklaces, bracelets, bookmarks, etc.
  2. Una rana: the hidden frog from the facade of the University
  3. Postcards: send them to everyone! Keep them for yourself!

I’m so glad that I chose Salamanca as the city where I studied abroad. It is full of history yet not too big, and I’m happy that I’ve gotten to be involved in the Spanish culture. This is my best advice for people who might want to visit Salamanca, and it also gives a snapshot of what my life has been like for the past four months!

Semana Santa

The Spain version of spring break is Semana Santa, or Holy Week. We had an 11 day break that ended on Easter, and this is is when students studying abroad take advantage to travel Europe. Luckily, my break coincided with my Hope roommate’s break who is studying abroad in Liverpool, so we traveled the whole week together! We started the week off in Paris, then Venice, then Rome, and we finished our time off in Switzerland! Here are some of the highlights:

1: Paris

We started the day off bright and early at the Eiffel Tower, and made our way to all the sights by walking along the Seine. The Louvre was amazing, I wish we could have spent an entire day there because the building is so huge and it contains so much art. We saw the Notre Dame cathedral, ate pain au chocolat, and had lunch at Laduree. It was a perfect day in Paris!


2: Venice

In Venice we were welcomed to Italy by a kind, elderly Italian couple who spoke to us in Italian as if we could understand what they were saying. We spent our couple days here exploring the canals, getting lost, and entering most churches we stumbled upon. The Basilica of Saint Mark was beautiful and unlike any of the cathedrals I’ve seen. Naturally, we ate spaghetti and the best pizza I’ve ever had.


3: Rome

Our time in Rome was limited, so we really had to squeeze in all of the sights we wanted to see. Rome is very different from Venice and it astounded me how the city is so full of history. We sat outside the Coliseum, visited the Tre Vi Fountain, sat on the Spanish steps, and made a stop at the Parthenon. We also made spent part of the day in the Vatican City, where we visited the Basilica and then saw the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel!


4: Switzerland

After the whirlwind of we had, Switzerland was a bit more relaxed. Our first day we took a day trip to Lausanne and spent our time sitting next to the lake, admiring the mountains, and wandering around the city. The next day we took a trip to Chamonix, which is a small town in France where tourists go to ski and see the mountains. We started our day off in a coffeeshop that reminded us of Lemonjello’s, and then we took two cablecars to get to an altitude of 3,842 meters. At the top of the mountain we tried to take in the immensity of the Alps and we could see Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in the Alps. Our last day in Switzerland we spent in Geneva and we walked around the old city and explored, saw the United Nations from the outside, and ate Swiss cheese.

The weather was perfect during our whole trip, our travel from place to place went as smoothly as it could have gone, and I got to travel Europe with one of my best friends! Absolutely surreal.

Life at the Lake: Lago de Sanabria

A few weeks ago I took a trip with a small group of people from IES for a weekend trip to Lago de Sanabria. The lake is one of the largest lakes in Spain (nothing compared to Lake Michigan, though), and we hiked in the mountains surrounding this natural park. As we were driving into the mountains I realized how much I’ve missed nature. I’ve been in a city for so long, the mountains were a literal breath of fresh air!

Puebla de Sanabria

On Friday we had a tour of Puebla de Sanabria, a small town nearby. Our tour guide dressed in medieval attire to contextualize the history of the area, and she told stories to make us laugh and have a great time! After our tour, we stopped for lunch and then went on a hike. It was a tough and rocky trek up the mountain, but were rewarded by the incredible view of the lake once we made it to the top. We were also on the lookout for cows as obstacles on the way and navigating the rocky slope was a puzzle which kept us entertained.

                       Mountain Cows

Lago de Sanabria: view from the top!

Hiking day 2

The next day we went on another hike! The landscape on Saturday was very Lord of the Rings-esque, and once again it was incredible. After lunch we went to a famous wolf reservation where we could see the wolves that used to roam freely throughout the whole peninsula.





Sunday was our last day, and our activity was to take a boat ride on the lake! We were on a 100% eco-friendly boat that was created so that the lake can remain clear and unpolluted. It was a perfect relaxing weekend to be in nature, see a little snow, and prepare to be back in Salamanca!

Snow! Dare I say I missed winter in Michigan?

Getting Involved

I’ve written a lot about my travels away from Salamanca on the weekends, but having a home base in this city is very important for my experience. We were told when we arrived that we have to be careful if we were planning on traveling every weekend because we are here to immerse ourselves specifically in the culture of Salamanca, so it’s okay to stick around sometimes. During orientation we were also given ideas about how we can get involved while we’re here.

IES provides activities every month that we can attend if we wish. Many of these are cultural activities such as flamenco and salsa dance classes, paella night, and next week I’m going to a cooking class to learn how to make traditional Spanish food when I’m home! My favorite events (and the ones that are most attended) are the ones that include free food.

Giant paella for paella night!

IES has also hosted two “intercambio” events, one of which I could attend. “Intercambio” means exchange, so these events are essentially language exchanges. American students from IES come to speak with university students in English, and then we switch off and speak in Spanish. I don’t have pictures of the people from the event, but I did make sure to snap a photo of the food.

Tapas from intercambio night

In addition to intercambio nights hosted by IES, we have the opportunity to sign up for one-on-one intercambios. I put my name, age, and email onto the University of Salamanca website and students email me if they want to meet for an hour and learn English while I learn Spanish. I’ve met with one student multiple times for coffee, and it’s a great experience to meet natives, especially for those who aren’t taking classes at a local university.

Other students from IES have joined a choir, an ultimate frisbee team, and the mountain exploring club. On my own I’ve recently been getting involved with a youth group type organization for university students. There are many American students who attend as well as Spanish students. I’ve also met quite a few students from Germany who are studying in Salamanca. This organization provides activities throughout the week so that everyone can get involved, and it’s another cool way to meet other people in town. I usually go to the Bible study and the event that’s most like a typical youth group with food, songs, then a message or “algo profundo.”

Although the only photo evidence I have at this point are pictures of food, I promise that the activities here include people! While abroad for a semester, it is SO important to make connections with people and I’ve had the opportunity to meet some great people while I’ve been here. I’m thankful for the freedom to get involved during my semester and make Salamanca feel a little bit more like home.