Un Intento Hacia la Orientación: An Attempt at Orientation

Castellano:

Estas últimas semanas han sido de las más desorientates de mi vida y eso que tuvimos que venir con una semana de anticipación para la orientación.

Recuerdo como fue mi descenso del avión aquí en Madrid. Fue una experiencia tanto inolvidable como abrumadora. Primero me bajé del avión a un aeropuerto muy típico, pasé aduana sin problema: solo le dije al de migración que venía para estudiar y luego recogí mis maletas y pelé gallo. Venía con una maletota, otra maleta más chiquita y mi mochila atascada de cosas. 

La ultima foto antes de salir de México. The last picture before leaving Mexico.

Mi primer reto fue encontrar de donde salía el metro del aeropuerto. Después de preguntarle a un montón de gente local, que ninguno ayudo mucho, llegué con un guardia del aeropuerto que me guió hacia la parada del metro. Después de lidiar con la maquina de boletos de metro por fin me subí.

Luego empezaron la miradas. Toda la gente se me quedaba viendo porque iba bien cargado e iba en el metro. A mí me había contado una tía que viaja muy a menudo a Madrid que el metro era muy seguro y que no tenía nada que ver con el de la Ciudad de México. Por afuera yo me quería ver lo más calmado y tranquilo que pudiera, pero por dentro me estaba mordiendo la uñas. Cada vez que se me quedaba viendo cualquier persona apretaba un poco más mis maletas. No quería que me fueran a robar en mi primer día en Madrid. Mi temor nacía de ver este nuevo mundo a través de tinieblas; no tenía ni la menor idea de donde estaba parado y mucho menos de como era le gente aquí en Madrid. Esa incertidumbre que el ser humano a veces vive puede ser de lo más atormentador. En muchas maneras estaba como cuando un venado se atraviesa la carretera y no sabe que hacer antes de ser arrollado por un coche. Estaba de rodillas ante el mundo, completamente en sus manos.

Ese sentimiento de incertidumbre y miedo lo vive cualquier persona que esta en un país que no conoce. Pero esto lo saben muy bien los organizadores de IES. Así es que eso fue lo primero que repasamos cuando tuvimos la orientación del programa. Repasamos las normas culturales en España y como se comparan a las de los EEUU. También tuvimos una charla con la embajada Estadounidense y vaya que sí aprendí muchas cosas. Pero es que no hay número de explicaciones y recomendaciones que te preparan para Madrid. Nadie te prepara para la hermosura de las calles estrechas, el Palacio Real, Las Ventas, las catedrales y toda otra divinidad de esta ciudad.

¡Nevó en Madrid por primera vez desde el 2011!

Otra cosa para la cual no te preparan en la orientación es para le gente española. Hay que decirlo como es: la gente española es la más acogedora de europa, pero no tiene nada que ver con lo que somos los latinos. Yo recuerdo que muchos compañeros americanos me contaban que los españoles eran muy buena gente y esto es cierto desde un punto de vista. Pero la tortilla siempre tiene dos lados. Cuando hablé con mi primo Irwin, me dió un punto de vista mexicano; me dijo que eran secos, que sí te ayudaban si les preguntas pero igual hasta allí. Ahora que ya llevo tiempo aquí y lo estoy viviendo en carne propia les doy mi punto de vista. Los españoles no se esmeran en platicar y desenvolverse tanto como los latinos, pero todo esto no significa que sean payasos, sino que lo llevan empreñado en su cultura. Si no lo sabían, España tuvo un guerra civil justo antes de el comienzo de la segunda guerra mundial. En esta guerra pelearon el partido Nacionalista de Francisco Franco junto con Mussolini y Hitler contra los comunistas, anarquistas, socialistas y la Unión Soviética. Fue una guerra muy sangrienta que duro casi tres años. El resultado fue que España quedó con un dictador encargado del país desde 1939 hasta 1975 al morir Franco. Las consecuencias de esa dictadura permanecen hasta hoy en la manera en que se trata la gente y en muchos aspectos de la vida cotidiana. Un régimen totalitario como el de Franco marca y evoluciona a cualquier país. La gente es reflejo de su país y vice-versa. La verdad es que la gente aún esta sacudida y aún siente los efectos de esa dictadura tan pesada para el pueblo. Éste es el hecho que yo creo que más ha transformado a la gente contemporánea de este país tan bello. En cuanto a la percepción que tenemos los latinos de España y su gente, sea buena o mala, siempre hay que recordar que muchas de nuestras costumbres, manías y, más que nada, nuestra lengua proviene de España. Por lo tanto estamos más que enlazados, aunque a algunos no les gusten los españoles. 

Bueno, ya para no hacer esta publicación tan larga solo los dejo con esta anécdota. Cuando llegué a mi nueva casa de los siguientes meses, no tenía ni idea de donde estábamos situados en la ciudad. Pero al final de cuentas, después de tirar rostro por la calles, ya varias veces me fui dando cuenta que era un barrio muy bueno en donde vive mucha gente ya mayor. Entonces le pregunté a mi Señora con la que estoy viviendo que qué había para hacer por nuestros rumbos. Me dijo varias cosas pero lo que me quedó plasmado fue que vivimos a cinco minutos de Las Ventas. ¡A cinco minutos de Las Ventas! A cinco minutos de la plaza de toros más famosa del mundo, que además de ser la más famosa, es de las más bellas. Es una plaza que combina tanto influencias arquitectónicas Españolas como influencias Musulmanas . Yo la tenía que ver con mis propios ojos y les juro que fue más bella de lo que pensé. Desde ahorita ya sé que esa plaza es la construcción arquitectónica que más me va a gustar en Madrid. Es que dentro de esa plaza se vive un espectáculo único, con un ambiente repleto de fervor y adrenalina. La verdad es que no me aguanto las ganas que lleguen abril y mayo para ver y sentir mi primera corrida de toros. ¡Es un evento que siempre he querido vivir y que bueno que mi primera vez será en la plaza más famosa del mundo!

 

English:

These last couple of weeks have been the most disorientating ones in my life, and we did have to come early to be “orientated.”

I still remember my descent into Madrid. It was both unforgettable and overwhelming. First, I got off the plane to be greeted with a very typical airport. I passed immigration without breaking a sweat. All I said was that I was here to study; I picked up my bags and headed out of there. I had traveled with a very large suitcase, a smaller one, and my backpack was full to the brim.

My first challenge was to find where the metro stop was located within the airport. After asking a bunch of locals, none of which were very helpful I finally arrived with an airport security guard who guided me towards the metro. After fighting with the ticket machine I was finally aboard the metro.

Then the staring began. Everyone kept looking at me, because I had so much luggage on the metro. My aunt who travels regularly to Madrid told me that the metro in the city was very safe, a far cry from the one in Mexico City. On the outside I wanted to look as calm and secure as possible, but on the inside I was biting my nails to the nub. Anytime someone stared at me I clenched on to my suitcases with a firmer grip. I didn’t want to get robbed on my first day in Madrid. My fear was grounded in looking at this new world through the darkness, I had no idea where I was standing and even less of an idea of what these people’s intentions were. I was a deer in the headlights. I was at the mercy of the world, in their hands.

That uncertainty and fear is what anyone experiences when they are in a country they don’t know well. However, the organizers at IES know this all too well. During orientation the feeling of uncertainty was the first thing that we went over. We went over culture norms in Spain and how they compare to the U.S. We also had a talk with the American embassy, and I did learn a lot. But, there is no explanation or tips that prepare you for Madrid. Nobody prepares you for the beauty of the small streets, the Palacio Real, Las Ventas, the cathedrals and all other beauty within this city.

It snowed in Madrid for the first time since 2011!

Another thing that they don’t prepare you for during orientation is for the Spanish people. The truth is that the Spanish are the most open and helpful people in Europe, but nowhere near as much as Latinos. I remember that a bunch of American classmates told me that the Spanish were very nice, and this is true from one point of view. But there are always two sides to any story. When I asked my cousin Irwin, he gave me his Mexican point of view. He told me that they were very distant, and that they did help you if you asked, but nothing beyond that. Now that I have spent a bit of time here and I have lived it first hand I will provide my opinion. The Spanish aren’t very good at opening up and taking to new people like Latinos are, but that doesn’t mean they’re snobby; it is just something ingrained within their culture. If you didn’t know, Spain suffered through a Civil War right before WWII. In this war the Nationalist party of Francisco Franco fought alongside Mussolini and Hitler against the communists, anarchists, socialists, and the Soviet Union. It was a very bloody war that lasted almost three years. The final result was that Spain was left with a dictator in charge of the country from 1939 until 1975 when Franco died. The consequences of this dictatorship remain evident till this day in the way people treat each other and in several aspects of Spanish quotidian life. A totalitarian regime like Franco’s affects and evolves any country. People are a reflection of their country and vice-versa. The truth is that people remain shaken and still feel the effects from such a harsh regime. I think this is the event that has most transformed the contemporaries of this wonderful country. In regards to the perception that Latinos have of Spain and its people, whether it be good or bad, we always have to remember that a lot of our customs, mannerisms, and most importantly, our language, derive from Spain. For this reason we are more than connected, whether you like it or not, with Spain.

In an effort to not make this post too long I will leave y’all with an anecdote. When I first arrived to my new home for the next couple of months I had no idea where in the city I was. However, after walking through the streets a few times I realized that my neighborhood was very good and that there were a lot of older people living within it. So then I asked my host mom for recommendations in the area. She told me there were a lot of the things, but what stuck the most with me was that we lived five minutes from Las Ventas. Five minutes from Las Ventas! Five minutes from the most famous bull ring in the world, that, besides that, is one of the most beautiful. It is an architectural feat that combines both Spanish and Muslim influences. I had to see it with my own two eyes, and it was more jaw-dropping than I thought it would be. As of now I know that it is the site that I will most like in Madrid. The thing is that within its walls you live a unique spectacle, engulfed in an excited and adrenaline-filled atmosphere. I cannot wait until April and May so I can see and live my first bull fight. It’s an event that I have always wanted to live and it is awesome that my first time will be in the most famous bull ring in the world!

Sunday, Paella Day

Sundays in Spain, as they are traditionally known, are for making paella. For those of you unfamiliar with this Spanish dish, it is perhaps the most well-known and best tasting cuisine you could really ask for in Spain. It consists of a delicious mixture of seafood, rice, vegetables and sometimes (although not this time) rabbit. For those of you who have had paella, you certainly understand why it deserves a blog post of its own. This week my host mom asked me if I wanted to learn how to make this sea-food and rice wonder. I delightfully accepted. So, today, I intend to blog a step-by-step process of what I learned (for my memory’s sake as well as for you all). Although you can always find “recipes” online, my host-mom insists hers is the most authentic.

DISCLAIMER: All measurements are 100% eyeballed because according to my mom, “real cooking doesn’t have a recipe”. Let’s begin.

1.) We cut: onions, red peppers, and green peppers. Done.

2.) Heat up some olive oil in a saucepan (pictured below, the pan on the far right). Once the oil is hot, throw in all your veggies.

 

3.) The most important part of paella is the broth. This is where all the flavor comes from (there are no spices involved in paella). To make the broth you take basically all the stuff that the fish market throws away (fish bones, fish heads, skin, etc), and put it in water and boil it for 15-20 minutes (that’s what’s in the covered pot on the right). You’re welcome for forgetting to take a picture of this step.

4.) You take out the fish eye balls, bones, and guts, and, leaving the “broth”, throw them away. In the trash. My mom is depicted (above) picking the meat off the “trash items”. This step is optional. She really likes fish, I guess. Now we can get to the real cooking.

5.) Clean (slightly) some fresh mussels and put them into the broth. Boil them in the broth for 5 minutes or until they open up. Take them out, leave the broth. Set aside. Take off the side of the shell without any meat on it. Trash.

6.) Clean some fresh clams. Repeat step 5.

7.) By this time your veggies are probably ready. Take all that tasty fish/mussel/clam-broth you just made and pour it right into your veggie pan with a colander! The colander of course, to sift out the stray fish-eye here and there.

8.) Dump some rice into the mixture (about 1 cup per person) and boil it. You can’t really use basmati rice, or even long grain rice for that matter (the rice has to have no flavor to best absorb the fish flavor). Use round short-grain rice.

9.) Salt indiscriminately. I think my mom had her eyes shut for this part. Not sure. Like I said before, this is the ONLY SPICE/HERB/ANYTHING in this entire dish, and she barely put any in. Less is more, blah, blah, blah.

10.) Clean some fresh fish filet, and throw them right on top. I think you also have to say, “Ole!”, when you do it for it to be effective. (Remember, clean as little as possible in order to leave the flavor of the fish). Choose a fish you like. My mom chose her favorite (and Spain’s most popular paella fish), Monkfish. This fish is perhaps the ugliest living thing I’ve ever seen, but tasted magical.

11.) Cut up some fresh calamari, and throw it on top of this magical boiling Spanish stew. Keep a light boil going throughout this whole thing.

12.) Time for some gambas. Er, I mean, shrimp! Whole shrimp. Head, eyes, and all. My mom used krill instead, but shrimp is most common. Remember, fresh!

13.) Remember those mussels and clams? They’re already cooked, so go ahead and toss them on top of everything too. (Pictured below, you will start to notice you’re running out of room in the pot, and it becomes like playing Tetris, fitting in all the seafood!)

14.) Let the mussels and clams heat back up (face down, of course), let the rice finish its last few minutes, and remove from heat.

15.) Put the pot on the table next to a couple of lemons cut in half. Feel free to douse your rice with some lemon juice. This, so they say, is they authentic way to eat paella.

16.) (Below) Serve in giant heaps on your plate and dig in! Make sure you have a communal “trash plate”, where you can throw your shrimp tails, mussel shells, etc.

17.) A glass of white wine is MOST typical, but my host brother is 17 (sorry, man), and also my host mom forgot to pick some up, so water works fine too!

Note*** “Old style” paella typically contained saffron, a herb/spice that gave the traditional dish a yellow color. Saffron got too expensive to say the least. Buying enough saffron to make our dish today would have costed us about $50 USD. Since the flavor of saffron “really doesn’t matter or change the dish that much”, we didn’t use it today. I commented on the lack of color (I’ve seen pictures in textbooks, okay?) so my mom added some yellow food coloring at the very end just for me, so I could feel like my paella experience was more “authentic”. The things we do for our guests, I guess.

Enjoy!

How’s Spain?

Today marks the end of my third week in Salamanca, Spain. Over the course of the last three weeks, I have been in touch with many of my friends and family from home, talking, texting, or video-chatting, and each time, understandably, they all  ask the same thing: “How’s Spain?” What a question! Loaded, without a doubt. Knowing that the person who has asked me this question probably doesn’t have 12 hours to talk on the phone, one must be prepared to condense; that’s to say, you’ve got to come up with a script: “Things are good”, “I’m making friends”, “I’m having fun”, or my personal favorite, simply, “Good”. The truth is that although some things have been difficult, each day has brought innumerable surprises, joys, and most importantly, “firsts”, that could not possibly be entirely articulated in any phone call, text message, or work of art. But we have to do something, right? After all, people want to see at the very least the highlight reel.

Therefore, in order to best characterize my abroad experience so far (a truly impossible and frustrating task), it would be necessary to speak of the firsts. So, in an effort to give you all a three-week run down of “How’s Spain?”, living in a new country, with a new language, with a new family, I decided to write down some of the firsts – some of the things, no matter how big or seemingly small, that will have marked my entire stay in Spain:

 

  1. I went to Seville, Spain. A couple of friends and I took a 7 hour bus and stayed the long weekend in Seville. It was a marvelous city that I could best describe as being like Disney World – orange and palm trees every ten feet, castles filling the sky, smell of churros filling the air, thousands of people from all ethnicities crowding the cobblestone streets, and everybody speaking in English. It was a surreal town with a lot to offer.    
  2. I had my first lecture and “office hours” with a Spanish professor. I never really considered that I would be integrated into the Spanish academic institution. To my surprise, instead of being a tourist visitor in classes at the local university, I was a name, a person, a real student, sitting among a hundred local Spaniards learning about the psychology of groups.
  3. I watched my first “real football” game in a Spanish soccer bar with five spanish friends. Not only do I never watch soccer, but they don’t teach you soccer vocabulary in class, or proper soccer etiquette (of which there seems to be none). For the first time in my life, I felt like a true outsider, barely understanding a word being shouted across the table as the owner of the bar played Barcelona’s victory song over the loudspeakers for the third time.
  4. I went to a Spanish play. My mom invited me to watch her brother perform in a play. I accepted. I shocked myself at how much I enjoyed it – all three hours of it- accompanied only by two middle aged spanish women.
  5. I volunteer weekly at an Oxfam outlet (a fair-trade store). I sit there for three hours at a time selling fair-trade coffee and chocolates to passerbys and listen to (typical) Salmantino gossip of the town. It has been quite a “first” experience for me.
  6. I went to an eye doctor who didn’t speak English. Since I left my glasses at home, I had to get a new prescription (my eyes aren’t that bad, I just like to have them for class to read the board). I was so thankful for my 6th grade Spanish class as I was reciting the Spanish alphabet to the doctor, who was covering my left eye with a spoon.
  7. I visited a bull-fighting ring: La Plaza de Toros. Regardless of how you feel about this controversial sport, the history is just plain cool.

 

I think these very few “firsts” (and you can be sure I’m leaving out many) paint the most accurate depiction of my life over the last three weeks. It’s been pretty hard to tell about my “daily life” or “routine” here simply for the fact that every day has been a new adventure. There have surely been rough patches of adjustment, of cultural clashes, misunderstandings, and homesickness, but they have all been made insignificant by the beauty of each new day, filled with new and brilliant experiences that I am so privileged to unwrap.

All this being said, it can get pretty easy to adopt an egotistical perspective here. “Let me tell you all about my crazy awesome life, oh and by the way, your life has been probably on pause since I left home, right?” Well, to those of you who feel like us “abroaders” are ignorant to the challenges and joys of your daily life at home in the U.S., I apologize on our behalf. Truly. Although I want to continue to talk, text, and video-chat about my new and exciting adventures- my firsts – with people back home, I also want to hear about yours; because the truth is that life doesn’t stop just because we’re not there. I have learned over the past few weeks that it is just as hard to describe my experiences here as it is for my friends and family to tell me about their experiences at home – and thus is the abroad experience – people trying desperately, and often failing, to share with one another. I hope that with these small lines, I have shared something of my experience – and I await to hear of yours.

Best,

 

Dos días en México: Two days in Mexico

Español:

Antes de partir a España tenía unas ansias de llegar ya a este nuevo país. Ya quería ver el país del cual la gente tanto me comentaba. Iba a ver el país de mayor influencia dentro de mi vida, porque había, en su momento, conquistado tanto a México como a parte del país donde hoy vivo. Pero antes de llegar a este país que jamás pensé que iba a visitar, tenía que desviar un poco mi trayecto. ¡Tenía que, por supuesto, visitar a mi México lindo y querido!

Así es que el 10 de enero, un miércoles, llegué a la Ciudad de México. Llegué a abrazar a mi tía Yuya y le dí un beso en la mejilla justo como lo hice con mi mamá al llegar a Austin. La neta es que es casi igual que darle un beso a mi mamá porque mi tía es idéntica a ella. 

¡Pero bueno, ya que tenía dos días muy cortitos en la Ciudad de México había que aprovecharlos a lo máximo!

El lugar que siempre me gusta visitar más en la Ciudad de México es la Villa. La verdad es que es increíble que en una ciudad tan grande y tan moderna como es la Ciudad de México puede haber una imagen tan importante, tan valorada y tan antigua como es la Guadalupana. Por supuesto que tenía que ir a ver a la Virgencita y pedirle que me fuera muy bien en el viaje que estaba a punto de emprender y además agradecerle por todo lo que me ha proveído en lo que llevo de vida. Es que es algo espectacular ver a esa morenita en persona; es una razón más por la cual estar orgulloso de ser Mexicano. 

¡La Guadalupana hermosa! The beautiful Virgen de Guadalupe!

 

Pelando toda la masorca a lado de mi tía Yuya en la Villa.
Showing off my pearly whites with my Aunt Yuya.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Además de visitar a la Virgencita resulta que en esos días que andaba allí en la CDMX caía el cumpleaños de mi tía Yuya. Mi tío y mis primos querían darle una sorpresa y regalare un arreglo de flores sin que ella supiera. Querían que yo distrajera a mi tía Yuya con el paseo de la Villa. Pero también querían que viera los puestos de flores de Jamaica. Así es que al final de cuentas le dijeron a mi tía que le iban a comprar un arreglo pero que mis primas como quiera se lo iban a escoger. Así es que pelamos gallo tempranito hacía Jamaica por el famosísimo metro de CDMX. Después de un viaje donde nos trataron de vender paquetes de chocolates (tres por cinco pesos) en el metro y pasar varias mujeres vendiendo artesanías sobre sarapes coloridos en la calle, por fin llegamos al mismísimo Mercado Jamaica.

Yo viendo a todos lados menos a la camera. Just look at my eyes.

Al entrar yo sabía que había dejado la CDMX atrás. Había entrado en otro mundo completamente diferente, un mundo que era un laberinto lleno de pasillos de flores tras flores. La CDMX nunca deja de sorprenderme, porque al caminar unos cuantos pasos uno puede estar en un mundo irreconocible al que dejaste atrás. Tan pronto entramos los vendedores se nos echaron encima, como lo hacen en cualquier lado en CDMX. Mientras uno me decía, “mira, joven para la novia”, otro le decía a mi tío “cómpreselo a su güerita, jefe” o “le hacemos el arreglo como usted quiera” y miles de otras cosas para convencernos de comprar con ellos y no con otro vendedor. Al final de cuentas optamos por un arreglito que le gusto a mi prima Gaby.

Un pequeño arreglito. A small arrangment.

Después de las flores otra razón por la cual fuimos a Jamaica es porque allí hay un lugar que mis tíos frecuentan que vende muy buenos huaraches. La verdad es que yo no soy adicto a los huaraches ni es que sea mi comida favorita, pero llevaba encargo de mi mamá. Como ella tiene mucho tiempo sin ir a la CDMX y de chiquita le encantaba comer huaraches en la calle, quería que yo me comiera uno en su honor en México. Así es que para no desairar a mi madresita fui a comerme el mentado huarache. Claro, me lo tuve que hacer mitad de salsa verde y mitad de salsa roja, porque si no pica, no sabe.

Si no pica, no sabe.

La verdad es que cada vez que pongo pie en la Ciudad de México quedo más sorprendido que la vez pasada. Es la ciudad donde nació mi mamá, el centro de mi cultura Mexicana y mi destino favorito en el mundo. ¡Como amo México! Es la pura neta.

English:

Before leaving for Spain I was so anxious to arrive in this new country. I wanted to see first hand the country that people always tell me so much about. I was going to visit the country with the largest influence within my life, because it had once colonized both Mexico and part of the country that I live in today. However, before I arrived in the country I thought I would never visit, I had to make a quick pit stop. I had to, of course, visit my beloved and beautiful Mexico!

So on Wednesday the 10th of January I arrived around 1 o’clock central time. I arrived to hug my aunt Yuya and I kissed her on the cheeck just like I had done with my mom when I arrived in Austin. The truth is that it was almost like kissing my mom because my aunt is identical to her.

Since I had two very short days in Mexico City, I had to make the most of them!

The place that I most like visiting in Mexico City is the Villa de la Guadalupana. The truth is that it is incredible that in such a large city as Mexico City there can be an image that is so important, valuable and old as is the Guadalupana. I, of course, had to go visit the Virgen and ask that the trip I was about to take would go well and also thank her for everything she has given me in life. It is something truly spectacular to see the image of the apparition in person; it is one of the reasons I am so proud to be a Mexican.

Besides visiting the Virgen it turns out that during the days I was in CDMX (shorthand for Mexico city) it was going to by my aunt Yuya’s birthday. My uncle and cousins wanted to surprise my aunt with flowers, without her knowing. They wanted me to distract her through the walk around the Villa. On the other hand they wanted me to see the flower market in Jamaica. So in the end, thanks to me, they told my aunt that they were going to buy her flowers for her birthday, but that my cousins would still pick them out for her. So we left bright and early toward Jamaica on the infamous metro in CDMX. After a trip where they tried selling us chocolates (3 for 5 pesos) on the metro and walking past several older ladies selling crafts on top of colorful sarapes on the street, we finally arrived at the Jamaica market.

Upon entering I knew that I had left CDMX behind. I had entered into another completely different world, a world that was a maze flanked with flower after flower. CDMX will never stop surprising me, because if you walk a few steps in any direction you can be in an unrecognizable world from the one you left behind. As soon as we entered the market the salesmen leaped onto us. This happens anywhere you go in CDMX. While one told me, “Look, for your girlfriend”, another told my uncle, “Buy this for your beautiful wife, sir” or they said “We can make any bouquet however you want” and thousands of different things to try to convince us to buy with them and no one else. In the end we opted to buy a modest bouquet that my cousin Gaby picked out.

Escogiendo las flores más perronas. Choosing the coolest flowers.
Con la prima. With the cuz.

After getting the flowers, the other reason we had gone to Jamaica was that there is a place that my uncles go to frequently where they sell very good huaraches. Truth be told, I am not a huarache addict but I had promised my mom that I would go. Since she hasn’t been to CDMX in such a long time, and when she was little she loved eating huaraches from street vendors, she wanted me to eat one in her honor while in Mexico. So, not to let her down, I went to eat the huarache. I, of course, had to make it once half green salsa and the other half red salsa, because if it isn’t spicy it won’t taste like anything.

In all honesty, whenever I set foot in Mexico City I am left more surprised than the time before. It is the city where my mom was born, the center of my Mexican culture and my favorite destination in the world. Oh, how I love Mexico! For real.

A Birthday In Spain

It all seemed so far off for so long – so distant – until that morning drive to the airport. I said goodbye to my dog, Charlie, to my sister, Caroline, and got in the car with my mother. She seemed to be a little distant, unable to acknowledge the ever-looming truth before us: her son was about to jump into the unknown. Upon arrival at the airport, I wasn’t quite sure if I was sleeping, dreaming, or painfully awake. All I know is that in one brief moment my mom had gone and I had come to realize two things: 1) I had no idea how to check a bag at the airport, and 2) I was on my way to Spain.

Thirteen hours of painstaking, sleepless travel later, and I was at an airport in Madrid. I was waiting for that moment that people always talk about; even as I was killing time in the airport, I was waiting for it. I was anticipating the panic, the “oh, this is really happening,” the attack of reason. After retrieving my lost luggage and drinking my first coffee ordered in Spanish, I sat in a chair waiting for the panic that never came; “they”, whoever they were, lied. There was no definitive moment of panicked dizziness, there was no regret, there was no “turn this plane around”. In fact, all of the feelings that I had anticipated for so long remained in deep sleep. I had surely felt them all, each and every spectrum of emotion, in the last few months, weeks, and days, but there in that moment, I was okay. My fear turned into a sure-footedness, and my anxiety turned into a flustered excitement (not unlike a feeling you might have right before a heart attack on a roller coaster). These feelings weren’t bad; I welcomed them. Despite what I had been telling my friends and family for months, I was finally truly excited to be in my position – to be sitting in a Madrid airport waiting to be bussed off to a new city, with a new language, with a new group of people, with a new family. I had finally arrived.

I have been in Salamanca for five days now. All the anxiety, the stress, the worry, all of the planning, has led to this: a moment of contentedness. In an almost poetic sort of way, I write this not to immediately share pictures of what my town looks like, not to tell you how much a beer costs, or how old the buildings are, but rather, I write as a confession. I write that I was wrong. I write because I never would have imagined that I would be sitting in a Spanish apartment, on my 21st birthday, excited to go out with friends that I made five days ago (who already want to buy me one). I never would have imagined an ever-changing and constantly new experience as being so outright exciting – not terrifying. Already I have experienced so much, dropped my jaw so many times, and awed at so many things, but nothing compares to the feeling that everything is okay, that I’m not dead, I’m not lost without hope, and actually, I’m really looking forward to being here.

Pictured above is Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor, the most beautiful in Europe! This photo and more, although taken with my personal device, is available in a simple web search of “Salamanca”. Although my personal review of things here will surely come, today is not that day. And believe me, it’s a gorgeous city steeped in culture, history, and great food. However, the truth remains: all that and more you can find out on your own from photographers and travelers far better and more experienced than me. Today, I wanted to simply share that I am alive, I am well, and I am 21 in Salamanca, Spain.

Salud,

The Harley of Seville

Never again will I underestimate public transportation. It has saved me from being late to class on numerous occasions and from the dreaded shin splints. Normally, it takes 30 minutes to walk from my homestay to the University of Sevilla and 45 minutes to walk to the CIEE study center. In total, that is 1 hour of traveling there and back from the University and 1.5 hours there and back from CIEE. Monday thru Thursday I have 2 classes every day separated by a lunch break where I return to my homestay. So, the total daily walking time adds up to about 3 hours just for classes. The views on the walk are great but, I feel that I am losing precious time during the day and my legs hate me. Consequently, I decided to change my routine a little. There is a bus stop conveniently located just down the street from where I live, so I started alternating between the bus and walking to class. The bus is very efficient, usually cuts the walking time in half, and only costs 75 cents. It’s also a great way to improve my Spanish listening skills. There is even a designated airport bus, which I take advantage of for my weekend traveling. I have dabbled in other modes of public transportation like the metro and the tram, but the bus is by far my preferred method. My mom will be happy to know I have not tested out the bikes or motorcycles, which seem to be popular amongst the sevillanos. With tourists, the horse-pulled carriages are a hit.

 

Before coming to Spain I had never taken public transportation nor did I consider needing it. At Hope, everything is located within walking distance of each other: the academic buildings, the gym, the cafeteria, the residence halls, and the student center. Plus, there’s a weekly Meijer shuttle for those who aren’t on a meal plan. As for the city of Holland, there are a few lines of Max buses, but that’s the extent of its public transportation.  I have my own car so I have the freedom to drive wherever, whenever. In Sevilla, this is not the case. I had to learn the bus numbers, routes, and times. This put my millennial map reading skills to the test. Of course, after taking the wrong numbered bus a handful of times, I discovered the google maps app which displays public transportation routes. However, getting lost was worth it because I got to see parts of the city I normally wouldn’t see. Once I became comfortable with the main streets, I purposefully took new routes and walked the narrow, winding, colorful roads. I have stumbled across unique stores, coffee shops, and even Las Setas (an incredible wooden structure resembling a giant mushroom). I hope to continue exploring Sevilla and discovering new sights!

Study in study abroad?

Wait, what? There’s studying in study abroad? Yes, there is! Let me assure you that school does not go away. However, even though I still have homework, projects, and exams, it is definitely different from Hope College. To begin, all of my classes are in Spanish. This was a big transition for me. During the first few weeks I felt overwhelmed and frustrated that homework took longer than normal and I couldn’t fully understand the lectures, but since then, I have adjusted to the constant Spanish. Second, the hours are not what I am accustomed to. During the first 2 weeks in Sevilla, all CIEE students were required to enroll in a mandatory 2-week intensive Spanish grammar class which lasted 3 hours every day Mon-Fri. My class was from 6-9pm, the best time to have class according to my professor. There’s nothing more exciting than conjugating verbs in the vosotros subjunctive at 9pm on a Friday night, as long as it is celebrated afterwards with a trip to La Abuela ice cream.

The first day of class, my professor introduced herself using her first name. It’s interesting that in Spain, when a student addresses the professor, it is normal to use his/her first name. There is no formality of using señor/señora or profesor/a. In the United States, it’s customary that students speak to professors using “professor” or “doctor” followed by their last name. Even by the end of the 2 weeks, I couldn’t bring myself to call my professor Ana.

One aspect of study abroad that I am incredibly grateful for is the amount of outside of class activities assigned. Throughout the 2-week course we were required to do three activities outside of the classroom and write an essay about each one. The first activity was to conduct an interview of students at the University of Sevilla. This definitely ranks in the top 10 most awkward study abroad moments. But I’m glad I did it. I basically walked up to random students and asked them questions, in Spanish, about their goals and aspirations for after college, the cost of tuition (which I discovered is very inexpensive, around 800 euros), and study habits. All of the students were very nice and willing to share some information about their lives. The second activity was a visit to the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) and the third was a visit to the Flamenco Museum. Both were amazing but I think the flamenco was my favorite! I learned all about the traditional Spanish dance including its origins, its many varieties, and the clothing. I was even able to see a flamenco show! The singer, guitarist, and dancers were fantastic! I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to learn how to dance flamenco in the future!