Stephanie in Madrid

Stephanie is a sophomore majoring in accounting in Cox School of Business and Spanish in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, with a minor in music in Meadows School of the Arts. During spring 2013, she is participating in SMU-in-Spain and is looking forward to immersing herself in Spanish culture.

BRB Madrid, OMW to Lisboa!

Sorry I’ve been seemingly slacking on the updates, but it’s only because the unthinkable happened – I got sick again! This time was less fun than the last because I got sick the week before midterms and continued being sick until the day of my last exam. I couldn’t miss any school; otherwise I would be too behind and have to possibly reschedule my exams, which I did not want to do. If you’ve ever been sick while having to juggle classes and studying, you know what I mean. I basically spent my morning and early afternoon in class, then immediately went home to rest and do what I call “struggle-study,” no bueno.

A picture from a past trip to El Escorial

Lesson learned: The temperature in Madrid may not be that much colder in comparison to Dallas, but the air here is definitely drier so it feels chillier and windier. Factor in the amount of walking you do outside and you’ve got a pretty cold winter experience. Bottom line – ALWAYS bundle up and wear a scarf whenever going out, especially at night.

But now that I am just about fully recovered AND finished with my midterms, I have so much to look forward to. ¡Que guay! (How cool!) How about the fact that I am going to Lisbon, Portugal this weekend – my first trip outside of Spain. Just a little over a week ago, I had no intention to travel this weekend, but after my friends discussed how we should take advantage of the fact that midterms are over (which is only more reason to celebrate), I thought “Why not!?” And with that, we booked our flights less than 24 hours later.

I can’t wait to return and share with you pictures and my experiences. Maybe I’ll learn a bit of Portuguese while I’m there? Okay, okay I’ll be realistic… more like a phrase or two.

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Andalucia Part Two

The next day, Thursday, we loaded up the buses and headed to Granada. When we arrived, we checked in at Hotel Carmen and then had lunch. I don’t know how SMU does it, but they are on point with all the restaurants they take us to. We were so full off a number of some of the best tapas I’ve had in Spain. We had mini hamburgers (their meat and burger in general is different in the States and better than in the States, though “less meaty” and greasy, which I can appreciate), tortilla, multiple orders of calamari, and octopus! Normally not a fan of slimy seafood like squid or octopus if it isn’t fried, it was actually really good. Of course, it helped that the octopus was covered in a bell pepper-y, savory sauce.

We spent a few hours on a guided tour of the city, where we were shown the city’s cathedral as well as the heart of the city. I spent my free time walking up and down the shopping strips. There were so many shops and markets – a shopaholics dream. Luckily, I spent more money on food, which was worth it because I had the best churros con chocolate. Three euros for a taste of heaven? I’ll take it. I love the chocolate in Spain because it’s not artificial or overly sweet. If you ask for “chocolate caliente (hot chocolate),” don’t expect what you’d get in the States because their version is a thick, creamy, borderline pudding consistency. It’s not easy downing a cup of that on its own, which is where the churros come in.

On Friday, we woke up bright and early to see the Alhambra and the Nazaríes Palaces. It was really cold that day, but seeing the outside view of Arabic baths, palaces, and the iconic courtyards with the fountains, made the frostbite I almost experienced well worth it. (Granada is bordered by the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and since it was snowing up there, the cold weather traveled down to the city as well.) And with that, our journey to Andalucia ended, and we embarked on our five-hour journey back home to Madrid.

The group at the Al Alhambra in Granada

Madrid has been really cold the past few days because the northern part of the country experienced two meters of snow, and the cold just loves following me everywhere… I guess it’s not too bad since I forgot to pack any clothes not winter-related. Lucky for me there is a Zara (which is originally from Spain) on just about every street…

The next couple of weeks should be relatively normal. I don’t have any trips planned until March, and midterms are in two weeks. A hard hit of reality, that’s for sure… But once March comes around, I will have so many things to look forward to, like the fact that one of my best friends (Lauren) from SMU is visiting me for five days!

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Andalucia Part One

¡Hola amigos! After a week of little to no Wi-Fi or school work (but a lot of time sight-seeing and freedom) it’s been difficult getting back to the swing of things, like doing homework, going to class, and finishing this blog post. A lot has happened since my last post, so let’s play catch up!

A couple weeks ago I got really sick. Not exactly sure if it was the cold or flu or what, but I had a fever, sore and dry throat, cough, and runny nose… so that was unfortunate. I don’t think I have been that sick since high school. I missed two days of school and the only movement I made was back and forth between my bed and the kitchen twice a day. The most upsetting part was missing the Real Madrid vs. Barcelona soccer game, but I am still in Spain. There’s only so much to complain about when you’re here. My host mom took such good care of me, and for that, I am so grateful. I don’t doubt that I was able to recover as quickly as I did because of her TLC.

I also just started tutoring English to two children, Alba (9) and Marcos (6). They are absolutely precious, and I enjoy spending my time with them every Monday.

But the most exciting part was the school trip we took to Andalucia. We visited Cordoba, Sevilla, and Granada, all cities I had never been to. We took a day trip to Cordoba and saw the cathedral-mosque. I have to say it’s pretty incredible seeing these famous and breathtaking monuments and landmarks that I used to only learn about in textbooks and classroom lectures. The city is small but quaint. Cordoba is so picturesque and has the “I feel like I’m in a completely different time and place” vibe. After some more exploring, we headed back to the buses and were on our way to Sevilla.

The group at the Cathedral of Granada, one of the stops on our trip

Sevilla is a university town, with lots of international students studying abroad there. While we were there, the city was experiencing a trash strike. The trash collectors were refusing to pick up any trash until their wages were raised. So there were overflowing trash piles throughout the streets. Luckily it didn’t really affect our stay there.

The next day we went on a guided tour. We saw the Cathedral of Sevilla, the largest cathedral in Europe and the Royal Alcazars, which is the oldest royal palace still used. Afterward we had a full-course meal at el Restaurante Robles Placentines. We tried many typical dishes from Andalucia and Spain in general, like ensalada rusa (similar to potato salad), salmorejo (similar to gazpacho, or a cold, less creamy yet tasty version of tomato soup), calamari and fish, and some kind of meat that I don’t recall… and of course, potatoes! Food tends to make me really tired, especially in Spain where siestas are encouraged, so after a nice walk home, I took a three-hour nap to prepare myself for the flamenco show later that night.

Although I’ve been to a flamenco show before, I enjoyed it just as much as the first time because much of the dance is improvised so you’re never watching the same show twice. The styles can differ province to province too. Three are three parts to flamenco: el cantador (the singer), the guitar player, and the bailadores (female and male dancer). The closest type of dance I can compare flamenco to is a much more passionate version of tap-dancing. It may sound strange, but it’s impressive.

For dinner, we had pizza. (It sounds random, but Spain has surprisingly good pizza wherever I go. There a number of pizza places in Madrid that are open 24 hours, cheap, and you take them to go. I love how the crust isn’t too thick, and I love the variety in toppings available. When in doubt, pizza is always a good idea. Anyway, back to the trip…)

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“So much to do, so much to see…”

Another day, and another week has gone by in Spain. All I can think about is how nervous and worried I felt during my last days back at home because I thought I was going to get so homesick. Although I miss my friends and family back at home, I am absolutely in love with this country. If there were one thing I could recommend anyone, it would be to study abroad. Plan years in advance to make sure you have room in your undergraduate years to experience what I am doing. There really is nothing else that can compare.

As easily as I’ve adjusted to this wonderful country, there have been a few things I had to get used to (though I’m not complaining!):

  • Water and electricity are a luxury, especially now that Spain is facing a financial crisis. It’s made me more aware of turning off the lights as soon as I leave the room and taking shorter showers.
  •  I’ve become accustomed to greeting or saying goodbye to anyone, whether they’re people I know or have just met, with kisses on each cheek; which I don’t mind at all because it makes me feel pretty European, if you ask me.
  • I walk a lot. Again, something I can appreciate since that’s my only form of exercise while I’m here. I take the metro whenever I’m alone because I still don’t really know my way around the streets. But what ends up happening is that I step outside from one of the many metro exits, completely disoriented, and I’ll end up walking down many blocks, lost, and not really realizing that I’ve been walking in the wrong direction the entire time. By then, I’ve already reached another metro station so I just hop on one and explore some more. It’s definitely not the most efficient way to get around, but either way, I’m seeing more of the city and getting exercise at the same time! I just try to look confident…. even though I have no idea where I am. I definitely miss the grid road system. Here, the roads intersect in every which way, so it’s much more difficult. AT THE VERY LEAST, I have the metro system on lock so as long as I’m on a busy street, it doesn’t matter where I am; I can just take the subway back home. The metro = my safety net.
  • I eat less here; Spaniards aren’t really big on snacking or munching in between meals (tapas all the way). No one really eats huge portions like I do. While I do get my daily dosage of fruits and vegetables (thank you, host momma), the amount of carbs they consume here is ridiculous. I’m talking bread AND some form of potato during every meal. Whenever I go out, they always serve potato chips if we’re just ordering drinks – and sometimes olives. Or, they always serve bread if we’re eating a meal. A popular Spanish dish is tortilla, but it’s not what you use to wrap and make tacos. It’s like a hybrid of an omelet and quiche, made with eggs and… POTATO.

The French Garden

On Friday, we took a day trip to El Escorial, where the Kings of Spain used to live. It was about an hour drive north from Madrid. It was chilly (never take central heating for granted), but the landscape, views, and architecture were beautiful. I saw paintings, murals, the basilica, garden, library, and the pantheon of the kings and royal family (a chamber room containing their remains). Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos while we were inside…so I guess you’ll just have to visit Spain and see for yourself!

This past week has pretty much been a transition week. Classes have started, as the course work piles up, the nights spent going out will slowly decline. We SMU-in-Spain students have also spent a lot of time planning, scheduling, and booking trips within and outside of Spain. I won’t reveal where I plan to go until it happens, but all I can say is I’m so excited! So many “first times” are happening or going to happen this year, and January isn’t even over yet. We don’t have any trips planned for the upcoming weeks so I hope to become much better familiarized with and take advantage of Madrid… my new home. Crazy, isn’t it?

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Una experiencia Toledana

This past Wednesday through Friday was orientation and our group trip to Toledo. Due to jetlag and my late night arrival to Madrid, I woke up at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday “morning” and couldn’t fall back asleep. Needless to say, I didn’t have to worry about being late to meet everyone at 9 a.m. My host mom (whom I adore…it’s official) walked me to the foundation, where I’ll be going to every day for class, and HALLELUJAH I am only a five-minute walk away from school. It’s like the program knew I was directionally challenged and housed me in the most perfect location for me.

There, I met the rest of the SMU-in-Spain students, and we all said our goodbyes to our host families. We also met our SMU-in-Spain coordinators and were given a lot of information regarding our host families, courses we were enrolled in this semester, and other details about transportation, ID cards, cell phones, etc. We toured the foundation, and by noon, we boarded a charter bus and were on our way to Toledo.

Stephanie and other SMU students in Toledo

We spent most of the day following a tour guide and also exploring the city ourselves. The city is so special because it has been able to preserve much of its culture and history. Since King Felipe II moved the capital of Spain to Madrid, Toledo, which was once the center of religion and culture, was pretty much abandoned. The very narrow streets and uneven cobblestone roads remain, and you definitely feel like you’re in a completely different era – well, except for the occasional chain store like McDonald’s and Zara.

On Thursday, we had an hourlong class over the history of Toledo, followed by a guided visit of several landmarks – aka cue more breathtaking architecture. Note: Toledo was once the center of religion, where Muslims, Christians, and Jews could peacefully live together, which explains the mixture of different architectural styles.

Although we did a lot of sightseeing, I’m glad the program gave us plenty of time to explore the city at night (and take naps during the day). Friday morning, we took one short trip to the top of Toledo to get a panoramic view of the city before saying goodbye.

 BUT THAT’S NOT ALL.

After arriving back from Madrid, we took a short trip to the center of Madrid and also learned how to navigate the metro system. It’s actually not that difficult to use, but we’ll see. I expect to get lost a couple of times, but I hope to eventually get the hang of it.

Anyway, I better learn my way using the metro because there are so many things to do and see. Here are just a few on my list:

-Cirque du Soleil | March 1-31.

-Real-Madrid vs. Barcelona fútbol game | March 3rd.

-Lion King on Broadway | now-until May 5.

-Easter Break | April 22-29.

-El Rastro (flea market) | every Sunday.

-Mercados (imagine a very elaborate Central Market with any type of food you can imagine.)

-Shopping districts in Gran Via, Sol, y Chueca.

I feel like I have to pinch myself because I still can’t believe I’m here. I love the siestas (naptime), nightlife, food and tapas, and people. The Spaniards are a little behind on music (Gangnam Style is huge here…), but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to face, haha. I also can’t believe I start classes on Monday- talk about a reality check.

I really shouldn’t complain though because I only have two classes each Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. It hasn’t even been a week, and my only worry is that I won’t have enough time to see all of Madrid since the program includes a lot of weekends spent traveling to different provinces in Spain. Have I mentioned how lucky I am to be here?

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“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place…”

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love, but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.”

After hours and hours of delay to due maintenance issues and repairs  to the plane, I have finally arrived in Madrid! I didn’t have too much trouble navigating my way through the London and Madrid airport, but I did feel slightly embarrassed trying to talk to an employee through thick glass at the Madrid airport because I wasn’t sure if this unlabeled “entrance-only” passage was going to take me through passport checks. Besides that confusion, everything went smoothly. If it’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s better to ask questions than try to figure it out yourself… especially if you’re in a foreign country.

After picking up my luggage, I took a taxi into the heart of the city, where my new home is located. I met my house mom, Loles, and she guided me to my room. I started to unpack while she prepared dinner for me. She’s genuinely sweet, and I can tell she loves housing students – she’s been doing it for twenty years. I was pleasantly surprised with the living situation. I have my own bedroom, bathroom, and living room where I can also study.

It’s barely 11 p.m., but I’m ready for bed. I have to wake up early to be at the foundation at 9 a.m. where the other SMU-in-Spain students are meeting together to head to the city of Toledo.

 Here’s what the rest of January looks like so far:

Jan. 9-11

Jan. 14

Jan.18

Orientation in Toledo

First Day of Class

Guided visit to Madrid

Field trip to Segovia

Overall, I’m relieved everything worked out and that I arrived safely to my new home for the next four months. It still seems surreal; I wouldn’t be surprised if I woke up the next morning still surprised to find myself halfway around the world. Goodnight from Madrid!

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The adventure begins…

What better way to start 2013 than a semester in Spain? I can’t believe I leave in just fourteen hours to embark on what I know will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Whenever the topic of me studying abroad came up, I found myself facing the “Are you excited?” question pretty often. And believe me, I am so excited – I have wanted to study abroad since high school, but I’m definitely feeling a number of other emotions, especially now that it is actually happening. I’m nervous… worried about getting homesick… and already miss my family and friends.

As someone who has never truly left home (SMU is about thirty minutes away), I will be the little bird leaving the nest for the first time in her life. I will be on my own, but I know that this experience will teach me (forcefully, at times) so much, much more than I could have learned back at home.

A side project I hope to maintain is to keep a journal and write about my day… in Spanish. I think it’s a good idea since it’ll sharpen my Spanish writing skills. Luckily I brought my Spanish-English dictionary. I have a feeling I’ll be using it a lot more than I thought for the first couple of weeks.

I have my visa. My bags are packed. I’ve said my “see you soon” (not goodbye). Ready or not, Spain, here I come!

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