Olivia Abroad

Olivia is a senior Hunt Scholar majoring in Film and Media Arts, English and Spanish. She studied abroad with SMU-in-Paris and SMU-in-Oxford during summer 2012, followed by a fall semester in Madrid with the SMU-in-Spain program. Her love for travel took her abroad again in the summer of 2013, during which she worked in London for three months. As she prepares to graduate, Olivia is pursuing academic and employment opportunities abroad.

El Tertuliano

Vengan, vengan todos! Hace demasiado frio!!

Our profesora, Marta Beriso Lopez, herded us into her countryside home, an hour and a half outside of Madrid. The five students in our art history class were joining her and her mother for a special tradition called el tertuliano.

El tertuliano, as defined by the Collins online dictionary, normally refers to a radio or talk show host who chats about celebrity gossip and the like. However, it can also mean “member of a social gathering.”

What the online dictionaries don’t explain is the Spanish tradition of the tertuliano, which I was fortunate enough to experience during my semester abroad in Spain.

A common tradition during holidays or weekends, the tertuliano is essentially an all-day feast. We started with tea, followed by bread, a Spanish salad (which varies in content but is always dressed in delicious Spanish olive oil) and then the pièce de résistance: el cochinillo asado, or roast suckling pig.

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Now, this isn’t a dish you cook at home. This is the local butcher delivering a roasted baby pig on a pan, flattened because all its insides have been removed, crispy and ready to eat. The whole pig is there – head, feet, and even the cute little curlicue tail. As you might imagine, an American could be easily overwhelmed.

But I have to say… it was delicious. (For more information about the history of the cochinillo asado tradition, check out this article)

However, in a tertuliano, the conversation is just as important as the food. The six or so people joining in the meal will sit around a large table and talk all day as the feast goes on. But this is not just small talk – for lack of a better term, I would call this “big talk”: talk about the things that American culture generally deems impolite conversation. Religion, politics, culture, controversial current events – they’re all on the menu. And I loved it.

Because the day is spent discussing and debating these issues, it is important to think carefully about whom to invite to this event. It is important to invite those whose opinions you respect; not necessarily those whose opinions you agree with, but those you respect. Ideally, as Marta explained to me, the group should reach outside your circle of best friends to those you see less often, but whom you find particularly interesting. And, of course, who are open-minded in their debates. (After all, one jerk at your tertuliano can really ruin the whole thing.)

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Around Marta’s dining room table, we discussed everything: how gay marriage had been legal in Spain since 2005; how America trapped its students in debt through the high price of a university education; how the Spanish political system was broken, and the various ways it could be fixed. We each asserted our views on the constant protests in Madrid, with the majority of us American students viewing them as counterproductive, while Marta and her mother believed they were justified acts of rebellion. We discussed the current Spanish religious culture (or lack thereof) and the constant public displays of affection in Spain, both of which we believed to be cultural results of Franco’s dictatorship. We talked about the tradition of botellana, in which the young people congregate in parks and public spaces in Madrid to drink red wine mixed with Coca-Cola before going to clubs. We debated cultural notions of work-life balance; as I recall Marta lamenting, “Aquí, trabajamos para vivir; en los Estados Unidos, vosotros vivéis para trabajar.” (“Here, we work so we can live; in the U.S., you all live to work.”)

Those five or six hours of conversation were some of the most thought-provoking, exciting and funny times I’ve had in my life, much less my semester abroad. To me, el tertuliano truly epitomizes what I love about Europe, and Spain in particular: the emphasis on food, friends and real conversation. Furthermore, the tertuliano exemplifies the way that the Spanish value their time. In Spain, to spend an entire day eating and debating with friends is a day well spent. This is not to say that this wouldn’t be a day well spent in the States – but more likely, Americans would run errands and get work done during the day, and squeeze good food and conversation into a dinner no longer than two hours. The Spanish take their time; as my madre would say, ¿Qué es esa necesidad de tener prisa? Vas a estar al final de tu vida, sin saberlo. (What is this need to rush? You’re going to get to the end of your life and not even know it). I realized that there really is no need. I learned a lot from that mentality.

So, I encourage you to try having your own tertuliano of sorts. Which five or six interesting, open-minded friends would you invite? Which topics would you want to discuss? What would you cook? Though I doubt you could find cochinillo asado this side of the Atlantic, I’m sure you could find an equally exciting dish that would start the conversation off just right.

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5 Great Resources for Your Weekend Trips

Studying abroad, whether for a summer or a semester, will most likely involve a variety of weekend trips. Some of these trips may allow three days to explore a city, and some may span only an afternoon. Here are some resources to find what you need to know in order to have the best time during your visits!

1. The New York Times’ 36-Hours-In Series
The New York Times has a “36-Hours-In” column series that has become so popular, it’s hard to find a city it doesn’t cover. The articles are concise and varied, generally representing cultural experiences, such as famous museums or historical sites, great restaurants for varying budgets, and local bars and music scenes. In addition to reading about cities you already plan to visit, this is a great resource to see what lesser-known cities could offer, or for aiding you in deciding between cities to visit. If you enjoy it as much as I do, you can also invest in its charming hardcover editions.

2. Timeout
Timeout’s online city guides cover fewer cities than The New York Times’ series, but offer a more in-depth look at the ones they do cover. Timeout is also a published magazine, and its writing style is geared toward the young and the fun. Its website features “Top 10″-type lists, ranging from museums to bars to vintage shops, coverage of exciting events happening in the near future, restaurant reviews and summaries of different areas of many cities. Once you’ve decided on a city and perused the short overview offered by the NYT, Timeout is the place to go for a more comprehensive review. Timeout also has free apps for many of its cities, which can be extremely helpful during your visit!

3. Lonely Planet
Lonely Planet is the go-to travel book for most experienced travelers. Its website is great, but can be overwhelming if you’re just learning about a city. Once you’ve decided on a city and have done a bit of research, Lonely Planet is a good resource for reading about hotels, hostels, tours and trip offers, in addition to the standard “best of” lists. Buying a Lonely Planet guide to whatever region of the world you’re in would also be a smart move, though the website naturally tends to be more up-to-date. Lonely Planet has a free app as well.

4. Trip Advisor
This is a great resource for the logistics of your trip. The Trip Advisor community reviews hotels, restaurants and destinations, so you can get a feel for how well liked a place is from its visitors. Trip Advisor has a free general app and offline city guide apps, which are great because you won’t always have Wifi when you need tips.

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Rooftop view of Ljubljana, Slovenia at sunset – one of my favorite secret spots!

5. The Secret Guides
If you’re looking to go off the beaten track, this is the way to go. This tends to be best for a city you’ve visited before, or the city where you’re studying for the summer or semester. Secret guides have become increasingly popular as local bloggers who know the best underground events and locations have taken to the web. Some good examples can be found here and here. Simple trick – just Google “secret example city,” and see what you find. If not a blog dedicated entirely to the secrets of the city in question, you should at least get a list or two of great hidden places.

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5 Tips for a Successful Semester Abroad

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Students meditating in Christ Church Meadow, Oxford, England

1. Open your mind.

First and foremost, your semester will be defined by your attitude. The sooner you dismiss the comfortable notion that you know everything, the easier your transition will be. Be excited by the fact that you don’t know anything about the city you’re in – that’s the point! You are there to challenge your preconceived notions of the way things ‘have to be’. However, it is entirely possible, and often easier and more comfortable, to isolate yourself from the culture around you. Your challenge is to immerse yourself instead.

2. Prepare.

The first step to throwing yourself into a city is to learn about it. Do your research; buy a map. Learn the names of the different neighborhoods, and what they’re known for. After you’ve acquainted yourself with the basics, make a master list of what you want to accomplish. Make sure to include both things you’ve never done before and things you’d never thought to try. Mine included classes, such as one for traditional Spanish cooking; experiences, such as going to a protest and a flamenco show; and goals, like “one museum exhibit per week,” or “explore every district of Madrid.” Invest in a guidebook for walks of your city and take afternoon strolls with a friend. Don’t know anyone? Throw on a set of headphones and you’ll fit right in.

3. Engage.

The most important advice I can give you: it is your job to be proactive. Abroad programs are not structured to hold your hand. If you want to grow as a person and enjoy your time abroad in a meaningful way, engage with the community you’re in. So the question remains: how? Join a recreational sports team at a local gym. Find a cause and volunteer. Participate in a religious youth group. Search out local jazz bars and soak up the noise. Instead of doing homework in your room, try a different café every week. Pick up local newspapers – there are always listings of museum exhibits, concerts, films, and so many other events, many of which are free or offer student discounts. Also, check out online resources – there are dozens of great websites and apps for exploring cities! If you have a hobby you already love, find a way to adapt it to your new environment. For example, my hobby was analogue (film) photography. A company called Lomography sells a wide variety of cameras and film, and I had been ordering online from them for a while, since they didn’t have a store in Dallas. Luckily for me, Madrid happened to have two Lomography locations. I tested out my Spanish by asking questions at the stores, getting my film developed and going on the photography tours of Madrid that they offered each month. On these tours, I made Spanish friends and explored parts of the city that were off the map. These were some of my favorite experiences abroad.

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Taken with the Spinner 360 camera in San Sebastian, Spain. (click for full size photo)

4. Take note.

Write about your experiences in a blog, an old-fashioned diary, or a combination of both. However, I encourage you to have some form of private reflection. While it’s great to put photos up online and let everyone live vicariously through your adventures, spending hours a day (even for one day) on social media is a waste of opportunity, and for the most part discourages you from really reflecting. Facebook and Instagram are the twin homes of the humble brag, and while you will have a lot to brag about, being abroad is about more than your friends clicking ‘like’ on your Valencia-filtered snapshot. Living abroad will and should challenge you through loneliness, homesickness, and culture shock. Keeping a journal will help you learn from, rather than suffer through, these challenges. Don’t ignore your difficult days – those are what you’re there for. You will return a more confident, worldly and mature person if you learn how to overcome these challenges.

5. Bring it back.

At some point, you will have to come home. Most students feel mixed emotions about returning – the sigh of relief at the restoration of the familiar, and yet the oddly strong nostalgia for a chapter of life that had just begun. The lesson here: bring your abroad attitude home. Why not treat your hometown or the city where you go to school like your favorite city abroad? The attitude I adopted while in Madrid gave me a whole new perspective on Dallas, a city in which I’ve lived my whole life. Realize that no matter where you are, there is always something to explore; fall in love with learning. Once you ignite that desire, you’ll realize that you don’t have to be far away to experience something new.

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