Due to my overwhelming amount of fan mail (OK, one post on my Facebook wall), I have decided once again to update the blog. Much has happened since we’ve last spoken. In fact, I’ve traveled to the West (Barcelona) and down South (Cordoba, Sevilla and Granada) and also had some great adventures in and around Madrid.

Since my last post I still feel about the same regarding life as a madrileno (citizen of Madrid). I have had nothing but great experiences in all parts of the city.

If you want to travel and have the big-city experience, I highly suggest coming to Madrid because for its size, it is incredibly safe. After a month, only one student out of our entire group of 30 has been pick-pocketed, not bad in my opinion. I heard horror stories from other big cities (Buenos Aires, New York, etc.) and after a month one lost wallet seems pretty minimal.

I’ve been traveling all over the city helping students with their English (ages 4-15) and it’s been a fantastic way to get involved with the culture and improve my understanding of the connection between English and Spanish. Aside from my 10-year-old students asking about my love life, everything has gone amazing.

Classes? We don’t need no stinking classes! All right, just kidding. Despite what they say, you actually do have to take classes when you study abroad. Although I’m only taking one Spanish class, three of my four classes are conducted in Spanish, and it’s been a great way to improve my ability to communicate. I’ve recently gotten over a big hump, linguistically speaking, and I’m now starting to understand word-for-word most everything I hear. (Exciting, right?)

Also, my speaking is getting much smoother, and I’m actually able to carry on a conversation, as opposed to guessing and making completely unrelated comments when I talk to people. However, the biggest thing is confidence. When you have to speak in order to survive, you leave behind fear and find yourself speaking in ways that you never thought imaginable. Basically, if you really want to learn a foreign language: Study abroad! (You’re welcome, SMU.)

Two weeks ago, myself and three friends decided to take a weekend trip to Barcelona. DSC00116.JPGIf you go to Barcelona, here is my advice: During the day see Gaudi, and during the night get rowdy. For the former, Antoni Gaudi is a surrealist architect whose style permeates and gives character to the whole city. Pictured is la Sagrada Familia (The Sacred Family), his in-progress masterpiece has been under construction since 1882 and will not be completed for another 60 years.

As opposed to Madrid, Barcelona is a little more laid back. It is more of the cultural and artistic center, while Madrid is the industrial and commercial center. And for the latter, the nightlife in Barcelona is amazing, but TEN CUIDADO (be careful) because Barcelona can get dangerous at night.

Also, the first language of Barcelona is Catalan, which is basically the lovechild of French and Spanish. However, most everyone speaks Spanish, but they talk to each other in Catalan. Overall, if you’re studying abroad to learn a language I would not suggest Barcelona, but it is a must-see if you are coming to Spain.

Immediately following my adventures in Barcelona, we took a 3-day trip to Andalucia, the southernmost autonomous community (state) in Spain. First, some background information: in the early 8th century the Moors peacefully invaded the Iberian Peninsula, starting from Northern Africa and working their way north. This was more of a cultural invasion than anything else.

Because of this pattern, the Arabs were well established in southern Spain. It’s also important to note that during this invasion they did not destroy Judeo-Christian places of worship or art. A direct contrast to the Christians, who spent nearly 800 years in a bloody holy war to reclaim Iberia and purge all other religions (including Judaism), destroying countless mosques and priceless pieces of art in the process. I am not trying to hate, it’s just history, folks; look it up.

DSC00182.JPGDespite the destruction during the Reconquest, much of the Muslim influence remains in Andalucia, including the pictured La Mezquita in Cordoba. This former mosque turned cathedral is filled with countless arches and biblical depictions. Although the Christians spared most of this mosque, according to Islam it might be worse to fill it with depictions of Jesus and other biblical figures because it is forbidden to artistically represent a person or animal in a mosque because only Allah has the power to create man. All right, on to Sevilla…

DSC00260.JPGSevilla was tons of fun. A whole lot of Americans. It strangely felt like home. After two nights in Sevilla we moved on to Granada, the former capital of the Moors. This city had an unmistakable and intoxicating Arabic vibe with bazaars filling the narrow back alleys.

In the picture are some of my friends, my professor (Miriam) and myself having tea and hookah at an Arabic tea room. As you can see, Freddy bought a torero (bullfighter) hat and proceeded to wear it the entire time we were in Granada, drawing a lot of attention on the street. I think we blended in pretty well…

Manzanares El Real
After returning from Andalucia, I had a week of class. For our Spanish Civilization class (mandatory for all students), we have a project in which we compare a nearby pueblo (town) to a district in Madrid.

Yesterday, my group of 3 (Katia, Lele and myself) visited our pueblo, Manzares El Real, which is best known for its castilla (castle, for my readers with no common sense) which was featured in the movie El Cid.DSC00295.JPGThe trip took 45 minutes by bus (which only cost 3 euros), and for our project we had to get information from the town hall and interview at least ten of the townspeople- probably my favorite thing I’ve done so far in Spain.

Personally, I interviewed 3 people and it was great practice for my Spanish, and I was never turned down for an interview. In the interview that we prepared, we asked everything from where their family is to what they think of Americans. Overall, the community was very conservative and tranquil; most people live there because of the beautiful countryside.

DSC00292.JPGSurprisingly, they had a very positive view of American people but some strong views about the government. Some said that our government was too intrusive, while others were appalled that Americans are generally forced to work until they are at least 65 years old (no one in Spain works after they turn 60). Over a cup of coffee, I interviewed a man named Manin, who had owned Cafeteria Manin for 19 years. Interestingly, he mirrored the sentiment of many Americans when he stated that he liked Obama and didn’t like George W. Bush.

I will keep you posted with new cultural intricacies as the project continues. Well, now that my faithful readers (family?) are up to date, I think I might do some reading and call it a night. Hasta la proxima vez!