March 8 in Barcelona

International Day of Women     Last weekend I went to Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia. While there I visited Park Güell, La Sagrada Familia, Montjüic, and other locations around the city. Barcelona is such a huge city that it’s impossible to see everything in one weekend, but that didn’t stop me from walking more than 30 miles in the 2.5 days that I was there trying to see as much as I could.

We visited Barcelona during an exciting time, as March 8 was the International Day of Women. Last year, Spain staged strikes where more than 5 million people participated, and the movement continues this year with marches scheduled all across the country to demonstrate support for gender equality and an end to gender-based violence. The march in Barcelona was one of the biggest of the country. Even after the marche ended, the city was sprinkled with posters and graffiti reminding citizens that the fight for gender equality will continue even after March 8. I’m so grateful that I was in Barcelona to witness this tremendous feminist gathering, and I’m even more grateful that I have had the opportunity to travel to Spain where this movement began. The friends I have made here inspire me with their feminism and the work they do to make the world a more tolerant, vibrant place to live. The students at the University of Alicante are doing really amazing, incredible work. Just last week I attended a conference focused on feminism and its role in the world of literature and translation. One of my friends presented about her own thesis regarding fairytales reimagined by women. The University of Alicante offers so many interesting seminars, presenters, and conferences that I am constantly reaffirmed that my decision to study abroad was the right one because I am learning so much here that I can’t wait to bring with me back to Oklahoma.

A Weekend in Granada

In Front of Alhambra     Last weekend I took a trip to Granada for a weekend, and words cannot describe how happy I am to have visited this charming city full of history. We always talk about Granada and the Alhambra in our Spanish classes, so it was especially rewarding to be able to visit the city myself. The highlight of the trip for me was not actually visiting the Alhambra itself (although it was spectacular) but rather the picnic I enjoyed with friends on top the San Nicolás lookout point. We visited the city’s market to buy fresh fruit, bread, and cheese, and then took a short trek up the old city of Albaicín where we sat and ate lunch with the Alhambra and Sierra Nevada mountain range in the background. Later that night, we went on a guided tour of the city where we enjoyed the sunset from yet another lookout point in the city. Granada with its snow-capped mountains is so completely different from Oklahoma, so the views of the city kept taking my breath away.Portico

On Sunday, we went on a guided tour of the Alhambra, and even after three hours, we still didn’t get to see all of its gardens and palaces. It is a place that I know I want to return to in the future because one visit is not enough to take in all that it has to offer. I was enchanted by the Arabic calligraphy, the careful architecture of the palace, and the combination of Islamic and Christian history.

More adventures await me soon! I have a weekend trip planned to Barcelona that’s just around the corner.

Buenos Días, Alicante!

Barrio Arabe
Hello from sunny Alicante! I have been in Spain for three weeks now, but there are still days that I wake up and forget that I’m here—until I hear the sounds of Spanish from the streets below my window and remember that my dream of studying abroad is actually happening.

It’s been a roller coaster of a ride so far, between juggling classes, navigating the city, and meeting new friends, but it’s also been thrilling. I’m living with a host family and another exchange student from Japan. I love our dinners together where we talk about differences between our countries and Spain. In fact, meeting other international students has been one of the highlights of the trip so far. I have made friends from Montreal to Algiers, as well as several from right here in Alicante.IMG_5453

I’m thoroughly enjoying my classes at the University of Alicante. I am taking two linguistics classes, an Arabic class, and a translation class, so my language-loving heart is just loving it here. Plus, the gorgeous weather, stunning views, and Mediterranean architecture certainly makes each and every day here an exciting, new adventure.

I am so fortunate to call this city home for the next five or so months, and I can’t wait for all the adventures that lie ahead.

 

 

Spain: Saying Goodbye

Though my last two posts have focused on exciting side-trips, most of my time in Spain was spent in class. The combination of those classes and the necessity of using Spanish in most situations caused my Spanish abilities, and my confidence in them, to improve a lot, which was my primary goal for the summer. Outside of Spanish, I was also able to learn an extraordinary amount about art history, Spanish history, and literature. I’ve been able to go to art museums and truly analyze the paintings, visit monuments and understand their significance, and recognize Spanish literature and analyze the contents within. After two months of intensive coursework and restless exploration of all that Alcalá and Madrid have to offer, I’m exhausted. I’m going to miss Spain, and all of the excitement I’ve had here, but I’m also ready to go home to rest and reflect before the fall semester begins. This blog only scratches the surface of my experiences, and I’ve failed to mention many of the ups and almost all of the downs. Without delving too much into minutiae, its not only my Spanish and my knowledge gained in class that have grown on this trip, but also my comfort zone and my self-confidence in stepping outside of it and navigating a foreign country on my own. To conclude, here are some final pictures from my second month in Spain.

Córdoba, Granada y Sevilla

View from the Torre de Oro in Seville

Since I am staying here for two months rather than one, I had a five day break in between the June and July classes. Some other OU students and I used this time to explore more of southern Spain. We spent a day in Córdoba and two days each in Granada and Seville.

 

 

In Córdoba, our first stop was the Mezquita-Catedral. Back during the 8th through 15th centuries, Córdoba was the cultural capital of the Iberian Peninsula. This was the period when the Muslim Caliphate extended through Spain, so the mosque there has a lot of historical and cultural significance. After the reconquista, when the Spanish Catholics reclaimed the peninsula, a cathedral was built in the middle of the mosque, and daily masses have been held there since. We also saw the Córdoba Alcazar (or fortress). The grounds of the fortress were beautiful and there were old Roman and Visigoth mosaics and pottery displayed throughout.

In Granada, we spent out first day visiting the Granada cathedral and an open air market as well as just exploring the city. The next morning, we began the long hike up to the Alhambra, which is widely known as Granada’s most famous monument. Granada was the last province of Spain to be retaken by Ferdinand and Isabella during the reconquista, which ended in 1492. The Alhambra is a large palace and fortress complex where the last Sultan of Granada ruled until it was converted into the Royal Court for Ferdinand and Isabella. Since it is a well-fortified citadel, it is located on a large hill and offers stunning views of the city below. After a long visit there, we got on a bus headed to Seville.

In Seville we did much of the same, touring the Sevilla Alcazar (which was a filming location for Game of Thrones) and the Torre de Oro. We’d also been told that there was a palace in Seville which had been used as one of the filming locations for Naboo in Attack of the Clones. Unfortunately, there are four palaces in Seville, and we had no idea which one was correct nor wifi with which we could find out. Over the course of the weekend, we walked to three of the four palaces only to be met with disappointment. Ultimately on Sunday, we abandoned the search and went to an archeological museum instead. Returning from the museum, I looked down at my map and suggested we walk through a park where there was a plaza called Plaza de España which looked interesting. As we drew closer to the plaza, we realized that we had accidentally ended up in Naboo. I’m not sure if this is because I’m a huge nerd or just because the plaza itself was stunning, but it was one of my favorite places I’d seen all trip.

Speaking of favorites, on Saturday night we went out to see a flamenco show. The association of Spain and flamenco may seem ubiquitous, but the dance form actually only hails from Spain’s southern region, Andalusia, and it is there, especially in the city of Seville, where it continues to be widely popular with dance aficionados, tourists, and locals alike. I’d seen flamenco performed once before as part of a school showcase. This performance was very different as it took place in a crowded bar on a small stage with only a single singer/guitarist as accompanist to the dancer. I was very impressed by the complicated clapping and footwork involved, as well as the strong emotion poured into the singing and the dancer’s movements. I always enjoy watching dance, and have been able to see several performances while here in Spain, but watching such a well performed example of a traditional Spanish dance in its birthplace was a special treat. Enjoy the photos below!

Wanderlust and Nostalgia

Almost exactly one year ago today, I left my beloved Alcalá de Henares and headed home. It was the end of a magnificent and life-altering four month stay, and though I was excited to reunite with family and friends, I was devastated to leave. These seem like very dramatic words, and they are, but it’s difficult for me to avoid bold terms when describing this particular adventure of mine. I had been dreaming of studying abroad in Spain and living with a host family for YEARS before I did it, and when the time finally came to actually get on a plane and go live the dream, I was terrified. It seemed like an insane leap of faith, and I was not at all confident that it would be as awesome as I’d been dreaming it would.

However, faithful readers of the blog (if any exist!) will know that I faced my fears, got on the plane, and lived the dream. And it really was like living a dream – during that semester, I saw incredible places, met incredible people, and created memories that I will forever cherish. It is one of my accomplishments that I’m most proud of. I realize that seems odd – getting to live in Europe and travel the continent for four months in a country that values siestas doesn’t sound particularly difficult. However, in going, I overcame a great deal of personal trepidation and reached way outside of my comfort zone. I crossed the ocean, made friends, took challenging classes during which I debated interesting current events and learned a great deal, all in Spanish, built a relationship with my host family, also in Spanish, made great friends, became a more capable traveler, and got a great deal bolder and more confident.

My time in Spain was a time filled with learning. The joy of the trip was interspersed with mistakes and stress. To say that every moment was enjoyable would be a lie, but to say that every moment was valuable is the complete truth. Studying abroad taught me so much, about the world around me and about myself. I fell in love with the city of Alcalá and the country of Spain, and it all still feels as though it happened yesterday.

Ever since I returned, I’ve felt periodic pangs of missing Alcalá, but this semester has been particularly hard. Many times, I look at the calendar and think, “This time last year, I was roaming the medina in Rabat (Morocco).” “This time last year I was watching the sun set over La Alhambra while I listened to beautiful music and was engulfed in dancing and merriment.” “This time last year I was exploring the Sunday market in Madrid.” I absolutely love my life in Norman, but it’s impossible for me not to miss the grand and glittering adventure that was my semester in Spain.

What all this boils down to is that I’m itching to go back. A large part of me wants to continue to branch out and see more of the world that I haven’t yet, but another large part aches to return to my second home in Spain. I would love to get to hug my host mom, eat tortilla and drink some tinto in Indalo, to paddle across the lake in el Parque Retiro, and to get to revisit all the places that are so close to my heart.

Sadly, my days studying abroad may be over, but there is a silver lining – graduation is coming soon, and once I get a job and start saving, I can begin to save and scheme my way back to Alcalá. If anyone is reading this who hasn’t studied abroad yet, please do me a favor and seriously consider it. Everyone who has studied abroad sings its praises, and they are absolutely telling the truth. Go, explore, learn, and don’t be surprised when you come home and immediately want to go back.

If It Scares You, It Might Be a Good Thing to Try

We are now nearing the close of my first semester back from Spain, and the end is coming alarmingly quickly. Facebook gave me my “year in review” video today, so apparently we are wrapping it up (we still have SEVERAL weeks left in the year, Facebook, but thank you for the reminder). 2016 has been a year for the books, certainly, and it’s hard for me to believe how quickly it passed by.

On the Wednesday of dead week last year, I was in the ER in extreme pain (it ended up being appendicitis. I had an emergency appendectomy, it went poorly, I stayed in the hospital for five days, I had to push back all my finals, and I ended up being in too fragile a state to travel for Christmas like my family had planned. It was not the jolliest Christmas season, but it was memorable). Thank goodness this dead week is going smoother and the pain I’m in is only mental! (Just kidding. Sort of – finals are rough, guys).

After my surgery and my delayed finals, I recuperated at home until pretty much the minute I hopped on my plane to Madrid (the day I boarded the plane was actually the first day I was cleared by the doctor to lift things over 20 pounds again). It was a little bit of a triumph for me – in 30 days, I’d gone from struggling to sit up or walk without extreme pain to starting a life for myself in Spain that I will never forget.

One blessing of having emergency surgery right before I went to Madrid was that it took my mind off the hugeness of the leap that I was about to take in going abroad. Everyone talks about how amazing studying abroad is, and how it’s an experience you’ll never forget, and they are not wrong – going to Spain is quite possibly my favorite thing that I have ever done. As soon as I stepped back onto American soil in April, I was itching to return to Alcalá.

However. What no one talks about (and maybe this is because no one worries quite like I do, but I find that hard to believe) is how scary it is to embark on a journey that long. I have dreamt of studying abroad in Spain for YEARS, but as I got closer to actually doing it, I got more and more terrified. I started to wonder if maybe I didn’t really want to do it, and that it would just be a huge mistake. Many upsetting thoughts like this swirled around in my brain for much of the fall semester.

You already know this, but it was NOT a huge mistake. It was, arguably, my best decision to date. And my experience reminds me of a quote I love – “If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.” I’ve talked about this a bit in a previous blog post, but to me, it merits repeating: just because you are afraid of something does not mean you should not do it.

I wish, before I’d gone abroad, someone had told me that it is very okay to be scared out of your wits about leaving the country for four months, and that this fear is BY NO MEANS an indication that you should not go. This time last year, I was feeling MOSTLY fear and VERY LITTLE actual excitement about going abroad. The dream had seemed so rosy from far away, and up close it seemed so formidable. But I took the leap anyway and I will be eternally grateful that I did.

Now, I find myself getting caught up daydreaming about sipping café con leche and eating delicious pastries while I chatted in cafés with my friends. I miss roaming the streets of Madrid by myself, wandering through the parks, stopping in museums, and browsing any shops that caught my eye. I miss hearing Spanish around me always, and feeling powerful every time I interacted with a stranger and got to use my Spanish in casual conversation. I miss my classes, learning about Spanish history and art and medicine, and having debates about the European Union (all in Spanish, of course) with my wicked smart professors. I REALLY miss the friends I made – some, blessedly, go to OU, and I get to see them from time to time, but many are scattered across the country and we can only text. I miss my host mom and sister, sitting at our little kitchen table and discussing current events and Spanish vs. American culture, or sitting in our living room watching Gran Hermano. I miss all of the trains and busses and metro cars. I miss the weekend trips to new and exciting places, with adventure around every corner. I miss feeling the history in every building I passed and every cobblestone I walked on. I miss the trivia and karaoke nights, the tapas, and the laughter.

I miss quite a few things, but mostly, I am grateful. Grateful for SUCH an incredible experience. Grateful that I attend a university that encourages study abroad as much as it does. Grateful to be a Global Engagement fellow, an opportunity that has added so much richness to my time at OU. Eternally grateful that I did not let my fear win out and that I completed my spring semester at la Universidad de Alcalá. At the end, 4 months didn’t feel nearly long enough.

Part of my heart will always reside in Alcalá de Henares. And I would not have it any other way.

If by any chance someone happens to read this blog who is currently apprehensive about studying abroad, I hope that you will take my words to heart. If it scares you, there is a distinct possibility that it would be an excellent thing to try. Please never let fear talk you out of something incredible.

Academic Life in Spain

If you’re only keeping track of my semester by reading my blog, it may appear to you that I only travel and never do any actual schoolwork! You will be happy to know (at least if you are my parents or an OU professor) that I am in fact taking classes, and that they have provided me with yet another great opportunity to improve my Spanish as well as to learn as much as I can about the local culture. I have been blessed with a wonderful schedule – I have classes from 10:30 to 2 four days a week, with one morning class, a 30 minute break, and then one afternoon class per day. I do walk 20 minutes to get to school every day, but getting to wake up at 9 every day has been spoiling me. I actually wake up earlier on the weekends so that I can travel and explore! I have also had the great fortune to take classes in a variety of areas – I’m taking one on the history of Spanish art, one on the European Union, one on the Muslim legacy of Andalusia (a region in the south of Spain), and one on Spanish for health care professionals. All of my classes are taught by Spanish professors and conducted all in Spanish, which has been amazing practice – when learning a language, once you have enough base knowledge, I think there is nothing more beneficial than simply using it as much as you can. This semester has been fantastic to that end, and my classes are the best part! This semester, I am getting credits for my Spanish minor, and it has been an awesome chance to learn completely different things than I have been in past semesters. I have loved many things about these classes, but my favorite is how applicable the knowledge is. In my art class, we will discuss Spanish painters and their most famous works, and then I will go to different cities and palaces and museums and get to see the works in person. I’ve been to Toledo, the city that served as El Greco’s greatest inspiration. I’ve seen famous works in El Escorial (a Spanish palace) and in the Picasso museum in Barcelona. Best of all, Madrid (which has basically been my backyard for this semester) contains the Museo del Prado, the Museo de la Reina Sofia, and other small museums like the house of Joaquin Sorolla that contain some of the most famous artwork in the world. It is an incredibly cool feeling to spend days learning the life stories of various artists and intensely studying their famous works before getting to see them with my own eyes the next day. Also very rewarding is my class about the Muslim legacy of Andalusia. After taking that class, I now see the Muslim legacy everywhere in Spain – in the architecture, in the clothing, in the food, in the festivals, and even in the words. Nowhere is this legacy more prominent than Andalusian cities like Granada, Córdoba, and Sevilla (which I will visit this coming weekend). In the first two cities, it was amazing to be able to point to an architectural detail and name the century it came from, as well as the group ruling Spain at the time. Everything I visit becomes that much more interesting when I have the historical information to back it up. My class on the EU has been rewarding in a different way; I have always loved discussing international politics and analyzing current events, and every day at the beginning of class, we do just that for roughly half an hour. Then, I get to learn about how the EU, one of the worlds largest and most successful, international organizations, works. It is incredibly interesting, and every day when I leave, I feel like I’ve gained more valuable knowledge about how the world works. (As a terrifying side note, it has been alarming to keep track of the presidential race back home and watch everyone here doing the same. Many Spaniards know just as much about the candidates as we do, and if you think they haven’t noticed Trump, think again. His rise in popularity has not gone unnoticed by the rest of the world – I actually just saw a headline in El País, a popular newspaper in Madrid, talking about him. Cue the shudders). All of my classes have been wonderful, but my medical Spanish class can’t be matched when it comes to giving me new and crazy opportunities. The class actually only met for the first half of the semester – this time was dedicated to learning medical vocabulary and talking about the differences between the private health care system in the US and the dual public-private systems here in Spain. During the second half of the semester, in lieu of going to class, we were each assigned a medical resident to shadow. I have had the great fortune of shadowing a gynecological resident (though here, that really means gynecology-obstetrics). Throughout my time in the hospital, I have met numerous doctors, residents, and nurses, observed patients, and gotten to scrub up and watch two c-sections, one laparoscopic hysterectomy, and one live birth. There has been a great deal of life experience packed into just a few weeks! I knew about the shadowing opportunity coming in, but I had no idea before this program that during my time here I would get to watch several babies take their first breaths (I tear up every time, and my resident tells me you never really get used to the feeling). During my shadowing, I frequently have “someone pinch me” moments – the opportunities I’m getting here are just crazy! Listening to doctors and patients talk has been excellent practice for my Spanish, and getting to observe the Spanish health care system has been an awesome experience. All of this basically boils down to an incredible academic experience here, one that I will never forget. I knew that I would enjoy studying abroad, but I had no idea just how many wonderful opportunities would be handed to me. As classes ramp up toward finals, I am a bit swamped with papers and presentations, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. This semester has taught me a great deal in so many ways, and I will forever be grateful.

When Worlds Collide

It appears I have let an entire month slip by without posting anything. Not to worry – I have still been having adventures and writing them down, but my personal trip journals are far too rambling and verbose for anyone but myself to find them interesting, and I am just now getting to editing it down to something that others might be wiling to look at! (You’re now, I’m sure, wondering how on earth it is possible that I could be more verbose than these posts already suggest. Just trust me – you are actually getting off fairly easily with the length of my blog posts! It could be infinitely worse). Nearly a month ago now, I had the great fortune of a visit from my family (my mother, father, and brother) for an entire week during my brother’s spring break. It was an incredible week – I am quite close with my family, and they have always been my very favorite traveling companions – and it gave me some valuable perspective on just how far I’ve come in my time here. I had not realized just how much I’d adapted to the Spanish culture until my family came, just as unfamiliar with it as I was on day one, and I got to teach it to them. After living here for several months, it now seems perfectly normal to me that, when crossing the street, you don’t wait for the cars to pass, but rather walk in front of them – pedestrians truly have the right of way here, and the cars will stop for you, even if it seems like they won’t. I am no longer phased by the fact that the waitstaff in restaurants are in no hurry to get you out the door, and can in fact be incredibly difficult to track down if you’re looking to pay and leave. My family was shocked that Alcalá wasn’t more full of life by 10 AM, but for the past few months, the reality of life has been that waking up before 9 is “madrugando” (rising incredibly early), and that the Spaniards like to take their mornings slowly. These are but a few examples of how I’ve grown accustomed to the pace of life here – there are many. On the whole, it took my family visiting to remind me that, as comfortable as Spain now feels to me, I am living in a significantly different way this semester than I have in the past. And I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to do so. For a few months, I have been able to live as a Spaniard, eating their food, keeping their schedule, and seeing their sights. At first, it was a little uncomfortable (it was a lot to adapt to, and as you’ll recall, I am not always the biggest lover of change) but now it is hard for me to believe that I have only been here for just over three months. Another great thing about my family being here was getting the chance to translate for them – mainly in sales and restaurant interactions. Being able to converse in both English and Spanish begins to feel somewhat like a super power when you are the force uniting two groups with no common language and allowing them to communicate. Of everything I have learned in school, Spanish may be what I am most grateful for. It has literally opened up new parts of the world for me, and that amazes me. I often heard fellow students in high school complain that what they were learning would not help them in the real world. I am here to tell you – without the Spanish that I started learning in high school, the real world of Spain would have been exponentially more difficult to navigate. Language utilization and cultural realizations aside, my family’s visit gave the the fantastic opportunity to show them around my home city here, as well as several other cities I visited. We explored Alcalá, Madrid, Toledo, and Barcelona, and all were incredible. Though I repeated cities, I had entirely new experiences (exploring the Prado, touring all of Gaudí’s magnificent architectural treasures, climbing one of the towers of La Sagrada Familia, wandering through the Olympic venues of Barcelona, and just getting to know all of the cities better) and I had a lovely time. Showing off Spain is the best, traveling with my family is the best, and it was a fantastic week.