Monday, December 10, 2012

Se Acaba la Aventura/The Adventure Ends

One week from today I leave for the United States. After 3 months and 3 weeks, I finally will be returning home. It has been a wonderful ride, and now that I have reached the point where it is about to end, I'll admit that I will miss it here. I came to the realization that, after Portland and Boston, Spain is my next home. I have spent more time here than I have in any other place in the US. The rest of this post will be my attempt to cover all the aspects of Spain that I will miss when I go back home.

I will miss the food here. Some of my fellow preshquitos probably won't agree with me, but I have really enjoyed the food I've had with my host family. The Spanish diet consists mainly of meat and bread. That's what I always imagined my banquet in heaven would have. I think when we first arrived here the PRESHCO program directors purposely served us really scary things so that when we got to our host family's house we would be more open to the slightly different foods they have. My favorite food here is tortilla de patata aka tortilla española. It's a kind of tort thing that is made up of potatoes and eggs and a little bit of onion. I am going to try to make it when I get home. My second thing I've had here is this chicken with onion sauce that my host mother makes. Yum. I will also miss having a huge pig leg just sitting in the kitchen. Some nights I would walk into the kitchen and see my host father Rafa just slicing pieces of ham off for us to have with whatever was our main dish. We'd always have a side plate filled with ham and cheese. I would eat so much of that.
The best nutella crepe ever

The desserts here are to die for. I recently found out that our hotel in Madrid the night before we leave won't be anywhere near the heart of the city, where both my napolitana and crepe stores are located. So it would seem that I will not get my final nutella crepe, and chocolate napolitana. My heart is broken. I will just have to try to make myself a nutella crepe when I get home. I love how there are lots of nutella desserts here. Ice cream toppings that taste like nutella, candy bars that taste like nutella, etc. The US needs to get on that, seriously. Sigh. I am going to miss the dulces.

I will be sorry to leave my host family. I have enjoyed talking with them during lunches and dinners. My host father Rafa is funny, and they are both always really great about answering any questions I may have about anything. I don't have a photo of my host father still. Hopefully I remember to take one before leaving. That'd be really sad if I didn't remember to do that. Everyone in the family is so nice. My host mother and father, my host sisters Mery and Ara, their husbands Niklas and Joaquin, and all the kids, Belen, Nesta, And Zoila. It's just been so great. And Ara's little baby, Joaquinillo is too cute for words. I got to hold him one time, and it was awesome. I love holding babies. Until they cry. Then I can give them back to their parents. I'm so grateful to have had this wonderful family, because after hearing some of the horror stories my fellow preshquitos have told, I know that it could have been very different.

I am going to miss how life in Spain is much more relaxed than in the US. Both with regard to education and just normal day to day business. In stores the workers aren't frantically running around, snapping at you for your order. You can sit in a cafe for hours, and they will only come up to you asking if you want anything once, right after you sit down. They won't keep pestering you, and they won't ever ask you to leave. They don't have places to get coffee to go, because nobody is ever in such a hurry that they don't have time to sit down. Nobody will ever knock you over in the street because they're in such a rush to get to wherever it is they are going. My classes have not been demanding, even the course where I'm directly enrolled in the University. Going back to Wellesley is going to be a bit of a shock, where the work is actually demanding.

My Sevillanas dance class has been probably my favorite activity here in Spain. I don't know why, but I love it so much. This coming Friday we have our final performance. Hopefully I don't forget it all. I need to remember to ask one of my friends to record me and my partner dancing. I just hope we don't mess up during the final performance. My mom is going to throw a Spanish themed New Year's party, and she wants me to teach everyone how to dance the Sevillana. That should be a lot of fun. I finally figured out how to make my hands look good while I dance. Usually I can get the feet to look right, but my hands always look out of place. This time though, I think I've got it.

Finally, I will miss having to speak Spanish a lot. I asked my host parents last night at dinner if my Spanish has improved, and they said yes, so I was really thrilled to hear that. Maybe my choice to go to Spain over the UK was the right decision. I love speaking in Spanish. I didn't get to do it as much as I would have liked, but every meal with my host parents was completely in Spanish. I hope that when I go back to the US that I find enough opportunities to keep speaking the language. I'm not fluent, and I probably never will be, but I can make my way around without a translator, so that's not bad.
My favorite at Cafe y Te, a Bora Bora

So marks the end of a wonderful 4 month adventure. I will have to try to find a way to return. The optimistic person in me insists that I will end up coming back some day. Querido España, aunque no soy de aquí, todavía me aceptaste como tu propia hija, y por eso estoy agradecida. Te extrañaré con toda la fuerza de mi corazón, pero no te preocupes. Yo te encontraré otra vez. And with that, there is nothing left to say except: ¡Viva España!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Things You Miss

Me and my Soul Roommate
Today is December 1st, so my semester abroad in Spain is officially drawing to a close. I figure I will dedicate my last few posts to reflecting on my time here. Today I'm going to talk about the things you find yourself missing the most when you spend time in another country: both expected and unexpected. The obvious ones are my friends and family, my dog, my home state, my sport, my university, and just the feeling of belonging. No matter how well I blend in because of the fact that I can for the most part pass as being Spanish, there will always be moments when you feel utterly American, and you know that others know it. Examples usually involving talking to people in stores. My Spanish is pretty good, but it is clear within a few sentences that I am not fluent. What I hate the most is when they start speaking to you in English. When they start doing that I stubbornly refuse to respond to them in English. If it is a waiter, they may spend the rest of my time there speaking to me in English, and I will continue to speak in Spanish.
Me playing Squash for Wellesley

Anyways, I digress. Another expected thing you find yourself missing is the food. What I found for me was, it wasn't so much home cooked meals that I missed. I eat excellent home cooked meals every day with my host family. What I have missed most are all my favorite restaurants/fast food places: Papa Johns, Thai food, Sushi, Vietnamese pho, the Indian place at the mall back home, and last but certainly not least, Chipotle/Qdoba. Everyone laughs at that, but if you surveyed all the PRESHCO students, the fast food joint that everyone misses the most is Chipotle. My mouth waters just thinking about it.
Gingerbread houses with the Girls

Now the things you find yourself missing that you never would have expected. Starbucks. They are everywhere in the US, you can't walk more than two blocks without seeing one. We complain about how many there are, but then you go to Spain and there might be one in only the bigger cities. There is no Starbucks in Cordoba. Every chance I got I made sure to buy myself a chai tea latte from Starbucks. I have had 3 total in my semester here. Every time I could it was amazing. Just something that is so familiar, so much like home. The concept of getting hot drinks to go is not really embraced here in Spain. I tried to explain it to my host parents, and they concluded that we Americans are just in much more of a hurry than they are.
Me with my parents

Another thing I find myself missing is efficiency. Just in general. It's horrible to stereotype, but even the Spaniards admit that they aren't the greatest about such things as timeliness. A phrase that is used all the time here is "No pasa nada," which means "Nothing's going on" or more commonly "It's all good." So you could be trying to get somewhere, and the bus is really really late, and the people in charge of the bus will be like, "No pasa nada." Being late doesn't really bother them, which is something that drives me nuts. Also, most stores take FOREVER to do anything. There could be 15 people standing in line, and there will only be one cash register open. And they won't call anybody else over to help get the line moving faster. I was at a Starbucks once, and there were three people working, but one of them just stood off to the side chatting with her co-workers, and the other two just kind of moseyed along. In these moments, I miss the frenzied atmosphere of the US. At least stuff is getting done.
Me and my sister representing our home state Oregon

All in all, there are a lot of things I can't wait to experience again when I get back to the US. I'm excited to see all the Christmas decorations everywhere, which don't seem to be quite as popular here. I have loved being in Spain, and in a later post I will talk about all the things I will miss after I'm gone. I will end this post with a picture of the thing that always lets me know that I'm home after I land in the Portland Airport.

Friday, November 23, 2012

PRESHCO Thanksgiving

So this year was my first Thanksgiving without any of my family members. PRESHCO organized a big dinner at this restaurant called Casa Rubio, which is this nicer restaurant right near the Facultad. I was definitely looking forward to the dinner because even though it wouldn't be the same without my family, at least it would be a big dinner with all my Preshquitos. As I expected, I had a lovely time. When we arrived, on each of our plates was a flower wrapped in a piece of paper, which turned out to be the menu for the evening.
The first thing they brought out was fried shrimp, or as my friend Will kept saying, popcorn shrimp. He kept joking that they got them from a bucket from some fast food place. The second dish that arrived was fried eggplant with honey. Now THAT was tasty. Oh, and I forgot to mention that there was a basket of bread that I believe they refilled twice. And this bread was like hard rolls where you break it open and it's soft inside. My friends Pedro and Will seemed to make it there responsibility to keep passing me the bread when it would arrive to the table. It's important to have good friends with you at big meals :) After the eggplant they brought out a plate of vegetables, which was fine, but at that point we were all ready for the turkey.

The turkey dish then came out, served with sweet potatoes, nuts, and some sort of dried fruit all covered in gravy. It was very good. Not the same of course, but I'm grateful that we even got a Thanksgiving meal, considering we're in Spain.
This is my plate after I've eaten everything. Naturally I was so excited for the food that I forgot to take a photo BEFORE eating it. I've never been known for my patience when it comes to food. My host parents joke about it because at every single meal I burn my tongue because I never wait for it to cool.

After the turkey they brought in this pumpkin tort thing. It looked pretty cool. Unfortunately it didn't taste like pumpkin pie at all. I don't think it was sweet enough, but I appreciated the effort. If nothing else, it was very pretty to look at.
After the dessert, they surprised us with a singing group I believe from the Universidad de Cordoba's agronomy school, or something like that. Anyways they were dressed in the typical Spanish attire, and played various famous Spanish songs. I REALLY wish I knew the words to the songs so that I could look them up later. Especially since now I can recognize the songs, I just can't usually catch too many of the words. They also do this hilarious toast that I only caught a few of the words. I would really love to know the whole things. One guy would lead the toast and all the rest of the group would chime in at different parts. I think one line went something like this: "We drink so that-" "WE SLEEP" "And we sleep so that-" "WE DON'T SIN" "And we don't sin-" "SO WE GO TO HEAVEN" "And so to go to heaven-" "WE DRINK MORE" I personally got a kick out of that. I wish I knew all of it.

After we sat and listened to them a bit, everyone started getting up and dancing. Now I must say, at this point in the evening, the waiters had been filling up everyone's wine glasses for about 3 hours now. I myself don't like wine unless it's tinto de verano (which means it's about half filled up with soda), so I just got to enjoy everyone else clearly being intoxicated out of their minds. My 21st birthday is going to be boring to say the least. Not to say that I didn't get up and dance with everyone else. It was a lot of fun, definitely. This is something I will miss about Spain. Among many other things, but I'm saving that for one of my last blog posts.
After the Thanksgiving dinner was over I went out with a group of friends to a bar called Templarios. It was this medieval themed bar, which is SO up my alley. Medieval Studies major + Medieval themed bar = Unimaginable happiness. Of course, I still didn't drink anything there, but I just absorbed the awesome decorations that surrounded me. I hope I can find that place again. I'll just go sit there and allow myself to be amazed.

Pretty sweet right?!! I mean, this bar did not skimp on the decorations. When my friend first told me about it I thought it was going to be some lame effortless attempt at medieval decor, but no, this was legit!

 Now, I had the flash on for all of these photos, so you don't get to really experience the mood of the place. It was dark with green overhead lights. So it was eery too!! There was a downstairs area that was lit with green and red overhead lights, and the downstairs was decorated in a sort of forest theme, with a little fake creek, and all the columns were decorated as trees, with leaves covering the walls. It was SO COOL.
Well, now that Thanksgiving is over, it means that I can officially break out the Christmas music!!! Guess who has been listening to Josh Groban's Christmas songs all morning?! That's right, me. I love his Christmas album. His voice makes me want to cry sometimes. And now I only have 3 weeks and 3 days until I leave Spain. I am definitely ready to be home, but I will miss it here too.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Culture Clash over Economics

Now don't worry, I know the title of this post sounds ominous, but nothing bad occurred in this "culture clash." Not even a debate. This entry is merely going to be my reflection over an interesting exchange that happened between my History of Photography professor and one of my fellow Preshquitos. We were discussing themes for our final photo project, when my classmate presented her idea of doing her project about her fear of being poor. This idea didn't strike me as strange in the least. We all have our fears. Personally I fear death, flying, and Gollum from Lord of the Rings. What has prompted me to post now, a day after the incident, was our professor's response. He immediately responded with,
        "Well that's an irrational fear."
All of us (there were about 6/7 of us in this tutoring session) just sat there in awkward silence. I mean, my fear of Gollum could definitely be called irrational. He's a fictional character for heaven's sake. And my mother has called my fear of flying irrational, although I beg to differ on that point. However, never would I have described the fear of poverty as being irrational. Hard times can come on anyone. He eventually followed that up with, "You'll have a degree from a good university, there's no way you will end up on the streets." Now, I'm guessing he hasn't heard/disregards the common phrase describing liberal arts majors living in a box. However, ignoring all the people we currently know who can't find jobs after graduating, his point isn't completely out there. None of the jobless college graduates that I've heard of are living on the streets. What struck me most was the next thing he said. He said, "What's the unemployment rate in the US? 7%? 8%? Well here it is 30%." We all just sat there kind of stunned. I wonder if he thinks we're all spoiled Americans, complaining about unemployment in our country when Spain is struggling so much more. It was definitely a wake up call to me. Here in our country people are ragging on Obama and talking about how bad our economy is, and people are struggling, I know. But in Spain almost a third of the population is unemployed. More than 3 times the percentage of our country that is unemployed.

     I guess one benefit of spending this semester in Spain is learning the skill of keeping things in perspective. Sometimes I think a lot of us in the US become so focused on our own problems that we forget that other countries have it off worse. Or even that some country's are doing things better than we are. I am guilty of this myself. I didn't even know the basics of Spain's political system, whereas my host family knew all about our election, the situation in the House of Representatives, and many of the details of past elections. They don't know the intricacies of our system, but they still knew way more than I did. That's definitely something I should work to improve when I get back home. Got to try and be more aware.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

US Election 2012

Last night I stayed up till close to 7am with a group of us PRESHCO students to watch the presidential election. It was the first election I was eligible to vote in, and I sent in my absentee ballot as soon as I received it in the mail. My beloved home state of Oregon delivered for the democratic candidate, once again. Might as well call her old faithful. I was looking back at Oregon's voting history and what I love is we've been voting Democrat for 30 or so years, and the last time we voted Republican was back when the Republican party was more aligned with the modern day Democratic party.

Even though we were in Spain, and missed out on being in the US for all the celebration, I had a wonderful election party with my Preshquitos. Lots of food and talk and waiting with baited breath for the next projection to appear on CNN. It's kind of been nice being in Spain since we haven't had to deal with the constant barrage of advertisements insulting both candidates. I was on such an adrenaline high throughout the night that the hours seemed to fly by, and sleep remained the furthest thing from my mind. I contributed to the re election of President Barack Obama.

I do have to add that I am impressed with how well informed all the Spaniards are about the political process and current events of the US. My host parents knew the names of both candidates, their political parties, and they understood the current problem we're having in the House of Representatives where the Republicans are shooting down all the changes Obama tries to make. I could not have answered even the most basic question about Spain's political system. Guess I'm perpetuating that stereotype about Americans being more focused on what happens in their own country than anything else....I was ashamed. But even this can't bring me down from my high. I am proud to be a member of a country lead by Barack Obama. All I have to say now is....Clinton 2016 :)

Sunday, November 4, 2012


All Saint's day (aka November 1st) is a national holiday in Spain, so this weekend was a 4 day weekend for everyone here. To celebrate this, I went to Valencia with two of my friends from the PRESHCO group. I don't know what I was expecting from the city, but overall I enjoyed my time there. It was surprising how quiet everything was. You'd be walking around right at the lunch hour, and there would be very few people on the streets. My Frommer's guide book made a point about Valencia being overshadowed by the other cities in Spain, which I can completely understand. It has a cathedral, but not as grand as all the others. It has an "old city" but not as old as various parts of Cordoba. It was a nice place to relax for a few days, but I can understand why it doesn't even have its own section in the Rick Steve's guidebook.

I have to say, I love big markets. We found one in Valencia, and I think it may have been my favorite part of the trip. Even though they had pig heads and rabbit bodies just sitting in the cases...:( And a guy was killing the eels in front of everyone. People seem to be made of sterner stuff here in Spain. It made me kind of sad. But I loved looking at all the seafood, meat, and vegetables. I don't know why. I guess I enjoy the energy in the atmosphere of a food market.

I've returned to Cordoba now, and so ends probably the only trip I will take during my time here in Spain. I can't honestly say that I'm disappointed about that. Traveling causes enormous amounts of stress for me, and I like being at my home base. Someday I'll get myself to the UK. Just not now it would seem.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Siguiendo adelante

Sorry to everyone for not posting in a very long time! Like I've said before, not much has been happening lately, so I don't feel like I can write a good blog entry. Yesterday I got to skype my grandparents for the first time since coming to Spain, which was really nice. Last weekend the PRESHCO people took us to the beach in Huelva to make up for the fact that they canceled the trip to Morocco that was supposed to happen last weekend. Next weekend I will be going to Valencia with my two guy friends here, so that should be interesting. It probably will be the only time I end up traveling while here in Spain, if I'm being honest with myself. I know I should plan a trip to the UK since I so desperately wanted to study abroad there. However, when I think about it, we don't have that many more weeks left here in Spain. Over half way till I come home for Christmas. I guess I'll just have to make myself go to the UK another time.

Gloomy Sara now. I've really despaired of ever becoming fluent in Spanish. I now accept it as the unattainable dream that it is. I would have to live in Spain for years with no contact to any English speakers, and that is not realistically going to happen. There are times when I wish that I had just been a Classical Civ/Med Ren double major, since now it seems like my Spanish major is worth nothing. I can speak and understand pretty well, but I would be absolutely destroyed if I came into contact with a native speaker. My Spanish is definitely not good enough to be used in any sort of official capacity, such as any career path that I might end up taking. And this makes me sad because the only thing I've ever known for sure is that I want to be fluent in Spanish. I foolishly thought that a semester in Spain would get me there, but that is in no way true. Oh well. I'm so close to getting my major that it isn't really worth it to stop now.