Week 1 Zamora

The first week in Spain was not as stressful as I thought it would be. I have a great host family, who make me feel comfortable and I already feel like I am one of the family members. During the first week I found out that I have to walk 45 minutes just to get to class. The first day was horrible! I am use to running at least two to three times a week and now I am using all the walking I have to do here as my exercise. Besides the lots of walking, the heat is crazy. It feels like the sun is just shining all its heat right on you. When people walk here you can see them all just wanting to walk in the sombra (shade). The language barrier is still there. I try to communicate as best I can and most everyone understands what I am still learning and are very patient. I feel like I am a 2 year old trying to speak! The food here is very different then back home and compared to the Mexican food that my family makes. I was having trouble getting used to the food. I was not eating to much. At the time I was hoping that it would change and get better.

We had our first excursion to Braganza, Portugal. It was a very beautiful town with a lot of great history. We saw a old castle, churches, went to a museum about masks used during festivals, and drank wine with locals! That was my favorite part. People seem to like people from America and want to know more about you and where you come from.

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I also got to see bull fighting, which I will never do again. I went to see it just for the experience. It was very sad to know and then see that the bulls are killed at the end. I could not handle it that I had to leave half way though it. I will admit thatI cried like a baby when I saw the finally blow to the bull that killed it. It is so sad to see a animal die in that way and then with the crowd cheering just made it worse. I believe in keeping traditions, but I will never be apart of this one.

I was missing my family and friends a lot. It did not seem like I was in Spain. I wanted the program to go by faster. I am enjoying my time and keeping myself busy.

(A few weeks late for this post)

Week 1 Excursions

Tuesday
Today we visited King’s Cross and St. Pancras train stations. Both of these stations are important buildings historically in London. However, I found them particularly interesting places because of their connections to the Harry Potter film series. The book tells us that Hogwarts students travel from London via the Hogwarts Express leaving King’s Cross station. However, we learned today that the movies actually depict St. Pancras as King’s Cross – probably for style and the rich history behind its construction.

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Clock tower – St. Pancras Station                     King’s Cross Station

Thursday

Oxford is a town  that is home to one of the oldest working universities in Europe; it is made up of 38 individual colleges. Some of the most famous artists, writers, scientists, and other scholars were patrons of the school (including writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien). It was really amazing to see the location up close and personal, and to imagine how it served as inspiration to these brilliant minds.

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Christ Church College – Oxford University

First Week in London!

Life across the pond has been an adventure in the least! One of the most exciting of adventures was our class trip to Warwick Castle.

The Castle of Warwick showed the continuous nature of evolution in the realm of castle living, and lifestyle. It had the ability to capture an array of various time periods, from the Medieval Ages to the 18th century. The castle housed multiple areas of what would have been common rooms, equipment, clothing, and furniture of the Medieval Ages. For example you are able to see the stables with the horse adorned in armor for battle. Additionally you are able to see that fireplaces and the use of candles are about to give light to clothing makers, and other people of the house. You are also able to see buckets for washing clothes.

Further into the house you see an upgraded version of the household containing portraits, armor, weapons, glass cups and sliver utensils. Still at this point you are able to see candles on tables, walls, and chandlers as a means for light. The walls are adorn with silk tapestry, and the ceilings are decorated in fine carvings. At this point the portraits have frames of gold that are artfully done, as well as grand fireplaces. In this version as well you can see the craftsmanship in the wooden walls, and pillars. Tubs were used within the rooms, as servants stood to pour water in them for the masters of the house.

Following along to the opposite end of the house brings you to more modern lights with the use of lamps. With this also brought the evolution of musical devices as a piano was placed in the home as well. Other rooms included a variety of books, and different cakes among groups of people enjoying a hand of cards. The bathrooms were in separate rooms and included a tub that could produce water on its own. The hall ways were decorated with smaller film created photo’s in black and white, with inclusion of war medals and other such important objects. The walls were of solid paper, thin with a printed view of floral.

P.S: I learned that the streets of London are named purposefully from the originally city gates. Some names even originated from times of the black plague.

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Week 2 in Spain

I never want to leave!!!!

This second week here in Barcelona has been just as incredible and exciting as the first, and I am finally getting the hang of things! Throughout the week I did a lot more sight seeing, going to famous Gaudi buildings, old bull fighting rings, gorgeous parks, etc. I love how simple the metro system is, and also how extensive. It can get you within blocks of so many places and the trains run every 5 or so minutes, so the wait is minimal.

I am becoming much more aware of the political dilemma here, in regards to the split between Catalonia and the rest of spain. This became more apparent after discussing the issue with my class. The demand for a separate democratic country is rising with intensity, and the evidence is everywhere. The spanish flag, which as we know, yields red and yellow stripes. But the catalonia flag is flown just as much (if not more) from office buildings and private terraces. In fact, as you walk by the official buildings controlled by the government and local mayor, you can see these flags flown just beside them, as if to make quite a bold and powerful statement seeing as if the flag is not officially recognized

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. It contains the red and yellow stripes, but it also has a blue triangle-like section with a single white star in the middle (of which the significance I am unaware).

What I have come to love the most about this country is its welcoming vibes. I have now been to 3 different cities, Barcelona, Valencia, and just recently Sitges. Though they each differ quite dramatically, they are all so comfortable and accessible. I am not used to city life at all, and the dense population is much different than what I am used to.  But nevertheless I am continuously stunned at how quickly I fall in love with each new street or town square I come across. This is truly a beautiful place <3

On our day trip to Sitges, the program took us on an awesome Cava tour (which is basically spanish champagne), where we had an extensive tour of where, how, and when the make it, the history behind  it, and the specific taste it has. It was so delicious I ended up buying 2 bottles afterwards, and now have no idea how to get it home!!! Afterwards we went to the beach (which was much cleaner than Barcelona) and had a nice lunch and enjoyed the sun. It was a much needed break from the busy city.

Another thing I am super grateful for is the friends that I have gained in such a short amount of time. The two Aussies that I live with tend to stick to themselves, but my other roommate Amelia (from Seattle!) and I get along great. I can definitely see us continuing our friendship once back in the states. I have also grown fond of another west coastie named Bri who happens to be from Vancouver, which is only about a 2 hour drive from my hometown. She is always down to have fun and let loose! We also hang out with Rachelle, who’s from Ohio. She backpacked through Europe before arriving in spain, and plans to do more after the program is over! She is already planning on a road trip to the west coast to visit us next summer, and I really hope she follows through!

I still can’t comprehend that I am at the halfway mark, of my stay, but I am not letting myself get disappointed yet. This has been one of the best decisions of my life.

returning home.

Returning home was such a relief.  When I first showed up in Italy everything just felt very chaotic and rushed,  traffic was crazy, people trying to sell stuff.  Compared to America it was just walk right to my car without bumping into people, driving was normal again. It was nice.

The airports in America I feel are way more nice and helpful. I had a problem when returning and they helped solve the problem right away.  Compared to Italy I had a hard time with some workers they were really rude  just because I didn’t speak Italian,  then I had two Italian boys try the same request for me and they helped them no problem (it was not a language barrier thing.)

I was super tired when I got to Italy I fell asleep and slept in the next day for like 13 hours.  When I got back to America I was surprisingly not as tired as I thought I would be, I tried to stay up for 24 hours so when I went to sleep here I could get back on a normal sleep schedule.   That really helped with the jet lag.

Week 3

Our program ended this week and I was surprised at how much I missed everyone because we had ended up getting so close over the past three weeks being with each other for 8+ hours a day. The end of the program came so quick and the last week in Siena came with more surprises, of course. After the Palio there were parties all night and parades everyday with the winning contrada flags all around town. Something else we noticed that was really strange is that we were seeing the people in the winning contrada had binkies in their mouths. At first they were kids so we thought it was weird but nothing too unusual because kids can just be kids sometimes, but then we saw a grown man with a binky in his mouth. I had to ask the director of our program, who was born and raised in Siena and is a member of the eagle contrada. She said the reason for the binkies were because the members of the contrada were considered to be “born again” with their win of the Palio. We thought winning the Palio was a big deal, but we didn’t think it was anything like this. It is truly amazing how the energy and people in a place can make things feel so different. Without the spirit and seriousness of the Sienese attitudes the horse race would be a joke. All this effort put into the Palio is what makes it so special. The tradition, energy, and attitude put into the Palio makes an event you don’t want to miss; because you can see so much tradition and culture in one horse race, it truly is phenomenal.

At the end of our program we had a final dinner and it felt like we all knew each other so well even though we had only known each other for three weeks. I became close friends with a guy in our program and it was great to be able to make new friends in such a short time and close quarters. It was an experience I won’t forget and I am appreciative of the opportunity. I will continue to keep in touch with some people and will forever have the memories of a great study abroad program.

Our Italian Sign Language class picture.

Our Italian Sign Language class picture.

The winning contra's flag. The Tower.

The winning contra’s flag. The Tower.

Final dinner with some staff.

Final dinner with some staff.

Town hopping

This will be a combination of both my trip to Cork and to Galway, as we only stayed for one night in Cork.

For me, Cork was an ok town. We only got to see the city centre aspect of it, so I feel like I missed out on some stuff. Plus, we arrived quite late so we did not get the opportunity to really explore. Previously, we had ventured to Fota house, another Big House in Ireland. What made this house interesting was that it was the only house not burned during the 20’s. It was similarly decorated as the Newbridge house. It had recently been lived until 1975 when the last owner passed away. This house was also quite interesting as we got to see a lot! With each house, my enjoyment seems to go up.IMG_8486IMG_8455

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Anyway, back to Cork. There really wasn’t a whole lot to do. Basically, I stayed indoors for awhile after exploring the town, got dinner, and went back home. Dinner was actually McDonalds. I know that’s American food, but I wanted to see if there was any major difference. The answer to that is not much. In addition, there was a horde of Italian teens in the bathroom to my dismay. Overall, not super impressed with Cork that day. Plus, there was a really bad smell there…

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Today was pretty exciting though! We visited the Cliffs of (INSANITY) Moher! The view was breathtaking, along with the hike. I only explored one portion of the cliffs because I thought I would run out of time. However, the part I did see was amazing. I became brazen enough to dangle my feet off the edge of the cliff. I was sitting securely, but I still felt scared! Even though this is a major tourist attraction, I do think it actually is something worth seeing. Afterwards, we headed out to Galway, which I will explore thoroughly tomorrow!IMG_8596

Diamond in the Rough! Lessons and a Pyramid!

The second week saw the continuation of learning more from my classes and from my time with my host family, some good and some I am not proud of, but overall beneficial. The main highlight was the weekend excursion, which proved to be another wonderful way to see what kind of interesting things Mexico has in terms of culture. More than anything this was a week full of learning from different sources.

The classes built up more from the assignments from last week and I am feeling like things are moving full-force in terms of homework and projects. We have some big presentations in my Spanish Communciation class for fourth year and I am a bit nervous since they seem to be a bit on the long side. Since I am in my fourth year in Spanish, I believe it should be expected. It is actually funny since I sometimes have a hard time giving a presentation in English, but Spanish is a whole different beast. If there is one thing I have learned from my classes though, it would be that the environment can make a huge difference in how one feels about talking. My class is composed of just two students and the teacher. In this way, I feel like it is easier to voice my opinion and the things I want to say in general. While I am still nervous about what I will present. I feel like the informal, smaller size helps to ease the pressure a bit. The other class for writing helped us to learn more forms of tenses and other ways to better understand writing and the like. We ended up having a mid-term which I ended up doing well enough in. I can tell our teacher understands that we are learning, and I know full well that I need to study to do better (which is easier said than done, especially when I am used to turning my brain off in the summer time). In our ESOL class, we presented a cultural backpack and it gave us the chance to see how our cultures shape ourselves. I liked how I felt like I could really show who I was to my peers. It is something I do not normally do, because I always worry I am too different and I cannot relate to anybody at all. Everyone liked my presentation and I loved everyone’s presentations as well. I like how we learn more about culture and what we can do to make culture something meaningful in the class. I still wonder how can I make culture a meaningful thing in my class one day…Only time will tell.

As for time with my host family, it has been very good from my experience. I find that the environment gives me a feeling similar to my own house in Oregon. It gives a sense that everyone is fairly independent, at least in my case. I know they are usually busy with their kids every day which leaves them exhausted and tired. I also try talk to them when the time comes, though sometimes things get busy for everyone. The busy factor was the reason why I did not mention an incident involving some broken class in my room. I was not quite sure how it happened, but I tried to clean it up and take care of it myself. I think my host mother thought I was trying to hide something, but I did not want to disturb her when she was busy. I think we had some difficulties with communication this week. I do not think it put a strain on the relationship, but the difficulties are hard for me at times. I am not a fan of making mistakes. I am feeling better from the little incident though. I feel it is one of many important lessons about the importance of communication. My host my says that I am still young and that it is all right to make mistakes. It’s always so funny how much more hard I am on myself compared to other people.

Eventually, we went to the museums in Mexico D.F, which was the capital if I am not mistaken. We had our hotels reserved and ready and we were able to visit a few museums over the course of a few days. I am not too fond of museums or history either. However, I was able to enjoy some of the sites to an extent. I could see the intricate designs of the rocks, the faith in religion that is very rich in Mexican culture and the like. One of our professors named Alejandro gave us the history lessons about Mexico such as the origin of the paintings and the establishment of the country via events like Cortes and Indigenous people. The best part of the trip by far was visiting the pyramids and enjoying how well designed they were and the views that came with climbing. It left me even more worn-out than the trip to Bernal. It took a while to get back, but I was happy to return and see the family again. Since this trip took the whole weekend, I have plenty of catching up to do for my classes. Summer is always more difficult when homework is involved.

  

End of the First Week! Climbing like a Mountain Man!

With the first week coming to an end, I have had the chance to see how my classes would be like and I feel like they both will end up being quite fun (except the homework, which is always hard to get excited about). All of my professors are kind and very much approachable, and I love that. It makes the transition to a new classroom setting easier. The cool thing is that I have the opportunity to practice Spanish in the class via plenty of discussion and all the learning of terms that I thought I knew, but really, I need to work on. The actual classrooms are not really as fancy as the United States, but it is not a major problem. I still have no problem learning from my professors. Honestly the only bad part about the classrooms are the overabundance of mosquitoes all over the place. I am seriously a walking three-course meal from a five-star restaurant to them. I can already feel the bites popping up on my arms. To be more specific, this only happens in my two Spanish classes. My ESOL one does not have this problem from what I have seen. The ESOL class is more like the classes back at Western, but since we are learning about culture, we have an excellent opportunity to see the differences of culture between the U.S and Mexico. I think the class is a nice way to balance the usage of English and Spanish here in Mexico, and the professor is kind as well, also easing some of the anxiety as well.

Living with the host family has been wonderful. They really help me feel more at home and I try my best to talk to them about their life or how their day was. It is very nice to have the opportunity to practice my Spanish, which is always so hard in the U.S. So much English, even at home sometimes. I have also had the chance to play with the grandchildren of my host mother. He is only two and half years old and the other one is only six months. Nevertheless, Raulito, the older one, is very cute and playful. Both kids are a real handful for my host family, usually to the point of leaving them exhausted at the end. It makes me think about my mother and her own job that leaves her very tired as well. I know they volunteered to take in an American student, but I just hope I do not end being much of a burden on them.

Once the weekend rolled around, our party went to the huge rocky point of Bernal by bus. Everyone mentioned how much of a climb it would be, so I decided to activate “Mountain Man mode” and prepare myself for the worst. Honestly, it was an endurance test. It was a major uphill right from the get-go and I was feeling very out of shape…Still I managed to find a nice view from my position (which was about seventy-five percent of the way up, according to one of my group members). I was very happy, and I was especially content with seeing more of the area of Mexico. It truly is a country with beautiful sights to see with little polluted air to breathe and smell. I always thought Mexico was more close to a developing type of place, as opposed to the developed country that is the U.S, but it has its share of huge cities like Queretaro amongst other places. Mexico appears to be a place where all kinds of people can be encountered in one place: the middle class, lower middle class, and people that do not appear to have much. A few times, I would see people always selling things in order to make make money. I think it might reflect on how hard life can be in Mexico when work is not always guaranteed. I try not to give people the impression that I have a lot of money on me (my clothing is usually bland and my boots look pretty worn out and filthy.). I still understand that times are tough, but I also know that it is important to keep one’s guard up so that they can avoid a dangerous situation. Mexico is a place with risks, but in reality, that is the same for all places in the world. Everyone is different, and I know that the longer I am here, the more I can understand about the rich culture that I am sure Mexico has.

 

Prior to coming home.

I guessed Italy would be full of smoking people, pick pockets, and hot weather, short shorts, English restaurants.  I turned out to be right and wrong.  These factors really deepened on where we were.

For example Rome was supper hot because of all the extra cars, people, and little trees,  Where as Siena was much cooler because its not a tourist spot and people don’t drive much there. I was also informed that the session plays a big part in the weather I just happened to show up at the hottest part, but the funny thing is that the first day I showed up it was raining, the first few nights it was cold, but then it got hot; Real hot! One day at 9 am it was already 95 with 90% humidity!

Pick pockets were really only in tourist areas and on trains.  Not so much where I was staying.

But no matter where you were people were smoking everywhere!  I even had a waitress say I will get your bill in two minutes after I have a cigarette.

People were not wearing shot shorts,  Yes some where,  but most would  wear pants Like the heat did not bother them.

Most restaurants had very little English.  Good thing my program taught how to order in a restaurant in Italian!

I think I interacted a lot with my new culture,  I tried to speak Italian every chance I got,  I joined in on activities such as the palio,  I interacted with strangers, etc

I have mix emotions about coming home.  I really am home sick now and would love to see my family and pets, but it is like I am losing my second family here in Italy  so I am also sad to be leaving.  I defiantly want to come back and say hello and all my teachers again, stay in contact with my new friends, etc.

Over all I would recommend going to Italy especially In this program!

Goodbye, Siena! I will see you again someday!

Goodbye, Siena! I will see you again someday!