Final Reflections

I never wanted to study abroad. I have always desired to travel and adventure and see and do things. But, I never wanted to study in a foreign place. However, by some fluke, I ended up in Spain this semester. I think I just followed the motions of what everyone else was doing: applying to places, going to meetings, and then finally, receiving my acceptance.

I was scared to be left in Denver alone, without my people, living with my roommates’ subletters, and wasting time counting the weeks for their return. I never looked at myself as dependent on others, but I think that moment of my life, so dictated by what all of the junior class was doing, showed myself that I wasn’t as independent as I had hoped.

I, as I’m sure many people do, went into the study abroad experience thinking it would change my life. In reality, four months is not that long. But, four months in a foreign country? A new place with a different culture, language, and living with a family who can’t even understand half of what you’re saying (let alone what you’re feeling)? That makes for a long four months! And that should be life changing.

When I first started reflecting on my experience this semester, I was worried. I couldn’t see any direct changes in myself (other than the dreaded Abroad 15, of course). Then, I realized that parts of me did change, it just was not in the way I had expected; I was anticipating to have some specific impact from Spain.

Studying and living abroad taught me to rely on myself more than any amount of college, travel, or work could. I became my own translator, personal navigator, planner, friend, and even my own parent. Of course I made some of the best friends abroad. But, studying abroad made for so much quality alone time, too.

florence
Taylor and Ali are some of the many friends I made abroad

 

Simple tasks became tests of independence abroad. Getting money from the ATM in Spanish? Sure. Filling out gym membership paperwork? Okay. Navigating the metro system? One wrong train and I never made that mistake again. While abroad, I became a lot more comfortable asking for help. My first day in Spain I was panicked by how little Spanish I knew. But I learned to format the little vocabulary I knew into questions and statements that portray almost exactly what I originally meant. I thought asking for help made me weaker, but it really made me less reliant on my friends and family.

While I stayed close to home for college, studying abroad gave me the confidence that I can move away from Denver after school. During these four months in Spain, I could not call my family for a pep talk before my first Skype interview. I did not have anyone to take care of me when I was sick. And perhaps the worst of all, when your suitcase gets lost at the beginning of your trip; you have to handle these things alone.

national palace madrid.jpg
A picture of the National Palace from my first solo trip to Madrid

Everyone who went abroad this semester overcame things on their own because there was no other choice but to do just that. As for me, I am finally the independent girl I thought I was before studying abroad, and I have no regrets about following the crowd in order to get there.

 

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How To: Make Tortilla de Patata

I do not like eggs. I’m not sure what it is about them, but it is just a no go. I can’t smell them, I can’t clean my roommates’ dirty saucepans with little burnt egg crisps, and I cannot crack them. While I can muster the courage to eat baked goods like brownies, cakes, and cookies, even French toast is too egg-y for my taste buds.

However, in Spain, I have found the perfect egg dish: Tortilla de Patata. It is kind of like a Spanish omelet. All of the locals eat tortilla de patata. It is common for both dinner or as a pinxto (which is like the Basque country version of tapas, made as a single serving). We learned how to make Tortilla de Patata in my Spanish Gastronomy class, so, I decided to include the recipe so everyone can try typical Spanish cuisine! Food is culture, am I right? Note that the ingredients are for 12 people, so change the ingredients depending on how many people you are cooking for.

 

Tortilla de Patata

tortilla de patata
photo by Katherine Gibson

Ingredients:

Serves 12 People

  • 6 kg potatoes
  • 1.5 L olive oil
  • 24 eggs
  • Salt

 

Instructions:

To start, peel the potatoes and put them in a bowl of water. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a frying pan on the stovetop. Then, cut the potatoes (in a uniform size) and put them in the frying pan, once the oil is hot. Add salt on top of the potatoes and fry them. Make sure to stir the potatoes until they are browned and cooked through. When the potatoes are golden brown, use a slotted spoon to remove the potatoes from the pot.

Put two generous spoons of the potatoes into a bowl. Then, crack two eggs into the potatoes and add salt. Mix these things together with a fork. Next, put a little of the leftover olive oil in a new, hot frying pan. Add the egg and potato mixture from the bowl. After about 2 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and flip the tortilla using a plate. Cook the other side a little more (for 30 seconds or so). Remove the tortilla de patata from the pan. Repeat this process until all of the tortillas are made!

Enjoy!

 

A Word About Homestays

So, let’s set the scene.

You’re a sophomore (maybe a junior by credits, don’t get cocky). You’re about to study abroad. You notice a lot of the coolest places (*cough* Spain *cough*) require or highly suggest a homestay. You wish you had someone to give you advice about the dirty details of the homestay life. You stumble across this blog.

Or, scenario B: you’re a future employer stalking me on Google. You stumble across this blog.

So, either way, here you are, reading my advice about homestays. Homestays are tricky to write about because everyone has such a unique experience. So, I would like to disclaim that my observations and experiences may not hold true for every place, family, program, etc.

To begin, I would like to touch on the type of people who sign up to host a student. The first type of homestay is a family that wants to provide a room to a student in order to supplement their income. As Spain is having tough economic times, this is a very common scenario. The next type of homestay is someone elderly and/or alone, usually a woman, who would like some company. This situation can be weird because you almost feel obligated to spend time with your host family. The last type of homestay includes a family with kids. In this type of homestay, the family sometimes would like you to practice English with their kids.

The three scenarios for homestays are just generalizations, naturally. Sometimes, the host family can be a combination of the different types described above. For example, my host mom Maria* is a combination of the first and second situation. However, sometimes homestays can be nothing like what I described. For example, my friend’s family requested to be a homestay because their cousin hosts students as well.

After realizing the different types of families, the best advice I could give is to fill out the homestay request form as detailed as possible. A lot of other applicants do not take the time to do this. Therefore, if you are more specific you will likely get things you request. For example, I wrote down a specific neighborhood on the form. You could request a specific walking distance from school. Some of the surfers on my program asked to be closer to the beach (however, this did pose a longer commute to school and metros don’t run super late every night of the weekend!). A lot of people request families with kids.

I requested to be near the Guggenheim, a central location in Bilbao.
I requested to be near the Guggenheim Museum, a central location in Bilbao, Spain.

Another important part of the homestay request form is the roommate section. I said I did not care if I had roommate and I was assigned a single. At first I was excited to have a single, because roommates sound like the epitome of freshman year. I soon realized there were pros and cons to living in a homestay alone. For example, it might have been easier to have a friend to work through the language barrier with. It also could have been nice to have a friend to go out with, because it is always safer to walk home with someone. However, living alone helped me be independent from the group and I also got to practice more Spanish! You should consider these things before filling out the form because it really shapes the homestay experience.

Finally, once you are abroad and living in a homestay, remember that it is going to be weird. Maria treats me like a child a lot, as if I have not been living on my own for a while now. For example, after my return from Morocco, my host mom had reorganized my whole closet. All of my sandals are now missing. The same thing happened to my swimsuit top in September. If my bed isn’t made perfectly, she will remake it. She does my laundry, cleans my dishes, and has even blow dried my hair. And I kind of feel helpless because I never had the courage to tell her these things bothered me and that I am a capable adult. I also was not really sure how to say all of these things in Spanish. If I had been honest with Maria, I would have saved a lot of time harboring anger toward her. However, if you are only going to be honest with your host family about one thing, let it be the food. Otherwise, they will cook you the same crappy dish they think you like (think: pigs’ feet).

In the end, I had a lot of trouble getting along with my host mom. But do I regret it? Not really. If I had lived with friends, I would not have practiced Spanish every day. I would have wasted time cooking and cleaning that I could have used exploring. In the end, it is one thing to live alongside a while culture abroad, but my homestay let me live within the Spanish culture.

*name has been changed

My Favorite Souvenir

I’ve been in Bilbao, Spain for almost two weeks, and so far I’m realizing that our textbooks have taught us a lot of Latin American Spanish.  So, I’ve been sitting in front of mi ordenador for a of couple days (previously known as mi computadora portatíl), trying to detail my experiences abroad thus far.  And I’ve been having trouble putting my experiences in words; I’ve been having trouble thinking of the most important things to tell.

This is what I know: I am so lucky to be studying abroad.  I do productive things every day because my time is limited, and there is not much to do inside anyway since the Wi-Fi connections are all shoddy (no longer la conexión inalámbrica).  I’ve seen ornate churches, toured famous museums, been wine tasting, swam on nude beaches, and hiked through the Basque country.  And the best part?  I can do all of these things after class (or on Fridays because there aren’t classes—remember those times, Pios?).

Tomorrow, I'll be at this little beach in Bakio after my classes
Tomorrow, I’ll be at this little beach in Bakio after my classes

Additionally, I’m learning a lot about myself abroad. Like, I’m not good with maps (which I may or may not have known before, but it is now confirmed).  My Spanish needs work (a lot).  And, I’m noticing a lot of little things that I take for granted.  Google Maps, hot showers, cold milk (don’t even ask), peanut butter? Never forget.

Pinxtos hopping in Casco Viejo, the old town of Bilbao
Pinxtos hopping in Casco Viejo, the old town of Bilbao

I know my experience is barely starting, but I’m already excited to bring photos, souvenirs, and a “better me” back to The States.  However, what I’m most eager to take home?  The study abroad mentality.  It’s easy to put off seeing things and doing things when you’re comfortable.  Whether that comfort comes from your go-to Chipotle order, your daily routine, or your best friend: do what you can to be uncomfortable.

I cannot wait to go take the Light Rail and see what exists at the end of every stop (pro tip: Santa Fe Drive off of the 10th and Osage station is a pretty cool area).  I can’t wait to take the long walk home instead of the easy walk home after class. I will turn my phone data off (sometimes) in order to tune into the world.  And as corny as it seems, I vow to not be so worried about getting lost because that’s the best way to figure out where you’re going (or at least the best way to find a new coffee shop).  I have until December in Spain, but I promise I will never stop “studying abroad.”

How I Chose Bilbao, Spain

I am kind of the average joe. I mean, my name, Amanda, is one of the top ten girl’s names from 1995.  I’m a marketing major. I use French Vanilla Coffeemate. I have a Pinterest board full of sweets I will never make. Totally average over here. However, in the midst of all of that, I have some unique qualities, too. For example, I make toast on my stovetop because I am too stubborn (or maybe too cheap) to buy a toaster. I have a weird vendetta against finishing books. And perhaps most important to this blog, I am about to embark on a study abroad journey to Bilbao, Spain with the organization International Studies Abroad (ISA).

I wasn’t ever sure I wanted to study abroad; I’m still not really sure. But DU gave me that little push to apply. Being unsure, I created a mental list of criteria for my study abroad destination:

  1. Spanish-speaking. This was important to me because I am debating adding a Spanish minor and I thought living in a Spanish-speaking culture could help me determine if I would want to use the language in my career.
  2. City life. Living in a larger city would give more opportunity to sightsee while also providing access to better developed public transport.
  3. A school with “limited” DU students attending. I didn’t move far for college (3 miles away, to be exact), so this would be my opportunity to start fresh and be on my own.
  4. Apartment or dormitory living accommodations. Homestays seem like they would limit my independence because I would be on my host family’s time. I had already moved out on my own, I didn’t want to have parents again!
  5. Service-learning opportunity. I took a service-learning class my freshman year and I think that it gave me a tie to the community that we often take for granted.

Photo by Kadir Cinoglu

In the end, I chose the Universidad de Deusto in Bilbao, Spain. Specifically, I am enrolled in the program for Business, International Relations, and Spanish Language. I can take classes for my marketing major, as well as classes accredited to the Spanish minor at DU. There is also a service-learning course, a tandem program (for partnering with local students to teach each other Spanish and English), and a Spanish cuisine class! Additionally, the city of Bilbao has so much to offer. I look forward to exploring the Bay of Biscay, Mount Artxanda, the art of traditional dance, and the famous Guggenheim Museum.

After reviewing my criteria, I realized that none of the schools met my five requirements. I shouldn’t have set too many expectations before going abroad. And I think recognizing this was one of the best ways to prepare for studying abroad (along with buying a new digital camera, of course). Since it’s a different country and culture, I need to remember that not everything will meet some mental checklist of mine. Learning to “go with the flow” will suit me well on my journey in the fall, especially because I tend to be type A to a fault.

The only criteria the Universidad de Deusto did not meet: residencia living accommodations. Last week, I tried something new and went to a tarot card reader. The tarot reader said that I am too serious and have too much of an old mind to be 20. She said the only way to change this mindset is to let go of the past. I think Bilbao is my opportunity to take this advice. And so, although I’m terrified of living with a host family, I’m going in with a youthful mind. I’m finally ready to immerse myself in a new life this fall.

Hasta luego,

Amanda