3 Things to Know When Getting Ready for Spain

I was scheduled to leave for Salamanca, Spain in early September of 2013, but had one foot out the door in June.

Sitting in my parent’s house in Boulder, Colorado, I was itching to rediscover the freedom I so coveted while in college and excited to explore Spain and Western Europe, where I’d never been before. I had worked all summer, leaving  all my worldly possessions strewn across the floor of my childhood room, knowing that those 3 months were just a stop gap to where I really wanted to be.

In my sagely, and immensely humble, 20 years on this planet, at that point, I’d learned if you got an itch, you’d better scratch it. And so I did just that, I scratched that study abroad itch and was consumed by the desire to leave. Instant gratification definitely got the best of me.

In all that scratching, though, left me without a few key pieces of information that would have been really valuable before leaving for my trip.

tortilla de patata
The Spanish Tortilla de Patata is love. The Spanish Tortilla de Patata is life.

First, improvising will get you a long way, but some structure is both nice and necessary.

I arrived in Spain at around 8:30pm, with the last bus leaving for Salamanca from Madrid around 9:00pm. I thought it would be easy to simply walk off my flight, find the bus station, buy a ticket, and that would be that.

In short, I was profoundly, utterly, and horribly wrong. In Spain, you are supposed to buy your ticket well before you arrive, something I realized as the ticket office was closed and I watched my bus drive away. This, however, is where structure comes in. Knowing I didn’t have a lot of time to make my bus, I researched the departure times of trains leaving for Salamanca from Madrid. The last train left at 9:37 from Chamartín station in southern Madrid, which I decided was my last shot.

I ended up needing it. After realizing I missed my bus, I ran to a taxi. The old man driving the taxi was one of the most kind individuals I had ever met in my life. I explained my predicament to him, he flew to the station, then jumped out of his cab to walk me to the ticket counter and make sure I got on the right train. Having flexibility in a loose structure quickly became my mantra.

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Me after the Barcelona, Real Madrid match in Barcelona

Secondly, arrange what you need for your extended trip, get rid of half of it, and bring an extra bag for your flight home.

In packing, especially, I found that I could have packed much more efficiently than I did, and I only brought one suitcase and a carry-on backpack. If you’re studying abroad for a few months, mine was a total of four, often times you’re going to span two seasons. This leaves you with a slight predicament, in the sense that there generally isn’t a one-size-fits wardrobe that you can wear throughout your entire trip. In my case, coming from Colorado, I expect 60-70 degree days to extend through October and the occasional day in November. Moreover, I thought, when the sun is out, it’s always warm, so I’ll need plenty of shorts.Spain is notorious for being hot and I thought I was in the clear.

Not only did I find that wearing shorts was largely looked down upon by Spaniards in autumn, it never was quite warm enough to warrant wearing them anyway. So they sat and took up valuable room in my suitcase. The same principles apply towards toiletries and other non-essentials, particularly in the developed world. No, your host country may not have your preferred body wash or shampoo from home, but they will have an equivalent. Don’t pack it, there are greater things at stake, and often times, you can find higher quality items to augment what you can’t bring, like the sweater, dress shirt, and pea coat that accompanied me home.

This brings me to the last packing point, bring an extra bag for your return. When I was gone, I missed birthdays, holidays, and all sorts of other occasions that require gifts. I had accumulated a few new things myself, and was gifted more, all of which added up, slowly but surely, to take up a lot more room. Having an extra, cloth duffle bag that I folded up into my original suitcase allowed me to fit everything coming home. That being said, this only works if you have one checked bag and one carry-on when you leave home. Most international flights allow for two checked bags, so take advantage of it when you really need it: on your return flight.

Max blog post 2
Showing the Fam around Salamanca

Finally, realize that your accent will forever be tainted by the guttural, Spanish version.

It doesn’t matter how much you resist. It doesn’t matter how much you practice. It doesn’t matter how many classes you take on your return with professors from Latin America. The Spanish accent sticks like a tongue to a flagpole on a blustery winter day.

Give into it. Learn that joder, with that scratchy “j”, is the most descriptive, utilitarian word in the Castilian dialect. Resign yourself to the bizarre existence of vosotros, and forgive yourself for the first time you say zapato as your tongue slithers its way through your front teeth.

And more than just resign yourself to it, practice and immerse yourself in a Spanish dialect that you’re not necessarily familiar with. Websites such as Matador Network have lists of Spanish idioms that are really useful. Watch a soccer match in Spanish, if not only to count the number of seconds the announcer screams “GOL!!!!”. Practice your vosotros. Watch a Spanish movie, there are a plethora of wonderful ones, my favorites being “Mar adentro”, “Hable con ella”, and “El laberinto del fauno”.

Joder tío, obviously, there are many more ways to prepare, but I hope this helps with a few aspects that may have slipped under the radar.

-Max Spiro, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant

 

Let’s Go Home

I put off packing. Again.
The interminable blue hulk I casually drag behind me as my suitcase stood empty for days awaiting either all my clothing or Abril and Sol, my host hermanitas. Actually, Sol in my backpack, Abril, Pao and Alex – the rest of my host family – in the suitcase. ‘Tis perfect.

Am I leaving? I’ve heard mutterings of this thing they call “the final thesis presentation” and “going home”, but I’m sure that doesn’t apply to me. I have family here.

I’ve had a lot of time to think lately – as I sit and grapple with financial Spanish lingo at my internship, as I panic yet still don’t write my monografia, as I tune out during conversations because its 1am and my maximum Spanish time is 18  hours and how many more hours can we possibly hang out in Cielito Lindo, the bar/restaurant my host family owns – and I’ve most certainly come a long way.

I find myself being very happy as I walk to work or smooch Abril – probably because of all the vitamin D I’ve been getting 😉 I do have my own personal little Sol.

My own personal little Sol and Abril
My own personal little Sol and Abril

There’s something very beautiful about finding normalcy abroad. About accidentally saying “let’s go home” instead of “back to the house”. About a squeaky little voice calling for her Maddie-line to “ven aqui!”. I want very much to go home – but I don’t want to go home.

After living here for 5 months, I don’t really see how people can travel places for only two, three weeks at a time. I don’t see how I’ll be able to do it in the future. There’s no time to build a routine, find the fastest way home because you’ve literally walked every possible route, find your ice cream shop where they start only charging you 75cents instead of the very steep 80 “because you’re so sweet”. Where is the living?

It hasn’t even been 4 full weeks, but I’ve again found a home while surviving abroad. When you think about how little time 1 1/2 months is in the grand scheme (my total time here in Ibarra) – barely over half a DU quarter – but somehow it has been enough. My name has been changed to Maddie-line Munoz (because I’m part of the family),

Abril insists I greet “Papito Alex” when he calls on the phone at night (while my host mom dies laughing in the background), and I’ve figured out how to make my bed in 21 seconds flat.

I haven’t jumped off any more bridges lately, but I’d prefer these weeks of princess dolls, slobbery kisses, and endless Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. This weird little pentagonal room with the crisp white door, dark purple curtains, and my Crayola Halloween sheets will be missed. Most likely because of the two little girls who barge in demanding to snuggle and view Scooby Doo (well one demands, the other just shouts HOLA!).

The goodbyes are fast approaching. It’s nice when they ask me when I next have vacation or make plans for the 20th of June when all the city dances the night away with the indigenous communities for Inti Rymi and we just have to go. And when they ask me that, I don’t smile and nod because it’s polite. I plot and I plan and I try to think of some way to trick DU into sending me back “to study”. I think I can swing it. As my host mom says though, “It’s decided, you’re not leaving. We haven’t made pie yet.” Well, in that case.

I never expected to find a home while abroad, but it is this part of the experience I will forever treasure the most. This goodbye was the hardest I’ve ever experience – harder even than when I originally left my US family and friends back in August because this time there’s no ticket with a set date and time telling me when, to the minute, I will arrive home.

I never expected to have a reason to return. And now that I do, I am so grateful Ecuador chose me and I found the third half of my family. Voy a extrañarte, Ecuador.

The Muñoz Family 2014
The Muñoz Family 2014

– Madeline Doering – DUSA Blogger
December, 2014

Want Some Advice: Listen to the Professionals

Here are some tidbits from the US State Department on how to keep your experience a positive and meaningful experience!

“Look, we don’t mean to nag. But if there was ever anything worth nagging you about, it would be this: Obey the local laws of the country you’re visiting. An arrest or accident during a trip abroad can result in a difficult legal — and expensive — situation. Your U.S. citizenship does not make you exempt from full prosecution under another country’s criminal justice system, and the U.S. government cannot bail you out. Many countries impose harsh penalties for violations that would be considered minor in the United States, and unlike the U.S., you may be considered guilty until proven innocent. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, so be informed. Go from here.

Keep track of the credit limits on your credit cards. Not only does this make good financial sense, but also good legal sense. Americans have been arrested for innocently exceeding their credit limit abroad. Ask your credit card company how to report the loss of your card from abroad. Keep in mind, 1-800 numbers do not work from abroad, but your company should have a number that you can call while you are overseas.

Take plenty of pictures, but only if you know it’s okay. In many countries you can be detained for photographing security-related institutions, such as police and military installations, government buildings, border areas and transportation facilities. If you are in doubt, ask permission before taking photographs.

Make smart purchases. Americans have been arrested for purchasing souvenirs that were, or looked like, antiques and which local customs authorities believed were national treasures. This is especially true in Turkey, Egypt, and Mexico. Familiarize yourself with any local regulations of antiques. In countries with strict control of antiques, document your purchases as reproductions if that is the case.

Make sure your prescription medication is not considered an illegal narcotic. If you are going abroad with a preexisting medical condition, you should carry a letter from your doctor describing your condition and medications, including the generic names of prescribed drugs. Any medications carried overseas should be in their original containers and clearly labeled. Check with the foreign country’s embassy here in the U.S. to make sure your medications are not considered illegal narcotics. Find the foreign embassy’s website.

Don’t accept packages from anyone. Some Americans think it’s a good idea to take advantage of an offer for an all-expense paid vacation abroad in exchange for carrying a small package in their luggage. However, if you are caught, ignorance is no excuse. If the package contains illegal drugs or substances, the fact that you didn’t know will not reduce the charges. You could miss your flight, your exams, or several years of your life during a stay behind bars.

Don’t import, purchase, use, or have drugs in your possession. Drug charges can carry severe penalties, including imprisonment without bail for up to a year before a case is even tried. A conviction carries several more years of imprisonment in a foreign jail. In some countries it doesn’t matter if you’re underage either; you can still be charged as an adult. Mommy!

Do not carry weapons. Even a pocketknife can result in a serious weapons charge while on foreign soil – even if the knife is found during a search or arrest for an unrelated offense. Visitors driving across the border to Mexico should ensure that their vehicles contain no firearms, ammunition, or weapons – Americans have been imprisoned after one single bullet was found rolling around in the trunk.

Avoid participating in demonstrations and other political activities. Here in the U.S. we enjoy many liberties. However, political activities in other countries can result in detention and/or deportation by officials. Even demonstrations that are intended to be peaceful can sometimes turn violent, and you don’t want to be caught in the middle. You can “stick it to the man,” but on your own soil.

If you find yourself in a legal jam, contact the closest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance. Keep in mind, U.S. Consular employees cannot arrange for local officials to release detained American citizens. ”

 

Kelsey Guyette, OIE Peer Advisor

Battling Spiders and Turtles for my Underwear

When I lived with my host family in China, laundry was a foreign world to me. There were two dryer-looking machines in a small corner of the apartment, but, as far as I could tell they were never used—electricity was too expensive. Not only did I hang dry all my clothes, I washed all my clothes by hand.

For the first week of my stay, my host mother did my laundry for me. I remember the day when my host sister, who was two years younger than me, came into my room and told me I would be doing my own laundry. I smiled—because that’s what you do when people are helping you and you have no idea what they mean—and followed her to the bathroom. When asked if I had washed my laundry before, I hesitated then shook my head. The expression on my sister’s face was priceless. She called my mom, who repeatedly showed me that my wringing abilities were below par. Once again I smiled, slightly exasperated. I was athletic, young…why couldn’t I wash my clothes as well as she?!

Throughout my stay, a slew of laundry problems continued to occur. My sister stood and watched me as I tried to bat a spider off my hanger without dropping it down my shirt, I felt self-conscious when I realized I washed my clothes twice as much as my sister (many Chinese will wear the same clothing two times or more before washing it). My mom (jokingly!) told me I was a naughty daughter when half my underwear dropped from the rafters into the turtle bin. Back to the bathroom sink I went.

Tackling laundry was something I never really thought about before going abroad—I definitely did not expect to battle spiders and turtles for a clean shirt! Laundry proved an interesting experience for a lot of my friends—one student was mortified when she was asked to wash her own underwear. I’m pretty sure she buckled down and washed them—clean clothes are a MUST abroad!

In hindsight, I’m glad I left all my super-nice, super special clothing items at home. Of course, I brought some staples such as my favorite shorts and tanks, but nothing that was fancy material. Since I am going abroad longer this time and will be having a professional internship, I will be bringing slightly nicer clothes, but they will be durable! Anything else I need, I can buy abroad. It’ll be in-style within my country, cheaper, and will definitely be laundry-proof!

Michelle Yeager, OIE Student Worker

Packing for Abroad

I have compiled all of the best packing information to help you go abroad and return without incurring the cost of an extra suitcase of things you never used.

The staples:

Your comfies—wearing sweatpants outside of home may not be as warmly accepted abroad, but you will want a pair for chilling in your abroad dorm/home-stay. Bring clothes you can layer as needed.

Practical walking shoes—causal sneakers or sandals. I prefer Tevas; I’ve had a pair that’s lasted me forever and are still durable: http://www.teva.com/

Gift for your host family—if a family is housing you for several months, it pays to show thanks.

One nice outfit—check what is accepted in your host country. Guys: a bow-tie is a good investment and can transform your black suit into a tuxedo.

Outlet adapters—different countries have different electrical outlets. Don’t fry your computer by not having the correct adapter. You can find these at a local technology store or online. Electrical Adapters

Travel-size pack of tissues—there are places that don’t keep toilet paper in the restroom.

For the airplane:

Pack in such a way that you can survive if your bag gets lost; I would advise having two outfits plus toiletries in your carry ons. For most international flights, you will be able to check one bag and have two carry ons—one for the compartments above and one for under your seat. Pack your most important items on your carry ons:

  • Your passport, VISA, travel itineraries and other important documents
  • Travel guides and maps of your host country
  • International calling cards and/or your international cell phone
  • Jewelry, a laptop, student credit cards, check book, cash, iPod, traveler’s checks, camera, etc.

Packing tips:

Lay out what you’re going to pack. Now divide it in half.

Bring clothes that you will wear every day. No “I might wear this.” If you think that, don’t pack it!

You can always buy from local stores. You get new clothing and don’t stick out like a sore thumb.

Rolling your clothes saves more room than folding then/laying them flat in your suitcase.

Pack underwear and socks last—they fit anywhere!

Check http://www.weather.com/ for the weather in your country.

Use the Returnee-Alumni Contact list at the I-House for any region/program specific questions.

Abroad tips:

Make 3 photocopies of the INFORMATIONAL pages of your passport. Carry one in your bags but separate from your passport. Leave one in your home in the U.S., and leave one at your home abroad. I’ve known people to keep a copy in their wallets, purses, even in their shoes!

Exchange your money before you get to your country of destination. More often than not, local banks will give you the best exchange rate, and the lowest conversion fees.

Helpful sites: http://thestudyabroadblog.com/, http://www.studyabroaddomain.com/, http://www.nafsa.org/students.sec/financial_aid_for_study/

 

Michelle Yeager, OIE Student Worker

GOING ABROAD—HOW TO NOT FRY YOUR ELECTRONICS!

For me, one of the big headaches about going abroad was figuring out what I would need to keep my electronics from blowing up!  Computers tend to be easier (virtually all of them should have currency converters built in) but what about everything else?  What do you need to know?

U.S. electronics run on 120 V. Most countries will either run on 110V (in which case you shouldn’t need a converter) or 240V (when you will need one).  Check out this website for a list by country of what current they use and what kinds of plugs you’ll need http://www.kropla.com/electric2.htm

You can buy converters at most electronic stores or departments, so I recommend doing this here—it’s a lot harder to find these in a foreign country, especially since you won’t know where to look and most of what they’ll have is to convert THEIR electronics to other systems.

You’ll also want to double check the type of plug you’ll need.  Our typical U.S. plug looks pretty standard, but you’d be surprised what these look like in some parts of the world!  We use A and B plugs (don’t ask me what that means, just know it!) while the country you’re going to may use a huge variety of other plugs instead.  Again, go to an electronics store and ask for a plug adapter for wherever you’re going—they’ll be able to help you find it.

The last thing to check is WHAT YOU’RE ACTUALLY TAKING! Computers, i-pods, i-pads and cameras are pretty standard, but girls, do you really need to bring hair dryers and curling irons?  You can find this pretty cheap wherever you’re going and just buy one there—plus, these tend to fry REALLY easily so, in my mind, it’s not worth even taking.  Take only the electronics you KNOW you’ll need—anything else you can borrow, buy cheap or do without.  Lots of Study Abroad providers have stashes of small electronics left by previous students, so you may ask them too.

Good luck and pack light 🙂

Stephanie Roberts, OIE Graduate Peer Advisor

Be Prepared!

And yes, it’s true…when I said that title to myself in my head, it came out like the song from The Lion King.

My travel musings this week are focused on some of the less appealing aspects of travel, but certainly very important aspects that cannot be ignored; namely, being prepared for the worst possible situation. I know this seems kind of pessimistic, but I’ve found that if you at least acknowledge the fact that there are certain aspects to your trip that couldgo wrong, you’re much more likely to be able to handle it calmly, and if nothing goes wrong, you’re pleasantly surprised. Allow me to elaborate…

During my year in Switzerland, I had a six week Christmas break. I chose to go back to the United States to see my family, as I had been fairly homesick over the course of the first semester, and my dad offered to pay for the flight. I left a good amount of stuff in my apartment in Geneva, but took all of my clothing that I wore on a daily basis back home with me. All that remained in Switzerland were some sweatpants and summer clothing (which I didn’t plan on needing in Maine in January…)

A month and a half at home was just what I needed. I was very excited to get back to Geneva, particularly because I was beginning my internship at the International Labor Organization the next day. I breezed through the Philadelphia airport and London Gatwick, and arrived in Geneva on Sunday night around 6:00 PM. I waited for my suitcase in the baggage claim area, idly wondering what I could possibly make for dinner. I waited for half an hour and my bag still hadn’t arrived. An hour passed, and no dice. I started to get slightly nervous. That suitcase contained my entire life, including all of the clothing that I desperately needed for my internship in 15 hours. It had my toothbrush, my hair brush, all toiletries…everything. And since it was a Sunday, there were no stores open in Geneva, and they wouldn’t be opening until the next morning, around the same time I had to be at the ILO.

Cue panic mode.

I explained to the gentleman in baggage claim that my bag was nowhere to be found. I gave him the barcode for it, and it didn’t show up in their system. Awesome. They took down my phone number and said they’d call me when they located it. As you can imagine, this didn’t inspire a great deal of confidence, and as I headed home on the tram, I envisioned various sea creatures ripping apart my suitcase somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Thankfully, I had enough friends in my building that I was able to piece together a respectable outfit, and could commandeer some of their toothpaste, but it made me realize how crazy I was not to have put some necessities in my carry-on, so that is now my recommendation for everyone I know: be prepared. If I had at least had a toothbrush, and some mini toiletries, the situation wouldn’t have been quite as horrendous. If I had had room, an extra change of clothing wouldn’t have hurt. So, when preparing for a major trip/move across the globe (like that of a study abroad experience) make sure you plan for all possible contingencies. It’s much better to be safe than sorry.

And yes, they did finally find my suitcase.

Kat Cosgrove, OIE Graduate Peer Advisor