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.

2013-10-26 19.58.36
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

 

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The Final Countdown: How to Overcome Adversity in the Form of Buzzkills

My cooking has come to a slow trot these days, but I’d like to think I’m filling my final days in America with some much needed R&R: Rest & Reflection. I’ve gone home to see the family and old friends, absorbed the view of the Flatirons from Boulder, thrown myself a going away party filled with some of my favorite people, and pondered packing (I’ve admittedly been putting it off).

But now my to-do list has grown immensely: buy power converters to fit European outlets, pick up a prescription, take care of some last minute DU business, see my parents, read this book, buy pepper spray…. It seems my period of R&R was overextended and I have now been plunged into stress mode. This became most apparent to me when I woke up to find my four-drawer dresser with a box television on top of it pulled two feet away from the wall. Evidently, I did this in my sleep. I have a tendency to perform minor sleepwalking acts when I’m asleep, especially when I’m stressed about something, but this is the most extreme thing I have done. On top of that, I’ve been dealing with some odd stomach aches, dizziness, and nausea for the last week–probably also stress-induced.

but why, cheyenne? why so seriously stressed?

I’ll tell you why. I have 3 days to go until I depart for Rome. 3. Three. Tre. The mixture of sheer panic, excitement, and nerves are indescribable. My friend and co-worker asked me how I was feeling on my last work shift as a campus tour guide on Wednesday and my best response was “I feel all emotions.” The fear has mostly come from my recent panic attack after a stranger told me he was “sorry” I was going to Rome because I will “hate it.” Surprisingly, this is not the first time this has happened to me since I found out I would be studying abroad in Rome. I’ve probably had a total of four or five people listen to me tell them I’m going, absorb the twinkle in my eye and kick in my step, then proceed to bash my excitement into the ground with every reason in the book that Rome is a bad place. It had not really bothered me before this particular soulless man reiterated this–probably because he did so exactly ten days before I would leave while I was working my last shift at my second summer job at a frozen yogurt shop. Why on earth would someone say something like that to another person? Please, folks, take it from Thumper:
Found on myprettypinkpearl.blogspot.com

Thankfully, with help from my friends and family, I’ve been able to overcome this mishap for the most part. I’ve chalked it up to close-mindedness. I’d like to think I, unlike them, am going into this with a completely open mind. Sure, I have some vague idea of what to expect, but I’m going to roll with the punches and take on whatever comes my way exactly how I’ve learned to approach any other hardship: with a sense of humor and a trust that what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.

The butterflies of excitement partying in my stomach right now are mostly due to reading the blog of my friend and fellow study abroad student, Julie, who has already arrived in Rome with her mother for some pre-program exploration. She keeps up a fantastic blog that cheers me up every time I start feeling any form of doubt. Read it if you want to feel your heart explode with happiness.

moral of the story:
Take into account the opinions of others, but don’t let them define your own opinions before you get there. Let it open your mind to the fact that, hey, maybe everything won’t be chalked up to what you think it will. Maybe the transportation will be unreliable. Maybe there will be some unfriendly people. Maybe there will be some food you dislike. (Who are we kidding? All the food will be amazing.) But the bottom line is, I’m about to experience the world. That should be a point of excitement and joy, not of fear and feng shui-inducing stress.

– Ciao for now –
Cheyenne Michaels, DUSA Blogger

Passports, Puerility and (Lack of) Preparation: How to (un)successfully prepare to study abroad

Image of a U.S. visa.
Courtesy of Google Images.

“Congratulations! I am happy to inform you that you have been officially accepted into ISA’s Individualized Studies With Spaniards Year 3 2012/2013 program at the University of Salamanca in Salamanca, Spain.”

Those are the now (in)famous first words that I heard alerting me that I would be spending 10 months abroad. With them came a frenzied wave of excitement, a pinch of trepidation, and dozens of high-fives, hugs and “That’s going to be so awesome! That’ll be an amazing experience!” facebook posts.

Like most of my friends, I was ecstatic with the thrilling opportunity set before me. However, that initial giddiness subsided after a day or two, and after a brief scan of the rest of my acceptance letter, which included quite a few “as soon as possibles,” I continued on with my life and nonchalantly thought nothing of the pressing deadlines before me…like only a 20-year-old could.

So, as thoughts of actually preparing to go to a foreign country cozily rested in the distant corners of my brain, days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. After a disturbing amount of time had passed, I finally broke my fast of abroad information and realized that I should probably send one of these ISA folks an e-mail – just to make sure everything is gravy.  Well it turned out gravy things were not, and screwed I sure was. In the middle of May, as finals started turning from specks on the horizon into precipices in front of me, I got hit with a firestorm of abroad paperwork – and it hit hard, very hard.

To break it down for you, I got absolutely slammed by all of the following (in order of realization):

  • My passport was due to expire in a month, so I needed to get it renewed. (Takes 6-8 weeks to process)
  • Realized I was going to have to go to the Consulate General of Spain in New York City to get my visa…which had no openings until July, and there is absolutely no way to expedite. (Takes 6-8 weeks to process)
  • Realized, “Oh wait, a safety net! ISA does this all for you for a fee!” Then realized I had to get a hefty packet of materials to Austin, Texas in two-and-a-half weeks, with miles of red tape and government bureaucracy to trudge through to get there. Yikes.
  • Realized I had to get a criminal background check for any state I’ve lived in over the past 10 years – Colorado and Connecticut.
  • Realized said background checks had to be stamped and signed by the Secretary of State for each state. (Takes 2-3 weeks to process)
  • Realized I had to get a physical scheduled with a doctor in Colorado…where I knew no doctors. (Earliest appointment was 10 days out)

I thought it was over. The fat lady had sung. The pigs had flown around the world and back. I was not going to Spain. This sucks. But, the tale does not end there…I am writing this blog after all. Sparing many details, I somehow, someway scraped and clawed my way to that ISA deadline and got my materials to Austin, Texas on time. It involved daily phone calls with my parents, dozens of light rail trips downtown, repetitive head banging on the steering wheels of friends cars, hundreds of dollars of expedite fees, and hours upon hours of restless anxiety. Needless to say, it was not exactly a mosey through a meadow on a spring morning, and I would not recommend it or wish it on anybody.

However, that two week experience, taught me my first two, and perhaps most important, lessons of my study abroad experience:

1.) Be prepared and organized, only bad things happen when you aren’t.

2.) Relax, breathe and know that things will eventually, somehow, by some miracle, work themselves out…usually.

Quincy Snowdon, DUSA Blogger