Big(ish) Person, Small(er) Spain

I guess I first realized it at El Escorial in Toledo. To most people, the 16th century monastery/palace is a grand and awesome display of Golden Age architecture, brimming with culture and reverence. For me, it was a maze of lethally low doorways and staircases that I probably would have been better prepared for by watching the classic montage from “Dodgeball” rather than the historical pep talk our group received from the tour guide.

El Escorial

I remember thinking, “Man these doorways are really low, but then again, it was built in the 1500’s – people were way shorter then. I’m sure Spaniards have accounted for evolution and the overall growth of the human body.” Well, it seems that wave of science hasn’t quite made it over here yet – that or there is something in the water in America, because everything in this country seems to be just 3-5 inches too short/small/cramped for my lanky 6’5 frame.

I realize I’m not exactly a skyscraper by American standards, but to Spanish eyes I seem to come off as this uncannily large person and someone with dimensions there simply has never been a need to accommodate for.

I have had to do some serious adjusting in the way I carry myself, my posture and even the way I wake up in the morning. To name a few particularly problematic structures:

1.)        Doorways. – This one is probably the most obvious, but also one of the most injury-inducing. All of the doorways in my homestay have been pleasant greetings for my forehead on many a morning. These greetings are often accompanied by a cackle from my host-mother and a semi-concerned, semi-sarcastic “Hombre, Cuídate!”

2.)        Desks. – Freshmen year at DU I put three bricks under each corner of my desk in halls in order to elevate it and try to fit the stilts that are my legs. I don’t know how practical it would be to carry around a bag of bricks with me at all times, but I am seriously considering it. The desk in my bedroom is all but unusable and everything at the university is essentially the same. Although, at school I don’t have a choice so I end up kind of swinging my legs to the side, or, if I get agitated, just putting them to their normal, natural height, causing the desk to come off the ground 2-3 inches. I have gotten some puzzled, freightened looks, but it just feels so right.

3.)        Beds. – I have a twin bed in my homestay. Here is what it looks like when I lay down with my head as far back as possible. ‘nuf said.

4.)        Lights. – The soul source of light in my bedroom is a jerry-rigged lamp hung at an uncomfortably low level, so that when I wake up I either hit it, or end up wearing it like a hat. Although it looks extremely fashionable, it isn’t exactly an ideal wakeup routine.

One more example that is not really a structure but more of an item is that I had the naive impression I would be able to buy shoes here once I arrived, after I lost a pair at the melee that was Tomatina. To my chagrin, my requests for a size 50, or just anything larger than a 45, were met with puzzled stares and a few mutterings of “hombre…no,” which in this case can be translated to, “’Da heck you mean you looking for a size 50? You crazy?” The most comical factor of this in my mind was that nobody even apologized or offered to check the back room, it was as if they had simply never heard of a company manufacturing such an absurdly unnecessary size.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to complain and vent about my femur frustrations. I realize that in the scheme of things, a few bruises is a small price to pay for the dream life I am able to live here – I mean the idea that I am allowed to galavant around Europe for a year is almost too awesome to be true, but it is and I am. I am simply pointing out the, often comical, differences in size appropriation between America and Spain. If anything, my bruised noggin has in fact taught me something, that being that while you are abroad, you can’t change the culture of the country you are in, but the country certainly can and probably will change you. So while I may not be the biggest fan of having to walk around my house like Quassi Moto, I’ve gotten used to it and adapted to the situation and culture around me. I think that is the entire point of studying in a foreign country, so although I may have had to endure a few welts on the forehead, I’m slowly but surely letting Spanish culture sink into every aspect of my life, and that feels pretty awesome.

Also, I’ll gladly  endure hitting my head and scrunching my legs for the rest of my life if I can continue seeing things like this:

Zarautz, Spain

— Quincy Snowdon, 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