A la ocasión la pintan calva.

Another week down!

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IMG_9026Wednesday was a crazy day, packed with history and culture. We had a half day of classes to visit the Cathedral and la Giralda. The Cathedral is the third largest cathedral in the world (I think?), and was absolutely stunning. In it, we saw the tomb of Christopher Columbus, which was fascinating. La Giralda is a bell tower attached to the Cathedral of Arabic origin. We climbed up 34 ramps to get to the top, but from up there, you could see the entire city stretching out below. Sevilla truly is breathtaking.

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At night, the school took us to a flamenco concert at Casa de Memoria, which was an hour long and quite honestly the most intense I had ever experienced in my life. The speed with which they performed was incredible. I was truly fascinated by the guitarist, though. He was truly the backbone of the performance, and it makes me sad that flamenco guitarists are neglected.

The real highlight of my week though, was a three day trip to Morocco!

IMG_9106It started with a bus ride to Gibraltar, which is a British territory located at the tip of Spain. The area is filled with history, as it is where the Moors invaded Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar has a ton of tunnels slicing through the rock, as it was a military defense base throughout history. Our tour drove through some of the tunnels, and we stopped at an area where we could see the Straight of Gibraltar, with Africa being on the left and Europe on the right. Also, we walked on the runway of the airport in Gibraltar, as it cuts across the main road.

IMG_9093IMG_9102We saw St. Michael’s Cave also, which was beautiful. The lighting in the cave was really weird though, it looked like it was set up for a concert, so taking pictures was hard. But the cave structure was incredible, and it was nice and cool in there! Outside of the cave, there were a bunch of monkeys everywhere. Unfortunately, it was kind of hot, so most of them were in the trees where it was cooler instead of with the people. But monkeys are vicious! They will literally do anything for food. One of them climbed onto our car to find a snack, and some others were literally begging for people to feed them snacks (which is technically illegal).

IMG_9163Our first stop in Morocco was on Saturday morning. We drove to Tangier, a beautiful city located in the mountains. The views of the ocean were beautiful, and we stopped at a lookout point, called Cape Espartel to marvel at the beauty. That was our first place where we interacted with the street vendors. AGGRESSIVE street vendors. You have to bargain and negotiate prices, which is not a skill I really have. I was perfectly happy sitting and watching my friends fight with the vendors-one guy got this fez at half price!

The next thing we did is quite possibly one of the coolest things I have ever experienced-camel rides on the beach! It was INSANE and I honestly am dying to do it again.

 

 

IMG_9248We then drove through the hills of Morocco to another city, Chefchaouen. This is a tiny town located in the mountains where everything is painted in different shades of blue in order to repel the bugs that live in the mountains. The little streets were so beautiful, and I loved hearing the background about why they were painted in blue. The best part, though, was the different shades of blue. It was absolutely beautiful, and then I got to watch everyone haggle a little bit, which is always entertaining for me. Here, we went to a fabric factory, because that is the specialty of the area. They showed us the blankets and scarves that they had created, and there was a man working on the loom when we walked in. The works that he had created were truly works of art.

IMG_9267On Saturday night, we stopped for our “Fantasy Dinner” experience. As usual, I didn’t eat much of the food, but I will say that it was an experience. There were three musicians that performed while we ate, on a drum, a violin, and an oud, which is a fat, 12-string guitar. After the show, though, a belly dancer and a group of Moroccan dancers performed. Their energy was incredible, and the show was truly something I will never forget.

IMG_9274This morning, we explored the city of Tetuan. Here, we went to a Berber Pharmacy, where a man showed us all of his spices, herbs, and oils that he sells. Their uses of spices is fascinating to me. In Morocco, they use common kitchen spices in a medicinal setting. Then, we were given free time to walk around and explore the markets of Tetuan.

“A la ocasión la pintan calva” pretty much means that opportunity only knocks once. Without a doubt, there were a lot of things that I did not really love about the tour that I went on. There were over 100 people on the tour, which made there be a lot of waiting time. But, if I hadn’t gone in an organized tour, I probably would not have made it to Morocco and seen the beautiful country. Though it wasn’t perfect, I would not have changed the way I did the tour.

I also met a girl on the group who quite literally changed my life. Her name is Rachel, and through her stories and life experiences, she taught me a lot of things about myself and the world. I am trying really hard to meet knew people and learn about their perspectives, and meeting here might have honestly been one of the highlights of my trip to Morocco. Seeing the country through her eyes was fascinating to me. I am learning a lot on this trip-about how to be approachable, friendly, and open, and I honestly feel like before this trip I would not have been able to initiate a conversation with Rachel.

Anyway, four continents down, three to go!

P.S.: For any people considering a trip to Morocco, make sure you do your research! If I were to use this tour company again, I would not book the optional trip to Gibraltar. Instead, I would have explored on my own, and paid for a cable car ride to the top of the rock and explored the cave and monkeys in my own free time. Also, having a large group definitely detracts from the experience. Morocco was amazing, but make sure you know more details about the trip before you book!

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Si adelante no vas, altrasarás.

I have officially been in Spain for a week! That means I have a few days’ worth of stories to share!

So I am taking a class in advanced grammar. There are only seven kids in the class, so we get a lot of individualized attention and help. So far, we have discussed a variety of topics and sentence structures. Mostly, our teacher, Mila, just wants us to speak. If we say something wrong, she redirects us and we go from there. The grammar that we are learning now though is hard to understand, even in English!

Every day, I have been trying to do something new. My title for today means “he who does not advance, goes backwards.” This, kind of, is my philosophy for being here. I do not want to waste my time! I’m trying to speak as much as possible and learn as much as I can.

IMG_8801My first day of classes was exhausting! I thought that transitioning to this kind of class would be easy for me, considering how many years I have taken Spanish. The class wasn’t exactly difficult, but I will say that classes in another language are absolutely draining. Mila does try and speak slowly, and now that I’ve had a full week of classes, I am more accustomed to the pace and the way the class is run. I also stopped at a gelato place, and had some of the best ice cream I have ever had in my life. And because I am #basic, I needed to take a picture of it! (10/10 highly recommend Amorino’s mango flavor Even though it’s a chain, it is so good)

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On Tuesday after class, I went to one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been. It is called Plaza de España. It is surrounded by a small canal. If you know me, you know I have a bizarre fascination with boats. So, I insisted that my friends and I rent a little rowboat and try to traverse the canals. As it turns out, I was not destined to do crew, navigating the few turns proved to be a hard task. I managed to crash the boat into the canal walls a record number of times. Whoops. (see me posing for a pic and then forgetting to steer below).

Wednesday was a hard day for me, to be completely honest. And I didn’t think I was going to write about it, but I mean I’m trying to give a complete view of my experience. It started off fine – after class, my professor offered a tour of Santa Cruz, which is an area of the city with lots of older buildings. It was beautiful. Afterwards, I asked my friends if they wanted to eat dinner with me, but instead they were all returning to their houses for dinner. I am a very picky eater, and had been having trouble finding things that I like to eat. Up until Wednesday, I had a diet consisting of two pieces of toast for breakfast, coffee, and ice cream. Not exactly healthy, but safe. When everyone left, I felt alone. And hungry. I wound up breaking down a little bit, sitting outside of a Starbucks, and crying to my parents on the phone (I think I might’ve scared them a little bit). I was scared to go into a cafe alone, but was so hungry. I ended up eating alone at Burger King (sad, I know). I despise fast food, but I was too scared to go anywhere else.

Now it is Saturday, and I am much more confident! I found some other friends that are always down to eat, so I’m happy. I actually went out with them last night, and ate shrimp scampi, or gumbas con ajillo. Ask my parents, that is one of my favorites! It’s still hard for me to initiate going out to do something, but I know now that if I’m hungry, I kind of have to speak up. Also, I am getting better at ordering food confidently! It’s all a learning process.

img_8881.jpgOn Thursday, my school made us go on a mandatory trip to Itálica, which were Roman ruins. The history that runs through Spain is extensive. I’ve already been to Rome, but I didn’t realize the vastness of the Roman empire. I learned in high school that it was huge, but actually seeing that it stretched all the way to Spain was really cool. We saw an amphitheater which was awesome, but I was super into the arm-less statues because they remind me of Hercules (Greek, I know, but also the best movie of all time). Then we went to a festival, called la Peregrinación al Rocío. This festival is a religious pilgrimage to the statue of Rocío in Huelva. From Seville, the pilgrimage takes a week. I ended up seeing the return to Seville. The festival was a unique experience for me. I had never seen anything like it, and I’m definitely glad I went. I just was so worried about the animals pulling the “carretas.” But I loved seeing everyone dressed up in the traditional flamenco clothes. 

IMG_8977Yesterday, I went to the flamenco museum. I have to do a presentation on the history of dance, so I went to the museum. It helped a lot haha. Then, we went on a bus tour of the city. It was nice to be in air conditioning! After, some of my friends and I went out for a glass of wine and to eat (posting this picture for my parents to prove I’m okay and have friends). But it was really fun, and a nice little early birthday celebration.

Today, we had a mandatory visit to Córdoba. We explored the Mezquita, which is a cathedral built inside a mosque. The architecture was incredible, and I don’t think there is anything like it in the world. There are Arabic influences on the outside and outer edges of the cathedral, but in the middle there is an altar, and the artwork is depicting Biblical scenes. The evolution of culture over time was really  cool to see.

 

 

We then saw the Jewish synagogue, Alcazar palace, and stopped for ice cream (of course).

So, I’m learning to find my way here. I’m learning to be more comfortable. But it’s all an experience! Without the harder days, I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate the better ones. All I can really do is take every opportunity that I can, and learn from my mistakes and adventures.

Ponte las pilas

So I finally made it to Sevilla! To be completely honest, I have been thinking in Español all day, so writing in English feels so unnatural. That’s good, right?

Arriving here (as usual) was a hassle and a half. First, I was dropped off at the wrong terminal, and then had to terminal-hop my way around JFK Airport. Then, every time I passed through security (in NY, in Madrid, and in Seville), they stopped me to thoroughly investigate my carry-on because of the candle that I had packed for my host mom.

But, eventually I made it! The first thing I noticed: Sevilla is HOT. And there is no breeze. My host sister this morning says that the summer is so hot most people try to leave. Así es la vida. I really shouldn’t be complaining, though, because Sevilla is beautiful.

I met my host family around 11. My Señora, Macarena, lives with her husband, daughter, and twin sons. The daughter, Tatiana, is 15, and the boys, Jaime and Guille, are 13. The family also has three dogs, Maui, Kenga, and Indie. They are all very nice, and seem to be interested in my life at home! They asked me about my school, my family, and my dog (mi amor). I met my roommate, Ly, last night, because she had flight problems. She is from Vietnam, so it is interesting to hear about her life.

We had orientation last night too, where a teacher brought us around the school and then the surrounding area. My tour guide turned out to be my teacher for my class which starts tomorrow.

Today, though, we went to Cádiz in order to escape the heat. Our tour guide, Rocío delivered the entire tour in Spanish. That, alone, was my favorite thing I’ve done so far. The fact that I was able to comprehend a two hour tour in Spanish amazed me. And my Spanish will only get better!

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After she pointed out the Cathedral and other important sites, she gave us free time. I, of course, required ice cream. Then, my new friends and I walked over to the beach. Interesting fact about European beaches: it is common to go topless! Once, we got used to that, we swam, the water was beautiful.

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On the ride back, though, I fell asleep. The translation of my blog tile for today is basically “look alive.” I am sad that I fell asleep on the ride back, I could’ve learned a lot more about Cádiz or Sevilla.

When I got back to the city, I wasn’t ready to go home! I walked around and explored the city. The architecture here is incredible, and I have to resist the urge to take a picture of every building I see. I still took too many, but it is beautiful.

My Spanish is clearly improving, and it is only day #2. Speaking is difficult, but I am growing more confident with my host family. Also, my friends and I are trying to fully immerse by speaking only in Spanish to each other. The only exception is with directions – that’s confusing even in English!

Well, tomorrow I start school! Adios!

Buena Onda

When people ask me where I’m from, I’ve never quite known how to answer. Technically, I live in Bethlehem Township, New Jersey. But that gets confusing, because I go to school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Because Bethlehem Township doesn’t have a post office, my mailing address is for Asbury, NJ. But, Asbury is about a half hour away from my house, and if I tell people Asbury, then they assume I’m talking about Asbury Park, and though it would be pretty cool to live on the beach, I love my farm town. The closest town (I suppose), is Clinton, but then some people mishear me and think I mean Clifton, which is completely different. I also live ten minutes from the border, so people accuse me of being from Pennsylvania and not a “true New Jersey-an,” but I love my state and would never claim another state as mine. Then, there’s the whole North-South debate, and I live in Central Jersey…

I don’t know. I guess my lack of a town has given me a minor identity crisis, but that hasn’t stopped me because I have more Jersey pride than anyone I know.

One thing about wherever the heck I live is we have this thing called the Hunterdon County Bubble. In our little Bubble we are sheltered. Secluded. Safe. But we are unaware. Our Bubble protects us, but leaves us blissfully ignorant of the rest of the world. You don’t leave the Bubble, or if you do, at the very least, you are tied to it.

My goal was to leave the Bubble to learn more about the rest of the world. But then I ended up going to college only thirty minutes away. Yes, I no longer live within the walls of the Bubble, but I’m too close to truly experience life without the security of my home.

I have studied Spanish for all of high school, and my first semester of college. My major requirements did not allow me to pursue Spanish for my second semester, however I plan to continue learning through conversation, reading, and music. My brother, two years younger (and obviously far inferior lol), constantly berates me for continuing the language, but I love the beauty of it. I love how the words melt together, and the musical quality of sentences. Though far from fluent, I try to experiment with the language as much as possible.

So, how can I escape the Bubble? Study abroad. My major would make it difficult for me to study for a semester, but I was desperate to experience life outside of the Bubble, so I explored my other options. A summer program seemed best suited for me. To grow as a person, I need to learn about another culture. And, describing where I live may seem like a pretty trivial thing. But it’s still confusing and hard. I’m by no means identity-less, but I still want to grow, and learn more about myself, and learn more about my identity. I want to learn the nuances of the language that I have grown to love, the ones that you can’t learn in a classroom. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself shy, but I guess I would say that I’m closed off. I truly hope that this summer will open my eyes, and open me up to the culture and lifestyle of Seville.

I truly am I creature of habit. I crave consistency, so much that my best friends can recite my order at a diner (two scrambled eggs, bacon extra crispy, home fries well done, rye toast — look at me, feeling the need to prove I’m from NJ). I fear change.

I’m a picky eater (tbh I live off of PB&J sandwiches and cereal) – how will I possibly survive for five weeks in a foreign country? Also, I don’t eat fish. That’s a staple, there, though. Maybe (hopefully) I’ll learn to like it?

And then there are the questions. Okay, yes. I know I always resort to thinking about what-ifs and worst-case-scenarios, but seriously. WHAT IF I get lost and have no money and forget all my Spanish? WHAT IF I don’t make any friends? WHAT IF I don’t get along with my host family? WHAT IF something happens to my family while I am abroad? WHAT IF I can’t keep up with the Spanish, and the courses are too hard for my brain to comprehend?

So, yes. I’m absolutely terrified. I always need to take things slowly, so I will be spending the next five months mentally preparing for this. But I can do it.

I will do it.

The closest translation of “buena onda” is probably “good vibes.” That is going to be mantra, when I am there. I am going to cling to it. Whenever I am scared, or unsure, that is going to be what I am going to think. If I get anxious before leaving, it will remind me to keep breathing and think about what is to come. If I get homesick while there, it will remind me to think of the amazing experiences I will have had.

And, no amount of doubt could possibly overshadow the excitement and anticipation building. I only just got my acceptance today and look at me! I’ve already started a blog.

I’m incredibly excited for this experience abroad. Seville, here I come!