Wednesday, July 1, 2015

El Fin (The End)

Well I am back home in the good old USA! It feels amazing to be home with all my family and friends. Spain was incredible; however, there is truly no place like home. Although I have already been back for two months and have talked with some of you in person, I thought I would do one wrap up post of my Spain experience.

Amphitheater in Tarragona
When I last left you, I was heading to Barcelona for the group's last weekend trip. On our way to Barcelona, we stopped in Tarragona, which was the first Roman city built on the Iberian Peninsula. If you have ever seen the movies Gladiator or then you can have a pretty good idea of what this city once looked like. There are still ruins of what were once an Amphitheater and a Chariot Racing Arena. We had the chance to walk through the catacombs where the animals where held and where the Gladiators were kept. The movie Ben Hur was filmed here as well. The city definitely takes you back thousands of years and makes you feel like you are in Ancient Rome despite the bustle of the modern age occurring right next door.

After the short detour in Tarragona, we headed on to Barcelona. Barcelona, like Madrid, is a very thriving city. There is a mix of old architecture and modern buildings within the city. We toured the Gothic Quarter our first evening there. Here, we encountered numerous cathedrals, paved alleyways, and beautiful stone statues. In front of one of the cathedrals, we encountered various street performers. Our tour guide told us that Sunday morning are a good time to be in this part of Barcelona because after church services there will be groups from the congregation doing traditional dances in front of the cathedral. This area of Barcelona was also great for souvenir shopping and finding unique boutiques and restaurants. 

Park Güell
The second day in Barcelona started with a bus tour of various parts of the city. Stops included Barcelona's Olympic Stadium (Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys)Casa Batlló, Park Güell, and La Sagrada Família. Park Güell and La Sagrada Família are easily two of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Park Güell was enchanting. Gaudi was the mastermind of this unique park. He created it during his naturalist phase, so you can see the influence of organic shapes in the architecture. It was truly one of the most unique places I have ever had the chance to visit. The colorful mosaic design really brings personality to the park and is what made it stand out from other sights I saw while in Spain. La Sagrada Família was another amazing site to visit. Although construction started before him, Gaudi is yet again the mastermind behind another incredible site in Barcelona. La Sagrada Família has been under construction since 1882. It is a little more than halfway done at this point and is expected to be done around 2026. The architectural design is a mix of Gothic, Modernism, and Art Nouveau. I visited a lot of cathedrals while I was in Spain, but this was by far the most spectacular. I did not have a chance to go inside, but I would definitely put it on your top ten sites to see list if you are ever in Spain. 

La Sagrada Família
We had the rest of the weekend free in Barcelona to explore the city as we pleased. My friends and I decided to explore the Playa de la Barceloneta (Barcelona Beach). We walked along the pier on our way there and ran upon an outdoor market selling everything from handmade jewelry and hand painted fans to local wines and homemade cheeses. It was a great place to buy some gifts to bring home to friends and family. The beach was nice, but it was very crowded and small compared to beach you might go to for vacation. One of the most interesting parts of going to the beach wasn't actually the beach itself but rather the fact that there were many topless women at the beach. I had heard that women will go topless at beaches in Europe but it is one thing to hear about it and another thing to be nonchalantly staring at the ocean and see a woman with no top walk past you. 

Now at this point in time, my trip takes a turn for the worst health-wise. As we were relaxing on the beach, I started to feel extremely itchy and little blisters started forming on my head and torso. Thinking I was having an allergic reaction the soap I used at our hotel, I scratched away unknowingly making the situation worse. We left Barcelona in the afternoon and the whole bus ride home the itchiness and discomfort worsened. When I finally got to my host family's house, I was feeling pretty bad so I went straight to sleep. I woke up the next morning covered with these tiny blisters and in extreme pain. I did not go to class that morning and instead waited until around 1pm to go to the on-campus clinic with my Professor. 

 Playa de la Barceloneta 
I was in the clinic office for less than five minutes when the doctor came to the conclusion that I had contracted the Chicken Pox, or as it’s called in Spanish, Varicela. So with only 10 days left in Spain, I was sick. And not just a little cold sick, but I am going to be quarantined in my room sick. I have studied abroad multiple times and had good experiences and bad experiences, but never in a million years did I think I would get the Chicken Pox while living in Spain. Naturally, I was pretty upset at first that I would be spending my last 10 day sick at home so I wouldn't give any of the other students in the WIU Group the virus. However, that quickly turned into fear that I wouldn't be allowed on the plane if my spots hadn't reached the non-contagious phase by the day of our flight home. 

My family back home and my host family were very helpful during this hard time. My family kept encouraging me that it would be OK and my host family took amazing care of me. I was really blessed to be put in such a loving home with people who were totally fine with taking care of someone who they barely knew. My professor was helpful as well taking me to the doctor and contacting the Study Abroad Office back at WIU to come up with back up plans in case I had to stay in Spain for a longer period of time. I was able to go to the last day of class to take the final exam and receive my certificate from the Universidat Jaume. I was really happy that I was well enough to celebrate the end of such an amazing experience with my classmates and professors. Thankfully, I was well enough to travel the day of our flight. Granted, it was uncomfortable traveling for 10 hours, but well worth finally being able to see everyone I missed dearly while I was abroad.
Last Night with My Host Family!

After having quite a bit of time to reflect on my experience in Spain, I have to say that it was the best way to end my undergraduate career. I gained a lot of insight and experience that I was never able to get on previous study abroad trips just being a student. I really had the chance to test the waters with planning educational trips for students and get a different perspective of what it takes to manage a study abroad program. I had a chance to greatly improve my Spanish and feel more prepared to use my Spanish in the real world. I highly recommend the WISE Spain program to any WIU Students, undergrad and grad, or the Colegio de España in Salamanca and Universidat Jaume I to those looking to do an individual study abroad

My final adventure as an undergrad has come to a close, but as always, I am keeping my eyes peeled and my ears open for the next big opportunity. As I begin my master's degree at WIU, I look forward to finding more ways to promote study abroad programs and get people interested in learning a second language. Now on to the next great adventure!

¡Hasta Luego!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Castellón: The Final Month

Hola Friends!

It has been quite awhile since I posted. Life in Spain has been quite busy and time is flying by. It crazy to think that I will be back in the good old USA in almost two weeks. As this experience starts to come to an end, I look back and think how many incredible opportunities I have had on this trip and how it has helped me grow as an individual.

with my new Spanish Family
First things first, I am now living by the Mediterranean in the city of Castellón. It is smaller than Salamanca and has less of a university influence, but it is a beautiful city nevertheless and I feel very blessed to be living here. I am with a new host family that is AMAZING. I am very lucky to have gotten young host parents who are very active and take me places and introduce me to new people regularly. My host parents names are Maria and Alex. I also have a host brother named Mario who is 7 and host sister named Emma who is about 15 months old. So far my time living with them has been great and I couldn't ask for a better family to spend my last month in Spain with.

I have class in Castellón at the Universitat Jaume I from 9am to 1:30pm during the weekdays. The class I am in here is composed just of students in the WISE Spain Program. It is a class that focuses on different cultural aspects of Spain. It is very different from class back in Salamanca, but it is nice to have a change of pace opposed to only Spanish Language/Grammar. The university is much bigger than the school we were at in Salamanca. It is a modern university campus that has a more WIU feel than the other did. We are not in classes with Spanish students, but we are each paired up with a mentor who is a Spanish Student. This gives us the opportunity to mingle with the locals and really make friends outside of international students. I have a very nice mentor that even took me out with her friends one night.

We still have excursions at this school. We went to the city of Valencia and to a city near Castellón so far. Valencia was a very beautiful city, but we only had one day there, so I did not get to see much. We had a tour of the city in the morning and then went to an Oceanographic in the afternoon. What we did see was interesting, but I feel like we needed the whole weekend to really see what the city had to offer.

Next weekend we are going to Barcelona, so I will do my best to post about it. Also, if you remember, I went to England in the end of February. I went to Rome and Paris as well two different weekends, as well as a weekend in Madrid and 5 days traveling through the South of Spain with my class. I plan on writing posts about these trips throughout this week and next.

                 Seeing you in the near future,


Friday, February 27, 2015

One month down...

Guggenheim Museum at night
Just took my final exam for my first class in Spain! I can't believe how quickly this moth has flown by. It feels like I just arrived. I definitely think that these next two months will go by just as quickly as the first.

As I said in my last post, I planned a trip for students to go on to Bilbao Spain in the Basque region of Spain. Including myself, 8 students went. I was very happy at the size of the group and that students actually took the opportunity to go on an extra trip that I planned.

I created an intenary for the students so that they had an idea of what to visit while we were there. The only required activity I scheduled was to the Guggenheim Museum. There was a free guided tour in Spanish, so students got to see the museum and learn the history while still practicing Spanish.

The Guggenheim Museum was incredible. If you ever have a chance to travel to Spain, I strongly recommend putting Bilbao on your list of cities to visit. Guggenheim was unlike any museum I had ever been to. I cannot show you many photos because you are not allowed to take any inside the exhibit rooms. However, the art outside the building is a very accurate preview of the amazing pieces you will see inside. Even if you don't have time to enter the Guggenheim, just walking along the river walk that leads to it would be an experience within itself. Along with Guggenheim, there are various other museums. There are many smaller museums like a museum of Archealogy/Ethnography and a museum of the Basque Region.

El Museo de Las Bellas Artes is another bigger museum that is filled with artwork from almost every century and in every style. It is a beautiful place to visit that you can spend hours wandering around. Each of the museums were not expensive at all. Guggenheim and Bellas Artes was only about $6 for a student while the smaller museums costs less than $2. I guarantee you, each museum was worth every penny you paid.

All in all, I am very pleased with how this trip went. The planning process was very time consuming (10+ hours), but it was worth it in the end. I hope that a weekend trip to Bilbao can one day be included in the WISE Spain Program because I think it would be beneficial for students to experience every region of Spain. Until about 5 years ago, the Basque region of Spain was home to a terrorist group called ETA that wanted the region to secede from Spain. For that reason, it was not deemed as a safe place to travel and was there not included in the program. Now that this terrorist group has all but vanished, it is safe to travel to.

One think to note about this region of Spain is that they do not speak Spanish for the most part; they speak Euskera (basque). This language has little similarities to other languages in Europe. It is very difficult to red or understand even if you speak Spanish. Despite the difficulty, it is a language I hope to learn. Learning a language in turn helps you learn and understand a culture, therefore I think it is important in learning the full culture in Spain. At an outdoor flea market in Bilbao I accidentally bought three of the Harry Potter books in basque because I was in a hurry and did not check them. However, I am going to take it as an opportunity to try to learn basque.

Puppy of Flowers outside the Museum
Besides the trip to Bilbao, life in Spain is becoming more and more natural. I have my daily routine and I feel like my mind is in tune with the lifestyle here. My Spanish has greatly improved in the first month and I am excited to see how far I advance by the time I am done. We hd a final exam today, which, surprisingly, was not difficult. It was the most prepared I have ever felt going into a Spanish exam. 

Right now, I am traveling to London, England for a four day trip. I am extremely happy that I have the chance to go to England while I am in Europe. There are many sites I want to see in London (the Tower of London) and outside of London (Stonehenge). I will also be going to Salisbury and visiting a friend inBristol while I am in England. Next week I will be sure to upload photos of my adventures in England! Tuesday morning, I will be starting my new Spanish class, so this will be a nice mini vacation from classes.

Sending my love from afar,


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The First Few Weeks...

cafe con leche y tapas
Hello Friends and Family!

For about two and a half weeks, I have been living in the beautiful city of Salamanca in Spain. I still cannot believe that I am finally living in the country I have always dreamed of visiting. Some of you may remember that Spain was my first choice when I studied abroad as a Rotary Student, however, I got my third choice, which was Chile. Although I do not regret how my first experience studying abroad panned out, I am very thrilled and blessed to be in Spain, ¡por fin!

Just a little background for those of you not familiar with Salamanca, it is located in Northwestern Spain in the region of Castile and Leon. It is home to a few hundred thousand people and about 30,000 students. It has a huge population of international students, making it a very diverse and culturally rich city. The University of Salamanca is the oldest in Spain and the fourth oldest in western university. For this, and many other reasons, it is a very historical city.

La Plaza Mayor, Salamanca 
Although this is my fourth experience as an exchange student, it is unique from the other because I am doing an extra class, in addition to the program's courses, where I serve as a sort of "assistant" to the professor from WIU who is leading the program. I was very excited for this opportunity, because, as some of you may know, one of my career goals is to one day develop and lead my own study abroad program. Assisting my professor gives me the opportunity to learn exactly what it takes, not only just when it comes to trip planning, but how to really fulfill the many roles that are encompassed in the one position. You are not only the professor, leader, and developer of the program, you are the guidance counselor, mentor, tour guide, bookkeeper, emergency contact, investigator, etc. on top of doing professional research and fulfilling duties for the university back in the US. It is a very active role that I feel will take many years to gain the patience, knowledge, and experience for me to truly be ready to do.

With Momma at Home Lisbon Hostel
In addition to helping my professor during the program, I am also planning "mini" trips that are optional for students to go on. Last week, I planned a weekend trip to Lisbon, Portugal that went very well. Two students went with me and we had an amazing experience. We stayed at a hostel close to the city center and had the chance to meet many people from around the world. If you are ever travelling to Lisbon, I recommend that you stay at Home Lisbon Hostel. It is a friendly, homey environment and has very safe and clean accommodations. it was about $18 night/person and included a free breakfast and free walking tours of the city. If anyone has ever had doubts about staying in a hostel, drop them! It is an affordable way to travel and meet wonderful people at the same time.
Sintra, Portugal

We also visited the town of Sintra for a day. Sintra is about an hour train ride from Lisbon for about $5 there and back. It is well worth the little bit of money! There are a variety of castles to visit and it is a beautiful place to go if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. It is literally a town that looks like it is out of a storybook and the castles are right out of a fairytale. This weekend I have a trip planned to Bilbao, which is on the Northern Coast of Spain. I will remark on that trip in my next blog post!

Now, let's get back to some more of how my experience as an exchange student in Salamanca is going. First off, I am very lucky to have a very kind host mom that has taken me and my roommate in as her own children. Host families, in my opinion, are a huge part of a study abroad experience. Essentially, you will most likely leave the country you studied abroad in with a new "family." I am lucky enough to have two Chilean "families" from my previous study abroad experiences and I am confident that I will leave Spain with a Spanish "family" as well.

Alcázar of Segovia
My Spanish class at the Colegio de España is going very well so far. I am in Level B2, which is like being in an upper 300 level Spanish class back at WIU. I am in class from 9am to 1pm, Monday through Friday. We get one 15 minute break at 10am and a 30 minute break at 11:45am. This means that each day of class is like a week of classes back at WIU. What does this mean? Well, let's just say your mind is having to take in a lot each of information each day. Despite the minor brain cramps that occur daily, it is, in my opinion, the best way to get a language embedded into your brain and truly become immersed in it. Unlike when I am at WIU, my brain has no time to think in anything BUT Spanish the majority of the day. I think that after this program, I will definitely be close to a native level of Spanish that will benefit me  greatly in achieving future goals

Besides the classes we have daily, there are also excursions to other cities, visits to museums, etc. that are a part of the class with our professor from WIU. The first excursion we had was to Segovia. This city was the home of Isabel de Catolica (aka the famous Isabel and Ferdinand who sent Christopher Columbus to find the Indies). I am kind of obsessed with these two monarchs and their daughter Kathryn of Aragon (1st wife of Henry VIII), so it was a very magical experience for me. We got to see the Plaza that Isabel was crowned in and the castle that she lived in (this castle was the inspiration for Disney's Cinderella Castle). Walking through that city was literally like walking through history. I cannot describe how much I loved being there, even though it was for a short time. On our way to Segovia, we stopped at Ávila, which is the last completely walled city left in Europe. We had a chance to stand on a hill overlooking the city and take photos of the amazing architecture that has withstood hundreds of years.
Ávila, Spain

One thing I decided to do on this study abroad was to do some different immersive experiences. First off, I got a gym membership the first week of I was in Spain. Now I did do it a little bit to try to keep of the exchange student weight, but also to help me use Spanish and hear Spanish in a more normal daily life activity. It has been a great way to keep my mind focused on Spanish and has even helped me learn some words and phrases. It is also a great way to experience different cultural aspects and meet the local people.

In addition to a gym membership, I am doing a conversation partner program. I am meeting with a female student from one of Salamanca's universities once a week for a conversation hour. This "exchange" is where we talk to each other in the opposite person's language. Therefore, I talk to her in Spanish and she talks to me in English. This is to help each other with the language we are trying to learn and give us an opportunity to have a cultural exchange as well, which doesn't necessarily occur when you are taking language classes abroad. I am excited to do this and hopefully will gain a great friendship from this experience.

I think I covered the majority of what has been going on in my life these past few weeks. I will try to post at least once every two weeks, but when I have time I will do it once a week. I hope you enjoy reading about my experience in Spain! I hope all is well back home in the good ole USA!

¡Hasta el proximo vez!
 Until next time!