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!