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!