This museum is great, and this year compared to two years ago and even last year we had a guided tour so not only did we get to see all of the things that the earliest settlers used and made but we also got more of an explanation than what the plaques said, which helps a lot, and makes the museum that much more interesting.
So around this time when you get to the end of the trip a lot of the students cannot wait to get home, they want to see their families, want American food, and want to speak English again. And you know I understood where they were coming from, I missed the comforts of home too and was getting a little tired of living out of a suitcase, but I knew from last time that as soon as we touched down in Atlanta that we would want to catch the next flight back to Spain. So don’t leave a lot that you need or want to do for that last day back in Madrid because time flies by really quickly and before you know it you are headed through security and hopping onto the plane back to the States!
It took me longer than usual to return home being that I loved my time in Spain so much, I changed my flight and stayed an extra week. Now that I am at home and three days have passed, I am writing about my overall experience. I must say my second time in Spain was much better than my first. I experienced less culture shock, my language skills were better, and I was already familiar with the school, my house family, and many places. Although it was my second time, I learned a ton about myself, other people, and of course, the Spanish culture. I met amazing people, and even a new best friend. I am proud of myself for stepping outside of the box and absolutely having the time of my life. Studying abroad completely changes life. Never will I look at Americans the same. We are odd. At the same time I never appreciated being an American so much. I am truly truly truly proud to tell people, “Yes, I am American.”
During my time in Spain, I have done things that I could never accomplish here in the US, as well as things that I did not appreciate when I was in the US. My favorite part of my experience is being in Spain for the first week of the World Cup. I learned so much about Soccer (FUTBOL), other countries, Spain, and the World Cup. I got to experience this event that only comes once every four years in a crowds of European, American, and South American fanatics. I have never before seen a sport disappoint people so much, I swore I thought I was going to see grown Spanish men cry.
Besides the soccer experience, I also enjoyed other Spanish cultural events like a bullfight, a flamenco show, and going out to eat tapas. Participating in these events made me feel less like a tourist and more like a part of the Spanish society. Although many people find the bullfights unethical and sad, I absolutely LOVED it. I felt a rush of energy every time the bull charged. I also enjoyed seeing the Spanish people unite and cheer on the toreros and matadors. The flamenco show provided me another time with a sense of unity in a society. Everybody gave loud applauses for the dancers, which were absolutely incredible.
I cannot put in to words my experience in Spain, I have attempted through this blog, but the feeling that I feel within cannot be converted into words. I feel like only other students who have studied abroad can relate to the massive overwhelming feeling of greatness that studying abroad provides a student. I now feel better working with people, spending time away from family and friends, and adapting to a new environment then I did before. I am truly grateful that Austin Peay has such great programs and opportunities for its students. AND NO THIS IS NOT AN ADVERTISEMENT…I mean this in all sincerity. Skipping studying abroad in college is what I believe the worst mistake a college student can make.
Important things learned and remembered
…it is good for you!!!
Everyone knows that when you travel to another country there is an initial culture shock. What many people do not know is that when you return back from that country and to your own, you are faced with culture shock all over again. Although I only have a three day stay in the United States before I leave again, I already been slapped with culture shock. This shock started from the moment I got off the plane for my layover in Washington D.C. From the moment you cross the “Welcome to the USA” sign, everything and everything is in English and English only versus the Spanish and English signs in the airport in Madrid. Then when going through customs, the clearly American security guard asked me a question and without thought I answered her with “Sí”. Another security guard was helping with my bags and as I lift my bag I hear myself utter, “MADRE MIA!!!” After going through security, I go to the Wendy’s in the airport. In Spain a small is an extra extra small in American terms, so when the cashier asks me f I wasn’t a small, medium, or large, I naturally answer medium, expecting a normal-sized drink and fries. When he puts my drink in front of me I realized I just ordered what would be considered an extra large in Spain.
As I am sitting in Wendy’s eating, I begin to people watch noticing a large difference between the people here and in Spain. First thing that I noticed was different was the size of the people. The average American seems much bigger than the average Spaniard. I would consider myself a fairly average-sized girl weighing in at 130 pounds, but when shopping in Spain, I found myself needing to get a size 40 or 42, generally the largest sizes available in the stores. If there was an option between small, medium, or large for the first time in my life I needed a large. Besides the size difference, there are also major differences between behaviors of the people from the United States and Spain. As I sit in the airport in Washington D.C. and look around every other person is using some form of technology, for the most part their cell phones. In Spain, I really ever saw people using their cell phones though I am sure they all have them. I have also noticed that people in the United States are more comfortable with strangers, not to say Spaniards are not friendly, they just seem a little more closed off. Before coming back home I came down with a pretty bad cold, so I was sneezing like crazy. In Spain, only people I knew, friends and my house family said “salud”. “Jesús”, or “bless you.” Within the first three times I sneezed in the United States, I had been told, “bless you” at least six times.
These are just a few differences that I have seen within in two hours of being back in the United States, but these differences in culture and habits completely astonish me.
We arrived in Alicante on Saturday, and though we are only here a week we have two excursions. The first one we went to was El Castillo de Santa Barbara. This is a castle from the 16th century. It was a fort used for safety in time of war. Although the castle is full of history, the view is the main feature of the castle. From the top of castle, which sits at the side of the beach, you can see all of Alicante. Besides the great view of the city the view of the water is absolutely captivating. While we are on the castle that sits high up on a mountain, we were told the story of how Alicante got its name.
The legend is that there was a Moorish king who had a daughter, Cantara. Cantara was in love with a poorer young man named Ali. One day the king told Cantara that it was time for her to marry, she asked to marry Ali, but the king did not see him as worthy. Instead, the king set up a competition in which the suitors had to go collect treasure to bring back to king. The suitor with the most treasure would win Cantara’s hand in marriage unless Ali, who was good with construction, was able to build an aqueduct for the city in the time that the suitors and the king were gone. Ali took this time to spend time with Cantara instead of working on the aqueduct, so when the king came back he ordered that Cantara married with suitor that won the competition. Instead Cantara killed herself, which caused Ali to kill himself. In honor of his daughter the king renamed the city Alicantara, which was shortened in time to Alicante. They say if you look at the side of the mountain that the castle is on, the shape of the king’s face can be seen, and it looks like it is grieving.
Important things learned and remembered
- Again, wear comfortable shoes!
- Wear sunscreen!
- Definitely make sure you have your camera for this excursion.
It is really interesting to me that going to the same place twice in Spain, never gives anyone the same experience. Last year we went to the archaeology museum in Alicante, and I must admit, it was a tad bit boring. This year I was not looking forward to going back. To my surprise this year’s experience was completely different. We arrived to the museum around 6:00 P.M. We were greeted by a highly energetic tour guide, who was going to show us a temporary exhibit that they had at the museum. The exhibit was called “El Enigma de la Momia.” This exhibit was based on Egyptian history and artifacts. This was interesting for me because I have always had an interest in Egyptian culture. For that reason, I was pleasantly surprised. We learned about the different gods and goddess in Egyptian culture. What I found interesting about these gods and goddesses is there is no such thing as a bad god. Therefore, even if there was a god of something we might consider negative like storms or death, these gods or goddesses are not frowned upon in Egyptian culture.
Besides seeing relics and learning information about the gods and goddesses of the Egyptian culture, we also learned about mummies. We were able to see several mummies, have it explained to us why the mummies are made, and learn about the lives of several mummies. This part of the excursion was harder for me. Although I speak Spanish, I am not familiar with mummy terminology, for this reason, I did not understand a lot of this part of our tour. Nonetheless, it was still exciting to be in the same room as mummies and Egyptian relics. Between the exhibit and the excitement of our tour guide, this trip to the MARQ was a hundred percent more fun this year.
Important things learned or remembered
- Be open to each experience, even ones you don’t expect to enjoy.
- Always carry a map, you never know when you’ll have to walk home.
An optional excursion is just that, an excursion that is optional. Now many of us are already tired of walking here and walking there, but the things we have the opportunity to see on excursions are phenomenal, so why not go on the optional excursions? Our first day in Alicante was a free day, so Dr. Ruiz offered an optional excursion to Valencia, the third largest city in Spain. Only two of us went on the excursion, my roommate and I. Everyone else decided to spend their time on the beach. Although I think that Valencia is a city that nobody should miss when coming to Spain, I am somewhat glad we didn’t have a big group. We were able to move around at our own pace, and see everything we wanted to see.
The moment we left the bus station we were able to see the difference between Madrid, Alicante, and Valencia. Although Valencia is a big city like Madrid, the architecture is much more unique and creative. Although Valencia has a beach like Alicante, there seems to be much more to do in Valencia. The first place we went was the City of Arts and Sciences.
The City of Arts and Sciences is a large, futuristic complex in Valencia that contains an art museum, science museum, and the largest aquarium in Europe. Being that we had already seen plenty of art, and none of us had a bright interest in science, we headed straight to the aquarium. To be honest aquariums have never been a big interest to me, but this one was completely different. I had one of the best days in Spain because of this aquarium. The aquarium had all kinds of cool animals, penguins, starfish, dolphins, flamingos, seals, etc. I was really excited because we not only got to see and play with the animals, but this aquarium has tunnels so you can walk under their world.
Valencia is known as the home of the paella, so I refused to leave without giving it a try. Luckily for me there was a restaurant inside the aquarium that sold amazing paella. Paella is a rice dish that contains meat and or seafood that is a very typical dish in Spain. Leaving Spain without trying it would be a crime!!! Besides the great paella, we also ate amazing chocolate cake. It was not the cheapest meal in the world, but it was worth every cent!
After our time at the City of Arts and Sciences, we took the wrong bus back to try to get back to the bus station. In most cases taking the wrong bus might be pretty disappointing, but to us it was like a cheap tour of the city. We saw buildings like no others we have ever seen. We saw old gates to the city, bridges, and some interesting people. It was a wonderful mishap. Afterwards we got onto the right bus and headed back to the central part of town.
We wanted to see the cathedral, which claims to have the Holy Grail, but it was closed. Instead we ate exceptional ice cream, walked through some of the street vendors, and watched part of the Corpus Christi parade. It was an absolutely amazing way to end a free day, truly one of my favorite days from the entire study abroad experience.
Important tips and suggestions
- GO ON THE OPTIONAL EXCURSION…the beach will be in Alicante all week!!!
- If the penguins are on one side, and you go to that side, the penguins will surely go to the other. Actually this goes for all of our aquatic friends.
- Dr. Ruiz is pretty fun to hang out with, don’t be scared!
So have you ever seen those cool modern museums with are that looks extremely strange, statues made out of weird things, paintings made with bright colors, and the them of inexplicability. Well this is my idea of the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. It is a large hospital turned museum that displays a large variety of modern art from many Spanish painters. Many tourists go to see the work of Picasso, Guernica. Picasso made this painting after the northern Spanish city of Guernica was bombed by Germany with the permission of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Picasso ordered this painting be kept outside of Spain until the dictator was out of power in Spain. Once Franco died and the monarchy was restored and the president position was bought to Spain, the United States sent Guernica back to its home. Besides the historic value this painting has it is also astonishing to see because of its size. My hand literally fits right over the painting in my textbook, but the actual painting reigns far above my head. It covers an entire wall in the museum! Other famous painters that we saw in this museum are Miro and Dalí, whose paintings also makes the viewer step back and think. This excursion is one that it may take a little time to wrap your head around.
Important things learned and remembered
- Pictures are allowed without flash here, so take advantage! I didn’t and I regret it!
A topic that I was not told to discuss, but I believe I would be leaving out a large portion of my trip without discussing what is like being a minority in both terms of gender and race in Spain.
It is my belief that being a female in Spain is a little more difficult than here in the United States. I know this statement seems strange, but as pressured as we are here in the United States to be that perfect size 3, I felt more pressured in Spain to be a perfect size 0. It seems like every girl there is teeny tiny. I think this is due to the better diet and the need to walk that is more prevalent in Spain. On top of the insecurities that size might cause, the Spanish form of dress might also cause a few insecurities. It is natural for women in Spain to walk around like fashion models. The typical Spanish woman looks like she was picked right out of Vanity Fair. She usually wears a scarf, name brand purse, or sunglasses. She wears the latest fashions and has incredible shoes. This change in fashion caused me to spend a bundle in Spain! I felt very awkward in my t-shirts, jeans, and flip-flops. Although at times I did feel insecure, I did try to remember that one culture is not better than another, just different. As American women we are just different.
Besides problems with insecurities, as a woman in Spain there is also the issue of men. I must admit that European men do seem exotic and different and exciting, especially for a 21 year-old single female. caution is still necessary. In our book of recommendations given to us by Dr. Ruiz before we take the trip, there is a warning about men being somewhat more aggressive in Spain. Although Dr. Ruiz is a man and has not had to deal with the issue himself, I believe he has hit the nail on the head with this advisory. There is no reason to be scared, but as a woman no’s have to be firm and standing. Girls also should have caution with their personal items and drinks when meeting new men.
Being African American in Spain was also somewhat challenging for me. Although racism is not a huge issue in Spain, people definitely notice. I had to have been asked at least two hundred times if I was from Africa!!! I must admit I found myself offended maybe the first one hundred times, but then I learned to use the question as an educational opportunity, and tell people about African Americans. Though they know we are there, I suppose they rarely see us. Besides asking us if we are African American, I lot of people try to prove that they are fine with black people. So I have also heard random comments like, “I love hip-hop and R&B”, “Black people have nice skin”, and my favorite “I have no problem with black people.” As random as the comments are, it is important to remember that Spain has just recently within the last 40 years opened up to tourist and immigrants. There lack of discretion in what they say is just due to the how new international diversity is in Spain.
Overall, being different in Spain can be challenging, but also an opportunity to teach others about where you come from and who you are.
Important things to know or remember
- Africans are one of the largest groups of immigrants in Spain, being that Africa is directly below Spain.
- Always take ignorance and use it as an educational opportunity. Just think about how often we cross Spanish people here, and how little we know about them. We cannot be upset if they know very little about us.
- Rap, Hip-Hop, and R&B are all referred to as “música negra.” So if someone mentions it to you, don’t get offended.
When I went over the itinerary another big difference I noticed is the replacement of the Valle de los Caidos with El Pardo. Although I don’t think anyone should leave without seeing the place where Francisco Franco was buried in the Valle de los Caidos, I loved visiting his old palace in El Pardo. The usual trip to the breathtaking Valle de los Caidos was cancelled this year due to the fact that it is currently not open. Instead we went to El Pardo. When we arrived we went to a church. We then went to the Palacio where Franco lived. This palace is the most modern palace I have seen here in Spain. There are pictures in it, as well as paintings. We also saw a flat screen TV, which apparently is used by guest when they come to visit. Another thing that makes this palace special is the tapestries on the wall. There tapestries on many of the walls throughout the palace. Some of these were even designed by Francisco Goya, the famous painter. Although the palace was modern, it was still beautiful. It had a wonderful garden, which I used for a picture opportunity.
After we left El Pardo we went to San Lorenzo De El Escorial. This building holds three purposes; it is a functioning school for children, a monastery, and a palace. King Felipe II had it constructed during his reign and it is where his body and the body of every king after lies. The body of the wife of the king that bared the next king in line is also located in the Escorial. This is my favorite part of the excursion to the Escorial because I have the opportunity to be in the presence of royalty, and I always leave them speechless!!! Here we also get to see where King Felipe II use to live and the place where is son fell to his death. Although this excursion seems a little gruesome, it actually revives the period that King Felipe II was alive, because one can imagine his life looking at his room and office. After the excursion we had free time and explored the city until it was time to go home.
Important things learned or remembered
- Cell phones should probably be off during excursions.
- Charge your camera before excursions