Monday, September 22, 2014

Exploring Alicante

      So last week was the first full week of classes here- joy. It was so much different than anything I was expecting. It wasn't too too bad, most of the days I only had one or two classes so my brain didn't explode, but Tuesday was killer. For some reason, I thought that having three classes back to back, all two hours a piece (so 6 straight hours of class) completely in Spanish was a good idea. Last year, I could hardly keep up with two classes, an hour and a half a piece, back to back in English. I don't know what I was thinking. At least with this schedule I don't have three 8am classes a week. I like to sleep. Anyway, Tuesday was really bad. About halfway through my second class I was exhausted but there really wasn't anything I could do about it since I had another class directly after my second class. I had heard people talk about getting a headache from too much Spanish and getting really tired from trying to understand it all the time, but I hadn't experienced that so I thought maybe I had managed to escape that fate. I was wrong. Tuesday was the day it hit me. After a certain point, my brain just sort of checked out, it had been overloaded and just wanted to nap. I was lucky because those classes were sort of the beginning classes where they basically read the syllabus to you and explain what the class is all about. I can go back and read the syllabus later so I won't be missing much. Tuesdays will be my hardest days for sure, but I know that after a couple of weeks I should be able to cope better than I did last week.
This is the plaza de la estrella (plaza of the star)
 near my house where I meet up
with people to go exploring!
          I was also lucky last week because my class on Wednesday was cancelled so I had a free day where I went to the beach and was able to unwind a little bit from the overload of the day before. The rest of the week went rather smoothly and I'm pretty sure that I'll be fine moving forward, I'll just need some time. Most of the end of last week I spent with other people from CMU and we wandered the city, getting to know it better. I went to the beach an astonishing two times in one week (and managed not to get totally burned!) and I got to experience a bit of the nightlife as well. It's crazy how different that can be from day to day. All the restaurants are open late, since dinner is typically served around 9 or 10 here, so there's usually a pretty good amount of people out. But on the weekend, there are people everywhere, wandering from place to place. It's so different to see so many people out around midnight because in Michigan everything is closed and people are sleeping! It's really cool though that the city still thrives after dark.
This is a really cool
fountain by Damaris's house. 
            Over the weekend I also got to visit the apartment of Damaris (who is also blogging for this trip, you should check it out!) and I got to meet her host family as well. It was cool to see what different apartments look like here. Mine is sort of square shaped whereas hers is a skinny rectangle that goes straight to the back. I had also never been to that part of Alicante, it's so much quieter than where I live and there were a couple of really pretty parks. Damaris's host mom was kind enough to make a paella for lunch when I visited and it was really good. It had yellow rice, chicken, red peppers and garlic. Paella is a pretty iconic dish in Spain so it was really nice to be able to try it!
               That's about all I've got for now,  hopefully this week of class won't hurt my brain as much as it did last week!

This is probably my favorite place that I've found in Alicante.
It's a beautiful plaza that gets all lit up around 8pm.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Back to School

      Well, this week I finally got back to school. It didn't really feel like it though. It still doesn't feel like it. Maybe that's just because I only have four classes and an abundance of free time. Anyway, Monday and Tuesday I had a class that is for me and the other people from CMU to help us improve our Spanish in general and more specifically help us with our classes and how to handle all the Spanish that will be thrown our way.
This is probably the most iconic thingabout the
 University of Alicante's campus: La Mano (the hand)
       Wednesday was the real start of classes and all I can say is that it was an experience. My first class was at 8am, I showed up around 7 so I knew where I would be going and such which means I woke up at 6am. So, I get to my class maybe 15 minutes before class and I wait. And wait. And wait. When it's about 8:30, a professor shows up, yay! But then, after some technological troubles, she says that she's not actually our professor and she doesn't know if our actual professor will show up. So I stay in this class until 9 when some students come and tell us that the professor won't be coming so we can leave. I was exhausted, to say the least. My next class was at 12, so I stayed on campus and sat with other people from CMU while I waited. By the time I was all settled in the next class I was ready for a long nap. My professor showed up for that class and it successfully woke me up. It was my first class in Spain, completely in Spanish. I was not prepared for that. I  followed most of what he said, but I still missed a good chunk of what he was talking about. The classes here meet for four hours a week, one two hour block is what they call teoría, which I've gathered is like lecture, and then they other two hour block is what they call práctica, which is where you do homework, work on labs, that kind of thing. A lot of what the professor talked about was about these two different sections of class, which I didn't really understand because I've never had any class like that in my experience at CMU. Much later, at 5, I went to a translation class, but I wasn't a huge fan. When I came here, I had picked out five classes to try, and then I had to pick four to actually take. The translation class didn't make the cut, it's just not what I'm interested in.
         Thursday, I got to campus around 8am to go to my class at 9, which I was nervous about because it was the second section of my first class the day before and I wanted to know what it was about. If the professor didn't show up again it wouldn't be a good sign. Luckily, that class went a little more smoothly, after we actually found a class to sit in on (no one showed up to the room that was supposed to have the class so one of the directors took me to a different section to see). I like this class a lot. I was more prepared for the Spanish and such, so I understood a lot more of the class and I was really excited about the class. I was supposed to have another class at 12, but it just so happened the the professor was in Paris, so there wasn't class. That was probably the most surprising thing for me, last week, the fact that the professors just didn't show up to class. The directors said that that happened sometimes, but not frequently. Apparently this year is odd because classes started on Wednesday, so that could contribute to the fact that the professors weren't around, I don't know. It was really different.
This is the building that I went to on
Friday for intercambios.
          Friday I was supposed to have class, but that was the one with the professor in Paris, so it's safe to say that there wasn't class again. Instead, I visited a couple of classes of one of the directors for intercambios. Basically, me and the other CMU students met with Spanish students in these classes so that we can work on our Spanish and they can work on their English. It's a really cool idea. I got some new Facebook friends from it, so hopefully they'll want to hang out at some point. It just needs some time. And I'm sure I'll meet people in my classes this week, once things are more settled. Overall, I have a pretty positive outlook on things. I'm ready to get settled into a routine.
There I am with a group
 of Spanish students! :)
           Monday, I have my last new class so it'll be interesting to see what I think about it. Then I'll have gone to all my classes (except for the one on Thursday and Friday) so I'll be able to decide what I'll continue taking for the rest of the semester so I can get into a more solid routine. Hopefully I'll have more positive things to say about my school experience next week, as long as the professors come to class!



Saturday, September 6, 2014

I Want to be a Pirate

     So, I've been in Spain for almost a week now and I think I'm adjusting pretty well. I can communicate fairly well with my host family and I'm steadily falling more in love with the city around me. Something that is hard about being here is actually getting up in the morning. I'm always so sleepy! I don't know if this is due to jetlag or what. Since Michigan is six hours behind Alicante if I wake up at 8am it's about 2am in the time zone I'm used to. It might also be hard for me to get up in the morning just because I like sleeping so much, who knows.
This is a picture of the directors and the
 rest of the people from CMU when were were
wandering around the city after orientation
      I had my orientation on Wednesday, so I got to see the University of Alicante. The campus is pretty big and it's filled with beautiful plants and buildings. I'll get lots of pictures when classes start next week for sure. When I went to orientation, they explained some basic things about the program, classes, host families, money, transportation, etc. Then we had a short tour of campus before setting our computers up for the wifi (though I didn't bring my computer so I'll have to do that later). Later that day, we met up with the two directors of the program (both conveniently named José Ramón) and they showed us around the city and took us out to dinner. I cannot stress enough how cool these two guys are and how grateful I am that they're here. They have taken such good care of us, it's great. 
       Thursday, I returned to campus to figure out my schedule a bit and we met a Spanish student that can help us with our phones and technology, if we need it. For lunch we stopped at a restaurant called 100 Montaditos and we had these little, itty bitty sandwiches which were really good.  I was going to meet up with a couple of people later to go to the beach, but, me being me, I arrived late and missed them. I wandered around the beach for a bit before I came back home for the night (the beach is probably going to get its own blog, it's beyond beautiful). That night, my host family had a friend over for her birthday. She spoke really quickly so it was a challenge to try and understand what she was saying, but for the most part I got the general idea of what everyone was talking about. 
Here is a picture of
one of the moro groups.
       Okay, get ready! It's the moment you've all been waiting for! I'll try to keep this part short, this blog is already long as it is. So, last night the directors of the program took us to a festival in a little town about 45 minutes from Alicante called Villena. The festival is a celebration of the history of the city (and the country, to a certain extent), how it was conquered by the Moors from Africa in 711 and then how it was reconquered by the Christians in 1492. It started yesterday and goes until Monday, I believe. In the middle of the town they had a huge stretch of road closed off and tons of people were marching in the streets dressed as moros (Moors) or cristianos (Christians). The costumes were beautiful. One of the directors said that the people get new costumes every year and that they can cost up to 1,000€. It was incredible to see how much effort and emotion was put into the festival. It made me wish that we had some equivalent in the US. 
So this is a picture of some pirates,
who I think were classified as Christian..
I want one of their outfits. 
       The area that we went to is known for having castles from the 11th and 12th centuries around the towns. I think we saw two or three on the way to Villena and then there was one above the city. Today they were holding battles today between the moros and cristianos. The history of the area is really rich and I hope that I can go back soon and see the castles up close. 
        
          Well, I think that's enough for now. With classes starting next week, I know that I'll have many,  many more adventures to share. 
              

Monday, September 1, 2014

Arrival

         So, I've made it. What a crazy journey that was. It started in Green Bay, where mostly I packed stuff last minute and tried not to freak out too much. This is the my first time leaving the country, and I went alone. I'll be gone for four months. Four months. It all circled around in my head and I started to second guess myself a bit. Was I really ready for this? It still didn't seem real, leaving for Spain. Even so, I went to the airport with my parents, said a teary goodbye and flew off to Chicago.
     When I was in Chicago, it hit me a little bit more, things got a little more real, but I was starting to get used to it. I felt a little left out because everyone else was on their phone doing something and my phone was refusing to get on the wifi. But I could still text my family so it was fine. Mostly, I just tried not to think about what might happen at my next stop: Dusseldorf, Germany. I didn't know how intense the customs might be, I was hoping it would be an easy transition. I spent most of the flight trying to sleep, though every time I would get comfortable enough, something would wake me up- my foot was falling asleep, my wrist hurt, my neck was at an odd angle, etc. I did manage to get about three hours of sleep in before the plane landed in foggy Dusseldorf. Lucky me, we landed about 30 minutes early, so I had more than enough time to figure out my next step. It was a little confusing trying to figure out where I was supposed to go, but once I got there it wasn't too bad. The customs I had been fretting about turned out to be just handing my passport to the security guard to be stamped, just like in the movies. Up until this point, my trip hadn't had any major glitches, which was probably a record for me.
         But then came the delay. Since it was so foggy on the ground in Dusseldorf, my flight was delayed in leaving (this offered me an ample amount of time to sleep, which I took immediate advantage of). I only had an hour between my flight from Dusseldorf to Madrid and my flight from Madrid to Alicante, so I knew at the very least, it was going to be a tight squeeze. When we landed in Madrid, it was 10 minutes past the boarding time for my plane to Alicante, so there was no way I would make the flight. However, the people from the Dusseldorf flight were very helpful and directed me right to the help desk to get the next flight. This was fine and dandy until they told me the next flight was at 5 pm. About 5 full hours from the time that I had landed. Hooray! I knew it was the best that they could do and I was just appreciative that they had been so accommodating. They even gave me a voucher for lunch! While I was not too pleased to be stuck in Madrid for so long, I can't complain about the airport itself. It was beautiful. I don't know if I've ever been in a building as large as that airport. The support beams holding up the ceiling were painted in the shades of the rainbow running all the way down the building. The ceiling itself looked like it was made of wood and it undulated creating a beautiful wave effect as shown in the picture above. There were stores everywhere and giant screens that advertised all that the airport and Spain had to offer. I definitely could have been worse off.
       By the time I got onto the plane headed for Alicante, I probably could've fallen asleep standing up. I had done so much flying and sitting and waiting, I didn't have very much energy left. I slept most of the flight to
Alicante (but not all of it, the picture to the left is proof!), trying to get enough energy to actually be a nice guest for my host family when I got to Alicante. In the end, I arrived in one piece, no worse for wear, if a little exhausted. I know I'll be posting more in the next few days, there's so much to tell! Alicante is beautiful and Wednesday and Thursday will be orientation days for me so I'll be learning more and more each day. I just don't want to cram it all into one blog, that would get long and boring. What's to come: my host family and apartment, Alicante fun, and school. Stay tuned.



 Here are some pictures of how my suitcase looked when I did a test pack 
(the end product was not this clean, but it was still under the weight limit, so yay!)
A teaser of the view from where I live :)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Adventures in Chicago

        To be able to study abroad in Spain for a semester, I had to make a trip to Chicago to apply for a visa in person. It was really stressful! There was a lot of paperwork that I needed to turn in and I was really nervous that I would forget something important, that tends to happen to me a lot. My appointment was July 3rd at 12:30. It was a bit of a tight fit with the holiday weekend, but we made it work. My dad and I packed up on the 2nd and headed to Chicago in the early afternoon. We made it there with out incident, we only had a minor problem with our GPS when we got in the city. We stayed in the Intercontinental on Michigan Avenue, a short walk from the embassy (the picture above is the view from our room). My dad has a friend in Chicago so we met him for dinner. He took us to an awesome pizza place (below) that I'll want to visit again when ever I make it back to Chicago.
          The next morning, we got up and had breakfast in the hotel and then decided to try and find the embassy to figure out how much time we would need to get there. We had to be out of the hotel room before my appointment and I didn't want to get to the embassy too early. We didn't have much success finding where we were supposed to go, but by the time we left the hotel there was still about an hour before my appointment.
          At first, we walked right past the embassy, it was in an unexpected place! It was in between the Citi Bank and the restaurant shown in the picture to the right. I was really nervous at this point. I had been told that it was a rather anticlimactic meeting, but it was still nerve-wracking. We took the elevator up to a tiny room that housed the embassy and I was a little underwhelmed. The room was pretty empty, there were some chairs set up in front of the windows where you handed in the application. We were pretty early, so I got to see a couple of other people hand in their stuff. It seemed pretty straight forward so I was less nervous. When it was my turn, the guy looked over my paperwork and then told me it would be about five weeks for me to get my visa. It was way easier than I had expected. With the application turned in, we promptly left Chicago.
         I had never been to Chicago before then, so it was really interesting to see everything. Chicago was definitely the biggest city I've ever been too and I'd like to go back some time to be able to appreciate it without so much stress.
         I leave in about 22 days from now, so I'll be updating again soon with my packing struggles and other fun things like that, so stay tuned!

Here are a couple of pictures I took when we were walking around in Chicago and then one of the lobby of the building that had the Spanish embassy!



Thursday, July 31, 2014

One Month to Go!

         In one month, August 31st, I will be flying to Spain. It's craziness. I can hardly believe that it's real! But at the same time, I can't wait. Everything is in place, I received my visa in the mail yesterday so I just have to wait for the time to pass. It's a good thing that I still have packing to do, that will definitely take some time. With how quickly time has passed so far, I'll be there in no time.
          But let's back up, hello! My name is Katie and I'm going to study abroad in Alicante, Spain (right). I am studying secondary education at Central Michigan University with majors in Math and Spanish, hence the trip to Spain! My little brother will be starting school in the fall at Northwood University and my parents will be moving to Green Bay so there's been a lot going on in my life recently! I've wanted to go to Spain since I was a freshman in high school, so about five years now. I'm so excited for this experience that it's hard for me to imagine what it will be like. Now that I'm so close that I can almost taste it, my ideas and expectations are taking shape. I'm trying to keep myself grounded so that my expectations don't exceed reality. Regardless, this will be an experience of a lifetime that I will never be able to equal.
            I'll be updating my blog again soon with details about my trip to Chicago to apply for my visa. I had never been to Chicago before this trip so it was really excited. Stay tuned!