Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Alexina V. - Salamanca, Spain - Fall 2009

Busy. Unreal: the first two words that come to mind when I think back to my last few weeks and days in Chitown before leaving for Salamanca, Espana. I say busy because, amidst packing (and my mom yelling at me to get ride of the mounds of clothes strategically thrown on my bedroom floor), shopping, calling the banks, and working like a mad woman to earn some spending money, I spent many a nights out on the town with my family and closest friends. I found myself yearning to create as many memories as possible with my family and best friends. Lo and behold, I did just that; created memories on too many nights that turned far too abruptly into forgotten early mornings. For this reason, and this reason alone, my pre-departure experience seemed unreal. It was difficult for me to fathom the idea that I was leaving my home, my family, and my friends for four months. However, one must remember that life is, indeed, a journey and to each his own path. Your family and those who matter will be there when you return. They’ll find their own little ways to show you how much they love you (thank God Facebook can be utilized for more than people stalking). I will impart to you a message my best friend Molly wrote me the night before I left: “Enjoy this experience, for it’s an opportunity that may never come again. Remember that you will have many a rough days and it’s at those times in which you must remember how bright the sun shines and, not only does everything happen for a reason, but things will always work themselves out. Do five things you would never do, just because you can, make new friends but don’t forget who you are and what you believe in, and take too many pictures, for you can always delete the ones you don’t really like. Most importantly (and this may be the most crucial tip I am leaving you with), kiss a Spanish man, two, or three. J.”
I must say that Molly was right. Thus far, my experience in Salamanca has been an amazing one that I will never forget. Although I am here with two of my best friends, I have already become best of friends with other IES students and, in the last month, we have done far too many things to recount it all here. Among the highlights have been meeting my awesome host family (complete with a mom, dad, twenty-three year old brother, nineteen year old sister, two cats, and a turtle named Coco), taking part in the two week long feria (which included delicious tapas and cerveza for less than two euros), traveling to Asturias--where we spent the evening looking for a Woody Allen statue, drinking sidra (Asturian alcoholic apple cider, eating chorizo a la sidra (chorizo cooked in sidra), walking around the beach in Gijón, and spending time with best friends--, horseback riding (we were actually allowed to let the horses trot, canter, and stray from the line), watching the sunset every Thursday night with a cheap one euro bottle of wine, cheese, bread, and six of my best friends, standing two feet in front of legit Salvador Dali, Goya, el Greco, Picasso, and Velásquez paintings, celebrating two 21st birthdays Spanish style, people watching and playing spoons and the compliment game in our Plaza Mayor, booking relatively cheap flights to Ireland and Paris, and, really, just learning the Spanish culture—especially its night life (i.e. Sangria, calimocho, botellons, tapas, canas, etc.)
Of course, you, too, will have your rough days and the best thing you can do is remember that things will get better and that you cannot let one little thing ruin your trip. By the way, for those of you participating in the IES program, I would recommend that when IES sends you a preliminary registration form (for classes) don’t take the time to search for classes at the university. Pick random classes and send the bad boy back—!!!ASAP!!!--because this is how IES determines class selection order (not by seniority—like most schools do—) and not a single person had to enroll in the classes they originally picked on their preliminary registration form. Trust me, it will make your life ten times easier and you will avoid the rough week I had of stressing over class selection because the IES class I wanted filled up before it was my turn to register.
I wish you all luck and hope to hear from you soon! Let me know if you have any questions about anything. Vale?



Blogger kathryn E said...

Hi Alexina,

My name is Kathryn Engelsdorfer, and I'll be going to Ecuador in the Spring. It's not that same as Spain, but I'd like to know how fast you were able to get into the language? Did your host family know any Spanish (if you had one)? Also, what's some good advise about choosing courses to take and scheduling. I'm with IPSL and I need 20hrs. of service a week outside of class.


11:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is Lindsay Carlson and I will be studying in Italy next spring. I was wondering about culture shock and if you had to deal with it when you arrive. What was it like if you did?

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Alexina Valdez said...

Hey Kathryn--I am uber sorts of jeal that you get to go to Ecuador during Spring term, it´s def on my to-do list!! You better tell me how much you like/dislike it while you´re there.

Let´s see, to answer your questions...I am staying with a host family and they do, in fact, speak Spanish as well as a bit of English. My host brother is an English teacher, so that helps when I´m stumbling over words. My host mom is learning English so she will sometimes ask me to translate Spanish words into English.

Honestly, I speak Spanish at my home in the EEUU, so I did not have a difficult time adjusting to speaking Spanish all the time. However, I do struggle with the colloquialisms because every Spanish-speaking country will have its own slang--as you will see when you´re in Ecuador. In those cases, don´t be shy to ask your host family! My host family explains most slang to me as well as other aspects specific to the Spanish culture (i.e. how to order tapas). Just ask them--I feel like most host families are ready and willing to answer questions like this.

On that note, try your hardest to speak as much Spanish as possible--especially when you´re with other EEUU students in your program (if that´s how your program works) because, well, hey it´s practice right!

As far as classes are concerned...I´m not sure how IPSL chooses their courses but if they send you a prelim registration form of some sort--send it in fast! My program, IES (which I´m not happy with), based order of class selection on how early you turned that form in. Half the people didn´t even take the classes on their prelim form anyway. I guess my advice would be to find out how they pick the order of class selection.

Furthermore, if you are planning to travel--which might be harder to do while in Ecuador--try to leave Fridays and Monday mornings as free as possible. Flights cost more to leave on a Friday than a Thursday night and it´s nice to have a 3-day weekend and not have to worry about what time you get home on Sunday night.

As far as scheduling, I feel like that´s up to you, what you prefer, and the courses offered. I´m an education major at EC so I´m used to having class at night because I am always in the elem school during the day. Out here I am participating in a teaching internship so I have, more or less, a similar schedule to the ones I´ve had at EC--more classes in the evening. If you like going out :) and sleeping in, I´d say avoid the 8a/9a classes, if you can. Haha, but I try to do those things at EC anyway. :P.

As far as service...hmm...is this the service for EC or for IPSL? If it´s for EC, I heard that a home stay can count towards that. Other than that, try talking to your program director for service ideas or your host family, as well. What kind of service are you considering? My teaching internship counts as my service experience so maybe you can attempt to find something in your field. What´s your major?
A few volunteer organizations I know: Un Techo Para Chile (they might have a branch in Ecuador--it´s similar to Habitat) and I´m sure you can find the Red Cross too.

Let me know what you decide! I hope I answered everything you wanted to know for now. Feel free to ask me whatever!



4:33 AM  
Anonymous Alexina Valdez said...

Hey Lindsay--

Have A BLAST IN ITALY!!! I´m trying to make it out there and I have a few friends who booked a flight to Milan the other day. Check out Riva de Garda, I hear it´s nice. Or ask Jake H. (he posted a blog about Morocco) about it cuz he´s the one who told me about it--apparently it´s gorgeous there.

Which reminds me, if you are looking to travel around Europe--do it!!!!--check out ryanair.com and easyjet.com. Check them on a regular basis because my friends found that flight to Milan for less than 30€ and when I attempted to book the same flight the next day, the price doubled back up to 70€. If you use ryanair, I want you to know that they are amongst the cheapest but also far from accommodating. Make sure you print out your boarding pass before you get to the airport, allow yourself at least two hours to check-in, and pass through security. If you are not checking in any bags (I find it easier to travel like this because I hate lugging around a luggage) MAKE SURE YOU GO TO THE RYANAIR DESK SO THEY CAN CONDUCT A VISA CHECK (they just look at your visa to make sure it´s legit) AND STAMP YOUR BOARDING PASS. Trust me. If you don´t go check-in (like we do at most airports, at the place where you weigh and drop off your luggage) and get a printed out boarding pass from them, ryanair WILL NOT LET YOU BOARD THE DAMN FLIGHT without that stamp on your printed out boarding pass.

And they will charge you 100€ to change the flight. I experienced this firsthand and missed my flight to Dublin. It sucked.

Plan any weekend trips as early as possible because you will find that, especially during holiday weekends, hostel prices go up--well, if you´re into hostels. I recommend them because they are very cheap dorm-like style accommodations. The only problems I have with them is the fact that I miss going back to my own room when I´m tired. There´s always going to be a lot of people in the room. However, it´s a great way to meet people from around the world--you meet a lot of backpackers in hostels. It´s great.

Ok. now back to your questions...culture shock. I am going to be honest and say that I don´t feel as if I have experienced much culture shock with the Spanish culture and I can´t really determine why. I have had some "down" days that have mainly had to do with frustration with my program (btw, which program are you traveling with?) and some situations with my friends out here. My family, in the eeuu, always asks me if I´m home sick and, honestly, I´m not.

You know, now that I think about it, I guess I can say that I´ve had some culture shock with the education system (I am participating in a teaching internship out here so I get to spend 60+ hours in an elem school) out here. I´m an education major at EC and I am used to a specific style of teaching--group work, less worksheets, etc.

(continued on next post

5:12 AM  
Anonymous Alexina Valdez said...

However, the Spanish elem school system relies heavily on lecture, so much so, that the kids sit in rows--like you do in high school. They do not know what it is like to work with a partner, so clearly they do not know the concept of group work.

It is safe to say that I have reached that ¨crisis period¨ that´s talked about because I have been very negative about my experience in the elem school but it also has to do with my relationship with the teacher and the attitude towards the students on the part of this teacher. It´s all just very frustrating for me, because I student teach next semester and I have my own idea of what should and should not be done in the classroom. It´s awfully hard for me, at this point in my education, to see things done so completely different than what I am used to.

As far as what this shock is like--I´d explain it as...just... frustration, sadness, helplessness, and a longing to be somewhere where things are familiar to you.

I am dealing with this situation by talking to my friends, both here and at home, my host family, and constantly telling myself that it´s a constant learning experience, at least I see the things I don´t want to do when I am a teacher. Either way, I get to teach 3-4 whole lessons every week so that helps me get through the days that I merely watch the teacher yell at the students.

Other than that though, I don´t have a problem with any other aspect of the culture. Do me a favor and try everything-especially food--once.

As far as contacting home in the United States, work something out with your parents. My mom is fine with me calling once a week, but I often talk to her more times than that since I usually have Skype up on my laptop as I do my homework at night. Even my little brother learned how to Skype me, haha, and I spend some nights working on my own homework while he holds his homework up to the camera so I can help him. Skype is awesome, if you haven´t already heard about it. It´s free and you can talk to anyone who has it. It´s GREAT.

Try and stay in contact with people at home (facebook is, seriously, the easiest way) and if you can´t always find time to get back to people, well, if they´re your friends, they will understand. You will really find out who your good friends are, because those are the people that are going to take the time to write you and stay in contact and not get angry or upset with you if you take four or five days to get back to them. I never bring my laptop with me when I travel over the weekend, you´ll learn to enjoy your time compu-less and phone-less.

Uh, bring pictures from home, decorate your room (I brought some of my sticky tack and have pictures all over my wardrobe)--make it feel like YOUR room. That´s always a nice thing to have and it´s comforting if you are experiencing culture shock.

Furthermore, if you have certain habits like running every day or sitting down and reading, try to keep up with those things. I think that might help ease culture shock, if you experience it.

Make friends with people from your program as well as italians. At least, if anything, find one person (who is there with you) who you can vent to whenever the need arises, as it will. It always will.

What else... savor the culture, ya? Go out, enjoy the day and night life. That keeps your mind off missing home and such.

And, always remember, you´ll be back home in 4 months and who knows if you´ll ever have this experience again so, seriously lady, live it up hmm? Like my friend Molly told me, do five things you wouldn´t normallly do (I´m well above five, but this probably wouldn´t be the most appropriate place to give you my entire list :P, haha..).

If I think of anything else I´ll get back to you. Let me know if I left something unanswered.

Take care.


5:12 AM  

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