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Gap Year Abroad

07/19/2014

The Final Countdown

The top FOUR things I’ve done since I returned to the United States:

 1) I continued to travel.

Throughout the semester, I had a couple of opportunities to stretch my wings once again, and I took them. During my cousin’s spring break, we drove off on a road trip to DC, and during my brother’s spring break, my family went to Colorado to ski in the mountains and visit family. I also went on a handful of smaller trips. One of my friends was studying at a small college in Chicago, and I spent a couple days with her. She introduced me to real macarons, the movie Frozen, and what life is like at a religious college. Another week, my mother, brother and I went on a spontaneous adventure up to the ice caves along Lake Superior. We left our house at 4am, drove for 6 hours, bundled up like little eskimos, hiked for a couple hours, took copious amounts of photos, drove on Lake Superior (my first lake driving experience!!) ate a fantastic fish dinner, and then drove home. All in one day. The caves were incredible to say the least, and I loved being able to just drop everything and go.  

IMG_1792Skiing in Colorado (I got to actually see the mountain this time...!) IMG_1555 Ice caves on Lake Superior 

2) I volunteered. Extensively. 

Thanks to family connections and family suggestions, I found two perfect volunteer opportunities. For just under two months, I worked Monday through Wednesday and Friday at a local Catholic Multicultural Center teaching English. I had zero experience before I started, but with good instincts, a positive attitude, and a little bit of trial and error, I learned just as much as my students did. One day I worked with a woman who had been a refugee in Bhutan. We spent a solid hour working through the sentence, “You’re welcome,” how to write it, how to pronounce it, when to use it. She had recently learned to write, and although the pencil shook in her frail hand and it took a long time to finish, the beaming smile she gave me when she had finished was a perfect reminder of why I loved that job. The love for learning is universal. 

On Thursdays, I spent the day in a dual language immersion classroom for second graders, working as a teacher’s assistant. The students were taught exclusively in Spanish, except for during Science and English, and about half the class spoke Spanish at home while the others spoke English. It was fantastic. I had just enough responsibility to make me feel like I was contributing, but not enough to make the days feel like work. I’d get to help students one on one during class, listen to the teacher explain addition in Spanish, plant semillas (seeds) in the classroom garden, lead small group activities, and play with the students. During some lunches I’d sit in the teachers lounge and listen to the daily joys and sorrows and the planning of future lessons, and other days I’d eat with my students, chatting about topics that interest second graders in Spanglish and playing basketball and four square during recess. It was truly the best of the both worlds of school. 

3) I earned my TEFL.

If you remember to way back in September, I mentioned in one of my blog posts that a young woman who had stayed with my host family years ago stopped by to visit on her way home from Argentina. She had shared a mountain of experiences and advice, and one of the things she strongly suggested I look into doing was earning a Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate (TEFL). So I did it. 

What is a TEFL you may be wondering. It’s a certificate that, coupled with any college degree and proof of English fluency, can help somebody get a job teaching English in whichever beautiful country around the world their heart desires. It’s a great thing to have on a resume for anybody who wants to try living abroad at any point in their life while being paid. For more information, google TEFL. 

There are all sorts of different programs in all sorts of different places, but I opted for an intensive five week program at an institute close to my home town. “Intensive” felt like an understatement. Needless to say, I did not sleep much during those five weeks, but I feel that between the four different core classes, a handful of seminars, real teaching observation, lesson planning assignments, practicum teaching with an observer, one on one tutoring, and a ton of feedback, I was able to scrape the surface of what it takes to be a great teacher. Plus it was an enormous smack upside the head with a dictionary of academia. The program kept me busy for at least 8 hours every day, and I was quickly reminded how to deal with staying organized, doing homework, prioritizing plans and learning in a classroom setting. No regrets there.  DSC01398 2

A couple of my ESL students and I on our last day of class!

4) I reconnected with family, friends, and my home city. 

The classic saying is “you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” After living in a different country with a different family and different friends for half a year, I came home with an even greater appreciation for the community I have in my Wisconsin home. In one of the original gap year plans, I was going to go abroad once again, and although there were moments the travel bug hit, I’m really glad I decided to stay local. Free time was scarce when I was in high school, and for the first time in years, I was able to really take advantage of everything the city I live in has to offer.  IMG_1942

Even more importantly though, I had the opportunity to spend tons of time with my family and friends. With my closest friends and extended family, I had the freedom to both celebrate the big events, like birthdays and performances, as well as go on spur of the moment adventures like to ballroom dances, Brewers Games, treks and open mic at the Union. I was also able to hang out with my mother and brother way more than I ever had before. We played frisbee, cooked elaborate meals, went to plays and just spent quality time together. Because I’ll be leaving Madison again in the fall, I’m extremely grateful for all the time I was able to spend with my family and friends in the city I love. IMG_3272My family and I after Karl's first 5K race! Early morning freezing cold icy runs=excellent family bonding. 

 

 The top THREE tips I’d give to anybody living abroad

 1) Expect to give up most of the comforts from your old day to day life, but find a way to do at least one thing you love. Two families living right next door to eachother can have completely different lifestyles, so when you join a new family in a new culture, of course you're going to be bombarded by change. Just remember that different doesn’t necessarily mean right or wrong, and an open mind goes a long way when everything from meal times to family roles are not what you’re used to. That being said, find a way to continue to do something you are passionate about. Whether that’s finding a sports team or an art class or a group of people who do yoga on the beach, sharing a common interest is a great way to meet local people and bond over something even when your language skills are developing. Plus it’s essential for your mental health. Joining a running team was hands down the best decision I made during my entire semester abroad. It gave me an opportunity to keep running with people, something I love, and through the team, I met some of my best friends. 1398384_10202077714721867_372955876_oStretching before a run along the ocean. A causal Tuesday afternoon. 

 2) Don’t be afraid to ask. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard to ask for help or ask strangers questions even in your first language, but if you can overcome your fears and become comfortable asking questions, it’ll make your trip even better than you imagined, guaranteed. I took three freezing cold showers before I finally worked up the courage (and the language skills) to ask my host mother about it. She showed me the secret way to lessen the water pressure and thus increase the temperature, and that same night, as I was enjoying a nice hot shower, I decided I was not going to let cowardice prevent me from having the time of my life. By the end of the semester, I had no issue asking questions. Of course, keep safety in mind, and don’t be obnoxious, but sometimes asking locals questions is a fantastic idea; they have great recommendations on where to go to find the best cueca club, or what drink to order, or what book to read, or what activities are must do’s in the area, and they can help you to find the right bus, or avoid tourist traps, or understand directions. People are generally very kind and eager to offer help or advice, but they can’t read your mind. All you have to do is....ASK!  IMG_0646Room decor at one of the tea shops that was recomended by a local. The things we could have missed out on.... 

 3) Document document document! Take photos, keep a personal journal, write love letters, share a blog, draw pictures, record your voice, whatever it is that you want to do to record your feelings and experiences, do it! It’s a great way to see progress, see how you’ve grown and how your language skills have improved, and it’s essential if you want to remember all of the once in a lifetime moments, even those that seem unforgettable at the time. You will have incredible experiences left and right, guaranteed. However, there is no guarantee you will remember all of them come 3 months, three years, thirty years. It’s only been half a year, yet I’ve already had to depend on my journal to remember certain events and feelings. I also highly recommend keeping a blog. Anybody who is interested can follow along at their own leisurely pace, and even if only your mother always reads it, it’s still worth it; I’ve already gone back and re-read blog entries multiple times, and it’s an excellent blast down memory lane. Definitely do not let documenting prevent you from going out on an adventure with your host family, but it is worth a little time sacrifice, I promise. IMG_1499One afternoon Dana and I went on a photo shoot around the neighborhood we called home, taking pictures of everything we'd walked past over the previous months. This is the Reloj (clock), and it's a huge tourist photo op. Especially in the summer, there was always a crowd with cameras. 
  

The top TWO things I miss even more than sopaipillas:

1) ¡ESPAÑOL!

Spanish snuck up on me. One moment it was a completely foreign language that sort of soared in through one ear and out the other, and the next it had become part of who I am. When my family and I boarded the plane, I knew I was going home, but it wasn’t until we landed and all of the signs in the airport were only in English, and the advertisements in the bathrooms were in English, and the radio played English pop songs, that it a wave of sadness hit me. Before day one of being back was over, I had already begun to miss Spanish. I love the way the language rolls off my tongue for familiar words, but that I have to concentrate to say new ones. I love the funny errors I make or the tangents I have to take to get around a word I don’t know. I love the challenge of forming sentences and listening to others speak. And I love the way the language sounds, especially the familiar Chilean Spanish with all the mumbling, slurring and “po” and “weon”-ing. Spanish has become an important part of my life, and I plan on keeping it that way for years to come. 

2) Valparaíso. 

Paraíso means paradise in Spanish; it’s a fitting name. I miss the ocean and the brightly colored houses that paint the rolling hills, the expressive street art murals that kept me wondering, the little shops full of surprising purchases and people, the winding cobblestone roads that I could wander without ever getting lost (thanks to the hills), the street vendors with those crispy, deep fried disks of flaky heaven (sopaipillas!), the night life that exploded from the clubs onto the streets, the view I saw overlooking the city, especially from the balcony of Pablo Neruda’s house, the stories and legends and history that seeped out of every corner, and even the edgy-ness that made the city dangerous in certain parts. Even the people who live in Valparaíso are distinct, and I miss them too. Sure parts of the city are dirty and there are signs of abject poverty, but there’s also a strong collective culture, more so than any other city I’ve been to, and that really drew me in. I miss paradise.  IMG_0643And I miss the stairs of course! 

The top ONE decision I’ve made thus far in my life:

1) Taking a gap year! 

The term “year off” could not be further from the truth; it would be better described as a year on. I could talk about the past 12 months of my life for hours on hours on hours and still not cover all the lessons I’ve learned, all the memories I’ve made, all the ways that I’ve grown, all the things I’ve discovered about myself, and perhaps most importantly, all the confidence I’ve gained. I’ve experience first hand that it’s okay to stray from the beaten path if that’s what your heart desires and that not knowing is absolutely okay. I’m done waiting for when the “real world” begins, and I’m living right here right now.

In my first blog post, I described myself as someone “looking for some adventure, a revived love for learning outside of the traditional classroom setting, new friends, a clearer sense of self, and memories that will last a lifetime.” I definitely found all of that and more in Chile. Very few people have the opportunity to drop everything and do exactly what they want to do, and I’m extremely grateful I was given the chance. When you’re young, curious, and free of serious responsibility, hay que aprovechar*, and that’s exactly what I did. (*Spanish phrase for seize the day!)

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Well, that’s all folks. The end of the blog. A BIG THANK YOU to all who have taken the time to read a post here and there. Thank you again to my mother and my brother and all the rest of the loving people who made up my support web. Thank you Julies for the Wifi and electiricy in the middle of the Wisconsin woods. Thank you Chile.

And now.

FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE............. 526012_481374128562870_612439598_n-2
 BLAST OFF!! 

My gap year has come to a close, and I am moving on to the next chapter of my life. Bring it on college; I am so ready.

07/13/2014

Highlights

"Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but it is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey." Pat Conroy 

 

Here are a few highlight pictures of the incredible people and places from my amazing gap year! 

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Viña del Mar, Chile 6a010536fa9ded970b019aff553fca970c-800wi Mom

Portillo, ChilePhoto-1 copy 1464040_10151656662097364_1767193160_n

Whitewater rafting in Pucón, Chile 1463181_10151688730436486_1273598711_n

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CIEE Chile gap group in the San Pedro de Atacama desert Machu

Machu Picchu!!  Photo.PNG

Bario Santa Cruz in Sevilla, SpainIMG_0585IMG_3335 Photo-1.PNG

The Cathedral in Sevilla, SpainA

Amsterdam IMG_2181

Tangier, Morocco IMG_1337

Rome, Italy

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Barcelona!!6a010536fa9ded970b01a511a93108970c-800wi

CIEE Spain gap group in Sintra, Portugal 

 

C capture culture

I incredible adventure

E excellent opportunity to grow

E everyone should do it

04/25/2014

Para Resumir

"The greatest explorer on this earth never takes voyages as long as those of the man who descends to the depth of his heart." Julien Green

Quick update:

The last month has been pretty hectic. From the CIEE group trip to Portugal, to my trip up north to the beach with some friends, my parents coming to visit and Semana Santa(holy week), it’s been hard to make time to type out a blog but here are a few pictures to catch up! 

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Lisbon! IMG_2492

 

Palacio de Pena 

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the group outside Palacio de Pena, in Portugal

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la playa (the beach!) 

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friends in Alicante

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the parents in Sevilla! 

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mother-daughter picture! 

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one of the processions during Semana Santa

 

Figuring out a way to conclude this blog has been really hard for me to do. At this point I have about 2 and a half full days left here in Sevilla before my gap year program with CIEE comes to a close.  After this incredible year of exploration and growth it’s hard to find the words to sum up how I feel about it ending in just one blog post so I’ve decided to break it down into two questions. One, what my expectations were at the beginning of the year and two, how they were fulfilled throughout the year.  

 

What did I want to get out of my gap year?

My goals in taking a gap year were pretty straightforward: to become fluent in Spanish, participate in community service or volunteering, immerse myself in a completely new culture and to grow and learn more about myself as a person. The thought of college was overwhelming but it wasn’t the fact that I didn’t think I was ready. It was more that I felt that if I took this year to learn and grow more as a person it would hopefully have a positive impact on my success at college in the future.

 

What did I actually get out of my gap year? 

Language:

At the beginning of this year it was incredibly difficult for me to understand what my host family was talking about at the dinner table and even more difficult to jump in and express my feelings in general. I was a beginner. Now after almost 9 months of intense language classes I am more than happy with how much my Spanish has improved. I am no longer feel awkward or scared or lost conversing with citizens on the street, asking directions or sometimes even offering them. Conversations with my host family at the dinner table seem easy, and I feel comfortable jumping in and adding my two cents into the conversation.

Everyday I enjoy learning a new word or phrase and with my friends it has become almost second nature to talk in Spanglish. And yes, I’ve even had some dreams in Spanish, which of course is always awesome! My Spanish is not perfect and of course there will always be room for improvement but I am truly, truly, going to miss hearing the Spanish language throughout my house or in the streets everyday. Since language learning was a big part of why I took a gap year, I am so excited to go back to the States and see where this newfound love will take me!

Volunteering:

Each place that I volunteered at was such a different experience yet I take away one important lesson from them all. I’ve learned the value of giving back and helping others. Making time to think of others is so important, there is such an amazing sense of accomplishment after teaching a little boy a new English word or helping a little girl get up on a surfboard and ride the wave. I’ve experienced this year, these small gestures always have a way of coming back to you and bringing happiness into your life in different ways. Keep on volunteering!

Immersion:

Host family. I really couldn’t imagine another option when I thought about my gap year. I knew I wanted immersion and I knew living with a host family would do just that, but to be honest it was so much more than what I expected. Each and every person in my two families has played such a special role in my experience and without them it just would not have been the same. My Spanish never just stopped once my classes ended I had to constantly work to communicate with my host family, coordinating schedules or talking about daily news.

Every day I would try different authentic dishes. Every day I adjusted my schedule to be on Chilean or Spanish time to coincide with my host family. Every day I took part in daily activities around the city, going to the gym, yoga classes, park or beach days, trips to the grocery store to buy shampoo, really whatever! Although frustrating and hard at times, all these experiences contributed to reaching my goal, which was immersion into a culture completely different from my own. And although Spain and Chile are very different, they are both beautiful places that share the communality of having caring, helpful, cheerful, good-humored, intelligent people. Leaving me with a beyond wonderful impression of the two countries.

Personal Identity:

This last point is the hardest one to explain for me. Each time I would tell someone I was taking a gap year I would receive pretty much the same response, something like, “Wow, a gap year, that’s so amazing! This year is just going to be so great for you, you’re going to grow and learn so much about yourself!”

Although I really did believe and even agree with each of these people, I didn’t exactly know what growing and learning about myself was going to entail.

Now sitting here and reflecting over my year, I know exactly what they meant. No, of course, I haven’t figured everything out. Heck, I’m still not 100% sure what I want to study in college next year. But what I can say is as far as the person I am. I am so happy right here, right now. Each and every awkward, exciting, stressful, uncomfortable, new, and fun situation that I’ve experienced this year has taught me something new about myself and I can’t wait to apply it once I return back to the states. This all, of course, sounds immensely cheesy but all I can really say is if you don’t really understand what I’m saying maybe you just need to take a gap year to figure it out

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I LOVE MY LIFE!! 

A huuge thank you to the people who made this year possible. I love you all to the moon and back and truly cannot thank you enough! 

Ciao! 

03/25/2014

Marruecos

“Much progress, and much to be done.” the one and only- Lisa Margo Levine 

It is a wild to think that after only a 6 hour bus ride, I found myself in a new continent, new country, and completely new colorful, captivating, culture.

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We were only in Morocco for the weekend, so it was a very short amount of time to truly understand the culture, but here are a few of my initial thoughts. The first thing I noticed was the extremely high ratio of men to women. It was something like 75: 25 for the people I came into contact with. It could have been more or less but it was enough for me to notice something was very different. The whole weekend seemed to be run by men, hotel workers and shopkeepers, tour guides, servers at the restaurant, people helping us onto the camels, showing us silk blankets and explaining natural medicines…all men. Occasionally you see a woman in the street selling her fruit and vegetables but that is about it. 

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Another difference was the few women who were out in the streets were covered up completely, usually in a traditional piece of clothing called a djellaba, a long dress with sleeves and a hood. A few men in the streets were wearing djellabas but there were also a lot of men in shorts and t-shirts as it was a beautiful day at least in the 70’s. It seemed so out of the norm for women not to be completely covered that I even got a few stares by having just my ankles showing.

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Before going to Morocco I knew that praying was a big part of the Arab culture and as the guide explained people are summoned, by bells, to the mosques 5 times a day and if you are working, like our guide for example, you can go at a different time or pray on your own time. But he also explained how although men and women can pray in the same mosque they are not allowed to pray next to each other.

 

As we were walking around to different shops and seeing how every single vendor was a man, I began to wonder where the women were and what they were doing. In one shop I asked the vendor if he was the one who made the scarves. He laughed and responded, “No, women in factories do that”. That was really hard for me to hear because yes, as a global society I think a lot of progress has been made over this issue of gender inequality but as I could see this weekend, there is still work to be done. 

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Growing up in the States I have always experienced and understood that men and women are equal. We have equal opportunities for jobs, to vote, to get an education, and how to dress; the list goes on and on but in Morocco I felt a different vibe.

Experiencing a culture that is completely different from my own is not only important because it helps me create an understanding for people of all backgrounds but it also is helpful in creating an appreciation for my own culture.

There are positives and negatives in every culture, but I think it's important to create an accepting society that is as well-rounded as the sphere of the planet on which we live. 

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Ciao for now! 

03/13/2014

Family First

"The world in which you are born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being like you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit." Wade Davis 

I feel like I’ve said this before but I’m going to say it again. Your host family is such an important part of your study abroad experience. Yes, you have your Spanish classes, your volunteering, and excursions with the group, but your host family is really where you get to experience and become really immersed in the culture.

Here is what I mean.

I wake up and nobody is up because 8:00, at least for my family, is considered very early. Yet, I still have cereal and a bowl set out by my lovely host mom every morning when I get up. After breakfast, I make my way to school and after class around 1:30 I get home and wait for my host mom to knock on my door around 2:30-3:00 telling me lunch is ready. I usually eat with my host sister, who is home because her first class doesn’t start until 4:00 (lucky duck). While we eat my host mom is usually in the kitchen preparing food for my host dad, and my two aunts who are also currently living here as well (very cultural), but they all don’t eat until later…can you believe it, later?

During lunch my sister and I talk about classes, travels, family, friends, boys, really anything. It’s super casual and comfortable, and I’ve gotten really close with her, which has been fabulous. After lunch it is the hour of “siesta” or nap. Really, it’s an actual thing. A lot of the shops in town close down from around 2:00-5:00 for lunch and siesta (super cultural). I have a hard time taking a nap in the middle of the day because if I do it’s hard for me to get moving afterwards but I usually try to relax for a bit.

After siesta, some days I go to the park, meet a friend for tea at a café, go to volunteering, head to the gym or visit the Alcazar, Cathedral or Parliament with my CIEE group. Just like back home in the states I have to keep my host mom updated with where I am, except in Spanish. My host mom is super caring and really treats me like one of her own. She is always reminding me to take an umbrella or wear a scarf because it’s cold and at one point even referred to herself now as having “2 Martas” (my host sister).

After volunteering I come home and hang out until dinner is ready around 10:00. Yes, 10:00. Meal times, I have to say, have been the hardest adjustment. For me, 10:00 is really late to be eating, but it’s a big part of the culture. Just like in Chile, dinner time is when I have the most contact with my host family so it’s important that I’m there. During dinner I practice my Spanish listening and talking skills and jump into the conversation when I can. We talk about everything from current events to different places around Sevilla, including places I have visited on excursions or will be visiting, so I’m able to get background information before I go with the group. We also talk about different parts of Spain and Europe and typical Spanish foods. My host aunt and I share a love for cooking so we always have fabulous conversations about different kinds of recipes, and we even plan on having a recipe swap one day in the near future!

I also get asked about different parts of American culture, which I love. For example, once my host dad asked, “What is typical American food? Like what do Americans eat on a daily basis? Hamburgers and French fries from McDonalds?”

It was a hard question, because when I think of American cuisine I think of a range of foods because America is a huge melting pot of cultures. I explained what a typical meal in my family would be and how my mom is very health conscious so we eat a lot of organic fruits and vegetables, not that much meat, a lot of whole grains and not a lot of processed foods. After I explained this it was funny to see my host dad and the rest of my family’s expressions. They all looked slightly surprised at the fact that not all Americans necessarily like, or even eat fried foods all day, every day. Of course America is huge and there are all kinds of people who have a variety of eating habits but it was a great sense of accomplishment to feel like I changed this American stereotype in even just 5 people’s minds.

On a typical night, I finish my gazpacho (typical Spanish cold tomato soup) and tortilla de España (another typical Spanish dish-basically an omelette with potatoes and cheese) and then my host mom asks me 15 times if I want more and 15 times I say no thank you, another huge cultural difference I’ve experienced. Food is a sign of love here and since I am not used to this sometimes it feels very forced. Instead of serving oneself my host mom will serve everyone and then after we finish our servings insist we eat more and more…and sometimes even more. Saying no at least 15 times during a meal has just been one of those things I’ve had to get used to and really I know she only means well.

 

Like I said, my host sister and I got pretty close from the beginning. Marta is 19 so we are at similar points in our lives. Therefore, finding things to bond over, even with the culture and language difference, really wasn’t hard at all! And a couple of weeks ago I was ecstatic when she asked me if I wanted to go to Rome with her! I of course said yes, so we bought our tickets and last Thursday traveled to Rome, one Spanish chica and one American gal, quite a story!

We stayed with her good friend who is studying in Rome and living with 4 other Spanish girls so it was full on Spanish the whole time, which of course was overwhelming but was also really, really good practice for me. Rome was absolutely incredible, but it was extra special navigating through the city and seeing all the monuments with my host sister. We laughed over asking people in the streets for directions in English, then Spanish if they didn’t understand the first time, which still sometimes didn’t work! What could be better than sharing a pizza at a restaurant and listening to an Italian street performer play a little number on his accordion? How about tossing a coin in the Trevi Fountain then hiking up a bunch of stairs to a marvelous view of the city and watching the sun set over the wonderful city of Rome. Traveling to Rome with my Spanish host sister, Marta, was more than an adventure and quite an experience that will remain with me forever!

Here are some pictures from our adventure! 

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Ciao for now! 

02/20/2014

Nuevas Aventuras

"We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same." Anne Frank 

I believe one of the key factors in being a successful traveler is being open-minded to trying new things! That’s what exploring and traveling is all about! I love learning about different cultures, meeting new people and exploring new places, so that’s why a gap year has fit perfectly in my life. I loved South America. Traveling around Chile and Peru and experiencing such completely different ways of life were amazing but because of high traveling costs exploring South America as a whole was a lot harder. Now coming to Europe I appreciate the fact that taking a trip to the Netherlands, for example, is completely doable and not overwhelmingly expensive. So last weekend, off we went.

 After an uneventful plane ride we arrived in Eindhoven, where things began to get fun! From there the 8 of us had to take a bus from the airport to the train station, find a ticket booth to buy tickets since none of the manual ticket dispensaries took Visa cards, buy tickets for the train to Amsterdam, take the train from Eindhoven to Amsterdam, grab a tram in Amsterdam and take that to our hostel. It was quite the process of transportation!  Luckily we are all pretty well traveled kids, and everything in the Netherlands is in English so we figured it out.

We checked into the hostel then walked around and found lunch. One of the best ways to explore is to just walk. I really enjoyed walking around the city of Amsterdam. The area is very flat, and it seems like there are more bikes than cars on the road so walking can become quite dangerous at times- dodging bikes, cars and trams all at once. It is a city built on canals along with townhouse after townhouse. Super cool and easy enough to see everything by walking.

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After lunch we went back to the hostel and got ready to go see Ellie Goulding live in concert!! We took public transportation to the concert arena because at this point we are all public transportation pros. Even after being up for a solid 17 hours the concert was amazing and I’m so happy I got to see Ellie. Goulding. Live. In. Amsterdam. Unforgettable. 

 The next day we went over the Anne Frank house. It is obvious by the long line outside that this is the main attraction in Amsterdam. We had been told that there might be a long line so we were prepared to wait. Almost all of us had read the book in school so we were excited to see first hand what she described in her diary. We were lucky with the weather the whole weekend. It didn’t rain once and we did get glimpses of the sun but the wind made it feel so much colder than Sevilla. There was a lot of wind and especially after standing around in line for over an hour it got really cold. Luckily we passed the time with fun word games so before we knew it we were in.

The Anne Frank house was amazing. The tour took us through the house from room to room, each containing important historical information providing background about that disturbing time period. The rooms also contained artifacts such as the actual pictures she glued onto the walls of her room and notes about weekly meal plans.  Personal video interviews of the people who lived in the house, along with quotes from her diary made it a really personal and all together extremely moving experience. Standing in the Secret Annex and imagining not being able to breath in fresh air and being confined to that small space for two whole years was hard to imagine, yet something I won’t forget.

 

“Where there's hope, there's life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” Anne Frank

 

On our last full day in Amsterdam we got up and went to the Rijks Museum which houses Dutch art pieces ranging from the 1100’s to the 2000’s. The museum was overwhelming with 3 levels of art, but at the same time it was fascinating to look at all the famous Dutch art. Here are a few pictures I took of my favorite paintings. 

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Vincent van Gogh 

After the museum we sat outside by the Amsterdam sign and soaked up some sun before heading to lunch. You may not know this but the Amsterdam sign is a vey popular landmark for tourist and especially on a sunny day, it was packed with people. 

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The next morning we woke up and took our 15 modes of transportation back to Sevilla. It was wonderful getting off the plane and breathing in the fresh, warmer, Sevilla air, happy to be back and returning to a place I feel comfortable in.

I love traveling, exploring, and learning about new countries and their own unique cultures. There is so much to learn and discover out there, and all you need is an open mind! 

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Ciao for now! 

02/06/2014

Beyond Sevilla

"One can travel the world and see nothing. To achieve understanding, it is necessary not to see many things, but to look hard at what you do see." Giorgio Morandi

Yes, being in Europe is overwhelming. There are soo many fascinating, historically important places that seem so close, yet so far. Paris, London, Amsterdam, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Ireland, I could just keep adding and adding to the list. Trying to make a priorities list is seemingly impossible. I want to take advantage of that fact that I’m here in Europe (and the significantly cheaper flights) and travel! At the same time traveling is expensive because everything adds up and next thing you know you’ve spent all your holiday money on a three- day trip to Amsterdam. Also a big part of my decision to take a gap year was the fact that I wanted to immerse myself in a culture different from my own, and that just isn’t possible when you are on the road traveling.  Spain in itself is wonderful and there are so many diverse places throughout the country that I want to see.

Luckily the center where we take language classes offers weekend excursions, so 2 weeks ago I decided to go with the school to Granada. 

Saturday morning I woke up and headed to the meeting point where about 20 other students from the Clic center were waiting to board the bus to Granada. Clic is an international language center so aside from having class with a diverse group of students from all around the world, going on these weekend trips is a great way to meet international students. On the trip to Granada, I met a hilarious girl from Belgium, a girl from Sweden, a Sicilian and a group of very energetic Australians.

We boarded the bus and started our 3-hour drive to Granada. For me it was quite refreshing to leave the city. I loved looking out the window at the crop fields and Sierra Nevada mountains, terrain I’ve missed since leaving Chile.  

Once we got to Granada we had some free time to walk around and explore the commercial part of the city. All the bakeries looked enticing with their sweets and so Hazel, Fiona, Cori, Maggie and I decided to venture into one. Maggie and Hazel got some delicious looking chocolate churros, which are a classic sweet treat in Spain. 

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After that we did some store hopping and walked around the city. The strong Arab influence on the city was obvious. A number of stores had a variety of tapestries, lamps, and other intricate trinkets. 

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After shopping we met up with the group to go on a short walking tour of the city, starting with the Catedral de la Anunciación, where Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand are buried. Up until 1492, when Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand took over the city, Granada was under Moorish rule and is known for its Arab-influenced culture, mixed with Catholic monarchy influences.  The Catedral de la Anunciaciòn reminded me of a grand cathedral I visited in Denmark, which also housed coffins the kings, queens, and other royals are buried in.

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After the cathedral we walked up through the city streets to a gorgeous viewpoint of the Alhambra at night. 

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The next morning we woke up and headed to the Alhambra. The Alhambra was a military fortress and has an incredible amount of historical importance along with exquisite gardens, palaces, architecture and designs.

I think my pictures are probably best doing the talking.  

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After the Alhambra we headed back down into town for a quick lunch. We ate at a Mediterranean restaurant, and I got a falafel which was super yummy, especially after a long morning of walking around the Alhambra. After lunch we went back to the hotel, got our stuff and headed back to Sevilla. It was nice to come back home to Sevilla. My lovely host family greeted me by saying “Ah Elena! Te extrañamos!” (We missed you!)  I was, of course only gone a night, but it was really sweet!

Life in Sevilla is becoming more and more normal each day. When I wake up for class I don’t have that slight adrenaline rush like I did my first week here, which makes it harder to get up, but oh well. I went to my first yoga class in Sevilla yesterday and tomorrow the new kids have our last “orientation excursion” to the Cathedral. I keep looking at my calendar and wanting to plan more and more but I know I have to take it day by day. I can already feel the time flying by which is scary but true so I want to be sure to make the most of my time here!  

Ciao for now!



 

01/28/2014

When Two Worlds Collide

 

The best presents I’ve ever received arrived on Solstice morning at the Santiago airport with more luggage than energy, but huge smiles and hugs and love none the less. Their flight was delayed (something I was not aware of), and having no means of communication, I was equally relieved as I was excited to see them exit the security section, the exact same door I had walked through just five months before. Welcome to Chile Mom and Karl!!!

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It’s true, sharing stories is fun, but to be able to show my family a first hand  glimpse of what I had been living for the past semester was beyond wonderful. We had an absolute blast. And I, as the tour guide and trip planner, felt an even stronger connection to my life here in Chile, because they were the foreigners, and I was the “local.”

 

A RING of TIME

They say that life is cyclical: that we find ourselves in parallel situations either with our own memories, or with new generations. La Serena was the destination of my first trip in Chile, and it was also my last. A couple hours after their flight landed, we headed over to the bus station to take another $24 coach bus. This time, in place of my gap friends, it was my family by my side, and instead of Chris Martin’s voice complimenting the view, it was my mother’s. In hindsight, it might have been cruel to schedule such a long bus ride after all the air travel, but we didn’t have much time, and thankfully we were all sleep deprived enough to appreciate the cozy seats. It’s a good thing I slept too, because the next week was filled with novelty and repetition, as my world from Wisconsin collided with my Chilean home.

Last time I was in La Serena, we stayed in a resort on the beach. This time, I chose to introduce to my family to the Hostel style of life. We didn’t have the best of luck as far as roommates go, but it could have been worse. Overall the Aji Verde was a successful choice, and  we met some extraordinarily cool travelers (for instance two young women who were traveling around the world until their budget ran out) and listened to some good stores (what bus trouble in Nepal can mean and the difficulties of being a tourist in parts of the US), and the staff were helpful in planning out our adventures.

Day one we did what I had failed to do last time; we took a tour of Valle Elqui. From seven in the morning, until just past midnight, my family and a handful of other tourists traveled around the valley in a tour van, visiting what makes this place so famous.

1. Its rich agriculture and impressively fruitful growing seasons. They can grow, for instance, four crops of potatoes in the same time other places harvest once, and they have millions of dollars worth of avocados, papayas, vineyards and whatever else the local farmers are interested in growing. The soil and the climate are practically perfect according to our tour guide. There was always farm land in sight, and the base of the mountains were black with avocado forests. Below Karl and I are eating a peculiar local cactus fruit called a copao. It reminded me of a kiwi, except it was so acidic that it could only be eaten with equal parts sugar and fruit. IMG_2770

2. PISCO! The Chilean (or possible Peruvian -- but we don’t mention that..) alcoholic drink that reminds me of a vodka made from grapes (technically a grape brandy). On our tour we went to the Capel Pisco Distillery to see how the 80 proof drink is made. The grapes, one or more of the select seven types, are fermented exactly like wine, but then the drink is distilled rather than bottled and stored immediately after. Also, Chilean pisco can ONLY be called pisco if it is made in Valle Elqui, which means this valley supplies the entire country with pisco sour, piscola, etc. And if you drink pisco product before it's at the correct proof, it's poison. Here we are in the pisco distillary. IMG_2789

3. Natural Therapy. They say the center of the Earth’s magnetic core, in the current age of Aquarius at least, is located in Valle Elqui in a small town called Cochiguaz. Although we did not visit all the modern day gurus or participate in the hundreds of natural energy, meditation, soul cleansing, spa options, we were able to feel a bizarre tingling feeling in our palms when we opened up our hands face up. Perhaps it was placebo, but since it would be REALLY cool if it was real, I'm going to believe. 

4. The home of Gabriela Mistral, a famous Chilean poet and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature in 1945 (also a close friend of Pablo Neruda and a teacher around the world). We visited her home town, and read a bit of her poetry in her old school house that is now transformed into a museum. She is also on the 5.000 (five thousand pesos) which is roughly $10.  200385_grande

5. And last but certainly not least, the Observatories! This was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip. Imagine what the sky looked like before light pollution, and you can have a pretty good idea of what we saw. I have been to the north of Wisconsin, miles from any large civilization, but still, the amount of stars we saw that night blew me away. Plus we got to go to one of the famous old observatories and use their telescope. Did you know Orion is upside down in the southern hemisphere? Or that Venus goes through phases just like the moon? We got to see constellations, planets, galaxies, star clusters, and so much more at a quality I never could have imagined. Below is not the moon, but actually Venus! IMG_2826

 

Day two we did what I had succeeded in doing last time, but with our own twist. I took my family through same street markets, but this time, instead of only looking, we bought some of Chile’s piercingly blue national rock, Lapislazuli, as well as papaya candies and other gifts. We went to the same cafe central where I had eaten four months ago, but this time I translated the menus, instead of my dictionary. We walked to the beach along the same path, and sun bathed in the same sand, but with our own ridiculous, laughter-filled conversations. We ate dinner while watching the sun set over the Pacific, but trading Italian food for good ol classic empanadas. And just in case I didn't have enough of the wonderful circle of life, my family and I stumbled upon a Japanese Garden, one that was surprisingly similar to the Japanese Gardens we wandered around in California, two winters ago. It was fun for me to see how much my point of view had changed since I was last in La Serena, and it was beautiful to see how much our family had grown since we last stared at koi fish under a Japanese bridge. Here is my family outside of the Garden of the Heart.IMG_2882

Our La Serena adventure came to a close as we boarded an overnight bus back to Vina del Mar, on to our next chapter of winter break.

 

MY CITIES

Five months wasn’t enough time for me to uncover even a portion of the treasures of Vina del Mar or Valparaiso (I doubt a lifetime would be sufficient), but my next mission was to give my family a taste of these cities and my life there in a day and a half. We arrived in Valparaiso at 6am in the morning after a successful overnight bus journey, and after a cab ride, and a short nap, we were off into Valparaiso. I took them to the port, through the market, around the plazas, past some of the famous buildings I could remember, and finally to Pablo Neruda’s Valparaiso home. The only problem was the ascensors were closed (again), so we were forced to conquer the enormous hill with endless stairs and steep roads. It was a good hour of work, but ultimately worth the trek, as my mother and brother both enjoyed the incredible view, the quirky house decorations, and the funny life tidbits provided by the self-guided listening tours. My brother also accompanied me up another hill in order to give a little Christmas gift to my friends at Ancora (the place where I used to go for Friday night dinners). Our walk back down the hill was anything but direct, but we managed to eventually find Cerro Concepcion which is the hill most famous for its street art. Although it was a long walk, once again, it was worth the struggle, and my family greatly enjoyed the murals.

The view from Pablo Neruda's Valparaiso home and his housePicture 5And some street art.. 
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The downtown part of Valparaiso (which is the flat part at the base of the hills) was packed with people doing last minute Christmas shopping and whatever else they wanted to be doing. It was loud. It was crowded. I think it was the busiest I’ve ever seen the city. Vina del Mar, the next day, was exactly the opposite. 

On Christmas day, my family and I headed out once again, but this time I took them around Vina del Mar. I almost didn’t recognize the city. Because it was a national holiday, ALL of the restaurants and stores were closed, and there was almost no one on the streets. There was no sopaipilla lady, no street musicians, nobody selling wrapping paper, no street artists, no sushi or food carts or street vendors of any kind. There were hardly any cars, and despite the fact that it was a Wednesday, the metros and the buses were empty. It was like a post apocalyptic city. Shocking. So the weather was less than wonderful and my bustling, vibrant city was a ghost town, but other than that the day was a success! The street below is Calle Valparaiso, and it is always PACKED with people. Except today.  IMG_3077

Our first official stop was the sand dunes, one of my favorite places. Karl and I trudged all the way to the top, and then decided to race down the other side. Letting our legs spin as fast as possible, we flew down the mountain of soft sand towards the ocean, arms open wide. Well that’s how we started at least. He actually made it to our declared finish line, but I pushed myself just a little too fast and ended up eating sand about 15 seconds into the race. Literally. I knocked the wind out of myself and coated every inch of my body in sand, and despite our best efforts to brush off all the sand, I ended up trudging back to my mother a black sand monster. We sat in the dunes for a while after and just enjoyed the view, and then we tried to go down the other side of the dunes, towards the ocean, instead of back the way we came. Possibly a mistake. At first it appeared that we had walked all the way down the dunes only to be greeted by massive cliffs. However, instead of turning around, we kept looking and eventually we found a tiny, extraordinarily steep path with minimal spines and trees. A likely chance of survival. Laughing out of terror and amusement, we slowly slid down the sandy cliff. It was good family bonding. IMG_3011 IMG_3027When we got down to the shore, we walked along the road until we found the perfect rock jutting out into the ocean. Before I left Wisconsin, a family friend gave me a lei from Hawaii. It draped around our rearview mirror until I carefully put it in a plastic bag and brought it with me to Chile and the Pacific. From what I’ve heard, by throwing the lei into the ocean I am respecting the friendship of the person who gave it to me, promising I’ll return, and commemorating a loved one who has passed away. So I tossed it into the breeze. IMG_3053

I also took my family to my university, and showed them where I volunteered or met with my running team. There are tons of additional places I would have loved to show them, but we were limited by time and a lack of rapid transportation. Instead, on my last night in Chile, a couple of friends came over for a small barbeque with one of my favorite foods (choripan!), and we played Uno. Sometime in there I packed all of my things too. Eventually everybody drifted off to bed, and I went out for my true last night in Chile.

The next morning, my host mother dropped us all off at the bus station. We gave our teary goodbye hugs and then boarded yet another coach bus, this time to Santiago. After dropping off all our luggage in the airport, we headed out into the city, one that I was not nearly as familiar with, and one that was as busy and chaotic as usual. Having already had a FULL week, my family wasn’t too interested in a crazy tourism day, so instead we met up with Diego! If you don’t recognize the name, he’s the Chilean I went to Chiloe with a couple of weeks before. Whenever my mom is talking about the trip, she always references this afternoon as being her favorite; it truly was special. Even though Diego met my family that day, we all got along like we had known each other for years. He seriously is a fantastic kid. We went to the grocery store to buy all the typical Chilean foods, we went to a Human Rights museum that focused on the dictatorship (which was fun for me to explain the history to my family or translate words with Diego), we ate sopaipillas on the street, we wandered through the city and the metro system, and we ended the day sitting in a park, eating delicious cookies and just talking talking talking. Throughout the entire afternoon we spoke Spanglish, constantly learning from each others’ mistakes, laughing, and making up jokes. That was another hard goodbye for all of us. When the sun set, we headed back to the airport for the last time, and off we went. IMG_3105

 

HOLIDAYS

The last important part about our trip was that my family came down on Solstice, and we left on the 27th. It’s common sense that the holidays are always a difficult time to be an exchange student, and I missed both my mother’s and my brother’s birthdays and Thanksgiving. However, I avoided the holiday blues during Turkey day by celebrating my first ever Hanukkah with Dana and a group of her friends, making homemade latkes and applesauce (which her Chilean family had never had before…!), lighting a makeshift menorah, and listening and participating in the traditional songs with her family through Skype.

And for Christmas, my two families were together!

My host mother, my host sister, my mother and I all chipped in to make a Christmas dinner feast, a mix of Chilean foods and American foods. We drank cola de mono, sitting around the huge dining room table, with Christmas music in the background and the tree’s beautiful decorations lighting up the room. At midnight, as it is custom to do in Chile, we opened up presents. My mother had brought some gifts down with her (based of my suggestions), and my host mother had even gotten some for my family. There was much laughter and thank yous and smiling people. A huge success. Even though my mother and brother didn’t know much Spanish, they knew enough and did their best, and I was finally able to be a translator. A great Christmas it was. IMG_2972 My Mothers!!IMG_2987Cata and I IMG_2974My brother and one of the kittens

 

That concludes my trip to Chile. Done. Goodbye. Leaving home was hard, but in a different way because I knew my life would pretty much be waiting for me when I returned. Leaving Chile was worse (I would have “missed my plane” had my family not been there to take me home…). I know someday I will go back, and I’ll see my friends again, stay with my host family, run with my running team, swim with my sea lions, eat my sopaipillas, shop at my stores, take my metro, dance at my discos, walk through my streets, climb up my stairs, but it will never be my life like it was. I’ll be more of a tourist than a local.

However, I also left having had the time of my life. It was an experience I will NEVER regret, where lifelong friendships were born, a love for a new language took root, and a lifetime’s worth of memories were made.


Chile, hasta pronto.

01/24/2014

España

"Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind." Seneca 

Wow, here we are, and it’s already January 23rd! This past month of supposed winter “break” has gone by incredibly fast. After getting back from Peru I spent an amazing 3 weeks seeing my family and friends, adjusting to the winter, packing up and getting ready for Spain. Being back was great but spending that short amount of time at home made leaving again that much harder. I felt like right as I got comfortable being back home it was already the night before I left for Spain. A quick tip for anyone thinking about doing the dual gap program: make sure if you are going to Spain you get your visa before you leave for your first semester program. I spent more time than I wanted at the Spanish embassy, so figure out your visa situation over the summer before you leave.

Fast forward 4 plane rides and a number of hours later, and I am in Sevilla!! Sevilla is the capital of the Andalucía region, or southern area, of Spain. It is absolutely beautiful, and even after only being here a week I really really like it. I arrived two days before my program started so was able to adjust to the time difference (6 hours ahead of Washington DC) and walk around and see the area a little bit.

After hanging out for 2 days with a friend I packed up my things and went to my host family. In my family I have a mom (Georgina), dad (Joaquin), sister (Marta, who is 19), and brother (Joaquin who is 21). This is a complete switch from my one younger brother, Max, who I’ve grown up with, and my family in Chile but I am really excited to have kids in the house around my age. So far my host family experience has been wonderful! My Spanish is so much better, and because I already have the experience of living with a host family my acclimation into the family wasn’t as difficult. Only a week has gone by, but I really do feel part of the family. I am able to actively participate in meal conversations and not just smile and nod my head like when I arrived in Chile 6 months ago. And after a couple of nights bonding over silly Youtube videos, comparing music and just talking, I feel like my sister and I have already gotten pretty close. The host family is a major part of the experience so I feel fortunate to have already connected with my new family.

First Impressions of the City:

The first thing I noticed was how incredibly beautiful the styles of the buildings are. You can quickly sense the historical importance that each building holds and the architectural detail is incredible. Also looking around in the streets everyone is dressed in the latest fashion trends and you can tell appearance is taken very seriously here. Everything is within walking distance so already I’ve been able to get a good feel for the city by just walking around to and from class and by exploring each afternoon. Aside from the incredible amount of shoe stores there are a number of beautiful plazas that are dispersed throughout the city as well. 

Here are a few pictures from various places around the city.

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The first couple of days of the program were long with numerous orientation meetings and tours. We went on a short tour of Plaza de España, the main plaza in Sevilla, an absolutely stunning area. You feel as though you have almost stepped out of the city, into a completely new area. You make your way into the park and then all you see is this grand building with a number of pillars, balconies, and towers as well as a huge patio out front with a fountain surrounded by a canal where you can rent a row boat and row around. Around the base of the building there are little stations called azulejos which are ceramic tiles and represent the different regions or provinces of Spain. Fun fact: Plaza de España was where parts of the Star War movies were filmed.

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Azulejo of Coruña

After that we walked through the park, Maria Luisa, to another plaza called Plaza de América. Right away we all noticed the enormous amount of palomas or pigeons that were surrounding the plaza. If you simply hold out your arm you can easily get 2-3 pigeons to fly up and say hi, intimidating enough. However, if you buy some of the nuts you could seriously have up to 7 pigeons resting on your arms! 

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Classes started on Monday and it has been a bit of an adjustment: 1) waking up at 8:00(yeah I know ¡que horror!) and 2) focusing in Spanish for a whole 4 hours straight with an exception for our 20 minute break. But I’m excited because that’s the best way for me to improve my Spanish.

Being in Europe is overwhelming. You feel like everything is so close so you want to take advantage and travel to many countries, yet I am in Spain and also want to really get to know the country I am living in. Poco a poco, little by little, I will figure out my plans, but I know my time here will be adventure-filled!

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walking tour through the neighborhood of Santa Cruz 

Ciao for now! 

01/04/2014

El Idioma--ESPANOL

Me llamo Katerina (yamo)

Tengo 18 anos

Soy  des de Estados Unidos

Quiero ayudar.

As a parting gift, one of my friends gave me a little notebook to fill with vocabulary on my trip; what you see above is what is written on the first page. For better and for worse, when I arrived in Chile, I did not speak Spanish.

 

FOR BETTER:

  • My learning curve was exponential which was motivational throughout the semester. There’s no question of whether or not my Spanish improved.

  •    The first time my brother met my host mother on skype, he had a really hard time understanding her because of her Chilean accent, but having never heard a different way of speaking, I never had to to go through an adjustment phase. And a bonus for learning Spanish in Chile: they say if you can understand a Chilean, you can understand any other Spanish speaker in the Americas (because they all speak clearer and slower and with better pronunciation). This I’ve already found to be true after watching Spanish TV.
  • I was never embarrassed to ask questions about really basic concepts, nor was I ashamed when I made simple mistakes (partly due to my personality and partly due to the fact that I was new to the language).

  • Sometimes Spanish classes teach words that are either not useful or not ever used (or only used in Mexico), but because I never learned Spanish in a high school classroom, these words were not part of my vocabulary and they weren’t floating around in my head. For instance, asi asi does not exist, at least in Chile (they say mas o menos).  

  • I will never again have a problem asking questions or for directions because if I could do it in Spanish, English should be a breeze.

  • It is a huge confidence boost. And a great story.. I went to Chile without knowing Spanish!

 

FOR WORSE

  • I don’t know the difference between universal Spanish words and words that are only used in Chile (known as modismos). For instance, cereza is the Spanish word for cherry, but guinda is the Chilean word.

  • The entire first month was a REAL struggle.

  • I don’t have any vocabulary except for what I’ve learned here which can be limiting, and if I want to have a conversation on an entirely new topic, I have to learn all the vocabulary (for instance, I don’t know any “Going to the Doctors” vocabulary).

  • For every word I’d learn, it felt like I’d also forget one, just because there were always a million new words. I had to start from square one.

  • I cannot carry even the most basic conversation in French anymore; it has completely disappeared. I can read some, and translate the occaisonal word, but that’s actually it; five years of French, gone. Some people say it would come back really fast, and others say you can only really focus on learning one language at a time until you’re proficient (especially when they’re so similiar). I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do (try and relearn or drop it for now).

  • And finally, I’m not going to go home fluent. Or even anywhere close. I understand a decent amount but not every conversation, and although I can usually get my point across, I don’t always do so gracefully or correctly. Plus, writing is still quite difficult for me as well.

 

Do I regret coming here with no Spanish? Absolutely not. To be completely honest, I’ve loved the struggle and the daily adventure of just trying to figure out what was going on around me, and it’s incredible to look back over the last couple of months and see my progress.  I’ve also loved watching people’s expressions when I told them I came knowing almost nothing of the language,  especially in the beginning, and their complements were some of the most motivating. There’s no comparison between how much one learns studying in classroom versus living abroad, and I absolutely suggest stepping out of the traditional comfort zone to learn a new language. It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it.

 

And as an additional bonus, learning a language through using it (with a little bit of instruction on the side), has lead to enough humorous moments and light bulb realizations to have kept me laughing the entire semester. Here are a few examples of the language battles I’ve faced.

Sometimes I have to read a word out loud before I know what it means because my brain doesn’t recognize the spelling, but it does recognize the sound. Preba was one of those because it sounds more like preva.

I make funny spelling mistakes. Mida instead of mira because that’s how it sounds.

I use words that I couldn’t translate or even define because I’ve only heard them in context. I have no idea what ‘¿cómo amaneciste?” actually means but I ask it in the morning because my host mom always asks me then.

I’ll learn the grammar rules behind why I say certain phrases after. “Que le vaya bien” was part of my daily conversation long before I knew what subjunctive was, and when we did finally learn the basics, I had no problem remembering the irregular conjugations because, like “vaya”, I use them.  

I’ve made some really silly mistakes and had some bizarre problems. One time I was trying to say “you’re going to like this,” and although I’ve conjugated the verb gustar a million times, I didn’t know what it was in its infinitive form.. So it came out more like, lo vas a emm ahh emm gusta gustar?

 

So how is my Spanish then..?

On the airplane down to Chile, I was proud I remembered tal vez (maybe). On the way back, a young Chilean guy and I had a lovely five hour conversation, completely in Spanish. And I understood everything.

We read a book in French Five, and I depended heavily on my dictionary. I read the same book in Spanish after three months, and while there were words I wasn’t familiar with, it was an easy read.

About two and a half months into my stay, I was working on homework in my host mom’s room when I realized I had understood the conversation on TV. I flipped out. It was the first time I had understood more than a word or two. Now I can watch Vampire Diaries with my host sister and understand almost all of it.

Basically, I understand lots; I can write some; I can say enough; and most importantly, I’m addicted to the language. I can’t wait to learn more!

Gap Bloggers

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