Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Things I've learned on study abroad

First off, here is the promised facebook link for the Cabo de Gata album.

I wasn't really planning on posting today, but I finished my final paper for economics earlier than expected, and I have some time to kill. Anyways, I wanted to do this last year but never got around to it, and it still seems pretty relevant now. Things I've learned from study abroad. This list is going to be in no particular order, and might not be complete. If I think of something else tomorrow, I'll post it.

1. Weather is fickle. This seems basic, even stupid. But you haven't been miserable until you've stood in freezing weather or rain without the proper gear. Always pack your sunglasses, umbrella, and layers. Even if you think you they're unnecessary, there's always that freak rainstorm or hot day.

2. How to read a map. In the age of technology, less and less people know how to read a map, unless it is accompanied by a digital voice telling you to take a right in 500 yards. I can't even count all the times I've been lost in random cities and have only gotten out of that mess because of a map. They are priceless.

3. How to communicate. Obviously, my Spanish has gotten way better here in Spain, but I've also been to countries where I don't speak the language, or speak very little. You'd be surprised how far a smile and body language can get you. In Morocco for example, we didn't speak Arabic, but we were able to more or less communicate and play with a little kid through hand gestures and smiles. In Italy, I used my knowledge of Spanish to figure out what Christina's host mom was saying (most of the time). This, however, doesn't mean you shouldn't attempt to learn at least a few phrases in the language. They can really help if you are lost, hungry, or just need something.

4. Just roll with it. Sometimes your flight is delayed, sometimes a bathroom will just have a hole in the floor, with foot platforms on either side. Sometimes, you find some tentacles in your paella. So what? Why complain. You're alive and probably happy, and have probably had enough to eat in the past 24 hours. Things will work out in the end...

5. Always have a back up plan... or at least an idea of what to do when #4 doesn't work out so well.

6. Drink water when it's available and pee when you can. Sometimes, you're on that flight and although you just drank a whole mini can of soda, they won't be coming around with seconds for at least an hour. Should have hydrated in the airport! Expensive? Bring a reusable water bottle, drink it before security, and then refill it on the other side. Bring drink mix if you don't like fountain water. I think the bathroom part is self explanatory.

7. You won't like everyone, and not everyone will like you. Don't hurt yourself trying to be popular. Life isn't about have millions of friends, it's about have a few friends that love you and making the most of what you've got. There's no point wasting energy trying to make nice with every person you meet. However, don't be a jerk. That's not cool either. Be nice to new people; you could make a new friend.

8. Public transport and how to use it. Like maps, I don't even know how often I've used metros, buses, trains, etc. I literally could not even guess. They are one of the most useful tools ever. Why would you take a $50 taxi from the airport, when you could take the metro for $4? Why walk 45 minutes with a suitcase when you can take a 10 minute train?

9. Don't try to convert currency in your head every time you make a purchase. In fact, try to use ATMs that are part of a network, so you don't get charged. With my Bank of America debit card I can use Barclay's, Deutsch Bank, PNB, and many more without any fees. When  you use the ATM is the only time it's acceptable to convert. Taking out 150 pounds is roughly $250. If you have $1000 to spend on vacation, just remember that it converts to 600 pounds, and make sure you don't go over that. Freaking over one purchase? Think about it in terms of your available (local) currency. If it's worth it to you, get it.

10. Bring medication, so long as it's not illegal. Allergies, motion sickness, stomach problems, and headaches suck big time when you have plans. Bring something that you know you won't react badly to, and use it.

11. Always charge your camera. You don't want to be the loser in the Harry Potter Studio Tour who runs out of battery after Hagrid's Hut (Guilty). This has now happened to me at least twice. Also make sure you bring the right memory card. 1 GB might be too small for a 5 day trip to Morocco...

12. When you're traveling, comfort trumps fashion. Don't try to look like Victoria Beckham on a 7 hour flight. You'll hurt, and people will think you are... well... a word I don't want my grandparents to see if they read this. If you are one of those people who dresses up for a flight like a contestant on ANTM at the final elimination, please go to youtube and search 'Jenna Marbles bitches at the airport' She's a little explicit, but I think you'll understand why everyone's been giving you dirty looks.

13. Good shoes are priceless. I've had friends practically have stress fractures after vacations. Don't do something stupid and only pack flats. At the very least, pack comfy walking sneakers or real sneakers. Yeah, you'll stand out in a crowd of Italians, but you'll also be able to walk tomorrow. If sneakers aren't your thing, make sure you've got comfy boots or other walking shoes.

14. If someone offers you a free breakfast, take it. Unless (and even sometimes when) this breakfast is literally bread and juice, do it. You will save so much money if you don't eat a full English in a fancy cafe everyday. On that note, do try a full english at some point.

15. Try something new, whether it's enticing (deep fried mars bars) or disturbing (Haggus). You probably won't regret doing it, and might find something you really love.

16. You don't need a ton of stuff. This semester, I was determined to come over with just one suitcase. As it turned out, I didn't (everything fit, but my contact solution put it over the weight limit), but I still only brought the same amount of stuff as I would have with only one suitcase. I don't really think I have to explain in depth on this one. You just need (on a basic level, let's not forget the things I've already said) some clothes, food, shelter, and a way to communicate with your family and friends.

17. Always carry a pen. Also bandaids are a good idea

18. Check expiration dates, on both food and documents, such as visas (cough cough Casey Thomas). You don't want to end up with food poisoning 2 days before a trip, or stuck at immigration because the date on your visa was wrong.

19. Wear a watch. At some point, your cell phone will die, or you will at least get sick of digging it out of your purse. A watch is right there on your wrist!

20. See what's around you. You might walk right by an amazing opportunity or something beautiful.

21. Follow your gut. Whether you need to find home or you feel like the situation is sketchy, listen to your instincts. You have them for a reason.

22. Old people are often way cooler than young people. They also generally know more.

23. Do what makes you happy. I don't mean shoot someone if it makes you happy. If you want to sit and listen to Parliament, go ahead. Run up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial? Be my guest. As long as you aren't hurting someone else or yourself, it's nearly always worth doing what you like.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Final trip of the year- Cabo de Gata

My time here in Granada is winding down; today is the first day of the last week of classes. This weekend was the last IES trip of the semester, a hiking trip to Cabo de Gata National Park. The hike was pretty tough; it was 9 (or maybe 11?) miles, in sunny 85+ degree heat...up, down, and around mountains, across beaches, all the way to the small beach town of San Jose. I probably drank about 3 and a half liters of water, plus some hydrating solution, and I was still dehydrated as anything by the time dinner rolled around. Oh, and on the ride there, we drove past Western movie sets... yes, like actual western cowboy movies. Apparently The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was filmed in Spain! How knew?

Anyway, it was gorgeous. The water was a gorgeous blue, and you could see straight down through it. The land is very arid, but there are cool palm bushes, agave plants, and cacti everywhere.
The beaches were gorgeous too, with rock cliffs providing a little shade. We even ate lunch on a beach where part of the third Indiana Jones movie was filmed! Seeing as we were on the beach, I also got to swim in the Mediterranean. The water was really cold at first, but was fine once you were in for a few minutes. I even saw two jellyfish! Luckily the water was clear enough that I saw them before they got too close. They were only about 7 or 8 inches long, but someone got stung, so I was careful not to touch them. 

On Saturday, we woke up and went down to the beach to gather for activities. Mine was snorkeling, and I was super excited for it. I'd never been before, unless you count using a snorkel in my grandmother's pool (which I don't). What I hadn't known when I signed up was that I would have to wear a wetsuit, because of the water temperature. It took about 20 minutes for all of us to actually get them on, and then we set off for the marina. 

After a fast and exciting boat ride, we were at the spot, near a quiet cove and a cave. We sat on the boat for a while, while the instructor/leader was getting ready. A few of us got seasick, but I was fine... until I put on the jacket of the wetsuit and zipped up the hood. This hood was super tight, and covered up to your chin to keep you warm. Now, I'm the kind of person who can't even wear turtlenecks because I feel like I'm being choked. I immediately felt panicky and sick, and unzipped it until I was jumping into the water. And suddenly, all of my excitement disappeared. Between the light snorkel breaths and the pressure on my neck and chess, I just freaked. I figured it would go away after a few minutes, but it didn't. By the time we got into the cove, I was ready to take off the jacket and throw it as far as I could. Luckily for me, my buddy and IES leader Lorena was feeling the same way about her wetsuit, so she told the instructor and he told us we could sit on the rocky beach and wait for the company's other boat (there was a scuba dive happening that was almost done) to come get us. We did, and as soon as I had that jacket off I felt much, much better. 

So that was how snorkeling went, or rather, didn't go. In any case, what I saw (some sea tomatoes, rocks, snails, other fish and stuff) was pretty cool, and I don't regret it, and if I ever get the chance to do it again (although without a wetsuit) I will definitely try it. The rest of the day, we lazed out on the beach and swam. That was it, the last trip of the semester. I'll post the pictures later

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The 'study' in study abroad

Although I knew from the start that the IES Granada program had a heavier academic load than other programs, but I didn't know that it would be this much. Last spring in London I had so little work that I can remember and recite all of it point blank:

British Art and Architecture: 2 2000 word essays, a midterm, and a final
Drama: Lead one day of discussion, write 6 700 word essays reviewing the shows we saw
British Politics: 1500 word essay, quiz, midterm, final
EU Politics: 1500 word essay, quiz, midterm, final

See? That's it. I literally write more on Twitter. Anyways, this year it's a lot more. This week alone, aside from regular homework, I have a 10 page essay in Lorca, a 10 page essay in EU, a 2 page essay in Art and Architecture, part of my final due for Arab World and the West, and a 30 minute group presentation for Spanish. In addition to this, I have a trip this weekend, taking up two days of study time. And if that wasn't enough, finals start in a week and a half. Then I have to pack and go home.

I think my professors are focusing on the 'study' part a little too much...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Three weeks left!

I'm not sure if I'm happy or sad to be leaving Granada in three weeks. On one hand, I've had fun here and met some awesome people, but I also really want to go home and see everyone in NH. Anyways, here's what happened last week. 

Tuesday was Labor Day, so we had the day off from classes. I originally had wanted to go to the beach, but because of massive amounts of rain, instead I hung out at home, hung out with friends, and got some homework done. Thursday was the festival of Las Cruces (the crosses) and there were tons of crosses, decorated with flowers, scenery, and more flowers all over the city. I spent most of the afternoon at my host sister's school, Colegio Virgen de la Gracia, where they were having a sort of party. My host mom had done a lot of decorating for the cross, including painting the entire backdrop (which looked like one of the patios of the Alhambra) by herself. Sadly, I forgot my camera and didn't get a picture. There was lots of food and people having fun. I'm fairly certain at least 2 children under the age of 14 were drinking beer. 

My favorite part of the festival is that most of the girls (kids) and some of the boys dress up in flamenca, or sevillanas. It's basically adorable and made me want to buy a million of the dresses. 

The coolest thing, though, was the fact that men were riding horses down the streets of Granada. Two of them actually had women sitting side-saddle (style, they were actually behind the saddle) on the back of their horses, in their fancy, tight dresses. Props to those ladies... they are the bravest or craziest women I've ever seen

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Italy promises

Once again, sorry about the delay. It's been a bit hectic here with assignments and class and other stuff. I've also been feeling ridiculously unmotivated due to about 3 days of gross cold rain.

So, here is the promised link to my facebook album from Italy

I also managed to upload the video to youtube, so now I can post it on here.