The missed flight home: A study abroad horror tale (and what I learned from it)

Thursday December 16th, 2021, 12:26PM EST, JFK Airport NYC

I missed my flight back to the US.

Well, I guess study abroad wasn’t quite ready to get rid of me yet. And I did say I wanted to stay in Spain longer…

But really? Did it have to be THIS big of a CURVEBALL?

The day began yesterday at 5am Spanish time. I got up, said bye to my host family, and hailed a cab to the Alicante airport.

The author, in a maroon hoodie and navy blue shorts, posing for an early morning photo with his host brother, right, and flatmate, left.
An early morning photo shoot with my Argentinian host brother, right, and my Japanese flatmate, left. I had no idea what the next 50+ hours would have in store for me…

Our plane in Alicante arrived 15 minutes late, which is why I’m still not home with my family in Salem. From Alicante, we flew to Madrid, where we only had 40 minutes to run through passport control and to our gate. 

The problem is that the airport in Madrid is huge, so by the time we got to the gate it was already closed. A woman even got on right before me, which just added to my frustration.

Two Linfield students managed to board the plane, so I was stuck with a classmate from New York and another Wildcat. We called our wonderful program director in Alicante and she told us what to do.

So, what did we do? We walked to help desks, waited in long lines, called our families, and contacted Linfield IPO. Thankfully, we managed to change our flight from Chicago to New York City. This meant that we didn’t have to worry about staying in Madrid and getting another COVID test.

We got our new flight tickets an hour before the scheduled departure. Plus, our gate was nearby so we were feeling pretty optimistic as we speed-walked.

And then we got to passport control. The line for non-EU residents was ridiculous. People were crammed in and pleading with airport employees to speed up the line. Some people were crying, others were cutting in line, and lots of boos and jeers were hurled towards the cutters. All of this unfolded as we watched the time tick past our scheduled flight time…

Defeated and discouraged, we made it through passport control five minutes after our flight was supposed to leave. The three of us sprinted to the gate in hopes that there was some kind of delay…

And there WAS a delay!!! Apparently 20 other passengers hadn’t yet boarded the plane, causing the delay. We boarded the plane breathing heavy sighs of relief because we knew that we would be back in the US that night.

The author and his travel companions minutes after boarding their plane to New York. They are all wearing masks with expressions of exhaustion.
Minutes after we boarded our plane in Madrid to NYC. We thought we were going to miss this flight too, so when we boarded we were literally sweating and shaking. What a relief.

Upon arriving at JFK airport, we sorted out our situation. Linfield IPO reserved and paid for a hotel, dinner, and transportation for me and my fellow Wildcat (super grateful). And we hugged our friend from New York goodbye. We were glad to see her make it home that night, even if we didn’t. 

We ended up taking a taxi to our hotel, which was only a couple miles from the airport. Exhausted and hungry, we collapsed on our beds and put in an order for delivery pizza.

New York City is a strange place. Our pizza was arriving late, so we called to check the status of our order. The guy who answered had a really thick New York accent, which made it hard to understand him. Honestly, I would have understood him better had he been speaking Spanish, but I did catch the words “in a few minutes.” 

We ate our pizzas and slept, although it was hard to sleep because of the noise from the heater and the street. This morning we got up, ate our leftovers, and called a cab. After 15 minutes of waiting for the cab we called a Lyft, which arrived 2 minutes later to take us back to JFK airport.

After some navigating around, we arrived at the terminal to get our boarding passes. The line was hectic and after waiting around, we were told by an airline worker that it was too early to get our boarding passes.

JFK NYC airport. The floor is white and reflecting a dim sunlight. Some passengers are seen walking around. A sign says NY.
Where I wrote this part of my post in JFK airport. Yes, on the floor…

And that leads us to where we are now, on the floor of the JFK NYC airport. Airline bureaucracy has been a pain but in spite of our challenges, I’m reminded of how lucky I am. I have a wonderful support system (Linfield IPO, Spanish Studies Abroad, and my family and friends) and there are nice airline workers and fellow passengers willing to help out.

I’m coming home, Oregon! With patience and time. More updates to come.

**********************

Sunday December 19th, 2021, 1:57AM PST, Home in Salem!!!

After over 50 hours of intense international traveling, I arrived at my house in Salem, Oregon on Friday morning. Things went smoothly on Thursday, but I had to do a lot of waiting: waiting eight hours to board the flight, waiting seven hours on the plane, waiting to file a claim for my luggage (stuck in Madrid for some reason), waiting an hour for the car ride with my parents to end at our home…

But hey, I made it!!! At 1:30AM Friday…in Salem.  Home.

The author, wearing a black mask, receiving kisses from his golden retriever at home.
There was no better feeling than returning home to the kisses of my beloved dog, Comet.

I’d never imagined that my study abroad experience would end on such a hectic note. I thought that if anything, there might be a problem with COVID.

However, I think that my study abroad experience has been one of those “expect the unexpected” kind of deals. COVID delayed my study abroad twice. A volcano on the Canary Islands erupted on my third day. I got stitches for the first time. Missing buses and trains. The Omicron variant. And then, my flight.

One could say that the unexpected has been a curse to my study abroad experience. And while I could dwell on the occasional (or frequent) misfortune, I’m choosing not to. I had a WONDERFUL experience: made lots of friends from all over the world, improved my Spanish, gained a lot of intercultural knowledge, and traveled. 

In short, the curveballs were a test in resilience, moral fortitude, and compassion. It was easy to get overwhelmed by mishaps, but I managed to pull through. And I’ve got to admit, I feel pretty proud of myself for doing so. Before studying abroad, I didn’t know that I was capable of solving such complex real-world problems. 

So here I’ll say it: studying abroad is a GREAT experience. Not just when things go well, but also when the dookie hits the fan and you’re left trying to clean up the mess. It’s all just about learning and growing, living and loving, smiling and laughing…

Well, it’s 2AM now. My sleep cycle is messed up, but at least I’m home. I’d hate to end my blog on such a bummer note, so I’m going to get some rest and do a post about my last month in Spain (excluding flight stuff).

Hasta entonces,

A very tired David Magnello

 

 

 

Fingers, Flamingos, and Local Fun in Spain

Hi,

Things have been moving very quickly in Spain. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve realized that I only have one month left here and a lot of things I still want to do. So, I’m going to keep this post short.

The author, pictured in a pink shirt and blue shorts, standing in front of brightly colored apartment buildings. A mural of the buildings is also behind the author.
Villajoyosa is a costal town full of brightly-colored buildings. It’s one of the most beautiful and calm towns I’ve ever been to in my life. And with my pink shirt, I fit right in.

So what’s happened this last month? Well, let’s start with my finger. A little over a month ago, I was on a class field trip for my Tourism and Food Culture class. We were at a local restaurant and had just finished making traditional Spanish tapas. As we were enjoying our delicious creations, the classmate sitting next to me wanted some water, so I grabbed the jug to pour her some. When I turned to put the jug in front of me, it collided with my wine glass, which shattered on impact. 

A rock cove on the island of Tabarca. The cove forms a circle around the turquoise water. Some white buildings are in the background along with the blue sky.
Out of courtesy for the casual reader, the author has decided not to include any images of his wounded finger. Instead, this blog will only include pleasant photos…such as this one, taken of a cove on the island of Tabarca.

I don’t know exactly how the glass cut my finger, but either way it was a messy situation. Initially, I didn’t realize that I’d been cut. It was only when one of the chefs asked if I’d been cut that I looked down at my bloody finger. Quietly and quickly, I rushed to the bathroom to avoid a scene. 

A saltwater lake with a slight pink tint. White foam from the salt covers the shoreline.
The pink saltwater lake of Torrevieja. Although the water wasn’t very pink that day, the foam from the salt was really neat…and fun to step in.

The restaurant employees tended to my finger very well, helping me cover up the wound and giving me sweets to prevent dizziness. But after about 15 minutes in the bathroom, they told me I’d have to go to a medical clinic nearby to get stitches.

Thankfully, there was a clinic just down the block where I was able to receive emergency services. I had a really cool Cuban doctor and while he stitched my finger up, we talked about our countries. Also, it was funny to see him giving instructions to a young medical student, who was having trouble opening the packaged materials for the procedure. The procedure was very quick: anesthetic, four stitches, pay, fill out the claim form online, and get reimbursed fully by the insurance company (included in my study abroad program). So, despite the brief but intense burning pain of the anesthetic, it was quite an enriching cultural experience.

A flamingo walks in a saltwater lake. The flamingo has a white body with pink tail feather and feet. The water is a brownish-red color.
A wild flamingo in one of the saltwater lakes of Santa Pola. It was difficult to get to the lakes, but the trip was well worth it.

On a less gruesome note, I’ve been doing lots of traveling nearby. Just in the last few weeks, I’ve been to Villajoyosa, the island of Tabarca, Torrevieja, Santa Pola, and Alcoi. Among my favorites to visit was Villajoyosa, a precious coastal town of about 30,000 people with colorful buildings and a laid back beach vibe. I also really enjoyed hiking in the mountains of Alcoi with my Japanese flatmate. Last weekend, we spent over four hours soaking in the views and wildlife. The next day, I went with an American friend to Santa Pola, a coastal town full of foreigners and retirees. There, we visited some saltwater lakes, where we saw WILD FLAMINGOS! Although we had to walk through brush and play frogger on a busy highway, the flamingos were well worth the pain. 

One of the most special parts about studying abroad is being able to spend a long period of time in a foreign community. With time and effort, you start to become part of the community and make meaningful friendships with the local people. I think that short trips, like the ones I’ve done these past few weeks, are really great for experiencing new things and interacting with your local host community. Oftentimes, you can gain really interesting cultural insights and see many fascinating things nearby. Plus, with local travel you’ll save lots of money, time, and energy!

A panoramic view of the city of Alcoi from above. Many light-colored buildings compose the landscape. Some mountains are in the background, along with some white clouds.
The city of Alcoi, pictured from the mountain trails. We saw many mesmerizing views and even vultures in a nature reserve.

With that being said, I’d also encourage future study abroad students to do the occasional long-distance trip. Local travel is great, but to get a more complete picture of your host country’s landscape, culture, and history, I think it’s important to spend a weekend or two in other areas. 

It’s a bit late here and I’m tired, so I’ll sign off for now.

Buenas noches,

David

Travels in Tarragona and Granada Spain

Traveling!!! It’s one of the most essential and exciting parts of studying abroad. Each trip presents loads of opportunities for seeing more of your host country and the world. During these first six weeks of my study abroad journey in Spain, I’ve done lots of traveling. Here are a couple of the cities I’ve visited in Spain:

Showing a view of the city of Tarragona. Taken from the top of a Roman circus. There are ruins in the foreground and modern buildings in the background.
A view of Tarragona from atop a Roman Circus, which dates back to the 1st century.

-Tarragona, a city of just over 100,000 people in the Cataluña region of Spain. An hour away from Barcelona, Tarragona is by no means a well-known city. Most people that I’ve talked with here in Alicante say they’ve never been to Tarragona but they have visited Barcelona multiple times.

However, there’s a lot to do and see in Tarragona. First of all, there are various Roman ruin sites that are spectacular (Tarragona gets its name from “Tarraco,” the ancient Roman city). With my flatmate from Japan, I went to a Roman circus, an amphitheater and an aqueduct. 

This photo showcases an illuminated tunnel in the Roman circus of Tarragona. The light emanates from the bottom of the tunnel walls.
An illuminated tunnel in Tarragona’s Roman circus.

Each ruin site possessed its own intrigue and unique features. The circus, built in the first century, featured illuminated tunnels that were breath-taking. Although the amphitheater didn’t have any tunnels for us to explore, it was just minutes away from the beach, which gave us a really nice panoramic view.

A view of the Roman amphitheater of Tarragona. A handful of tourists walk on the amphitheater. Gray clouds cover the sky. The ocean is in the background.
Even though it was a cloudy, Oregon-like day, we enjoyed the beautiful oceanfront views of Tarragona’s Roman amphitheater.

And then the aqueduct. By far my favorite of the ruin sites in Tarragona, the aqueduct is located just outside the city. We took a bus and then had to hike some nature trails to see the aqueduct, pero valió la pena (but it was worth the pain). Despite being built in the first century and no longer serving any aquatic purposes (the river is dried up), the aqueduct of Tarragona remains a very sturdy and symmetrical piece of Roman architecture.

The author is pictured beneath the arches of Tarragona's Roman aqueduct. The sky is blue and there are trees in the background.
Likely built during the reign of Caesar Augustus, the Roman aqueduct of Tarragona is a sight. Its symmetricality and enormity are mind-bending (I felt tiny).

Oh, and did I mention that we walked across the aqueduct? And that, yes, it was perfectly legal? Walking across a two-thousand year old aqueduct/bridge/whatever-you-wanna-call-it is one of the coolest things I’ve done abroad and in my life. 

The rails on top of the aqueduct are clay-colored. Down the middle is a narrow pathway. In the background is a forest of trees.
Walking atop the Tarragona aqueduct. Despite having been built nearly two thousand years ago, it remains structurally sound for tourists to walk on.

In Tarragona, my flatmate and I also visited a Gothic cathedral and the central market. Both were enormous and offered us glimpses into Catalonian culture and history. The cathedral featured impressive works of art from the Gothic and Renaissance eras. One of the most impressive features of the cathedral was a gigantic organ that stretched all the way to the ceiling. The outdoor garden was also delightful, with fountains full of turtles and koi fish to entertain us during a mask break.

The organ of the Tarragona is brown and accompanied by two paintings on the sides.
The organ of Tarragona’s cathedral is enormous! Some very wealthy folks must have paid for it…

Later that day, we visited the central market of Tarragona. In Spain, nearly every city has a central market with local food and vendors. The markets also tend to be of significant historical value, so they can be really good places to learn about the city. In the central market of Tarragona, there were lots of meat products and fresh produce, but I ended up buying a bag of candies. Apparently the candies weren’t from the region but they were delicious anyways.

The Central market of Tarragona, as viewed from outside. The windows are tinted black and the walls are brown. Has an arched design.
I bought some delicious candy at the central market of Tarragona.

-Granada, a city in the south of Spain that possesses a unique blend of Moorish and Andalusian features.  Last weekend, I visited Granada as part of my study abroad program’s itinerary. So, with 18 other Americans and our program director, I squeezed into a travel bus at 8am for a four hour ride–just the beginning of a non-stop trip that was fascinating but energy depleting.

A street in the Arabic shopping district of Granada. Traditional dresses and rugs are in the foreground. People are walking on the cobblestone street with tall buildings looming over them.
A street in Granada famous for its Arabic stores.

Fatigued and looking for rest, we arrived at our hotel. However, most of our rooms weren’t ready! So we had to scramble to store our belongings in the rooms that were open before heading to the Royal Chapel of Granada. 

The Royal Chapel of Granada from the outside. Blue skies and white clouds create a dreamy effect over the Chapel.
The Royal Chapel from the outside. No photos are allowed inside, but you can see the tombs of Spain’s most famous monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand.

Things went more smoothly on our tour of the chapel. We were able to see lots of artwork (including original works of Botticelli) and even the tombs where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were buried hundreds of years ago. And outside the chapel, a woman was singing what appeared to be an Arabic hymn. The experience was surreal.

After visiting the chapel, we had a little down time, so I wandered around the Arabic shopping district. In the stores, I saw lots of lamps, earrings, necklaces and other shiny items from different parts of the Arabic world. I also stopped for some tea and a dessert at an Arabic tea shop. ¡Qué rico!

That night, most of the group went to see a flamenco show. I bought my ticket late, so I had to go solo to another show. While I was a bit bummed to not have any company, I soon discovered the joys of solo traveling. On my way to the flamenco show, I heard some music coming from the main plaza. And to my delight, lots of people were dancing there! So, I joined them for a bit before resuming my journey to the flamenco show. Considering all the spectacular things I experienced in Granada, my favorite was dancing with the community that night in the plaza. 

People sitting at tables enjoying a flamenco show. The light centers on the stage, where a man in dancing with a gold colored vest and guitarists are playing.
If you ever find yourself in Andalusia, go see a flamenco show!

And then the flamenco show! The one I attended was in a restaurant and man, was it intense! There was loud singing, powerful string strumming, fiery dancing and toe tapping, and by the end, one of the dancers was spraying the audience with his sweat. Thank goodness I wasn’t near the stage!

The author wearing a beige shirt and pants in front of the illuminated Alhambra during nighttime.
The Lookout Point of Saint Nicholas. La Alhambra and the city of Granada were beautiful from above.

After the show, I met up with one of my classmates at the Lookout Point of Saint Nicholas. From there, we were able to see La Alhambra illuminated and city lights. It was so beautiful, but by the time we got back to the hotel it was already Sunday and we were completely exhausted.

We woke up at 8am to eat breakfast and clear out our rooms. Then the highlight of our trip: La Alhambra. 

The author wearing a maroon jacket in front of an arched lookout point at La Alhambra. In the background is vegetation and a palace.
The views from La Alhambra are breathtaking.

Words cannot describe how perfectly beautiful La Alhambra is, but I’ll do my best: flowers, green shrubs, water fountains, views of Granada, Moorish palaces that were built hundreds of years ago. Our guide said that the water was an important symbol of life for the Moorish royals–a point made by the presence of water all around us. Gorgeous. And the garden,  the butterflies, the architectural designs, the views…Argh!!! Sometimes words are just insufficient so I’ll leave you with photos and sign off with that.

Red, yellow, and pink flowers at La Alhambra. Tall green shrubs in the background.
Although most of the gardens were installed in the 20th century, they are spectacular.
A square ceiling from the underside. Little yellow dots provide beautiful contrast with the brown of the ceiling.
The Sultan’s roof features impressive symmetry and lighting techniques.
A building's reflection in the blue waters of a rectangular fountain.
Water, a symbol of life for the Moors, is everywhere at La Alhambra.
A clay-colored and speckled pattern on an arched wall of La Alhambra
3 hours of La Alhambra was not enough. If you visit, don’t blink because you will miss lots of details!

Hasta luego,

David Magnello

 

Ah, the Little Differences Abroad!!!

In my last blog post, I talked about gratitude. And just to be clear, I’m still grateful to be able to study abroad in a country as beautiful and historically rich as Spain.

But with spending more time in a foreign country, you take notice of the little differences. While many of those little differences are exciting, oftentimes they can be confusing and stressful.

By talking about these little differences, I’m not trying to scare you out of studying abroad. Rather, my intent with this blog is to portray my experiences in the most authentic way possible. Part of that includes talking about the challenges that I face.

So in this blog post, I will be describing some of the little differences I’ve encountered here as a study abroad student, as well as some of the strategies I’ve used to navigate these sometimes challenging situations. I should also note that some of the little differences are enjoyable for me and that even if they aren’t, at least the experience will help me build up character and understand more about our planet.

The author, pictured in a beige stiped polo, doing a silly pose beneath a mushroom statue, which has a ladybug statue on top.
Alicante’s weird mushroom street. Talk about little differences!

Here are some of the little differences I’ve encountered thus far:

1. Spanish Hours: As with many other little differences that I list here, this one maybe isn’t so “little.” Let me explain: Many Spaniards wake up early, go to work, and then around noon take an hours-long break (la siesta). Then they finish work at night, eat dinner, watch TV or socialize, and go to bed late.

How has this impacted me? There have been times where I’ve gone to a store around siesta time only to find out that it’s closed until later. This happened my first week here, so I wasn’t able to buy a SIM card until day four…Which means that I didn’t have any internet on my phone (which is really hard when you’re trying to navigate a new city and can’t use Google Maps!!!).

Thankfully, my host family and classmates helped me navigate the city the first few days. And now I know to go to stores in the morning or late afternoon. Not around siesta time.

The author, pictured in a pink shirt and smiling, eating a vegetarian paella dish, which includes rice, mushrooms, green veggies, and red fruit.
Eating vegetarian paella on a night out in Tarragona with my Japanese flat mate. Most paella has meat, so it was a real treat for me to try the famed Spanish dish. It was rich with mushrooms, rice, veggies, herbs, and fruit.

2. Food: As I just mentioned, Spaniards eat dinner really late (9 or 10 pm). Also, they usually only eat three times a day, which means that you better eat a lot for each meal and hope that you don’t get cravings between meals.

 

In general, I enjoy the food here. My host family prepares most of my meals, but I also go out with friends to eat. My host family eats dinner at 9pm, so that was definitely an adjustment for me. I had to let my body adjust to the meal gap between lunch and dinner, which took some time. Even now, sometimes a craving will hit and I’ll buy my own snack.

 

 

3. Mechanical stuff: In Spain, things work differently than in the US. Some of the mechanical differences I’ve encountered include vending machines, electrical plugs (bring a plug adapter to Europe), keyboards, and so many more! Maybe it’s partly because I’m a mechanical klutz but things are definitely built differently here. Many other international students have described in agony to me their struggles with apartment keys. I encountered this problem the first time I tried entering my apartment and had to ring the doorbell because I couldn’t figure out how to open it. My host mom showed me again how to use the key and I haven’t had any problems since.

A European electrical outlet with two holes. Pictured on a white wall.
Wall outlet. Bring a couple plug adapters and charge adapters to Europe. You won’t be able to charge your precious devices without them!

Ah, but the keyboards! I’m still trying to adjust to the Spanish keyboard, which has a bunch of symbols that I don’t know how to use. I’m used to typing in Spanish on my own computer but I struggle when I have to use a desktop keyboard for my internship. Slowly but surely I’m getting better at using the Spanish keyboard. I only started my internship last week, so the keyboard is still a struggle.

I’m not even going to talk about the vending machines (I know how to use them now). Next little difference!

4. Cultural misunderstandings: Again, maybe not such a little difference but it happens often so I’m putting it on this list. Some of the cultural misunderstandings can be attributed to language. Spaniards talk really quickly, so sometimes it’s hard for me to understand them. Since I’m more used to Latino colloquialisms, some of the Spanish vocab (“alubias” instead of “frijoles” for “beans,” and “aseo” instead of “baño” for “bathroom”) were confusing at first. Visual cues and speaking Spanish constantly are some strategies I’ve used to adapt.

A hilarious language misunderstanding happened on my third day in Spain. I was eating lunch with my extended host family when someone asked me if I wanted some “keh-choop.” I looked at everyone with profound puzzlement as they repeated the word over and over again, trying to clue me in on the word. Then they showed me the bottle of ketchup. Keh-chup! Keh-choop! Same thing, just different pronunciations. How embarrassing!

Another point of cultural misunderstanding: In Spain, people can be quite intense and persistent. You might say no to something and they will continue to press you for approval. A couple of weekends ago, my host sister asked me if I wanted more dessert. I said no, but she kept pressing me. Not wanting more food is seen as a sign that you don’t like the food, so I had to tell her that I enjoyed the dessert but that I was full.

Being firm and direct with your communication is key in Spain, especially when you want or don’t want something. Many times, I’ve confused store clerks with indirect communication, making the transaction more tedious for both of us. So…the direct communication part is something I’m still working on.

5. History: Spain is rich with history! There are so many castles, monuments, and cathedrals to explore. I recently got back from vacation in Tarragona (a city near Barcelona) where I got to visit several Roman ruins. Next weekend, I’ll be going to Granada on a trip sponsored by our Alicante University program. And in Alicante, I’ve visited the Castle of Santa Barbara and two bomb shelters from the Spanish Civil War.

Showing the Castle of Santa Barbara from below. The castle sits atop a hill, with wispy white clouds and blue skies above. The foreground is green with vegetation.
The Castle of Santa Barbara in Alicante, pictured from below. We had a group trip to the castle on the first week of our program. There’s so much history everywhere in Spain!

The details from my trips will be the subject of my next blog post.

Hasta entonces (until then),

David Magnello

Grateful in Alicante, Spain

Gratitude.

On a windy afternoon, as I stroll along on the sand of Alicante’s Playa de San Juan, I can’t help but reflect on this past year and a half.  Lockdown-inducing pandemic? Check. Study abroad cancelled not once, but twice? Check. Natural disasters? Check. Political and social turmoil? As long as humans are around, absolutely.

Yet, in this moment I feel grateful. Many other feelings–contentment, sadness, joy, and anger–from this past year arise but gratitude is the one that sits at the forefront of my thoughts.

Showing the author at the beach with some other American students. They are standing on the sand with the sea and some people behind them.
At the Postiguet beach in Alicante with some other American students. This beach was a bit crowded but if you take the tram for 15 minutes you can get to the San Juan beach, which is much more quiet and picturesque.

Until I landed at the Madrid airport, I doubted whether I’d be able to study abroad this semester. During our five hour layover in Madrid, my Linfield peers and I breathed a sigh of relief not only because we knew for sure that we were going to study abroad but also because we got off that darn 11 hour flight.

Ahh, but gratitude! Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. I must return to you, Gratitude! Otherwise, the people reading might get bored.

So let me tell you about what I’m grateful for here in Alicante. First of all, a wonderful host family. My host mother and her adult son, both of whom immigrated to Spain from Argentina about twenty years ago, are very kind and helpful. On Sundays, my host mother’s daughter, son-in-law, grandson, and their fluffy dog come visit. Last Sunday, we celebrated the quinceañera of one of their relatives in Argentina by filming a video in which we had music, balloons, and a special appearance by the grandson dressed as Harry Potter. It was so much fun!

Another thing I´m grateful for: delicious food. As a vegetarian, I was a bit worried about my options but my host family has been very accommodating. Honest communication is key! Telling your host family what foods you like and don´t like is essential, but it´s also important to try new foods. Here I´ve fallen in love with tortillas de patata, which more closely resemble potato sponge cake than the tortillas we eat in the Americas. My host brother says that tortillas de patata are a hot topic of debate among Spaniards, as about half of them prefer their tortillas with onion while the other half go “sin cebolla.” Personally, I like both so hopefully I can broker some peace while I´m here and add that to my resume.

There´s also a lot to do and explore here. Last week, we climbed the castle of Santa Barbara, which sits on a hill overlooking the city of Alicante. Built by Muslims in the 9th century, the castle of Santa Barbara has undergone a series of damages and renovations. On some of the walls, you can even see cannonballs wedged into the stone! Sadly, some of the modern aspects of the castle include satellite antennas, which provide signal to Alicante´s residents from atop the castle. Nonetheless, the view from the castle is spectacular and worth a photoshoot if you find yourself in Alicante.

View from atop the castle of Santa Barbara in Alicante, Spain at sunset. Captures  the sun setting amid clouds.
View from atop the castle of Santa Barbara in Alicante, Spain.

All of these events bring me back to gratitude. I´m so grateful to be able to study abroad this semester (and to be able to swim in ocean waters that won´t give me hypothermia!).

Hasta la próxima (until next time),

David Magnello

 

Hasta pronto, Sevilla :(

Four flights and over 30 hours of travel later, I’m home in Oregon. It feels like I was both gone for forever and for no time at all, and although I couldn’t be happier to see my family, friends and pets again, I miss Sevilla more than I could have imagined. My last week abroad raced by. I took my last final at the beginning of the week, and since I didn’t leave until Friday, I spent the following days visiting my favorite places in Sevilla and saying goodbye to my friends. It was both the best and most difficult week of the semester because emotions were running high, I was trying to soak up every last bit of Sevilla and I knew it was all about to end.

The weather was finicky that last week–thunderstorms one day, sun the next and rain the following. I took advantage of the sunny day to wander the streets of barrio de Santa Cruz. I stopped by the Alcazar castle ruins to listen to a lone guitarist seated beneath the orange trees. I wandered through a tienda de flamenca to admire the dresses the Sevillana women would soon begin to buy for the Feria de Abril and wished more than anything that I could attend. I stopped at nearly every pretty building I saw just to stare up at it and was asked by several concerned young men in fur coats (the sevillanos like their fur) if I was lost each time. I sat in my favorite spot on the bank of the Guadalquivir one last time, watching the motorcycles and cars drive across the Triana bridge and the sun warm the fronts of the pastel buildings along Calle Betis.

I said goodbye to the Club Náutico swim team the day before I left. I’d expected to feel like an outsider, but was surprised at how inclusive and genuinely interested in being friends with me they were. By December, I didn’t feel like “the exchange student” anymore, I felt like I’d found a family. It helped that my Spanish had improved, I’d learned the swimming-specific vocabulary and had gotten used to the slang and idioms they used, but I’d also developed a sense of comfort with the team, even though I didn’t always follow the conversations. We took a photo and I hugged each of the swimmers, coaches and even the lifeguards. “You have to return!” they told me, and I told them I would the first chance I got. I rode a Sevici rental bike (which had been my primary mode of transportation) home from practice, and as silly as it sounds, a few tears escaped as I thought about how this would be the last time. I remember my frustration at the heavy, difficult-to-maneuver, semi-functioning bikes when I’d arrived in September, but now I’d grown attached to them. How boring it would be to know that my bike at home would work properly every time I rode it.

It was equally as difficult to say goodbye to my sevillano friends. Like the swim team, I hadn’t expected to form such strong bonds with the local people, but Sevilla introduced me to some of the most caring, genuine and fun people I’ve met. It was pouring rain, but two of my best friends from Sevilla, Thai and Miguel, drove me to their apartment to have lunch. Miguel proudly told me I would get to try his famous potatoes, but Thai spilled them taking them out of the oven. It was one of those days where everything seemed hilarious, so we all laughed until we cried, and Miguel went to get “Burger King’s famous potatoes” (just normal fries). We stopped for coffee at the Starbucks and Jose, my favorite barista, was there. He had delivered complementary ice water and snacks to me during several long afternoons of studying, and seemed a little sad when I told him I was leaving the next day. I admit I was a little sad as well. Thai, Miguel and I all cried saying goodbye, and promised to stay in touch. “You’ll be back, you won’t be able to stay away from Sevilla for too long,” Thai said.

The most difficult part of the week was saying goodbye to my host family. I’d been living with Loli and her son Sergio, who had truly come to seem like a mom and older brother. The food Loli served for dinner my last night in Sevilla was delicious as always, but it was difficult for any of us to eat. I tried my best to hold it together, but the tears came out all at once, and we all sat on the couch crying together. I promised I would come back (again) and they told me they were sure I would. “You fit so well here, you would definitely be happy living in Sevilla,” they told me. I had started thinking about the idea about halfway through the semester, and after a week of saying goodbye to Sevilla and its wonderful people, I knew it couldn’t be goodbye forever.

My time in Sevilla was magical and surreal, but it was also one of the times in my life during which I felt most at ease, most happy and most connected to myself and to the people around me. So many things were experiences exclusive to Spain: walking along the streets filled with people chatting, eating and singing each evening, watching the sun set behind the spires of the Plaza de España and the Giralda, adventuring around Spain and Morocco with my other North American friends, squeezing into a packed bodega with a group of Spanish friends (some of whom I’d met before, many of whom I hadn’t), crawling into bed with sore feet after a night at the discotheque, learning the vocabulary related to the gastronomy of Andalusia or frantically trying to finish Martin Fierro on a warm Sunday by the bank of the river…some things more enjoyable, some less, but I’ll miss it all.

Sevilla taught me so much, and I feel so fortunate for the chance to have lived there for four months, though I wish it could have been longer. I broadened my Spanish vocabulary and I studied renaissance literature and ancient art, but I am most grateful that Sevilla taught me to appreciate every day, no matter where I am nor what I have to do. I know it sounds cliche, but time truly does fly by far too fast, and there is a whole world to explore. I know I will never be able to visit all the places I want to, but Sevilla has made me realize that I want to keep exploring and discovering as much as I can. I don’t like endings, and saying goodbye to this beautiful place was one of the hardest endings I’ve experienced. Not knowing for sure when I’ll be able to return only made it harder, but I have a strong feeling that, just like I promised and like everyone told me, I’ll be back someday.

Thank you for following along with me on my journey to Sevilla! And since I don’t like endings, I won’t say adios…

Hasta pronto,

Anne

Adventures in Morocco

Riding a camel was never specifically on my bucket list but it’s been checked off anyway. A couple of my friends and I had been talking about Morocco since we arrived in September and booked the trip for one of our last weekends abroad. A few more friends decided to join and suddenly we had a group of ten boarding the ferry and heading across the Gibraltar Strait. I thought Spain felt like a different world, but Morocco was an entirely new level of that. Everything was so colorful and whimsical—even their alphabet. It made me want to learn Arabic just so that I could write such beautiful letters.

Our first stop was in Asilah where we stayed in a beautifully decorated yet soggy hotel. Everything was damp—the floor, pillows, blankets and towels, but the complementary Moroccan mint tea made up for it. Later that day we stopped along the coast of Tangier to ride camels. The camels were limited so we took turns. The camel driver directed each person to a camel, and I waited assuming I’d go in the next group. As the camels began to stand up, he realized one was still without a rider, and he pointed to me and shouted, “YOU! Run and jump, hurry!” In retrospect I probably should have just let the camel go, but I guess I was feeling up for a challenge because I sprinted and belly flopped onto the side of the rising camel. I somehow got seated as the camel pitched forward and then took off to keep up with its friends.

Our bus broke down somewhere in the mountains on our way to Chefchaouen. We asked the bus driver what had happened he smiled and told us, “Nothing! Everything is wonderful, we are just taking a little rest.” We were pretty sure he wouldn’t be crawling around under the bus if he were just resting, but eventually he fixed the problem and we continued on to Chefchaouen, known as “The Blue City.” I expected a few blue buildings here and there, but the entire city is truly Cookie Monster blue. It felt a bit like a movie set with its Arab-style arches, tapestries flapping in the breeze and shops built into caves, all of which clashed a little with the motorcycles racing up and down the dirt roads.

I definitely thought the street markets were the coolest part about Morocco, partly because of the things for sale but mostly because you have to bargain. I’d never done it before and was surprised at how much fun it was. I soon learned, however, that I had to decide if I wanted something or not before I showed any sign of interest in it. As soon as a shop owner saw us approaching, he or she would not let us leave until we had bought something. We were followed down an entire street by one man, insisting we buy his 6×6 foot rug even after we told him we couldn’t fit it in a suitcase. But there were many things I did want to buy, and I wanted to keep bargaining so I kept buying. It was a dangerous place to shop.

We were sad to leave, but it’s easy to return to a place as pretty as Seville. It’s like going from one vacation to the next except there are classes and finals while we’re in Seville. The sun is still shining and the trees have dropped almost no leaves but the oranges are ripe and all the main streets are decorated for Christmas. I love that that the atmosphere feels so Christmas-y, but it reminds me that I don’t have much time left here. I’m trying not to think about that too much and enjoy every day.

Hasta pronto,

Anne

Slow down!

The last couple of weeks have been full of travel, exams, swim meets, zumba, funky weather, cool orange juice machines and lots more. Time is flying by much faster than I’d like it to–it’s hard to believe I have only a month left in Spain. Seville has truly come to feel like a second home. I don’t like to think about another exchange student taking my place next semester, staying in my room, having dinner with my host mom and brother and playing with my host mom’s granddaughter when she comes to visit.

Setenil

We recently had our fall break, and three of my friends and I decided to visit Madrid and Valencia. I think Valencia liked us better than Madrid did, so it’s probably a good thing we ended the trip in Valencia. One of my friends was pickpocketed our first morning in Madrid. We were walking to a cafe to have breakfast, and in the five minutes it took to get there her phone vanished into thin air. We really couldn’t fathom how it happened. Believe people who tell you pickpockets are extremely skilled at their job.

Later that day we got trapped in the palace gardens. We found four or five gates, all of which were locked. Our wandering in search of an exit was not in vain, however, because we witnessed a woman fall into a fountain while attempting to take a selfie. She submerged completely and crawled out unharmed but with soaking hair, fur coat, hat, scarf and leather pants. We wandered through the Market de Santo ?, visited the Prado Museum and strolled through Parque de Retiro with its lake, crystal palace and a surprisingly high cat population. Our day ended with a woman mooning the restaurant where we were having dinner.

Valencia was a bit calmer, much to our relief. Though Spain is known for its paella, Valencia is the region in which it originated and is actually the only part of Spain in which it is regularly eaten. Elsewhere, paella is considered more of a tourist attraction, so we decided to wait for the real deal and eat it in Valencia. The plate was so big that the waiter had to wheel it out on a special cart. It was delicious, even though we weren’t exactly sure what sea creatures we consumed. We hit the beach after, and even though it was extremely windy, I had to swim in the Mediterranean. No one else was swimming except for a man wearing a rubber-duck patterned swim cap. I was probably considered just as crazy as he was by the fur coat-clad people strolling along the boardwalk. But for me, the sun, blue sky and palm trees indicated that it was perfect weather for swimming.

Speaking of swimming, I competed in a meet with the team I’ve been training with here. In some ways, it was just like any other meet I’ve attended in the U.S. and in other ways it was completely different. It was a pretty small meet–there was no electronic timing system–but nearly everyone was wearing technical racing suits (known as “fast skins” in the swimming world), which are usually only worn for championship meets as they are pricey and wear out after a few uses. My teammates asked me why  I didn’t have a fast skin (which they use the English words for, just pronounced with a Spanish accent) and seemed very concerned that I had not even brought mine to Spain. The whole team was quite animated during the meet, screaming for everyone who raced. They have a lot more variation in their cheering vocabulary than just “go!” and “come on!” I tried my best to learn but had no idea what they were yelling for the most part. After the meet we took a team photo. I did not have a jacket like the rest of the swimmers, but someone’s dad tossed me his to borrow for the photo. When I tried to give it back he insisted I keep it as a present even though it was a bit large and had his name written in it. It’s totally cool to have a jacket from a team in Spain, I just felt a little bad about taking it.

Last week was midterm week at the University of Seville. I was terrified, but the exam went a lot better than I expected it to. However, I was a bit confused when my professor returned it to me. There was no grade, comment or correction on the exam itself–only a note on the back that read “You’re passing, but you could do better. Good for you!” I asked him what he meant by that. Was I doing well? Was I not? Was “good for you” meant sarcastically? “No, you’re doing great! Most of the class is failing,” he said with a big smile.

I’ve meet some wonderful Spanish friends and have been trying to spend time with them in my last month here. They’re all older than me–mid to late twenties–but they don’t seem to care. We have lots in common, we have fun together, and that’s what truly important in a friendship. Making plans happens extremely last minute, which I’ve been trying to get used to. Last weekend, one of my friends texted me to come over to her house in an hour. She told me I could come to her zumba class with her before meeting some more friends for dinner. Then we decided to use the spa at the gym and chat with the lifeguard. By the time we left it was after 9. We went back to her apartment where she showed me her travel album and chatted for a while longer. Her boyfriend  and several more friends joined us for dinner, and we ate and hung out at the restaurant util 1:30 a.m. I was surprised at how late it was when we left, but there were still people arriving as we headed out.

A machine that squeezes oranges to fill a disposable plastic bottle with fresh orange juice. The photo says: Hello, fancy orange machine

I’ve also discovered these cool little orange juice machines. You push a button and get to watch it squeeze the oranges into your cup. It’s been a challenge not to buy some every day.

Hasta luego,

Anne

Castles, bike adventures and Hogwarts

The wish I made on my 6th birthday came true last weekend: I climbed the tower of a medieval castle. The only difference was that I wasn’t wearing a Cinderella dress as I’d thought I would be at 6, but the view from the tower more than made up for it. I could see every red tile rooftop in Trujillo as well as the surrounding farmland. For a second, I really felt like a medieval princess until I saw a supermarket and gas station at the edge of the city.

In addition to Trujillo, we also visited Merida and Cáceres–two other medieval cities in Extremadura, Spain. While exploring the medieval neighborhood in Cáceres, we stumbled upon a jazz concert. Our professor, who was our tour guide for the weekend, was less than impressed with it and hurriedly guided us to a different area. We were then stopped by a crowd watching a medieval reenactment, so we had to return to jazz concert, much to our professor’s dismay. As we wandered through the neighborhood the sun began to set, reflecting pink and gold light on the walls of the stone buildings. We stopped to listen to a band that I can best describe as a combination of a traditional flamenco group and an early 2000’s boy band. Nonetheless, our professor approved of it better than she did the jazz concert.

“Do you ever feel like we’re in a movie or something?” a friend from my program asked me last week. We were walking home along the Guadalquivir River at sunset, the palm trees and outlines of cathedrals silhouetted against the sky. It’s true–sometimes living in Sevilla doesn’t feel like real life. We’re surrounded by palaces and cathedrals, and my host family lives blocks away from where the Spanish Inquisition began. Although we’ve been here over a month, it still feels a bit surreal.

Plaza de Espana at sunset.
Plaza de España

But it is real life, and there are always little reminders of that. Sevilla has a bike rental program that some of my friends and I have started using. It’s convenient and it’s not. The first time I tried it, I got hopelessly lost in a maze of twisty cobblestone streets with identical balconies and flower boxes. While I love walking down these streets, the rental bikes don’t work great on cobblestones. They’re heavy and don’t absorb the impact of rough surfaces well, so it was a bit of an uncomfortable ride. Now that I know the area a bit better, I don’t get lost very often but there are still lots of obstacles to avoid. Seville is a very pedestrian-friendly city, so the sidewalks are always full of people, dogs, cats, kids…everything. And the bike paths are on the sidewalk, so dodging everything and everyone can be a little tricky.

I also began my integrated course at the University of Seville a couple weeks ago. Going to class in the old royal tobacco factory (Real Fábrica de Tobacos Sevilla) is pretty exciting–it reminds me of my favorite ballet, Carmen, and it holds a strong resemblance to Hogwarts. Unfortunately, I feel a little like a squib there–the professor talks extremely fast and I miss some words here and there, but I’m surviving. Luckily, I think it’s easier for an exchange student to survive an art history course in Spanish than it is for a squib to learn magic at Hogwarts.

Hasta luego,

Anne

Hello, Seville

My flight to Spain left early the morning of September 1 and I wasn’t on it. Instead, I was lying in bed with a swollen face and bloody gauze shoved into the back corners of my mouth, recovering from an emergency wisdom tooth surgery. A few days before I was supposed to leave for Spain my dentist advised me to check in with my oral surgeon, just to make sure everything was okay before I left the country. Everything wasn’t. “Hmmm…so you’ll be in Spain for three weeks? You should be okay to get your teeth out in about a month,” my oral surgeon said, after telling me all my wisdom teeth had erupted and should be removed as soon as possible. “No, I’ll be gone almost four months,” I said.

View
First view of Spain!

I scheduled a last-minute appointment to have the surgery and changed my flight to a week later. Fortunately, the surgery went well and I had almost fully recovered by the time I left. After traveling on three flights and testing out all the seating options in the Madrid airport during my 6-hour layover, I arrived at my host family’s apartment late Sunday night. “I think it’s here,” I told the taxi driver, a little disoriented after driving through a maze of twisty, cobblestone streets. “Bienvenido, mi hija,” my host mom, Loli, greeted me, as she ran down the stairs to meet me. I’m 5’3″ and I towered over her as she hugged me. She then began hauling my giant suitcase, which probably weighed more than she did, up the stairs.

Luckily, I didn’t feel very overwhelmed despite my late arrival. It may sound strange, but I can best describe Seville as a happy city. The streets are always full of people, walking, biking, eating, shopping, laughing, chatting, singing…it’s also pretty normal to see people giving impromptu guitar concerts or flamenco performances in the middle of the sidewalk. The only unpleasant thing that’s happened was when my host brother, disguised in his motorcycle gear and helmet, greeted me as I was arriving home. I jumped and nearly screamed because I didn’t recognize him, but we laughed about it after.

My exchange program has taken us on quite a few visits to famous sites in Seville: Real Alcázar, Catedral de Sevilla, las Setas, Museo de Bellas Artes, Mercado de Triana (where the Spanish Inquisition began) and we took a boat trip along the Río Guadalquivir. Some of us also visited Cádiz last weekend and swam in the ocean–the warmest and saltiest ocean I’ve been in.

I also started training with a swim team here since I’m a member of Linfield’s team and wanted to continue practicing while abroad. I’d been in touch with the swim coach from Club Náutico Sevilla over the summer, so I showed up at the pool to check it out a couple days after I arrived. “You can sign up later. Bring your stuff and start practicing with us tomorrow,” he told me. I met what felt like everyone at Club Náutico the next day: the guy at the gate chatted wanted to chat New York and was disappointed when I said I’d never been . The lifeguards told me never to buy snacks at the pool. “Son malísimas,” they said. A couple of elderly ladies sunbathing asked me if I was from Germany. The coach dove into the pool, floated on his back, then got out and introduced me to the whole team. The practice was very similar to any other team I’ve trained with, except for that the  sunbathing ladies jumped into our lanes to cool off in the middle of the set. No one seemed to notice. The laid-back atmosphere surprised me a little, but I enjoyed it. But it seems like that’s just Spain, relaxed yet full of energy.

Pool
Club Náutico pool

Hasta pronto,

Anne