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