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Reflection of My Abroad Experience

I have been home for approximately 72 hours and I am so excited to be home in the USA! The first thing I had to eat was NY pizza and it was everything I dreamed about for 5 months. The jet lag is killing me still but other than that, being home is nice. I missed home, ya know? Spain was where I lived and had an adventure but there is nothing like home.

But since I’ve been home, I’ve been reflecting on all of the places I’ve been and what I’ve experienced as a study abroad student. What an opportunity I had! I was so fortunate to have a supportive family behind me to encourage my travels and listen to my stories as well as the monetary funds to go abroad. [Working at all hours of the night at the desk paid off for sure!] I could not have been luckier to experience this and I will treasure my semester abroad for the rest of my life. I have this blog to remember all of the places I went and the cultural activities I participated in, so I sincerely want to thank all of my readers for adventuring with me by following, liking, commenting and reblogging my posts. You are all wonderful!

This has been a crazy ride but I wouldn’t have traded it for the world! Signing off with “Paz y Amor”!

-Maeghan

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Cultural Differences

This blog is usually dedicated to my adventures and how I’m spending these four months traipsing around Spain and Europe. But I’m going to take a page out of my friend Lorainne’s book and do one on culture. You can check out her study abroad blog here.

So what is different between Spain and the USA? So much.

New Cultural Differences: May 13
Water
In America, water is pretty expensive; even store brand isn’t that much cheaper. But in Spain, water is so cheap! In Málaga, I bought a 5 Liter [1.32 gallon] jug of water for €0.75. That’s $1, folks. A gallon for a dollar. When was the last time that happened?! Exactly.

New Cultural Differences: April 18
Dogs
In America, dogs are always on leashes. Always. Not even a question because if not, the dog got hit by a car – God forbid. In Spain, it is COMPLETELY NORMAL for your dog to roam the streets with no leash. They just trot alongside their owner like this isn’t the most absurd thing I have ever witnessed. But they behave, unlike American pups. They wait outside of the restaurant or store for the owner without being tied to a tree and don’t jump in the street after a squirrel. Cool trick for Spanish dogs; never gonna happen for American ones.

PDA
This one is a big one. During the time of Franco’s dictatorship, a lot of things were prohibited. So when he died, the Spanish population gained a lot of their privileges back but took them to an extreme because they could. And one of them was sex. It is adorable to see couples, young or old, holding hands or arm in arm walking around. And literally everyone is  a couple. If you’re single in Spain, it’s horrible for your self-esteem and you’re doing the culture wrong. However, there is a line between adorable and disgusting. It is a common occurrence to see couples kissing aggressively as if they are in their own house or having sex in parks [majorly awkward for the unknowing group of Americans] For Americans, this is too much for us and are really uncomfortable as PDA is generally frowned upon in public situations. I do love the couple-ness about Spain and we should bring that back to the USA but not the making out on trains. Like please wait until you get home.

Crosswalks
How this could possibly be a cultural difference is beyond me, but it is. At the corner of each street, there is a crosswalk. Simple enough, right? Not for Spaniards. Crosswalks are often in the middle of sidewalks and not on every corner. So sometimes to get somewhere, you have to walk a block, cross the street and walk a block back to get to where you want to go. #annoying.

Original Cultural Differences: April 5
Sports
America’s favorite pastime is baseball. If you don’t love baseball, people will say you’re Un-American. [And let me be clear, you are]. And obviously, people are also loyal to basketball, hockey and American football teams and rally around their teams in a strong fandom, living for rivalries and wishing ill on all that makes the enemy happy. But not all Americans are sports fans. In Spain, EVERYONE is a sports fan. [Finally, a country that understands my needs]. And they aren’t just a sports fan – they are a die hard fan. Spanish companies have taken breaks from the work day to watch the game at the office and when you go to a game live, the energy is electric. At American sporting events, people are hyped up, don’t get me wrong, but when was the last time you saw “The Wave” go around the stadium 5 times in a row without stopping? Right. The designated fan sections at games are filled with people waving flags, screaming all of the chants perfectly and even jumping in unison. I have mentioned the fandom at Atleti games in previous posts but it is still amazing to see every time.

Siesta
Why pre-schoolers have the right idea and the rest of the American population doesn’t is absolutely beyond me. But the Spanish have it down to a science: siesta. Taking a nap in the middle of the day is the greatest tradition ever known to man. Who disagrees with this idea? Oh, no one. I thought so.

Holidays and Vacations
America is a religiously tolerant country as we were founded on the principles of religious freedom by the Pilgrims in the 15th century. We are also a country without a national religion. Therefore, in American schools, we get days off for holidays like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, both of which are Jewish holidays, as well as getting off for Christmas and Easter week. But the Spanish are very Catholic and school holidays are dramatically different. For example, December 8, the day of the Immaculate Conception, is a national holiday and nobody has school or work. There are no holidays for the Jewish faith and Spring Break week is always during Semana Santa [Holy Week] to enjoy the processions as they prepare for Easter.

Ashes on Ash Wednesday
This one was really weird for me. Ash Wednesday in the USA means the priest makes the sign of the cross on your forehead in ashes and you wear it as a sign of your faith all day. In Spain, the priest sprinkles ashes into you hair and makes the sign of the cross over your head to bless the ashes.

Music
Spain is stuck 20 years behind the USA with music. Restaurants play the best music because it’s all throwback from anywhere between 1998 and present day, with the majority of music being played between 2000 and 2006. And it’s great. I ordered food the other day listening to old Maroon 5. But because of this, the following for boy bands, like the Backstreet Boys, which I first-hand witnessed, is like they think they’re Americans themselves. I love it.

Hostels , Hotels and WiFi
Do we have hostels in the USA? I had never even heard of the concept of a hostel before deciding I wanted to study abroad. I really don’t know if we have them because I’ve been so lucky to have stayed in hotels my whole life. Hostels for the most part are pretty solid, except the one in Switzerland, but nothing beats a hotel. But something different about Spanish hotels is that they are equipped with twin beds, side by side. If you’re a couple, you have to specifically ask for a “cama de matrimonio” [marriage bed]  And of course, WiFi. Because of roaming charges, most of us depend on WiFi while in Europe. There are usually 3 places I can get WiFi: my house/hostel where I’m staying, school and restaurants. All you have to do is order something and then you can ask for the WiFi password. This does not happen in the United States. I have never even thought to ask for WiFi because we have data plans. Does the USA have WiFi for paying customers?

McDonald’s
McDonald’s has an awful reputation in the USA about being disgusting, fatty and cheap. In Europe, it isn’t. McDonald’s is regarded as a restaurant and most are two stories tall with easy check out machines that you can customize your order without talking to the cashier. The food is made well and is more expensive and Spaniards love it! [But they don’t have Wendy’s here, which is only mildly soul-crushing]

Concept of Time
I live in New York and go to school in Washington, DC. People we have to go, go, go, take names and kick ass, accomplish more than 7 things in one day or else you’ve wasted time etc. These people have ZERO concept of time. Lunch could take 1 hour or 4. But the best example of this is with clubbing. When Spaniards party, they stay out from when the metro closes at 1 am until 630 am when it reopens. It is completely normal to do that on a Monday night, go home, take a shower and head to work or class, with a quick nap in there if there’s time. Every American who first hears about this is in a state of shock: “What are these people thinking?! A Monday? I don’t think so. Friday or Saturday only. Thursday if I really need it, but not until 630 in the morning, just because”. It’s a great time. Still overwhelming, but awesome. However, on the other hand, because of their complete lack of time, these people meander. This is not something that I can handle. When I get behind a slow person in America, I get impatient, but here it’s maddening. Some people walk like they’re stuck in molasses. Sorry, but I am American and I have to things to do.

I’ll be continuing to add to this post, as I remember more things. Be sure to check back in every now and then!

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Backstreet’s Back, ALRIGHT!

To all of my loyal readers, I am SOOOOO SORRY for being so far behind on my blog! Unfortunately, this week is midterm week [boo hissssss] so I’ve been trying to study for my exams and my blog got pushed to the back burner.

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Choker Necklaces
“The Ultimate Throwback Accessory”

On February 19, I went to one of the best concerts of my life. I saw the Backstreet Boys LIVE!!! And it was AMAZING! I was finally old enough to party like it was 1999…and I did! My friends and I had been preparing all week for the concert by non-stop talking about it and playing only Backstreet Boys on our Spotify playlists constantly.  I played the part of a 90s teen by rolling up to Palacio Vistalegre in a black tank top and a snap back. Waiting in line, we talked about the days of the Backstreet Boys and other 90s-early 2000s things we had or wanted, like hair crimping, hit-clips and choker necklaces.

My friends and I bought General Admission tickets for the concert and were in the pit close to the stage. WE WERE SO CLOSE! We could see the boys sweating, we were that close! Ohmygosh, it was amazing. And they are SO. HOT. There are no words for how exciting this concert was!! It was very interesting to be at a concert for an American group in a different country because they have such an international following. With that being said, my friends and I had a little bit of a pride complex, claiming the Backstreet Boys were “ours” because we are also American!

The concert started with the opening group, an American a capella group, that was pretty good. They did this one hip rolling move that made us all melt for sure! When they announced the Backstreet Boys, the whole place went crazy! The Boys came out and they walked to the front of the stage WHERE WE WERE STANDING! They sang all their classic songs, such as “Quit Playing Games with my Heart”, “Show Me the IMG_20140219_213953_254Feeling of Being Lonely” and “Incomplete”. But they also added songs from their new CD [and the name of the tour], In A World Like This. My favorite song from their new album is “Madeline”, which is based on Nick Carter’s sister, who died from overdosing. After they sang it, Nick wiped the tears from his eyes and it was so sad.

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Brian right before he winked at me
LET ME REPEAT THAT HE WINKED AT ME

They introduced a new song that was half in Spanish that made the Madrid girls go CRAZY and they sang along to every song, at the top of their lungs, just like me. My voice was absolutely destroyed by the end of the night. Then, the boys came to the front of the stage and when the song was over, I blew a kiss to Brian, and he winked at me. HE. WINKED. AT. ME. Well, after that, I was on cloud 9 and would not shut up about him winking at me. It was also my friend’s birthday and 3 of the 5 of them saw her little sign and mouthed “Happy Birthday” to her.

The concert ended and it was an amazing ending, but of course, there was an encore and they sang “Everybody [Backstreet’s Back]” with the original choreography!! It was such an experience to see them do the same dance moves they did then that they were still doing 12 years later. That song ended and we were all screaming but the lights still hadn’t turned on, which means….DOUBLE ENCORE! The boys came back out again and ended the concert for real with “Larger Than Life”. IT WAS AMAZING!!! Ohmygosh, they were so good. Again, with original choreo, ending it with this song made my 7 year old self so excited, as this song was my favorite as a kid. [My favorite changed from when I was a kid. It’s actually “As Long As You Love Me”]. It was a great experience and such a good decision to make. It’s not everyday you get to see one of the greatest boy bands ever, but to see them in a different country, where there is still a strong following even across the ocean is a memory I’ll never forget.

I can’t wait until the summer to see their movie! 😉

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My first week of school

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Obligatory “First Day of School” picture!

I love Spain and exploring but the title of this trip is not called “Gallivanting Throughout Europe” (though they really should consider changing it), it’s called STUDY abroad. So I’m obligated to post about school too. This past week was the first week of classes for the semester, both in Spain and also in the USA. I’m taking a normal course load of 15 credits and the way everything shakes out, I am taking 3 classes at the AU Center and 1 at the Spanish business school. My class at the business school, ICADE, is Operations Management.untitled And it’s taught in English. No one is trying to take a business class in Spanish — I’m not advanced enough for that nonsense. At Mosaic [the AU Center], I take public speaking and it’s taught in Spanish. I figure if I can public speak in Spanish, I will have no problem public speaking in English. I also take “Spain Seminar”, a 6 credit class that discusses the political, economic and social history of Spain. And we also go on weekly local field trips. And the third class counts for my Sports and Entertainment specialization and it is going to be one of the greatest classes I will ever be able to take: Spain’s Soccer Obsession – the Marketing (and Magic) behind Real Madrid. It is a REQUIREMENT to go to a game…. no complaints there 😉 Bonus: the class is in English.

My classes are all awesome but there are definitely differences in the way school occurs. First of all, I will NEVER complain about a block class at AU ever again. Classes at AU are 1 hour and 15 minutes twice a week or 2 and a half hours once a week. Classes here that are two times a week last between 2 – 2.5 hours. Block classes once per week last between 3.5-4.5 hours. For those of you who know how restless I am, let me reiterate that block classes are ON AVERAGE 4 HOURS LONG. So basically those 2 block classes I am taking, though SO interesting and wonderful,  are my penance for all of my sins. Ever. Secondly, both schools are not a hop, skip and a sprint out the door. There is no such thing as “rolling out of bed” here, which was obviously a habit that died hard [and quickly]. Commuting is not a fun time. Although I will shout out the Spanish metro system here for being very clear with it’s signs and directions to get to different platforms as well as its rule of 6 minutes maximum wait. DC Metro, please observe and do better.

Warning to all of my family that may be reading this: I will be studying, going to class and actively paying attention. However, there will not be many posts about school because….who wants to read about the study in study ABROAD?

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Orientation

For all of my loyal followers, I am sorry I haven’t posted in a while but Spain has been distracting me! Thursday and Friday of this week have been orientation days, both for school and for the city of Madrid. On Thursday, we started off by going to ICADE for our international student orientation and address. ICADE is beautiful with it’s classic Spanish architecture of big towers and a fence to make the building look like a castle instead of a school. ICADE is a Jesuit school and has a gorgeous church inside. As a Fordham graduate, my dad’s dream of one of us going Jesuit has finally been achieved 😛 The presentations were boring and we Americans stuck together, giving all the other European students to gawk at us because real live Americans are apparently zoo attractions. [Other than us speaking English, they noticed my North Face. They don’t wear brand here. Oops.]

After orientation, we went home for lunch and had a wonderful meal. I thought I was going to have to be rolled out the door. Shout out to my host mom, Magda, for informing us on day 1 that she was a wonderful cook and then living up to those promises every day with her creative and always delicious meals. Then we went to the Prado museum to look at some Spanish art. Paco, the deputy director of our program, is also an art history professor. I would literally minor in art history right now if I could only study under him. He is so passionate about the subject and made the tour so interactive that I wanted to stay longer and visit every piece. The Prado was built for the royal family’s art collection and now is comprised of famous pieces from the Renaissance and Gothic periods leading all the way up to the beginning of the early 20th century. [The contemporary art is in the Reina Sofia museum…it’s on my list of places to visit]. At the Prado, we studied 3 main artists: El Greco, Velasquez and Goya. Paco asked us to pick 1 piece from each artist that we liked best and I knew hands down which were my favorites, The Annunciation by El Greco is an amazing piece and my favorite of his in the museum because of his use of length in body frame and his overall adoration for the Virgin Mary that can be felt when looking at the work. Las Meninas, one of the most famous by Velasquez and an obvious choice because it has been seen many times before. However, the way Paco explained the meaning and moment behind the picture, showing how the King and Queen are in the reflection of the mirror because they are out of frame and are supposed to be standing among the viewers gave an awesome lesson on perspective and details. And finally, Goya. Goya, after this exhibit, may be my favorite artist of all time. He was innovative and edgy and a little headstrong [he kind of reminds me of me haha] My favorite Goya painting was so difficult to choose but at the end, I was absolutely entranced by his dark period. The painting of Saturn [Chrono] eating his children is what I deemed my favorite but this can change at any given moment. Paco told the story of Saturn and the significance behind the painting and its relation to Goya, making it most memorable and intriguing to me. Fun Fact: I adore mythology!

On Friday, we went back to ICADE and toured the school. ICADE has a wonderful tradition that I will definitely partake in when the semester ends. The school has blue and white tile lining the walls of the building and once you complete your time at ICADE, you can purchase your own tile to take home with you to remember the school. I’ve been thinking about that tile ever since! The only downside to ICADE is that well….we don’t get to be on that campus. We get to be on the Tenley campus of ICADE because we are all taking classes in English. Not cute. But I’m excited for ICADE anyway because the actual campus is gorgeous and I want to spend time there.

After ICADE we toured Madrid! We walked around Sol and we saw the Royal Palace. It’s gorgeous and also my new house because I’m a princess. Obviously. There is so much history in Madrid and it would take me an entire year to learn it all. I have 4 months…I can make it happen! 🙂

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Settling In

my roomThe last 72 hours have been an absolute whirlwind in Spain but I am loving every minute of it. They have really interesting customs here and some of them are mad weird but I have to keep in mind that it’s not them, it’s us. But it’s cool to be immersed in their habits and customs. Except the food thing. They don’t snack, while Americans constantly are chewing on something. And lunch is at 2  or 3 pm, making dinner between 9 and 10 pm. That one will take a while but I’m willing to work with it. The other thing is the WiFi. It is difficult to communicate to our family and social media outlets [but mostly our families] without WiFi. You can tell where the Americans are because if there is WiFi, everyone’s fingers are flying and eyes are glued to the screen.

Stepping off the plane and being thrown into the culture, I have never been so grateful in my life for my gift with picking up languages. It was a violent transition. Being able to speak with confidence and an accent has allowed for me to worry about one less thing here. But even at a high level of proficiency, I am learning new phrases and being corrected on my grammar every day. With one of my goals being to attain fluency, if I keep this up and work hard, I will do it!

The AU Center, where I will be taking all of my classes to complete my Spanish minor, is in a little building called Mosaic, which doubles as an intensive English school for native Spanish speakers. The program directors are the sweetest and this new center will be our homebase for the remainder of the trip. I will be taking business classes at ICADE, a Spanish university, but I have yet to go there. However, like Kogod, they are just as particular, so scheduling classes will prove to be difficult, no doubt. In fact, the difficulty has already started…

My homestay is adorable and awesome! My homestay mom, Magda, is about 65 years old and has been taking in college students for the past 10 years or so. She is so sweet and an excellent cook and has set up Miso and I in our own rooms. Finally back to princess status! Every morning we have croissants and strawberry jelly and red tea. I have never had red tea but whatever it is has me addicted; I have a minimum of 2 cups every morning. My room is quaint with wood shelving, but it’s mine and I love it.

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