Month: November 2019

Top Three Take-Aways and Why YOU Should Study Abroad Too

This was a favorite place of mine to just collect my thoughts and admire the view. Finding a place like this is so important when you study abroad so I recommend finding somewhere like this when you arrive to your study abroad.

Number One: I learned, and got to experience, another way of living other than the way I live my life in the United States. Everyone’s experiences are going to be different in every country because of people’s history, education, economic level, health, ect., but these factors are also treated differently by the governments and the local people of the country you are in. For example, Spain has one of the highest life expectancy rates and the doctors and dentists here cost way way less than any care you could receive in the US. The way classes are taught and the way they administer tests are also different- plus there is very little homework in a typical class. In the US we have about a month or two for winter break but here they usually have over two months. As you’ve heard me rave about before, the transportation system in Europe is ridiculous. On every social media page at home I hear about people making fun of the Boston train system because of how messy it is. Here people hop on trains and cross borders and still arrive on time. Sure, there are occasional delays, but it is not like in the US where it is a known fact that the transportation systems WILL be late. Also, a really sad fact that isn’t discussed enough is how it is not socially acceptable to pet dogs in public. In the US you can go up to anyone and they will understand if you ask to pet there dog, but here people will think you’re crazy. 

This was post visiting the beach so excuse our hair, but these are some of the close friends I’ve made since being here. It’s definitely going to be hard to leave them.

Number Two: There is always more to learn from the people around you. My school is full of Americans because only Americans can take the classes offered here. These students come from all different states and have many different majors so their outlook and experiences in life are all very different. In Morocco I spent the five days with a student from Michigan who goes to a school in Florida and spent her summer in Jordan and Greece. Learning about her experience helping the community in Jordan was incredibly enlightening and her input in our Middle East class comes from first hand experience. Another student from Michigan spent his summer in Wyoming and decided to go to Sevilla because of a flip of a coin. He told me about how all of his major life decisions come down to a single flip of a coin and how it has definitely changed his life for the better and worst at different times. One of my conversations with him included a discussion about the future of the world and AI’s role in it and it was all quite interesting. Two students that go to UMass Amherst are from a town right next to the one my friend lives in and one of the students actually worked at the town she lives in over the summer. Hannah, spent her summer working with the Democratic Party and her stories of her experience will certainly play a role in what career paths I pursue. 

Number Two (A) The important thing to realize here is that the people around you are invaluable resources you should spend time getting to know. Learning about your peers and where they come from can give you a better perspective in life and can connect you to people you may never see again but will remain in contact with forever. You only have a limited time with these people, so cherish the moments and never give up opportunities to learn more about each other. 

This is from the day the museums were free. It was at an exhibit where the art was done by different people but the central theme was Dracula. Random trips like this felt weird at first with new people in a new environment, but were so worth it in the end.

Number Three: It’s okay to take time to breathe. At school I am a very fast paced, always moving to the next place to do something else kind of person, but in Spain I’ve had more time to slow down and relax. I’ve been able to go on runs in the morning, cafes during the day, and parks in the evening. I have quite literally had time to stop and smell the roses. This laid back lifestyle has allowed me to enjoy my time in Sevilla, but I am ready to get back into action. I am grateful that I have been able to take advantage of my time here and explore the museums, architecture, and busy streets of Sevilla because it made me feel more welcomed in the community. 

Number Three (A) Students should study abroad because the feeling of getting acquainted in a new community with new people and a different atmosphere is amazing. Being able to walk around a new place and discover cafes that locals pass on an everyday basis, but that you find just incredible is so rewarding. It is in these moments that you treasure the little things and the reason that you studied abroad comes together. It is a recognition that even though in the beginning it’s hard to adjust it is so worth it to feel like you’ve found a new temporary home. That feeling alone is a worthwhile reason for anyone to study abroad.   

Surprise!

The geography and layout of Sevilla has been the most surprising thing for me in Spain. I didn’t have very many expectations coming into Spain, but when my plane flew into Madrid I was shocked to see all of the flat land that was full of olive trees, dirt, and grass. There is SO much open space all over Spain. Any time you try to go to another city or town in Spain you have to take a car or bus through at least an hour if not two hours of fairly deserted land to make it to the next city. Even when I went to Rhonda and Huelva I had to take about an hour long bus ride just to get to the nearby cities. The buses are not bad I’m just used to seeing cities next to each other and being able to travel through towns to get to other towns. Massachusetts doesn’t have much bare land until you get over to Western Mass. 

This is from my flight back to Madrid from Switzerland. You can kind of see how spread out the towns are in this photo.

The other thing I love about Spain, and that I’ve mentioned many times before, is it’s walkability. I am in absolute shock every time I take a bike around Sevilla at how EASY it is to travel. I still cannot comprehend how I can just use a bike to get to one side of Sevilla to the other and most of that route will be on a path specifically designed for bikes. I love that the city is so accessible and that I see people of all ages walking to school, restaurants, grocery stores, or the park every day at every time. I also don’t think I’ll ever get over how late the old and young generations stay out, because in most places I’ve been to in the US kids are in bed by 10 and you really only see the older generation out late during the weekends. 

This is a photo taken from the bus (hence the weird coloring) of one of the country sides of Spain. You can see how bare it is which always surprises me.

While I was in Spain I watched Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez’s, Congresswomen from New York, instagram story where she highlighted the accessibility of the Netherlands. She talked about how the walking, biking, and driving lane were all built on different heights so it was less likely for anyone to swerve into an unwanted lane. This made me even more aware of Spain’s accessibility. There are some places where each lane is at a different height but sometimes it’s just a different color or there are little metal buttons separating the lanes. Fun fact: if you ever go to Spain STAY OUT of the lanes next to the metal buttons with bike symbols because you’ll either get hit or have a bell aggressively rung at you. Sevilla also has a really great bike sharing program with Sevici. All you have to do is pay for the weekly or yearly plan (the yearly plan is only 33 euro and is definitely worth it) and you can take out a bike wherever they are stationed. There are plenty of stations all over the city and although sometimes Sevici can be difficult with full or empty stations, I’ve found it to be very worth it. Between biking to and from frisbee twice a week and biking around town a couple times a week I have definitely gotten my money’s worth. I am very much an outdoor person who much prefers to walk somewhere if I can and to be able to strictly walk everywhere in Sevilla has been a dream come true. There are quite a few sidewalks in my hometown in the US and this experience has inspired me want to start walking more so hopefully when it starts warming up I’ll start to walk around Auburn more frequently.

Make sure to bring your walking shoes to Sevilla because there will be plenty of opportunities to explore! Sevilla is also pretty accessible for those who are not able to walk- most sidewalks are quite wide and there are plenty of cheap cabs and taxis that are available all over the city, so don’t get discouraged. Sevilla is a city for everyone and its sidewalks will always be there to entertain.  

 

Top 5 Things to Do in Spain

These are my personal top 5 recommendations for Spain, but keep in mind that I have not visited Granada yet so that might be added to the list after next weekend. Also! I want to emphasize that everyone’s top 5 places in Spain are going to be different so if you get recommendations to go somewhere else in Spain you should travel as much as you can. There’s honestly no “bad” part of Spain so wherever you visit I’m sure you will enjoy.

This is from my walk to the park in Salamanca. I didn’t capture any photos of the park because I was focused on finishing my book, but I think this photo is sufficient.

NUMBER 5: Salamanca

Salamanca is located close to Madrid but is like a 5-6 hour bus ride from Sevilla. However, I thought it was completely worth the hike to get to. Not only can you walk the graffiti lined streets for hours, but there’s a bunch of hills you can climb and the view overlooking the city is amazing. The University of Sevilla also has a spot that I stayed at for a while just taking in the full view of the city. There’s also a stain glass museum that has wonderful artwork and includes a collection of sculpted dancers that spin and their shadows really make them look like they are moving. Sadly, you cannot take photos in this museum, but all the more reason for you to visit yourself! If you like small gardens there is also a mini garden that I assume looks better in full bloom because we visited after the season was over and it wasn’t quite what I expected. If you’re flying in from Madrid, I would definitely recommend that you make a pitstop in Salamanca. The hostel I stayed in had a lot of food for breakfast and was very inexpensive!

NUMBER 4: Strap on your walking shoes and

You never know where you’ll end up in Sevilla. Sometimes you’ll find 3 floor fabric stores and take a mirror selfie!

walk around Sevilla without a destination in mind

Other times you’ll catch the perfect amount of light running down a street and snap a photo.

Sorry this isn’t quite one location, but I think it’s important for people to learn what a truly walkable city looks like. My hometown has the tiniest of sidewalks and there really is not much to do so when I got to Sevilla and realized I could walk for hours at a time in any direction and constantly have enough sidewalk to walk on AND there were shops, cafes, malls, and fun things to do all around me I was in awe. You can literally go in any direction and you will find a great cafe with cheap coffee. Depending on where you go you could also end up at a flea market, a food market, a fun sock store, a five euro movie theater, a trampoline place, or a fun new restaurant. I’ve also learned a lot about the opposite side of the city by taking the bus that’s about a 30 minute walk from my house. I go on runs around Sevilla most weekdays and I always find inspiration for new places to visit during that time. For example, on my run the other day I learned where the Betis stadium is- which by the way you should make sure you have a stance on Real Madrid vs Betis before you get to Spain because you WILL be asked about it AT LEAST 3 different times during your visit.

NUMBER 3: Rhonda

There are no words to properly describe Rhonda.

THIS is one of the most amazing sweet potatoes I’ve ever had.

If you like nature and adventure this is the place for you. Rhonda has some of the most scenic views I have ever seen in my entire life. Depending on how daring you’re feeling you can also go past the man-made paths and into the river bends under the bridges. There’s also a few caves you can peak into, but I wouldn’t go too far into those. I went with two friends who were ready for a hike so make sure your partners are in for a full day of walking. We started the day at a cafe that happened to sell sweet potatoes and being a BIG fan of sweet potatoes myself  I had to order one before I left. You don’t see a lot of sweet potatoes in Spain so I didn’t want to waste my chance. If you’re on a budget this is also a great place because we brought lunch but also bought jamon y queso sandwiches and did not spend money on much else. There’s no admission fee for the hike unless you want to go to fancier parts of the city and the museums sometimes cost money but we just skipped the ones that weren’t free and still had a great time. We ended the day playing cards and eating ice cream so I’d say it was a very successful day.

NUMBER TWO: Plaza de Espana

This is Plaza de Espana during a colorful sunset. This is only a glimpse of what you’ll see when you visit it yourself.

Most Spanish cities have their own version of “Plaza de Espana” but I would argue that Sevilla’s is the best. When my program first took us there I knew from that moment that I would love Sevilla. The intricate architecture that makes the three towers stand out, the detailed painting that form seats in a crescent shape, and the flowing water fountain right in the middle make this a must see destination in Spain. The best time to go is when the sun is setting. I like to bring a book, my journal, and some headphones and find Toledo (each sitting spot is painted for a different Spanish city) and watch the sun go down and the lights come on. If you’re lucky (I was not because I was in Morocco) you might even catch a concert or two in Plaza de Espana. The MTV festival was held here and Green Day was the main act. You can also just walk around the park in front of Plaza de Espana. There are plenty of pretty places to sit on a bench because there are so many twists and turns in the park. The park next to Maria Luisa (the park in front of Plaza de Espana) also hosts the International Festival every year which lasts for a little over a month and has booths with food from many different parts of the world. During the day time there are also vendors that sell clothes, jewelry, and trinkets that are worth a walk through. Overall, Plaza de Espana is worth the trip not only for its ideal location but for the effort you can tell it took to make it. Also, a quick fun fact, scenes from Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia were filled in Plaza de Espana. 

NUMBER ONE: Toledo

Oh Toledo. I knew this was going to be my favorite spot even though it was only the second place in Spain I visited. Toledo was special because of its cooperation with nature and its old architecture. Our bus dropped us off almost at the top of the city and I love that the whole city was just built around the winding paths of rock and dirt. As someone with a deep appreciation for nature I loved that I could walk around the cobblestone pathways and look over the cliffs to see water flowing. I also loved that everything had a story and a history to it and that the tour guides tried to tell us as much of that history as possible in the short time that we had. It was also the first time I had ever heard of nuns making pastries and selling them out of the church so that was a fun story to hear. I don’t really know how to describe Toledo better than showing a lot of pictures of it so I have included my thousands of words of explanation here:


Spain and My Future

This study abroad experience has greatly influenced what I want to do with my life. It has confirmed what I thought I knew I wanted to do beyond a reasonable doubt and given me a push in the right direction. I needed this opportunity to go so far out of my comfort zone that I recognized the importance of what I was doing before.

This is the group of people I did a photo petition event with in Worcester, MA before I left. Many of them were people I had never met yet we were able to come together over a common cause.

Since my second semester of college I have always been overwhelmed with things to do. I love this lifestyle of always being active, constantly trying to balance the many important things that really must be finished, and at the end of the semester being able to look back and feel like I’ve accomplished something. From MassPIRG, to Sunrise, to SGA, to Model UN to frisbee I’m kept on my toes at all times and I definitely prefer it that way. Between all of these things I’ve always felt like I was making some sort of “difference.” Whether it was running the new voters project for MassPIRG in which we registered over 550 students at UMD to vote in the 2018 midterm election, or talking about international issues at Model UN, there has always been a problem to solve, and I have always been up for the challenge.

Spain is honestly one of the most politically engaged countries in Europe. On the second Friday of my time and Spain my friend and I joined one of their climate strikes in the middle of Sevilla. The line of people stretched into what felt like infinity and it was amazing to be able to witness!

My first Friday in Spain fell on September 20th, the same day as the International Climate Strike led by thousands of young activists around the world. The semester before I left I co-led a Green New Deal Town Hall with Esmeralda Bisono and witnessed students and local leaders present about how the climate crisis affects local communities, labor, low-income communities, and everyone nation-wide. We discussed the necessity for the Green New Deal that will create thousands of new jobs and completely transform our transportation, agriculture, and all other ways of life. This semester some of my peers put on a Climate Walkout at UMD. Missing it was heartbreaking, but watching the livestream filled me with so much emotion. Seeing all the student leaders I’ve come to know over time speak about the importance of taking action on the climate crisis and how it’s affecting our campus, our students, and our community was empowering. Watching on my phone was sufficient in the moment, but a part of me felt as though I wasn’t doing enough. Here I was, stuck in a foreign country where the politics will only affect me for the three months I am here, but I was watching as over one hundred students at my college campus took action to show administrators on campus and politicians worldwide that we are done waiting for them to do things on their timeline. This moment made me realize how passionate I truly am about ensuring America makes drastic changes to the way they do so many things. 

Right before I left for Spain I started working on an initiative to create an infrastructure within our campus to register voters. Voting has always been a passion of mine, and so when a peer reached out to me saying that the Sunrise hub on campus was going to start registering voters I knew I had to help out. I ended up organizing 2 different information sheets about how students should go about registering voters and skyped into their weekly meeting where I answered questions and went over the process of how to register students to vote. Doing this made me realize how much I value the work I had been doing back at UMD. I’ve loved this time in Spain and being able to experience life in a new way, but at the same time, I am so excited to go back and continue the hard work there is to be done at UMD. When I get back to the US, I am jumping straight into preparation for voter registration in the spring. I love that the work never ends in the US and that I have more of a personal connection to the work there. I care about democracy being accessible to all and about ensuring that my generation understands the impact of their vote and who they elect to represent themselves. 

This is another photo from the Spanish climate strike. It was amazing to witness and I’m so happy friend and I were able to walk and chant with them a little.

I have loved being able to learn about the Spanish election, and I’ve had conversations with my host family about who generally votes for what party and their opinions of American politics. When I came home from frisbee the other day my host mother and her daughter had the debate on and I got to watch the format of their debate (turns out it’s basically the same as our own but with no women running instead of two). I’ve been trying to reconcile with this feeling like I’m not doing enough about the things I care about in America with the feeling of this amazing opportunity I have in front of me to learn so much more about another culture and language and community that is changing my perceptions about things everyday. With the reelection in Spain coming up this Sunday it has been wonderful seeing all the signs and propaganda for each candidate, it’s made me feel like I am back at home with all the politics that surround me. I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity I have to study abroad, but I’m ready to get back to work. I’m ready to focus on voter turnout and I’m ready to collaborate with my peers to make meaningful changes on campus. There is always more work to be done and I am ready to get back to action.

In my explanation of my work on campus I hope I’ve made it clear that that is the kind of work I want my career to center around. I want to use my new skills of the Spanish language to be able to communicate with more people and my passion for social justice and voting to work with nonprofits and NGOs in their fight for a more equitable and fair future in America. I’m not entirely sure what organization I want to work with, but I know the main ideas of what I want to see in a mission statement of the future community I work with. Coming to terms with a passion you’re not sure about is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever felt. I now know that I can and will spend the rest of my life fighting for a better world and I have a better idea of the standards we can and should hold America to. My future is going to be full of hard work, but I am looking forward to every single moment of it.

 

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