Sunday, January 30, 2011

1/18/11- A week in review

Hey guys, told you I'd have trouble keeping this up to date, I promise I'll try and work on it. 

Well the first week has come and gone and there is so much to write about. I guess the best place to start is at the beginning of the week.

Sunday (1/9/11): I woke up fairly early for me on a weekend (10:30) and proceeded to have a simple, light breakfast of tea, tea cookies, and little muffins. Considering I usually can’t eat a big breakfast this was perfect and is what I have had for every morning since. I then went with Yuka (the Japanese student), Jeff, and Hannah to explore the city on our own for a few hours. We wandered around the more historic part of the city and went inside the “new” cathedral. Hannah and I decided that it reminded us of Beauty and the Beast. It still baffles me how giant cathedrals could have been constructed without modern technology and machinery. It is just incredible.

We meandered back to La Plaza Mayor and saw all of the families congregating after church, with the little kids running around and the adults standing in groups gossiping. We found a little bar to go and commemorate our first full day in Salamanca with our first glasses of sangria. There were so many people all meeting up after church to talk and enjoy each other’s company. It was definitely a sight to see.

When Yuka and I got back to the apartment, it smelled wonderful! Julia had made paella with chorizo, chicken and shrimp with their heads still on :/ It was delicious, despite the unnerving feeling I had when be-heading the shrimp.
In the afternoon there was a meeting with Javier and Gala to walk around the city a bit in order to become familiar with the important landmarks, like various banks, the doctor’s office, and post office. After this, I went back to the apartment for dinner, but after went back out to get drinks and tapas with a few friends.

The next day we started our “curso intensivo” which is the first two we are here all the students from Wake Forest (all 23 of us) are required to take a culture and history of Spain course that also includes a grammar review. We meet in “el centro’ at ten to begin and end more or less at noon. We then usually have some kind of extra activity in the afternoon after lunch. For example, the first night we had a big welcome dinner with all the students, Gala, her husband, Paul, and Javier. It was a long table so it was nearly impossible to talk to people at the other end of the table, but I tried to sit near people I didn’t know before getting to Spain in order to start to get to know other people in the group.

Welcome dinner
The restaurant had already placed plates of various tapas including 3 types of ham, cheese, roasted peppers, and bread on the table, and of course wine. The peppers were just like the ones I have at Grandma Janet’s house, but not to insult her, they were slightly better. Following the tapas were plates of shrimp, again with their heads on… what is with these people and leaving the heads on their shrimp? Creepy! For some reason Thane thought it would be funny if he placed a few of the heads on the ends of his fingers like those weird finger puppets all kids have when they’re little. However, this so was not funny!

The food just kept coming; steak and fries, salad, and then ice cream, tea and coffee. When the waiters finally stopped bringing us food I was so happy, I definitely could not have had another mouth-full. Typically dinners are a lighter meal, so I didn’t expect to be presented with as much food as we were.

After dinner, a big group of us decided to try out the night life in Salamanca. We went to a couple of bars and clubs, but called it an early night at 3am. I know what you’re thinking, 3am isn’t very early, but apparently the bar and club scene doesn’t really start until about 1am and generally Spanish people stay out until 5 or 6am, sometimes even later. Gente loca! Figured 3am was late enough since I did have class the next day at 10am.

The next day I went to class at 10am and in the afternoon we had the first part of our historic tour of Salamanca. We met with our tour guide, Claudia, in the La Plaza Mayor and then walked to the Convent of San Esteban. We saw the old and new chapels in the monastery, the church, el coro (where the chorus sat), and these remarkable stairs that were built so that if there was no wall they would still be floating in the air. They were a design of Fray Domingo de Soto and called “Escalera de Soto” for those of you interested in learning more.
The floating stairs
We then made our way to the cathedral that Hannah, Yuka, Jeff and I had going in on Sunday, but this time we went to the “old” cathedral. I knew that there were two cathedrals when we were meandering on Sunday and we had looked around to try and find the old one, but we couldn’t find it. Turns out 1) you have to pay a small fee to see the old cathedral, 2) the old is not open on Sundays, and 3) you can only get to the old from inside the new. OK, so an explanation for the two cathedrals is the old one was built in the 13th century, but when the population of Salamanca grew, it was too small and there wasn’t enough light so they decided to build the new one; however, this was in the 16th century so the new cathedral itself is pretty old as well. The reason they didn’t take down the old one is because the built the new one right next to it, they actually share a wall and are supporting each other. If the old was to be knocked down, the new one would fall as well.

So with the tour guide we went straight to the old cathedral. She showed us the “retablo” or alter piece, which was a depiction of the life of the Virgin Mary and above it was a Fresco of the, I think it is called, the Last Judgment. This is the Jewish girl trying to remember things about the Catholic religion and its many religious depictions, I do my best. The one thing I didn’t like about the old cathedral, even in all its beauty, there were too many tombs on the ground. They just give me the Heebie-Jeebies! For some reason I have an irrational fear of walking over dead people. So while in the cathedral I kept having to tip-toe and jump to avoid walking on the tombs. My friends were laughing at my silliness, but I had to do what I had to do. So freaky!!

On top of the new cathedral
We then went to a room next to the cathedral that Claudia said was the old study room for students to finish their careers at the University of Salamanca. The story is that when a student wanted to finish their studies he would be locked in this room for 24hours to completely study a list of topics that he was given. He would then have to pick 3 that he would want to present to a panel of professors in his field. They would pick two of his 3 that the student would have to talk about for more than an hour, but less than two hours. After finishing his discussions, the local people were then welcome and could ask the student any question they wanted about his field of study. The student would have to pay each person who asked him a question a small fee. The professors would then decide if the student would pass or fail. If the student failed, he would leave through a side door with his head held in shame after two very long days. If the student passed he would leave through the doors of the cathedral and all his friends, family and the entire town would have a huge celebration in his honor. They would even catch a bull and with its blood write a victor on the walls of the city buildings to commemorate the day. All this partying because he graduated, imagine that! Next we were able to climb up the towers of the cathedrals and be on the roof where there were amazing views of the city. The group then went to get bebidas and tapas.
A Victor for the Prince of Spain

The next day we had the same routine of class in the morning, went home for lunch, then went back to the centro for a class discussion of Nico y Las Meninas, a Spanish children’s book we had to read for class. It’s sad that a group of college students were reading a children’s book, but the reason is because we are meeting the author when we go to Madrid. Plus it is a very historically informative book. After the discussion we continued our tour of Salamanca with Claudia.

The astronaut and diablo
We walked around the “new” cathedral viewing the different capillas and the rotunda. We learned a bit of history about the patrons of Salamanca and that the inside of the cathedral is still unfinished. We then went outside to view one of the many facades. Here we examined the molding and designs and Claudia explained that there was something different around this particular door. It had been restored in 1992 and the architects choose to place various objects on the façade to differentiate the new from the old, other than the difference in color of the stone. He carved an astronaut, a devil figure with an ice cream cone and various animals, all to represent the modern times.

The Facade
Next we went to see the actual University of Salamanca campus. We first saw the fresco that had been painted in the original library, that is now being preserved in a specially lit and climate controlled room, called El Cielo de Salamanca. We then stood in front of the statue of Fray Luis de Leon one of the famous professors of the school and the façade to the main building. Salamanca is a city of many hidden surprises on various buildings. Claudia told us a story about a tiny frog that was placed somewhere on the façade. The legend is that if a student found the frog they would be given A’s in all of their classes. Unfortunately this tale does not hold true today. We then went inside the main building to see the original classrooms which had plaques above each door that were color coded according to subject. We went up a flight of stairs that on the banister had the story of a male student’s determination to succeed with many obstacles placed in front of him along the way, for example prostitutes and parties. On the second floor there was a library. Hate to make another Disney reference, but again totally felt like Beauty and the Beast. It was filled with hundreds upon thousands of hundred-year-old books. Very classy!

We then left the university and walked to see the local “palacios,” the first now houses a public library and its exterior is covered in a cement seashell design. The second is where precious salt used to be protected. After the tour a few of us had a huge chocolate craving so went to get churros con chocolate.
The next day nothing too exciting happened. After dinner, I went to a local bar with Jeff, Thane, Caroline, and Libby to watch a Real Madrid soccer game.

Friday we had class in the morning, but were free in the afternoon so a group of girls and I, plus Jeff, went shopping to take advantage of all of the rebajas (sales). That night a big group (I think it was pretty much everyone) met up to go out. I was home and in bed by 5am which is still considered early.

Unfortunately the next morning I woke up and just my luck, my terrible skin decided to take a turn for the worse. I had somehow picked up an infection that resembled impetigo. Fortunately, I had experience with skin infections. I knew as soon as I looked in the mirror that morning that I had to venture to see a doctor and get it checked out.

When I finally got the courage to get up and out of bed to get dressed, my friend Hannah called me to see what were my plans for the day. I told her the situation and she immediately offered to come with me. We met up and made our trek across town to the hospital. When we got there the fear definitely kicked in. It is one thing to have to go to the doctor normally, but on top of it I had to try and communicate what was wrong with me using my very, very limited Spanish vocabulary of medical terms. My heart was beating ridiculously fast when we walked in the building. First I had to check in and give a secretary my information. I think this was the more nerve-raking part because she was rattling off questions for me to answer and was talking very fast. I took a deep breath, looked back at Hannah for reassurance and got through it, not even having to ask the woman to repeat herself. She then sent us to the waiting room down the hall.

We waited for about an hour and then it was my turn. The doctor was a young woman, probably late-twenties or early-thirties, very nice, and saw me fairly quickly. She wrote out a prescription and directions of use and sent me on my way.

Hannah and I then went on a scavenger hunt through Salamanca to find an open pharmacy because we had hit the siesta part of the day which made it difficult. I think we wandered around for about a half hour before we found one. The pharmacist took the paper and went back and found the prescriptions. I was given a cream and 6 days worth of oral pills and it only cost me 14 euro, not too bad.

After that I went home and spent the rest of the weekend in the apartment. Watched a Spanish-dubbed movie with Julia and then finally watched Garden State. I also finished the whole first season of Scrubs; I’d say it was a fairly productive weekend.

This experience was definitely a reminder of the reason why I want to be a dermatologist and not only that, but also why learning a foreign language is important to me. Also, thank goodness for Hannah being there for moral support and for my parents buying me the internet phone on my plan. From the moment I woke up that day I had been emailing my mom and been able to give her a play-by-play and she was able to talk me through a few of the medical things. It was almost like she had been there with me. Could not have gone through that without either of them.

Tuesday, we all had to dress nicely because after class we were meeting with the mayor of Salamanca. None of us really knew what was going on, but the mayor shook the boys’ hands and double kissed the girls and was talking us up. It turned out to be a big thing in all of the local papers and on the local news. Apparently he and Gala were signing papers to signify that we were, in fact, students of the University of Salamanca and of Spain. After the politics we were privileged to experience the view from the balcony overlooking the Plaza Mayor from right under the clock, a view that only certain people ever get to experience. It was very cool to look down on all the people standing there looking up at us.

Well that about sums up that week, as you can see it was a pretty busy one. Up next classes and a trip to Madrid :)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

1/8/11- Day 1

What feels like the never ending day finally comes to an end, thank goodness! I think I slept of a total of maybe 3 hours in the past 30 something hours. Jet lag better not haunt be or I’m gonna be very unhappy. Got into Madrid a little before 8am, before the sun even came up. Customs was easy and my luggage came without a problem. There were about ten of us on the flight from Philly. We all got our bags and headed towards the meeting spot to find Doctora Gala, the program director, and Javier the onsite director. Also, Doctora Gala’s husband, Paul a history professor at Wake, is here for the semester with us. We hung around the Madrid airport until a little after 12pm because we had to wait for all of the students to arrive before we could get on the bus and make the 2 and a half hour drive to Salamanca. 
The group waiting in the airport
Even though we were all zombies, Javier asked us to try and not sleep during the bus ride. Too bad that request didn’t work, almost everyone crashed as soon as we got moving. I woke up just in time to watch us enter the city and drive past the new and old cathedrals which are breath-taking.

Shortly thereafter we arrived at the drop off area to meet our home-stay families. With nervous butterflies we all got off the bus and one by one our names were called out to step forward and meet our families. Julia, mi madre, was there to pick me up. As I had told many of you she is 72 years old, but by here persona and liveliness you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. Noticing my ridiculous amount of stuff, she called a taxi to come and pick us up because it would have been a half hour walk to the apartment. Considering my exhaustion, I think that was the right thing. My hand, arm, neck, something would’ve broken off if I had to walk all the way to the apartment. I would’ve been miserable.

Ten minutes later we were at the front door of the apartment. It’s a cute little, or I guess not so little since there are 4 bedrooms, apartment. As I said there are 4 bedrooms, a bath room with a bathtub/shower, a small kitchen, a small dinning/living room, and another room with a sink and toilet that also has the washer in it near Julia’s bedroom. On the original housing sheet it said that there was a “41 year old hija” as well, but it turns out her daughter, Clara, is an English teacher at a school in Valencia and is only here on vacations. However, it is not just Julia and I in the apartment. There is also a Japanese student, my same age, staying here. Her name is Yuka and she’s really nice as well.

The first thing Julia asked me when we got to the apartment was if I was hungry, due to the jet lag I wasn’t very, but I thought it would probably be a good idea to get some food in my stomach so I said “un poco” and quickly she entered the kitchen to begin cooking up a frenzy as I unpacked and began to make my room into my own.
My room
Churros con chocolate
All the Spain tour books aren’t kidding when they say lunch or la comida/el almuerzo is a big meal. She served me first a large helping of cooked green beans, then bread, a salad of just lettuce (which is what a salad is here), pork cutlets and she also put out a bowl of fruit which after I couldn’t even finish the rest of the food I didn’t touch. At 6pm there was an optional meeting of the group in la Plaza Mayor, the main center of the city where everyone meets. We walked around the older part of the city towards the university and then ended in a small chocolate focused restaurant that serves a dish that Spain is known for, Churros con chocolate. The churros are not like the American churros we eat with all the sugar, but they are more like funnel cakes or doughnuts, grease and all, and the chocolate is a real thick dark bitter-sweet soup. It was sooooo good, but deathly rich and definitely not something I could eat every day. After the snack or la merienda, the group did another traditional Spainsh activity, “tomamos un paseo” we walked. We got a mini-tour of the city which ended back in la Plaza Mayor at around 8pm.
La Plaza Mayor
The majority of the group then went to purchase our local phones so that we all could be on the same plan and not have to pay per minutes to call each other only the initial connection fee. The phone I bought allows me to receive calls from the US for free, but for those of you interested in calling me, check your rates, it can be very expensive. If you wish to call me, I suggest buying a calling card, or the easier way to contact me is via email or facebook. But back on topic, after about an hour all of us had purchased our phones and went our separate ways back to our casas for la cena, dinner.

I can’t believe I made it through the day, but now I’m ready for a good night’s sleep, YES! Luckily I get to sleep in, yay! The plan for tomorrow is to explore the city a bit with Hannah and Jeff, two of my friends, and then there is a group meeting at 5pm. So far it is only a bit awkward to be living in someone else’s home, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it in due time. Julia has been great so far and she’s done this a bunch of times so I’m not worried.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

1/7/11- Here We Go!

Who can believe it, my semester abroad is here already. After probably about a year of planning, I’m on my way to the fabulous European country of España. The day started off with me being woken up by a hug from my crying mother. It’s like she didn’t want me to go or something. We had packed my checked bags the night before so all that was lest in the morning were my carry-ons. I quickly took care of stuffing my little pink heart pillow and other odds and ends into my back pack and other carry-on and we were off to a little before 11am to get one last American-style meal, cheeseburger and fries, at a cute little soda shop in Nashville. We finished lunch and headed to the airport.
Flight check-in was easy with no line, but my parents didn’t want to leave my side any earlier than they had to. Since my flight was delayed by a half hour and we had gotten there with two hours before the original time we sat in the waiting area outside of security. At 1pm I figured it was probably about time I went through security just in case the flight arrived earlier. We said our tearful goodbyes (mostly on my mom’s part, couldn’t tell if any were coming from dad because he was wearing his sunglasses inside as usual) and I breezed through security. When I gathered all my things and began walking to the gate, because my dad has me so well trained, I heard him whistle and I turned to see them standing by the exit waving one last good-bye. I continued to the gate waiting for any indication of the schedule for take-off. Finally the airline lady made an announcement about the plane and the delay. She also mentioned that it was a small plane and that nothing bigger than a briefcase would fit. And the anxiety attack began.
My carry-ons consisted of a backpack with another backpack which made it rather bulky and another bag with a full-sized pillow in it which also looked rather large. Listening to the business men and other people around me complain about the restriction, I began to slightly freak out. Considering my already tight connection for the flight in Philadelphia, I did not want to cut it even shorter by having to wait for my bags on the jet way. Thankfully, when I went to board the lady didn’t reach for the yellow tags, meaning I was good to go.
All settled in my seat, I crashed and slept most of the way. When I woke up, I noticed that the guy sitting next to me was reading something in French. He looked like he could be a student so I asked him if he was on his way to study abroad and he answered yes. I guess a little bit of the south has rubbed off on me (or maybe just my mom) because we began to talk and share our “life stories.”
When the plane landed in Philly, the gate we pulled into could not have been farther from where the gate for the flight to Madrid was. The other student (he introduced himself, but in the chaos I forgot it instantly) and I teamed up to not get lost and to find our way to the international terminal. We had to get on a shuttle and then from the drop-off my gate was the farthest one, go figure!
Thankfully, even with the delay out of Nashville, I made it to the gate with about twenty minutes to spare. I was the last of all the Wake Forest students on our flight to get there, but the main point is I got there and am now sitting on the plane with about 2 hours left. Holy Cow!!! I keep saying “this is no different than leaving for college, but now I have friends with me.” This is true, but it is so much more than that. It is a chance for me to grow as a person and an individual, to be fully immersed in a different culture and to hopefully become fluent in the Spanish language. It will be tough, I have no doubt of that, but I’m so excited. The nervous/nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach will subside sometime, but for now I’ll just embrace the jitters and prepare myself for one of the most incredible and rewarding experiences of my life!