Monday, February 14, 2011

Travels Galore!

My last post was a tad bit long. But I realize it had been quite a while since I have updated all of you! I didn’t even get around to telling you about my traveling experiences!
Two weekends ago, I went on a day excursion for foreign exchange students. We went to 3 different locations. The first stop was a tiny little town that had a gorgeous waterfall and church. It had connections to Napolean. The second stop was a part of Navarra (region of Spain that I am studying in) where the witches used to go to practice their magic supposedly. It was a huge cave! It was so cool. I didn’t expect to find a cave at the end of the trail, but there it was! The third stop was to the National Park of Navarra. It was more of a tour of trees. I was not entertained, even in the least bit.
Yesterday, a few friends and I went on a day trip to Tafalla, Spain. There was an agricultural festival there. When I heard about it, I was not that excited. Growing up on a farm in Nebraska, I’m sure you can just imagine how interesting an Agricultural festival sounded to me! Nonetheless, I went because it was only a 3 euro trip, and my friends were going. It was also on Sunday. Sundays here are torture. EVERYTHING is closed, so there usually isn’t a whole lot of action other than church. Well, turns out it was more of a farmer’s market with authentic art, food, and commercial goods stands as well. It was so much fun! I love flea markets, garage sales, auctions, etc. So it was perfect for me! We tried different Spanish authentic foods, bought little trinkets from local artists, and browsed through tons of clothing stands! I couldn’t have found a more perfect way to spend a Sunday with friends here!
Next on the list is Madrid! A group of friends and I leave on Thursday morning, and will return Sunday afternoon. We are going for Carnival, which is basically Spain’s version of Mardi Gras. I cannot wait for this experience! Today has just dragged on and on (as Mondays usually do for everyone), and I hope that the next two days aren’t the same. I just want to be on that bus making my way to Madrid!

The Aha! Moment

As of today, (Valentine’s Day) I have been living in Spain for exactly 38 days. It is really hard for me to grasp this concept. I still feel like it was just hours ago that I boarded the plane in Omaha, NE. This past month has given me so many opportunities, challenges, triumphs, and learning experiences that it is so hard to comment on all of them!
A week ago, I moved out of my host mom’s house and into my own apartment. As part of the program that I am in, I was only living with my host mom for one month and then living in a piso (apartment) for the remainder of the time with other students. At the beginning, I was so eager to move into my own place with friends, but as the days with my host family started to dwindle, so did my desire to move. It was difficult to say goodbye to a family that had so eagerly welcomed me into their home with open arms and cared for me like I was a biological member of the family. My host brother and mom actually drove me to my new apartment, and helped me take all my bags into my room. It was sad, but my host mom assured me that I was welcome to visit anytime and she expected me to stay in contact.
Part of the reason I had become so attached was due to the fact that she had taken care of me when I had gotten really sick earlier this month. I ended up getting bronchitis and was in bed for 7 days. After 2 doctor visits and 3 medical prescriptions later, it finally cleared up. But during that week, my host mom brought me meals in bed, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and refilled my water cup throughout the day. I had not received that kind of attention when I was sick since I had been in grade school. The doctors visits were a whole other story. Trying to describe symptoms and fevers in Spanish is much harder than I had anticipated, especially with the whole Celsius and Fahrenheit conversion factor. My host mom took my temperature the first night and said it was about 39 to 40 degrees Celsius. This meant nothing to me. Later on during a skype chat with a friend, I discovered it was about 102 to 104 degrees Farenheit. My fever had been a lot higher than I imagined. Now I understand my host mom’s worry the first night. I guess here it is very normal to call a doctor to come for home visits. I did not like the idea when my host mom suggested it and was very worried about my ISEP insurance covering it. I waited almost 3 days to go to my university doctor. I even emailed the ISEP coordinator at the university here inquiring about the procedure (with no reply, still.) One doctor’s visit wasn’t enough. I was forced to return one more time after 4 days, and she gave me a stronger antibiotic for bronchitis. After the antibiotics did their job and I was much better, I was told that my insurance does cover home visits. I guess that’s just one more thing to add to my list of live and learn here. Let’s just all cross our fingers that will be my only run-in with the health-care here in Pamplona!
Classes also started last week. I will not lie, they are going to be intense. I enjoy all of them, but I am not used to not understanding exactly everything that is said or being discussed. I am taking a Spanish grammar class, a Spanish discussion and culture class, a Sociology of Communication class, and a Perception and Consumerism of wine class. During the wine class we have been discussing the perception and sensory of wine. We have been testing our skills at taste and smell. The smelling part is very tricky. I can usually figure out what it is, but then to figure out what it is in Spanish is tougher. The tasting part has been a lot of fun though. The first two days consisted of tasting water diluted with sugar and salt, and then ranking the samples from most diluted to least. The third time, expecting something similar, I took a large drink of the first glass. After shock wore off, I realized the teacher had mixed vodka and water. I learned that lesson. Little is more.
I think that is the biggest lesson I have learned this past month. You have to be able to laugh at yourself. There is no getting through an experience like this , without being able to laugh at your own mistakes. I have already told my teacher I was going to put butter (mantequilla) on my face instead of putting make-up on (maquilarse). Oops. I’ve also discovered that almost every door in Europe is opened by pulling it, no matter what it looks like. I always push first. Sooner or later, I’m gonna master the art of door opening here. I have also successfully walked into a full glass door in front of other Spanish students on my way out of class. They didn’t even try to hide the fact that they were laughing at me. This is only a fraction of the very idiotic things that I have done while here so far. In the past, these things would have really gotten to me, but here I have learned to just laugh and go on. I would laugh at someone else doing it, so might as well laugh at myself!
I am now loving my new life abroad. It took quite some time to adjust, but I finally had that “Aha!” moment. I was sitting on my balcony outside my room, when it hit me that I actually live in Spain. I know this sounds so cliché and corny, but it was quite the bittersweet moment for me. Instead of having a countdown until I leave, I now loathe every day that passes by.