Tag Archives: blog

Spring Break is over!

I believe my undergraduate years have been quite unique. Wonderful and frustrating and full of doubt and impulsive desicion-making. I’ve enjoyed them and  I’m still enjoying them but I’m glad they are soon coming to an end. I’m finally graduating in December and even though Florida has been a great home for the past five years, I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to go abroad.

This compulsive traveler is sad that she couldn’t go to an exciting place full of adventures on her last spring break before graduating, but she was at least able to travel through her books.

spring break is over

That’s what happens when I can’t physically travel, I have to travel through books where exciting new things happen as well. I am constantly traveling but soon I’ll be able to hop on a plane with my life in a suitcase or two and arrive at a new country that I will call home for the next year or so…

The first Saturday as a “Spaniard” (May 31, 2014)

We stayed out late last night and I realized after reading the last sentence of the last post, that the weekend is really just starting…

I woke up around 10-11am. The plan that day was to go to Madrid and either stay the night or come back really late. I think the latest we could come back was at around 2am because of the bus and train schedules.

I met up with some students from the program and while I was walking to the plaza I saw a wedding ceremony taking place. Well.. more like the dancing part of it. It was awesome!

After everyone goes home for lunch, it’s really hard to get back together to do something. Everyone has lunch at different hours and want to do different things. We tried for hours to plan what to do that day through Facebook messages but having a lot of people agree on what to do for one day is really not as easy as I thought.

I spent an hour sitting at the Mcdonald’s by the Plaza de Cervantes messaging back and forth to try to figure out what to do. (Mcdonald’s has Wi-Fi). I decided to walk around and get lost in this little city and that I did.

I got lost. And then I kept walking and I eventually found my way home.

We decided to go to “El Rastro” the morning after. A very popular open air flee market that they have every Sunday in Madrid.

After I went back home, I watched T.V. with my host family and realized that every American show was in Spanish and had a Spanish accent from Spain. It was the most hilarious event. Don’t get me wrong I laugh with the Simpsons, but hearing Marge telling Bart, “No me agobies que me he quedao viuda” made me laugh so much, even after the show was over. I had never enjoyed the Simpsons so much.

When you study abroad you enjoy everything a little bit more. You get impressed by the little things. You appreciate the every day.

Orientation, Alcalá and Madrid (May 30, 2014)

My Spanish breakfast
My Spanish breakfast

This right here is a picture of what my Spanish breakfast looked like. I learned there that breakfast in Spain is not really that big of a deal as it is in the U.S. Usually the breakfast is the lightest meal of the day and a lot of Spaniards don’t eat it at all. Well… coffee. Everyone has coffee.

In the picture there is a croissant, a magdalena or muffin, orange juice and chocolate milk, because I’m not that big on coffee. Now, this chocolate milk is made with a chocolate powder called cola cao which I miss dearly, and even though I like my very continental American breakfast, I do miss my Spanish breakfast. It may just be the memory it brings mixed with the fact that I’m unable to find cola cao here in the States, but sometimes that’s all I want after I wake up.

It was 59 degrees outside… I woke up really early today. I’m guessing it’s because I was really excited. I didn’t even need my alarm, which is a miracle. My host mom walked with me in the morning to the university, where I had orientation all morning. We took a placement test and discussed important topics such as: historical facts about the city of Alcalá de Henares, information about the university, safety tips, information about public transportation, information about field trips, disciplinary norms and information about internet access. Basically, a lot of information about everything we needed to know.

alcaout20
Orientation Packet

In orientation, I met other American students from across the country and after orientation was over, we took a tour of Alcalá de Henares. The city is beautiful. While we were touring, a guy that wasn’t part of the tour started screaming, which scared us all, until we realized that someone was recording him. We later found out that high school kids were doing that when they found tourists, as a joke, to put the video of the reactions on YouTube. We laughed afterwards, after the creepy moment had passed.

al2

al3

al9

al4

al5
Jackie, me, Sydney

al6
Jillian, Leila, me

al8

al7

al10
Tapas

That last picture is tapas. Something you will love while you’re there. Tapas are basically a variety of Spanish appetizers and snacks that are served when you buy beer or sangria or wine… The concept of the tapas is that you buy an alcoholic beverage and you get free tapas. Apparently, this was something that was done throughout Spain but lately you are unable to find it in most places. (the concept, not the actual tapas. Tapas are everywhere!). However, Alcalá is one of those places where you can still buy a beer and get delicious tapas for free.

al11
Leila

We then went to the train station to take a train from Alcalá to Madrid…

al12

Madrid was a city I had been dreaming of for a long time. When I was little, I remember my friends wanted to go to Paris or Rome, and don’t get me wrong I want to go to Paris and Rome as well but Madrid was the place I was always thinking about.

We toured Madrid walking as well, and it was fun being able to see everything but we didn’t really have enough time to stop anywhere, so the guides explained where things were located and how to get to them so we could go on the weekends. They were really sweet and fun.

Madrid is beautiful but that first impression wasn’t the best. It didn’t feel like I thought it would. I took pictures and walked with the group trying to figure out why it didn’t feel like home away from home. The amount of tourists didn’t help either but I kept on walking and snapping away. It turns out, it was just not the right time. I would figure that out, later on…

mad1

mad2

mad3

I believe we came back from Madrid around 9pm and my host mom was waiting for me at the plaza because I don’t know my way home yet. Once we got home, I ate, took a shower, got dressed and met up with students from UCF and other American universities.

We went to a really nice tapas bar, and later on to an Irish pub that was playing bachata and some mix of reggaeton with techno. Jackie and Sydney walked me home after the night was over.

It was the perfect ending to a hectic weekend of cultural immersion. I was sleep deprived and I still couldn’t believe that I was living in Spain…

al13
Jillian, Jackie, me, Sydney (left to right)

Rambles of a first day: getting to Madrid (May 28-29, 2014)

This is probably going to be one of the longest posts I will ever write. If you are planning on going to Alcalá de Henares, hang in there, the first 72 hours are  pretty eventful and full of excitement.

First of all, I’ll let you all know that it is currently 64 degrees outside. I was expecting a warmer weather and I’m guessing that so was everyone else on the program. I don’t think any of us really packed for it, but we’ll figure things out as we go.

I wasn’t really able to sleep that well the night before I left Florida. I was too excited and had this plan in my mind that I would make myself tired so I could sleep on the 8 hr plane ride and be wide awake when I arrived in Madrid at 7am on the following day. Well… that didn’t really work out.

On my way to MCO
On my way to MCO

I got to the Orlando International Airport early in the morning on May 28th, checked my luggage and went through security and on to the gate area with a backpack and a camera bag.

I randomly met Tyler, a guy that is also on the same program as I am, and we talked for a little bit until he had to leave on a flight from Orlando to Charlotte, the stop that we both had to make in order to go to Madrid. However, we were in different flights. He left an hour earlier and so I ate something, walked around, made some calls I had to make before I left and just waited.

The flight was very quick. I was listening to Rozalen all the way there and when I got tired I read the first three or four chapters of “Veronika Decides to Die” in Portuguese.

Plane ride from Orlando to Charlotte
Plane ride from Orlando to Charlotte

When I got to Charlotte, I met with Tyler again and we hung out for a few hours until we had to board the plane that would bring us to Madrid.

On the plane we ended up being on the same section. He was a row in front of me across from where I was sitting and had another student next to him that was going to study in Madrid with another program. I on the other hand, had Amanda.

Amanda and I after many hours of traveling
Amanda and I after many hours of traveling

Amanda is a really nice girl from Texas that is also studying abroad for four weeks. She’s studying in the city of Cadiz with another language school. Out of the eight hours that lasted the flight, I’m pretty sure we spoke for 7 1/2.

Sometimes it’s hard to find people interested in languages and education and traveling and all that, so we hit it off pretty quickly. We had fun on the plane trying to figure out what the movies were about, trying to understand what the crew was attempting to say through the speakers that weren’t really working and enjoying the humor, language and personality of an Andalusian lady that was traveling to Cadiz as well.

Photography by: Amanda Beasly
Photography by: Amanda Beasly

Photography by: Amanda Beasly
Photography by: Amanda Beasly

We had dinner on the plane and it was actually pretty good. They still do the “Chicken or pasta?” that I had not heard in years and they had a really good dessert that I’m still trying to figure out what it was. I’m calling it a “cinnamon oatmeal thingy”.

Later on, we had a snack that was pretty good as well and when we finally landed we stayed in the plane longer than necessary because there was plane traffic. As ridiculous as that sounds, it was true. We stayed on the plane until it was our turn to get off.

Plane food
Plane food

We finally gathered our belongings and walked out of the plane, into the Aeropuerto Adolfo Suarez Madrid- Barajas.

First thing that I noticed right off the plane is that people walk and exercise a lot in this country. The path to get to customs was really long with lots of stairs on the way.The people with large carry on luggage were definitely suffering.

When we finally got to customs we didn’t have to fill any paperwork or anything and the line was very short. There were only four maybe five people before me. The security guard that works at customs asked me a few questions about why I was there and for how long I was staying  and he stamped my passport!

Passport stamp from Madrid, Spain
Passport stamp from Madrid, Spain

After that, we waited for each other outside of customs, we went to get our luggage and I had my first mini heart attack when I thought I had lost my phone, but then I found it in the pocket of my camera bag.

See, for this trip I had only two rules.

1. Do NOT lose your passport. (for obvious reasons)

2. Do NOT lose your phone. (It’s your only way of communicating with everyone back home)

We were trying to figure out where would the other girls arrive at so we could wait for them but that was a little more complicated than expected. We arrived in terminal 1 and flights from Miami arrive in terminal 4, we had to take a shuttle.

Before all of this, we needed Wi-Fi or Wee-Fee (as the Spaniards say). The Barajas airport lets you log into their internet for a period of 15 minutes, so that was the time to update Facebook statuses, send texts through WhatsApp, send Snapchats, send emails and Google where things were at, because we were pretty much completely lost. Fifteen minutes was obviously not enough and afterwards we were all left incommunicated.

Tip:  For all of you that are coming to Madrid at some point, just know that if you have an Ipod, a smartphone, an Ipad and a computer, you get 15 minutes on each device, so at the end you would have an hour of internet.

Amanda ended up joining Tyler and I in the adventure of finding Jackie and Jillian. We hopped in one of the shuttles that drives from terminal to terminal with all of our luggage and arrived at terminal 4.

We are here! Photography by: Tyler Booth
We are here! Photography by: Tyler Booth

Selfie!
Selfie!

Inside an elevator on terminal 4 Amanda found a girl that was from her program and university and she joined us as well. She had already been in Spain for a week or so before the actual program started and was waiting for their professor, as well, to arrive at 10:30am.

On our way to T1
On our way to T1

As we were waiting, I bought a turkey sandwich for 5,50 euros (so you get an idea of prices for food at the airport) which considering how airport food is always expensive no matter where you are and how hungry I was, it was pretty good. It also tasted really good.

Paying for the food was a little impersonal, I believe, but it was still pretty cool. You put your euros into a machine, and the machine gives you your change. However, If you are paying with credit/debit card, you will need to show your passport to the cashier.

Eventually, we got tired of waiting for the girls and we assumed they had already arrived because that’s what the arrival board said. So we went back to take the shuttle, which took us a little while longer to find this time, and we hopped in with all of our luggage again and left for terminal 1.

If you’re going to Barajas, and you’re in terminal 4 and want to go to another terminal, planta cero is where you will get picked up at.

We finally found the girls and the rest of our group right where we were getting picked up by the staff from the Instituto Franklin and we eventually left on a huge bus to Alcala de Henares, the city where we would all live for the next month or so…

Hindu Festival in the Caribbean (JAGANNATHA RATHA YATRA)

I like to think my life is full of pretty random moments. Today, I had one of those…

Monica Hindu

My sister, my sister-in-law and I were strolling down the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan when we walked into a Hindu Festival.

us hindu

Now, Hinduism isn’t a big religion in this island conquered by Spaniards for over 400 years. Needless to say the majority of the population, 85% to be exact, is Roman Catholic. So, to be able to find an exotic gem in this tiny place was beyond amazing.

Apparently, “Ratha Yatra is a hallmark of the Bhakti tradition, and dates back over 2,000 years. It symbolizes one’s spiritual self pulling the Supreme into his or her heart. In essence, reconnecting with the Supreme. The original Ratha Yatra, still celebrated in Puri, India, attracts millions and can be seen from space” (Wikipedia).

The first thing that caught my eye was the traditional Indian clothing. It was incredibly beautiful and full of colorful patterns.

After that, we noticed a line of people waiting by a table to our left to get their faces and hands painted.

Then, we walked two steps forward, and when we looked to our right we found a man greeting us with foreign words and offering each of us a disposable plate. He wanted us to taste Indian cuisine! And so we did 🙂

I think I had chick peas, yellow rice, potato and broccoli curry and Indian pudding, but I’m really not sure. The food was cooked without any salt making it hard for the Puerto Rican palate to adjust, but I really enjoyed it. The blending of the sweetness of the dessert with the rest of the food made the meal more like what my palate is used to… sugary things 😉 Then we enjoyed the music, the singing, the dancing, the performances, the beauty, the sunset…

Singing:

Hindu Festival Music

Dancing:

Performances:

Beauty:

Sunset:

IMG_4185
“Sunset del Mar”. Puerto Rico. 2014. Photography by: Mónica Zoé Cruz Ríos

All photography by me 🙂

❤ (Mónica Zoé Cruz Ríos) ❤

A Puerto Rican in Israel…

My name is Roberto Rodriguez Calderon and I’m 19 years old. I live in Canovanas, Puerto Rico and I’m a third year B.A. student of psychology at the University of Puerto Rico in the town of Carolina. Usually in my free time, if I ever have any, I like to write, read subjects of astronomy, neuropsychology, philosophy, physics, literature and history, listen to music and sleep.

Robert2

What do you think about traveling?

I believe traveling has to be a vital decision on the life of every human being, especially on young people. If we look at it from a philosophical point of view, its stated that we humans are always trying to understand our surroundings, of course some of that understanding can be done by reading books, but obviously it doesn’t compare to what you experience by actually doing the traveling. It is in that particular experience that you learn from the world and about yourself, at the same time. Traveling helps you grow as a person and brings personal joy, when you realize that you know a lot more about the world you live in.

What do you think is most important, the journey or the destination?

I pretty much believe that the journey is the most important thing. Because, yeah choosing the destination is always a hard choice because they’re a lot of places that one wishes to go, but it would definitely be the journey you do since most of the learning that really counts occurs from the moment  you go out the front door until the moment you come back.

Before this summer, had you traveled anywhere outside the island of Puerto Rico? Did you learn anything?

Yeah, I traveled to the Dominican Republic, the states of Florida and North Carolina. I can’t say I learned much from those places since I was a little kid when I first visited them. But I still have the memories which I usually analyze and I get some bit of information that helps me think about deeper things. For example, I have memories of being with my family in the Dominican Republic and having conversations, even though we all speak Spanish, in which they would laugh about some words that I said. By the time I didn’t know the reason behind their laughter, until I read a book in which I learned that some Spanish words in a country have a different meaning in another country.

It seems that culture is always a key component when traveling. Why did you decide to go to Israel, out of all the countries in the world, during this summer?

That’s simple. I have a cousin that lives there and so I thought it would be a great idea to go visit her, visit the country and actually meet her for the first time. I had no idea about the political history, neither the language but I knew one or two things about their culture.

Did any negative events occurred while you were visiting? and if so, how did those events affect your stay?

More than an event I would referred to it as a social phenomenon which is war. Is funny because I always had this dream of becoming this great soldier, obviously I got rid of that dream once I got into college, but having experienced that phenomenon in which my family and I took on the role of the civilians suffering casualties, helped me recognize that I made the right decision on not joining the army. The war affected in great way the whole stay since we had to keep moving from city to city trying to escape the missiles. It was really hard because it didn’t matter in which city we were, we always had the alarms go on as a sign that there were missiles directed to the city.

When you heard those alarms, what thoughts came to your mind?

The first time I heard the alarms I was reading so I didn’t really assimilate what was happening. But after having the alarms go on from 4 to 8 times per day I started having thoughts on wanting to get back to Puerto Rico. I was scared that the airport was going to get hit by a missile and that the war was going to get out of control.

Having experienced a situation like this one, what would you say to people who want to travel but are worried about safety issues?

Well… I mean we always have to, not be worried, but conscious about everywhere we go. Because bad situations can happen anywhere and it’s just a matter of knowing what to do when things like that happen. But nevertheless you shouldn’t deprive yourself from traveling just because of safety issues, because at the end of the day we never really know what’s going to happen.

Considering this particular voyage, what has been your most memorable ‘out of my comfort zone’ experience?

I have some memorables ‘out of my comfort zone’ experiences from this trip. First, the fact that I was traveling alone and without a cell phone from Puerto Rico to Israel was a bit nerve-racking. Second, since every Friday afternoon we did a religious ceremony call “Shabbat”, through all the afternoon of Friday until Saturday afternoon we couldn’t use any electronic devices.  That was hard because I’m always reading or studying from my laptop. And the last one was changing my eating habits for the period of time I spent there from eating rice, chicken and beans to vegetables, fish, bread and a lot of hummus.

From all the things you experienced when you traveled to Israel, what are the top places or main attractions that you would recommend to other travelers that are wanting to go to Israel as well?

I would tell that someone to go to the dead sea and have a great time floating in it covered in mud. If the person is into old fashion or vintage I would tell them to go to Tel Aviv/Yafo especifically the Yafo part. To those who like to be more active and go out I would recommend to go to Eilat, which is a city packed with a lot of hotels and a lot of people to meet. Jerusalem should be visited because it has a lot of history, plus visiting the wailing wall is a great experience. The beach definitely has to visited and stay there until you experience watching that beautiful sunset that Israel has to offer. The last one I definitely think it should be the Holocaust Museum(Yad Vashem) which is a World Center for Holocaust Research and has much information about the holocaust.

Do you have any travel plans in the immediate future? Or where is the number one place on your list to visit next?

For now I’m planning to visit once again the Dominican Republic to spend some time with my family and actually travel within the country and learn more about their culture, history and famous places. But my number one place to visit I believe is India. India is recognized as a place of much wisdom but at the same time much poverty, so it makes it really interesting for me.

Would you ever go back to Israel?

Yes, I would. Because even though I couldn’t experience much of the country because of the war, I had an amazing experience in those short periods of time that I was doing something else besides escaping. As a result, I ended wanting to see more and experience more and because of that I would love to go back to Israel and spend more time in that amazing place.

Robert1