It was finally here. The first day of classes had arrived and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I was in Spain and even though all I wanted to do was explore the entire country, I was excited to experience school abroad. Naturally, I got lost and eventually found the classroom. Everything seems so silly now that I think about it, because the buildings are actually pretty small. But because everything was new, it seemed like a huge labyrinth at the time.
I woke up earlier than I should’ve, because that first day of classes you’re excited and your body suddenly becomes an alarm clock, after not being able to even hear an alarm for the first five months of the year. I arrived early to find my class and walked around the buildings taking it all in. I was studying in Spain. It was a big deal.
My first class of the day was called, “Obras Maestras de la Literatura Espanola a Traves del Cine” which roughly translates to “Masterworks of Spanish Literature through Film”. It was from 9:00am to 11:30am and we were to discuss the syllabus and medieval literature on the first week.
As the classroom, full of mostly girls, was enchanted by the captivating accent and attractiveness of the Spanish professor, we all received breaking news early that morning. Our professor pulled up the Spanish newspaper and the headlines were the same in the English and French papers as well. Everyone was taken by surprise and we were there experiencing a historical event:
The King of Spain had abdicated!
In 1969 Franco chooses Prince Juan Carlos to be the next head of state expecting him to continue the authoritarian regime. Juan Carlos becomes King two days after Franco’s death on November 22 of 1975 and his father abdicates in favor of his son in 1977. Soon after enthronement, Juan Carlos introduced reforms to dismantle the Francoist regime and begin the Spanish transition to democracy.
During the break between classes I could hear faculty members and students discussing the topic. People were reading the newspapers or switching between channels to encounter the same news in every one of them.
My second class was called “Spain and the European Union” and naturally we discussed the breaking news of the day. I learned a lot that day about the monarchy. The King doesn’t really have any political power anymore, however he does have complete immunity, which I found was insane.
I went home after class to eat lunch with my host family and discussed what everyone else was discussing as well. We watched the news on T.V. while eating paella and I learned about the different views that Spaniards have about the monarchy. While the older generations that have been through the Franco regime in one way or the other, believe in the importance of the monarchy and see it as a fundamental part of Spanish culture, the younger generation believes in change and mostly do not believe in the purpose of having a monarchy anymore. The younger generation want to have a say in the future of their country.
The next week or so would be full of conversations about the King and the future of Spain…
Besides uploading pictures on Facebook and writing in my old blog, a few students from UCF and other schools decided to go on an adventure to Madrid. We were going to El Rastro.
On our way to the train station we found an event at the Plaza de Cervantes and stayed for a little bit to enjoy it. There seems to be something every day in this town. I love it!
About El Rastro:
El Rastro might be the biggest open aired flee market in all Europe. It seems like it’s a Spanish tradition because it takes place every Sunday morning in Madrid. However, El Rastro is not just a market, it’s a journey of delicious tapas and beer through the neighborhood of La Latina. There is music in every bar, people performing on the streets, galleries and bookstores and people everywhere. It is incredibly crowded. You can barely walk but it’s an experience that you should not miss. Join the Spaniards for delicious food and feel like a local. This is the time to use those Spanish skills you have acquired throughout the years.
El Rastro is also an international spot especially during the summer days. You will see people from all over the world buying all sorts of things. You will see backpackers and hippies. You will see gypsies and men in suits. You will see girls in bathing suits and children running around. You will see a lot that might not make sense but just breath it all in. These are the Spanish ways.
I personally loved El Rastro. There were so many beautiful things and if I had the space in my suitcase or the money I would have bought a lot. There were so many books for 1-5 euros and I had to stop myself every time, because books are heavy and again, no space in my suitcase… Regardless, it was an amazing experience and I would recommend it to everyone visiting Madrid.
After we came back from Madrid, I went home and watched T.V. with my host family and I still can’t handle the Spanish accent on the American shows. I laughed for hours watching law and order. Also, there is a really funny Spanish show called “La que se avecina” which is kind of like the Spanish show “Aida”. It was a great way to end the weekend before starting classes the next day.
Law and order:
-“Pero… ¿Qué ha pasado?”
-” El tio se ha tirado por la ventana”
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.