Something that is sometimes forgotten in the hype of studying abroad is that you have to well, study.
Just like at University Park, you still have to go to classes when you’re abroad, do homework, study and take tests.
But there are a few differences. First of all, if you go to a country that speaks a language other than English and you speak that language, chances are you’ll be taking classes that aren’t taught in English.
For me, all of my classes this semester are in Spanish. Some of them, such as my literature, theatre and grammar classes, aren’t really a big change, since, as a double major in print journalism and Spanish, I have taken classes in Spanish about these subjects before.
But for some of my other two classes — Islamic Art and Architecture and Flamenco: History and Performance — it’s a big adjustment. Sometimes it is difficult, but I like to see it as a challenge.
Some days, when you are taking a class in another language, you struggle, but once you start to understand everything, you will feel a huge sense of accomplishment afterward.
If you are considering studying abroad and have a solid base in another language, I would highly suggest attending a program where classes are taught in that language.
Another difference between classes abroad and classes at University Park is that most of the classes are about the culture and the area around you.
For example, the other week, I learned about the mosque-turned-cathedral that’s located in Cordoba in my Islamic Art and Architecture class. At the end of the week, we took a trip to Cordoba to see the mosque.
I am also taking a class about Frederico García Lorca, the famous Andalucían poet. So far this semester, we have visited the place where he was killed in the Spanish civil war and his summer home where he wrote many of his poems. Later, we are going to see the neighborhood he grew up in.
It is really interesting to be learning about things that are so important to the city in which I am living. It’s much easier to understand and grasp the concepts when you’re living the cultures you are learning about in class.
This past weekend was Granada’s famous “Fiesta de la Primavera” — a party that is, in some ways, comparable to Penn State’s State Patty’s Day.
Locals and visitors from near and far make their way to the “botellódromo,” the only area where it is legal to drink outside in Granada, to celebrate the start of spring. This year, the party was celebrated a few days before the actual first day of the new season.
Just like State Patty’s Day, some locals work to combat it while many of the young people look forward to the giant party in the street.
This year, the local papers are estimating about 20,000 people attended the fiesta, which is about the same size crowd as the event has drawn in recent years.
According to Ideal, (www.ideal.es) a local newspaper, this year the police were cracking down on underage drinking and trying different methods to prevent it during the party. The drinking age in Spain is 18.
The paper also reported that the police said the event went well and was calmer this year than other years. They reported that there were no major incidents.
I made my way down to the fiesta after lunch on Friday to check it out.
Everyone was there to have a good time and drinking (it is a drinking holiday, after all). People were standing everywhere with their groups of friends, making drinks and enjoying the sun.
Many people were singing or laughing with their friends and were dressed in festive outfits — some people even had matching shirts that seemed to be made for the event. People flooded the area, making it almost impossible to move once you were in one spot and blocking traffic for a part of the day.
I definitely noticed a larger police presence on Friday around Granada, especially near the botellódromo, than on a typical day.
Spain’s drinking culture is very different than America’s. Here, people drink to enjoy it and for the social aspect instead of with having their only goal be getting drunk, which is more popular at American universities.
Now, at the Fiesta de la Primavera, this was completely different. When I walked by it at night, there seemed to be many people who were intoxicated and there were bottles on the ground and trash everywhere.
Some adults think it’s embarrassing for the town and others are bothered by the noise or the trash the party leaves behind throughout the city. Most of the partygoers think it’s just a good time.
It is interesting to me how many aspects of these two drinking holidays in different countries — the Fiesta de la Primavera in Granada and State Patty’s Day at Penn State — share many of the same aspects and similar efforts to keep it under control.
Two friends and I were about 15 minutes into a bus ride from Granada to Malaga to fly to the Canary Islands when all of the sudden it stopped. The bus driver turned around and said something very loud and fast in Spanish.
Then chaos ensued. Almost every passenger on the bus started yelling at the bus driver. We were confused at first, but after asking the couple behind us what was going on, we learned that the bus was not going to continue -- instead, it was going to turn around.
Because of the snow, which is not common in Granada, the roads were closed to get to Malaga. The bus was trying to go a different route that was open but would take some more time, but the driver decided the bus couldn’t make it up the hill it was required to climb in order to take those roads.
So, the bus turned around and headed back toward the station. We each had a slight moment of internal panic, but then all three of us went into planning mode.
We were an hour-and-a-half away from the airport in good weather conditions, but with the snow, we were unsure how long it would take to arrive at the airport.
This is when our Spainsh was put to good use. We began asking the people sitting around us how we could get to the airport. The two options seemed to be taking the train or a taxi.
The bus we were on luckily had wifi, so we checked the train schedule. We couldn’t find anything that went directly from Granada to Malaga, so we figured we would have to take a taxi.
We were told that it would cost about 200 euros to do it. Luckily, there was a Spanish woman who was also headed to the airport who was helping us and would go with us as well. We decided that since it was getting later and we had to catch a 1:30 p.m. flight, we needed to forget about waiting for the bus to leave and call a cab.
Finally, we started heading to the airport and made it there with two-and-a-half hours to spare, allowing us to catch our flight and have a relaxing weekend on the beach.
Although this situation was not ideal, all three of us learned some travel lessons:
1) When planning travel, make sure you give yourself enough time in case something unexpected happens.
2) Stay calm! By staying calm in the situation, we spent much less time freaking out and more time figuring out how to get to the airport. Also, when you are calm, people are more willing to help you.
3) Bring extra cash. You never know when you are going to need it.
4) If you are in another country, it helps to learn the language. Even if you don’t know a lot, learning a few words could help you in some type of emergency situation.
If you can stay calm and give yourself extra time to get where you want to go, there is a much higher chance of everything working out in the end.
1) It’s a beautiful, old city with lots of history.
Granada is home to the famous Alhambra palace, which sits on a hill high above the city. The forest behind the Alhambra is beautiful as well. The streets in the old neighborhoods are really interesting and most of the houses are painted white. It’s a very clean city with many beautiful things to see such as parks, old buildings and cool statues.
2) Free tapas
I’ll say it again. Free tapas. Granada is famous for this. When someone orders a drink at a restaurant or tapas bar for 2 euros, they are given a complimentary plate of food. Tapas can be any size – some places even give tapas that are enough to be a whole meal. Granada is great if you are on a budget.
3) It’s like Penn State. Granada is a college town. About 70,000 students attend the university, which leads to students taking over the town. It’s a little different from State College, since the city is much bigger so not everyone has a connection to the university. But, in my opinion, it’s the closest you can get to Penn State. The bar scene and discotecas (clubs) are filled with college-aged students. If you are looking to study abroad somewhere similar to State College, Granada is your place.
4) It’s easy for Granada to feel like home
Granada itself is a small city – one that after only a week you will know very well. It’s size is small enough to walk everywhere, but big enough that you can find something new everyday.
5) Lots of Spanish
Unlike some other places in Spain, you will always speak Spanish here in Granada. Up north in Barcelona, the mostly speak Catalan, but in Granada, you don’t have to worry about a different dialect. Not everyone speaks English in Granada like you would expect in a big city, so you will find it necessary to speak in Spanish when you are here, especially in restaurants and stores.
6) Sierra Nevada mountains
The proximity of the Sierra Nevada mountains to Granada is another perk of studying abroad in Granada. The mountains are great for skiing or snowboarding. Even if winter sports aren’t your thing, the mountains still have something to offer. Many people enjoy driving up to the Alpujarra, a beautiful area in the mountains with many small towns. I am not an outdoors person, but my three-hour hike last weekend through the Alpujarra was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. If you’re looking for a fun day trip to a beautiful location, the Alpujarra is a great place to go.
7) Close to the beach
Granada is situated only about 1 hour from the southern coast of Spain, allowing for many excursions to the beach during a semester here. There are plenty of pretty beach towns that are just a bus ride away.
8) Different neighborhoods
One of the coolest parts of Granada is that each part of the city is unique. The area that I live in is more city-like, while if you venture into places like the Albayzín, you will encounter an older area with cobblestone streets. The Center of Granada is modern, while in the Sacromonte neighborhood, the gypsies and the hippies live in caves. The city’s diversity makes Granada a fun place to live.
9) Lots of foreigners
The University of Granada is a very popular place for international students. If you’re looking to make friends from around the globe, you will have no problem doing that in Granada.
10) Beautiful views
The 11th floor view of Penn State’s campus from my apartment in State College is nothing compared to the magnificent views you will get from the various lookouts in Granada. Each place has a different view. From some lookouts, you will see the Alhambra, and from others you can see the entire city with the mountains in the background. The views in Granada are outstanding.
Anyone who knows me would most likely be surprised to hear that in the past week or so, I tried octopus and hiked through the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Well, I did. But to me, participating in frequent, adventurous activities isn’t the biggest change in my life here in Granada compared to life at home.
There are so many cultural differences between Granada and Penn State that I have been adjusting to in the past week and a half since I’ve begun my study abroad experience.
For example, everything here is much slower — from walking in the street to eating at a restaurant. The people here don’t seem to have a sense of urgency. This takes some getting used to and a lot of patience.
At home, we always rush past everyone on the way to class and eat as quickly as possible when we go to dinner. We want fast service and quick commutes. But here, people focus more on spending time with others than getting things done at a rapid pace.
Here, taking food to go or ordering out doesn’t really happen. Spaniards seem to prefer to use their meals to spend time with friends and family.
While the change of pace has been a challenge for me, I think this is something that we could use a little bit of in the United States.
On the topic of food, mealtimes are another major cultural difference that I am adjusting to. Here, we eat breakfast in the early morning and some Spaniards have a “second breakfast” around 11 a.m.
Lunchtime takes place at about 2:30 p.m. here. Lunch, the biggest meal of the day, usually consists of at least three courses. For dinner, we usually go out for tapas at about 9:30 p.m.
Granada is known for its cheap tapas. When someone orders a drink at a bar for about 2 euros, it comes with some type of tapas. Depending on the restaurant some are bigger or better than others.
Although different, I’m beginning to take in the way of life here and make it my own. I am looking forward to this way of life being the norm – although I’m not sure if my stomach will ever stop growling at noon everyday in anticipation of lunch.
It’s been only a week and a half since I got to Paris, but it feels like forever ago that I stepped off the plane, delirious after a sleepless night.
The first couple of days were like freshmen orientation of college, but a lot more intense. In addition to a new city, I had to figure out a new language, a new metro system and, most importantly, new customs.
Sure, there are the little rules: it’s okay to drink the tap water and you must dress up for dinners with your host family. But it’s the bigger messages that stick with me the most.
Lesson No. 1: It’s okay to get lost.
As my close friends will tell you, I am incredibly anxious. I take it as a personal failure if I don’t show up for class at least 10 minutes early. If my roommates and I have to be at a party at a certain time, I constantly check the clock on my iPhone while silently urging my friends to hurry up.
Needless to say, getting lost and losing time are not in my vocabulary. I was hoping Paris would solve this problem, and it somewhat has. Most of the time, I have absolutely no idea where I am going, but I’ve realized that it’s part of the fun of being in a new city.
Just a few days ago, a few of my friends and I went out for a walk, aiming to visit the bookstore Shakespeare and Company. We got hopelessly lost, which would have made me panic in the United States. Instead, we stumbled across a huge gay marriage demonstration, “Mariage pour tous,” and got to witness a great moment in French history.
Lesson No. 2: People will know you’re American.
No matter how hard you try, no matter how good of an accent you can fake, French people will know you are American. Countless times I have asked French people for directions in what I thought was perfect French and they will talk back to you in English.
Maybe bringing my Sperry’s and New England style to one of the fashion capitols of the world wasn’t the best idea, but it’s still hard to blend in.
The most important thing is to accept it, and don’t dwell on it. Besides, it’s a good motivator to learn a language better.
Lesson No. 3: Stereotypes are completely false.
Before I left for Paris, everyone warned me that French people were incredibly unfriendly and, at times, outwardly rude toward Americans. I have yet to find that.
I have found it’s important to make the effort to speak in the language of the country you are in. When I speak French correctly, my host family and strangers can’t get enough of it.
For the most part, Americans in France are treated very well. At a café across the street from my school, the owner carries American candies, peanut butter and Fluff because he said he knows how much we miss it.
At the boulangerie — or bakery — across from my friend’s apartment, the baker’s face lights up when we come in, and he usually offers us baguettes for a cheap price. We’ve even been able to carry on long conversations in French with him.
I’m becoming less easily embarrassed and more willing to say difficult phrases in French already. If I learn nothing else, at least I will have accomplished my top goal: speaking the language without fear.
I never really dreamed of traveling. I always thought it would be cool to see the world, but growing up, I wasn’t the type of person to sit around dreaming of taking a glamorous trip to Paris or sipping tea in London.
But the one thing I have always loved since my first class in eighth grade is speaking Spanish, so when my high school offered an immersion program with a high school in Spain, I took the opportunity.
I thought it would be really awesome to learn Spanish and meet a few friends from a foreign city, but what I didn’t realize was that the city I was going to stay in – Granada, Spain – would be a place that would one day become a large part of my future.
When I traveled to Granada in 11th grade, my experience was incredible. I stayed in a home with a Spanish family, which included a girl my age who became a very close friend of mine.
I traveled with about 20 other students from my high school and we did activities tourists typically participate in when traveling in the southern part of Spain, such as visiting the Alhambra, exploring the caves of Nerja and marveling at the famous mosque in Cordoba.
While that trip was exciting and fun, I’m looking forward to learning the city on my own this time. I hope to actually live my life there like a local instead of taking it in from the outside for two weeks.
At first, I was unsure if I wanted to return to Granada since it was a place I had already experienced. I thought that maybe it would be better to find something new, but when I thought about how much I truly enjoyed being there, I knew it was the place where I wanted to have my experience studying abroad.
Before, I got a small taste of life in Granada, and now I am so excited to explore it on my own and truly make the town my home. I’m looking forward to the new experiences that are coming my way, starting today as I take off to begin my life abroad.
The journey I’m taking began when I was 5 years old. After watching Madeline episodes on repeat, I knew I was destined to go to France.
It was more than the urge to meet Miss Clavel and the 12 little girls in two straight lines, however. I knew I had to study there and speak eloquent French while sitting by the bank of the Seine river.
But now it’s a little harder to leave home -- not just State College, but the place where I grew up: Newtown, Conn. And now, almost a month after the elementary school shooting that left my town devastated and confused, the time has come to leave my small town.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared to leave. I think I am one of the few people who still talk about their hometown with wonderment and enthusiasm, but in December that image was shattered. The events of the past month made me realize tragedies like this can happen anywhere – even in my own backyard.
After watching hearse after hearse roll down Main Street and the grief-stricken faces of local families on every national news channel, Paris will be a nice change of scene.
I can’t help but feel an incredible anger over what happened and the amount of people I know whose lives are in disrepair, but I’m hoping Paris will help me heal. In time, I’m hoping Paris can be my home away from home.
But I know I’ll keep with me a part of the town that led to where I’m going. Newtown is where I spoke my first word of French in Madame Maxwell’s hot, cluttered seventh-grade classroom. Newtown is where I was inducted into the French Honors Society, as I rolled my eyes over the cheesiness of the candle-lit ceremony. Newtown is where I hosted my first French exchange student, fumbling over misspoken words and language barriers.
And now I’m doing what I always dreamed, living in an apartment with a Parisian family. I’m situated on the banks of the Seine, a two-minute walk from the Louvre Museum and four metro stops from my French university.
On Wednesday, I’ll travel to the Loire Valley with the 30 other American students in my program. From there, we will be challenged to only speak French in our lives and in the classroom.
But I’m not too worried. Newtown has brought me to Paris, and for that, I’m forever thankful.
It’s been two weeks since Hurricane Sandy left a horrendous path of destruction along the East Coast, but countless families are still reeling from the aftermath — including my own.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss home. I miss Penn State. I miss my friends. I miss good Chinese food. I miss my iPhone. I miss my parents. I miss my dog.
But despite missing these things while studying abroad, nothing prepared me for how I felt when I heard about the damage Sandy left on Long Island — the damage Sandy left on my family.
I didn't long for any of those things anymore; I longed to be home.
I’ve lived on Long Island, in a small town about a half hour outside of New York City, my entire life. My family recently packed up my childhood home and moved about 10 minutes away to a temporary house on the water (my parents only planned on living in this house for one year before moving to a permanent house in another part of Long Island).
For several years, all I have heard my parents talk about was that they wanted to live on the water. When that dream finally became a reality about a month ago, we couldn’t have been happier.
Little did my parents know that that dream would soon be shattered by a ferocious and deadly storm called Sandy.
When I first learned about the hurricane before it hit, I didn’t worry too much. I, along with many people affected, did not expect what Sandy would be. No one could prepare for the damage it left in its path.
The day before the storm was planning to touch down on Long Island, my parents received a mandatory evacuation order from our town’s mayor.
Now things were starting to get serious.
They went down to the local beach and filled sandbags, propping them up against all the doors of my house and the garage, where boxes upon boxes filled with our personal possessions were being stored from after the move.
They left my house and went down the street to a local hotel where they thought they would be staying for a night or two. They would soon find out that they would have to stay there for at least one month.
After Sandy hit, my parents returned to our house to find 39 inches of flood water in the bottom level of my house, where mine and my sister’s rooms were located.
They found furniture toppled over, clothes floating in water; mud and sand caked the walls.
After someone came to the house to assess the damage, my parents were given the bad news.
The entire bottom floor would have to be gutted and it would be a month before they could move back in. All of this happened just three weeks after my parents moved into this house in the first place.
I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for families to learn about the fate of their homes, some severely damaged and some completely destroyed. But, I certainly know how I felt being hundreds of thousands of miles away.
I felt helpless in the sense that I couldn’t drive back home to assist my mom and dad in cleanup efforts; I felt helpless when I couldn’t communicate with my parents since they had no power for weeks; I felt helpless knowing that they didn’t want to upset me by divulging every way that Sandy ruined our home.
And I couldn’t even begin prepare myself for everything they were about to reveal.
Most of the things in my room were destroyed. Hundreds of personal photographs were damaged. My dad’s childhood memories — including yearbooks, fourth grade report cards, art projects from elementary school — that were stored in a box in the garage — gone. Furniture passed down through generations in my family, gone. Important notes and documents, gone.
Despite knowing that I would never see many of my personal belongings again, the biggest shock of all was learning that my house had been looted.
“Looted?!” I shouted at my mom after she told me. “How could we have been looted?! We live in a safe area!”
I had heard about looting happening in other areas, but it never even crossed my mind that it could happen to my little town on Long Island—that it could happen to my family.
I guess that detail upset me the most because it’s hard to accept learning that several people entered my home, taking advantage of a forced evacuation order, and ransacked it.
I am well aware that things could have been a lot worse. I have seen the photographs of the destruction in New Jersey, Queens, New York City and other areas.
I know that I am extremely lucky that my parents are safe and that my house wasn’t in complete ruins, but it still hurts immensely to learn about the severe damage and pain this storm has caused my family. It also doesn’t help matters that I’m currently in another country and not returning home for another month.
The future for many families affected by Hurricane Sandy is going to be dim for a while. It’s going to take time to rebuild and recover from what has been called the biggest and most destructive storm to ever hit the East Coast.
But, if there’s one definitive thing I’ve learned in my life so far, it’s that this country is filled with people who care about helping others and people who are determined that we can and will bounce back after destruction hits home.
During these past few weeks, I may have lost many things that are important to me, but the things that are most significant still remain.
The outpouring of kindness and support from family, friends and strangers that not only I, but other victims of this hurricane have received, gives me hope that everyone will survive and move past this horrible disaster. It's just going to take some time.
When traveling to another country, a form of culture shock is expected upon arrival.
Knowing that I would be living in England, where they speak English, I had brushed off the idea that I would fall victim to culture shock.
Boy, was I wrong.
It’s been one month since I first arrived in the United Kingdom and I am still adjusting to the differences in language and culture in Britain.
One of the very first things we were told upon arrival in the UK was that although they speak English here, Brits and Americans DO NOT speak the same language.
For starters, Brits speak at a much faster pace than Americans. Much faster.
Also, Brits and Americans use different words to mean the same thing.
For example, in England, "take away" means "takeout" or "to-go" when buying food. “Rubbish” means garbage. :Biscuits” mean cookies. “Rubber” means eraser. “Flat” means apartment. “Queue” means line. “Lift” means elevator. “Chips” mean fries. “Crisps” mean chips. Confused? So was I.
They say “hiya,” a more casual form of “hi.” They ask “Are you alright?” and mean “How are you?” They say “cheers,” meaning “thanks” or “goodbye.” And, they love using “bloody” and “brilliant” in conversation.
Besides language, I have noticed several cultural differences between England and America.
1. It’s considered very rude to make eye contact with someone while riding the Tube, or subway.
2. Considering the few garbage cans that are around in the city, London is remarkably clean. I recently learned that the lack of garbage cans on the streets and Tube stations stems from several incidents years ago when the Irish Republican Army used them as bomb drop locations. You really have to search high and low for them when you need to throw something away.
3. Brits really enjoy their tea. I’ve been in London for one month now and have still yet to consume a cup of tea. Attribute it to my stubbornness, but I haven’t been able to give up my one cup of coffee-a-day and swap it for the more appropriate British choice.
4. Brits are extremely polite. At work, if someone wants to make a cup of tea, he or she asks everyone in the office if they would like one as well. It's considered rude if you whip up tea for yourself without offering to make a cup for your coworkers.
5. Pubs are EVERYWHERE. And I mean everywhere. They are not only places to head to during a night out, but they’re also just regular hangout spots during the day for meetings, a quick meal or enjoying a football game.
6. If you run into Starbucks, Pret-a-Manger or any small food place to grab a quick bite to eat, you are often charged more money to sit down and consume your food there than you would be if you asked for it to-go. I still haven’t figured out why that’s the case.
7. Tipping is virtually nonexistent in London. Usually pubs will bill you a small service charge and even if they don’t, you don’t have to feel obligated to leave a tip. This goes for cabs as well.
8. Brits really love their prawns. There is never a lack of prawn sandwiches and prawn chips in supermarkets.
9. Brits don’t refrigerate their eggs or mayonnaise. Call me crazy, but I thought that was rather strange. It took me a good 30 minutes to find eggs in the supermarket during my first week here before someone had to point me to the correct shelf.
But for as many differences there are between these two countries, the dissimilarities are what make living in another country fun and exciting. I may be an American, but I’m starting to learn the London way. And it’s about time.