Monday, January 30, 2012

Post 4

A picture of the river next to the
university after a day of classes
Nothing too exciting happened this week, but it was a good week nonetheless!  Syllabus week (the first week of classes) is now over and I have homework every night.  I am reading books in Spanish for two different classes right now.  While the books are not overly difficult, I must say that I miss being able to read books of my choice on my Kindle in english, or as some students in my program have begun to say, American.  Oh well...this just serves as extra motivation to finish the required books ASAP!

On Wednesday, I went to the Museo de Bellas Artes, a fine arts museum located in the heart of Bilbao.  The museum does not charge admission on Wednesdays, so I toured the museum for free.  The museum made up for all of the disappointment I felt after going through the Guggenheim.  There were beautiful paintings of all different styles throughout the entire museum.  Like the Guggenheim, there were a couple of pieces that really made me question how the artists ever gained any respect or even received the privilege of being called an artist.  If the whole being a Spanish teacher thing doesn't work out maybe I'll just take a square shaped black sheet made of silk and hang it on the wall and call it art too.  This piece already existed in the museum so I might have to do it in a different color just to be original.  The amazing part about the silk sheet art piece is that the ends were fringed and not in what I would deem to be an artsy way either.
El Museo de Bellas Artes

Spain is changing me and not for the better in terms of my bank account.  In the U.S., I absolutely positively do not like shopping.  Shopping is something that I know I need to and should do but will not do until my loving mother tells me that I have to.  I also normally shop only with my mom.  Spain has transformed me into someone else.  I find myself shopping several times each week here.  Needless to say, my wardrobe might look a little different when I return to the U.S.

To counteract all of the clothes shopping I have done I went on a little airfare shopping spree last Thursday and Friday.  Unfortunately, this does not translate into me saving money.  At least I will be seeing parts of the world that I might never have the opportunity to return to again.  Plus, I'm young.  Aren't I supposed to be doing things like this?

A bridge that I saw on my walk in Bilbao
I went on a walk yesterday because I needed some time to myself to just relax.  I explored my neighborhood which was long overdue.  I still can't believe how beautiful it is here.  I know the locals must think I'm crazy for taking so many pictures here.  I was told before I left the U.S. that I should attempt to blend in as much as possible and not look like a tourist.  This probably means keeping picture taking to a minimum.  Be honest though.  I have light skin, light hair, and hazel eyes.  I'm not fooling anyone into thinking that I'm a Spaniard.  I do find it amusing though when people realize that I can actually speak and understand Spanish.  Instead of being able to make fun of me for being American, they are usually the ones that end up blushing.  I like to think of it as instant karma.

I'm still getting used to some aspects of the culture here.  Staring is done quite frequently and for rather long amounts of time.  Even when you catch people staring at you, they do not seem to feel any need to stop.  They might even start whistling at you.

Until next time... ¡Adios!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Post 3: A Festival and a Little Culture Shock

Guggenheim Museum
I've survived a week of classes and am adapting more and more each day to the Spanish culture.  My schedule has a lot of breaks between classes.  I have breaks of up to 6 hours!  Instead of just going back to   my host mom, I travel the streets of Bilbao and all the city has to offer.  During these expeditions, lunch usually consists of bread or a pastry from one of the many bakeries that seem to be on every street in Spain.  The tummy ache in my stomach is not so subtly letting me know that I might want to reconsider my lunch choice.  Next week, I will explore the fruit markets and hopefully find them to be just as appetizing.

Last Friday, I went to the Guggenheim with my classmates.  I don't think any of the students who went would disagree with my opinion that the museum is much more impressive on the outside than on the inside.  While I'm happy I went, I would have felt disappointed if I had paid for it.  Luckily, I did not because I went with my university.  

La Tamborrada
After the museum, I made the spontaneous decision to just pick up and go on a bus to San Sebastian for La Tamborrada, a festival that consists of drum playing for 24 hours straight.  After getting over the initial shock of seeing all of the Spaniards drinking from bottles of wine while walking through the streets, we joined in on the fun.  Despite the rain that we endured for the entire day, we all had a great time.  I sat next to Spaniards both ways on the bus and therefore got a little extra Spanish practice.  The girl I sat next to on the way to San Sebastian was awesome, but the guy I sat next to on the way home was not my favorite.  He was 37 and kept on wanting me to meet him at his apartment or go to coffee with him.  He also did some other not so normal things that  put me on high alert.  I'm not looking to reenact the movie "Taken," despite promises from my friends in Champaign that they would come and rescue me.

My friend and I at the beach
On Sunday, I checked out another Bilbao beach with some friends.  Despite the overcast and chilly weather, it was a truly awesome day.  My friend and I took off our shoes and ran through the waves.  We looked like silly Americans, but it felt so liberating to run through the cool water while smelling the salt of the ocean.  After leaving the ocean soaking wet from the knees down, we grabbed a little snack and spent the rest of the day walking and enjoying each other's company.

I went to an informative event for international students today at my university here (la Universidad de Deusto).  After a presentation about the university's resources, we headed out into the courtyard for lunch.  There were different types of finger food to eat, but I was a little shocked by our drink options.  Our beverage choices were: white wine, red wine, and beer.  Please keep in mind that I had classes right after this event.  Needless to say, classes were very entertaining.

¡Hasta luego!  

Monday, January 16, 2012

Post 2: First Week in Bilbao

Unfortunately, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not a big deal here in Spain and I therefore started school today.  Fortunately, the three classes that I went to today seem really interesting and not at all overwhelming (...yet).  I still have one more class to check out tomorrow.  My classes this semester are: Basque Culture and Language (Bilbao is in the Basque Country of Spain and has its own unique culture and history), Hispanic Linguistics, Analysis of Hispanic Literature, and Spanish Theater and Literature.  All of the professors seem really good, but the professor that I have for both Analysis of Hispanic Literature and Spanish Theater and Literature seems absolutely amazing and seems to be the type of teacher that I aspire to become.

Child's poster in Balmaseda
Before classes started I went on a few adventures throughout the Basque Country.  Last Thursday, the university guided us through a tour of a very small portion of Bilbao and the next day we toured through Balmaseda and Portugalete.  We started off the day in the cute town of Balmaseda, which felt like time traveling hundreds of years back in time.  The architecture and the cobblestone streets were absolutely breathtaking.  The town has a lot of charm as demonstrated by the missing doll poster (shown to the right) that was posted by one of the children of Balmaseda.  The doll has been missing since July...I admire the child's dedication to his/her little friend.  We finished off the day by riding across the Puente de Vizcaya in Portugalete, a passenger carrier that works like a ferry.  Instead of floating, it hangs down off of wires and slides across.  Both people and cars travel on it.

Puente de Vizcaya
With friends from my program, I experienced some of the nightlife that Bilbao has to offer.  We felt right at home the first night when the bar started playing "Sweet Home Chicago."  They play A LOT of American music here, but have absolutely no idea what the lyrics mean.  The next night we met up with the entire group of Americans studying in Bilbao this semester and watched what the Spaniards call the "Super Bowl Playoffs."  It's probably a good thing that we went on Saturday night instead of Sunday because I would not have been very pleasant to be around during the Packers game and most of the people had never met me before that night.  We learned that night that Spanish men truly are very touchy.

One of the beaches in Bilbao
The next day, I planned to go to the beach in Bilbao.  After a little metro confusion, I finally met up with my friends Jack and Maggie.  The beach is absolutely beautiful and has a lot of activity around it. We saw a lot of families simply spending time together and having a good time.  I loved people watching, but it did make me miss my family.  My day was brightened though when I was asked for directions on two separate occasions.  The first person who asked me seemed surprised when I said I'm not from the area (or the continent actually, but sometimes it's just better not to admit that).  I was actually able to give directions to the second set of people who asked, which probably impressed me more than anyone.

I'm starting to feel more and more comfortable here everyday.  Last Saturday, I was crossing through the crosswalk when the walk sign came on.  A car started flying down the street towards my friend and I despite the fact that we were supposed to walk and the car was rushing towards a red light.  The driver started honking like crazy.  I was a little freaked out, but that changed immediately when I saw a Spaniard man run towards the car and curse the driver out for driving wildly towards us.  It made me feel almost welcome in this country.

Until next time... ¡Adios!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Post 1: The Journey to Bilbao

I've completed the longest distanced journey in my life and am now in Bilbao, Spain!  The trip has been very interesting so far, starting off with my flights.  Maggie (my travel buddy to Spain) and I made the long flight from Chicaaaago to Paris feel quick by talking, watching Moneyball (the in-flight movie), and napping.

Arriving into the Paris airport was a little bit of a pain in the arse; however, I did see the most beautiful sunrise as we were landing.  We had to go through a bunch of customs lines and then take a bus and then watch a screen for our departure gate to Bilbao to show up.  Some genius there thought it would be a good idea to only post the gate 20 minutes before boarding time.  Also, Paris smelled a little funky and not in a good way, but many people say the same thing about Chicago so I will definitely make a trip to Paris during my European adventure.  While in the Paris airport we did some solid people watching for a few hours.  People in Europe definitely do not dress like Americans.  While in most cases this is a good thing because it means that people do not wear sweat pants or t-shirts (and I mean NO ONE wears them), some people wore some of the weirdest pieces of clothing that I have ever seen!  I think the all pink velour outfit worn by anyone (let alone a man in this case) is a definite fashion no no.  I also saw some of the weirdest denim washes that I have ever laid my eyes on.

Upon arriving into Bilbao, I immediately started falling in love with my surroundings.  Through the planes windows I saw a beautiful body of water, mountains, and plenty of green.  When Maggie and I exited the plane we had to walk down steps into the arms of mother nature.  There was a pleasant aroma in the air, a beautiful and cloudless sky, and a temperature that felt just right.  I picked up my luggage, which was already waiting for me at baggage claim and met my host mom, Ana.

Ana immediately started speaking to me in exclusively Spanish.  I was slightly (actually completely) freaked out until we finished lunch right outside of my Spanish home and I realized that I can speak Spanish.  This realization has been pretty useful so far.  I have no idea what I ate, but I can tell you that it was delicious.  The bread was also very pleasing to my taste.  After lunch, I got a tour of the Ana's apartment.  My room has walls just like my sister Casey's at home which is kind of nice because it reminds me of her.  I have more closet and drawer space than I know what to do with.  Also, as much as I hate to say it, my Mom was wrong; the shower had really good water pressure, almost too good and slightly painful for face washing.

Ana and I chatted the rest of the afternoon and evening while watching some Spanish TV (I think TV is definitely one of those things that America just does better).  For dinner she made me a unique but tasty variation of pork.  She served it with nice bread, an apple (I think this is because I told her I like to have fruit or vegetables with dinner), and a mini pizza.  It was all good, but I took only a small bite of the pizza (I'm from Chicago...I have pizza standards and this pizza was not meeting them).  Plus, I'm lactose intolerant and therefore avoid cheese as much as possible.  

After all of these travels, I felt more than ready to go to bed but forced myself to stay awake until a normal hour to go to bed so that my body starts to get used to the 7 hour time difference between Bilbao and Chicago.  I was sad to have missed my sister's 17th birthday, but am excited to start my new journey in Europe.

I hope this post isn't too overwhelmingly long!  I apparently had a lot to say!