Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ham It Up

Hello from Spain! I hope this finds all of you well. I thought I would share with you some funny/interesting (or maybe neither) observations I have made...

HAM. Jamón ibérico. It's a big deal here. Apparently, Spain produces the priciest of hams, the crème de la crème. When I was with my host family, we ate ham with almost every meal. You cannot walk down the street without passing a carnicería (butcher's shop) and seeing huge legs of ham hanging in the window. Personally, it isn't the most appetizing image, but, I will take a picture soon to share with you. My dad sent me an article explaining that the holiday season did not see great sales, and there is an abundance of ham and, thus, lower prices. This is why, when my profesora asked us if we like ham and someone said yes, she responded: No! Because if you don't like it, the prices will stay low!

Pedestrians rule the city. Coming from a city where people simply do not walk places, I am very nervous crossing the street-but here people cross and expect cars to stop! I was told by a friend that I have "much respect for cars." Well, it isn't so much that I respect cars, as I do my life! But really I have no reason to be so cautious: drivers really will stop in the middle of a street to let someone cross. Once, an older lady was standing on the sidewalk, waiting to cross, and a car, driving quickly, simply stopped, and allowed her to cross, and then he continued on his way.

I do not want this to sound rude, but there is a degree of racism here. We discussed this in my course on Spanish culture, and my teacher acknowledged it as a fact. She asked us each about our family's heritage; we had people from all over the world. This is the crux of the issue; if you surveyed a group of Spaniards, they would all be (more or less) Spanish. As a whole, there is not much diversity, as there is in the United States.
I particularly notice a sense of condescension towards the Asian people. I witnessed a sad scene: I was walking near campus and noticed two young men sitting on the sidewalk. (I had already marked one as a bit gross when he spit on the ground...) But then I passed two girls from Asia chatting, and heard the young man mimic their accent, and spit, again, in their direction. I turned around, and the girls paused, seemed confused, and kept walking. My hope is that they didn't understand the insult.

In spite of what I just described, the Spanish are a friendly people. I think I described the waiting room at the hospital, and how everyone greeted the other patients. When I walk into my dorm building it is customary to say hello to the person at the desk; or if I pass someone in the hall I usually here some version of hello. Or when people leave a restaurant, they always acknowledge the server or bartender and say goodbye. Twice in one day I was standing, confused, looking at my map and someone stopped and asked if he/she could help me. Now, I haven't met many friendly in the cafeteria when I'm eating by myself, but...that will improve, I'm sure! Hehe. All in time...

Today, the feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas, is the official holiday of the, no school!

The old buildings on campus are just amazing. The Philology department is in an ancient building, and you walk through a huge door and are standing in a courtyard. It is surrounded by offices and classrooms, but the middle is open! So neat and different than what I am used to!

But then again, just about everything here is different than I am used to!


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Keep Calm and Carry On

You may be familiar with this saying. I was not until the day before I left for my trip. Those of you who were around me the last few weeks I was in the States are aware that my nerves were...well, let's just say I was rather apprehensive. (And rightly so, but I know that someday I will look back and laugh at myself...)Therefore, this saying had quite an effect on me and my perspective. And though I still have moments here when I wonder what I was thinking when I signed up for this trip, I remind myself to take it just a little bit at a time.

Keep Calm and Carry On.

I saw it on a journal in Barnes&Noble. I had no idea there was history to it. My sister, Analise, told me about it. I found it quite fascinating and wanted to share it with you.

War with Germany was inevitable for Great Britain in the spring of 1939, and the government, in an effort to quell the natural fears of the citizens, released a number of propaganda posters which reiterated the message from King George VI (hence the crown). He simply wanted to ensure the people that all measures would be taken to defend and protect the country. All that was left for the citizens to do was keep calm and carry on...

This poster was actually never officially released, and the saying therefore didn't circulate until a draft was discovered recently. Quite timely, at least for me.

So, whatever it is in your life that brings you worry or anxiety, just remember, sometimes all you can do is keep calm and carry on.

It has been awhile...

Hello! I am so sorry that I haven't shared stories in awhile...quite a week this has been! But let me see, where to start...

It is cold here! I know that I cannot complain, it isn't any worse than what I am used to, but I am outside walking much more than I ever have, so I cannot escape the cold! While I walked home today there were a few snow flakes falling!

I moved out of the apartment/host family situation on Saturday. (This was planned, not due to any problem). Now I am in a university residence. My room is nice (I am temporarily in a double capacity room by myself, and will move into a single room next week). The building was recently remodeled and has a small gym, library, TV room, game room, laundry room, cafeteria...It is about a 15 minute walk from my buildings on campus. The move was hard, though, because just as I was beginning to adjust to the pattern of the last two weeks all was changed. But, such is life! I am sure in a few weeks this will feel more like home, too. I do not know anyone here, which makes it difficult (I won't lie-I'm not a fan of eating by myself...I've only been to the dining room once!).

My immersion courses ended on Friday, and this week I began classes at the university. I am directly enrolled here, and therefore taking classes in Spanish, with Spanish and other international students. The philology (language) department prefers that international students attend classes that interest them for the first two weeks before creating a concrete schedule.

I have been to a class on Methodology of Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language-I really like this one. I attended one session of Introduction to Spanish Short Story, but the professor spoke unnecessarily (in my opinion) fast, and I was quickly overwhelmed. So, I decided to choose another class and am now taking Hispanic-Arabic Culture (the only problem here is the professor is very soft-spoken, and the room feels like it is 100 degrees, and it is at the time I am ready for lunch...but it is interesting, so far!). I am in an art history class on Iconography. Due to illness, (and my being disorganized) I have only been able to attend one class. The professor doesn't speak very quickly, but she says a lot, and it is hard for me to keep up. I am going to see if there is a text book, or notes at least to help me through. Or, I know of another art class that someone recommended, so I will look into that.

Yes, on my first day I went to the wrong building and sat for a few minutes in a class on Geography of Latin America, instead of Iconography. Oops. So I missed the first class....

Then, on Tuesday, I had my first (preferably my only) experience with the health care system here. My throat had been hurting all weekend, and though my parents like to think I am enjoying the nightlife too much, I thought I had strep throat. So I (well, my insurance company) located a clinic for me to go to, which happened to be just across the street from my residence! I went in and saw a doctor; this clinic is comparable to an urgent care center in the states, but was part of the hospital, and may have been its emergency room, as well. As I was in the waiting room, whenever someone would enter or leave, he or she would greet the other people waiting. Interesting! I was diagnosed with acute tonsillitis, but I'm on the same antibiotic I take for strep, which I get at least once a year. In any event, I missed Iconography, again...but I did go to my other two classes that day, and both classes today!

If my schedule remains as it is now, I will only have classes on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays! Yay for long weekends...European excursions to come! I have yet to connect with the head of the English department, though, under whom I will be working, so that will change my schedule a bit.

I have many other little things to share with you, but I will save them for another post!

I hope you all have a lovely day.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Little Things


Well, I have almost finished my immersion courses-I cannot believe I have been here nearly two weeks! Nor has it quite set in that I will be living here for months!

Today in class we discussed different customs in Spain, and in particular in Salamanca. It was quite an interesting discussion, comparing Spanish traditions to ours in the states.

My favorite is the midday break, commonly referred to as the "siesta." I learned that this word has two different meanings, but is usually applied to a short nap (15-45 minutes) after eating, and is intended for the children. However, the term is also applied in general to the habit of returning home to eat lunch. In larger cities in Spain this isn't widely practiced. I pass families walking home to eat everyday (my favorite is a grandfather and two young, boisterous, granddaughters). My "profesora" told us that this part of the day isn't just about eating lunch, but also spending time with family. If you eat a sandwich in the car, for instance, it really isn't considered a meal. I like this tradition (and I won't lie, I like my siesta, too!). It encourages a greater respect for family life, and refocuses energy...There are two different schedules for stores and businesses here. The hours might be all day 8:00-5:00, or broken up, with a break around the siesta. The places I pass on my walk home are usually closed, but this isn't because they have to follow the siesta pattern.

Let's see what else...

It is "mal educado" or rude to have bare feet in the house...I prefer bare feet to anything the day Tina (my host "mom") pointed to my feet and said something about slippers, she wasn't just curious, she was wondering why I was wearing only socks! Oops!

It is rude to stretch in front of people. Even if you are with your family, it is expected that you go to another room, stretch, and then return...

Here you do not tip servers, unless the service was exceptional.

A bar or restaurant with a lot of trash on the floor indicates the food is good!

Physical contact is quite natural; personal space doesn't really exist!

It makes sense, then, that a common greeting (even when meeting a person for the first time!) is "dos besos" or a kiss on each cheek.

Wine and beer are not considered alcoholic beverages.

Apparently (I didn't quite follow the reasoning) when it is 2:00 in the afternoon, according to the sun it is really 12:00, and when it is 9:00pm it is really 7:00. Therefore, the Spaniards eat at the "correct" or natural time, and the rest of the world eats early...

I am sure I will learn more as the days continue!

I miss you all, and remember, I will happily be your Spanish tour guide when you visit!


P.S. I learned my address today, let me know if you would like it!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Holy Toledo!

I learned (thanks to Dad) that the phrase originated in Toledo, Spain. And so fitting! What a city it is! Tucked away in the mountains, it is a small, quiet "pueblo" full of history, architecture, art, literature, and lovely people. Toledo is about 4 hours from Salamanca, two hours south of Madrid, and I went with a group from the university. We were able to see many amazing sights.

If you read through my (slightly boring) history lesson, I'll tell you about my adventure!

Toledo was home to the painter El Greco, and la Iglesia de santo Tomé holds the most famous of his paintings: El entierro del conde de Orgaz (The Burial of the Count of Orgaz). What an amazing piece of art; it is a beautiful representation of Christian theology. The painting is divided into two parts. On the ground is a group of people mourning the loss of the Count. Included in this part are two of his favorite saints (Saint Augustine is one, I cannot remember the other...) El Greco painted his own son in the foreground, and he is the only one who is looking at the audience, but his hand is pointing upwards. As the priest is holding the Count's lifeless body, an angel is carrying his soul to heaven, where Jesus, the holy family, other angels and saints, including Saint Peter, are waiting. A beautiful reminder that we are created for heaven! This small chapel is no longer used for mass, but simply to display this piece of art.

Don Quixote made a stop in Toledo during his journey, and there is a tribute to Cervantes...

Spain has such a rich history, and Toledo is a good example of the transition between different religions. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are all represented, often in the same buildings, and when one religion "conquered" another, the buildings were recycled, in a way. We went in a synagogue that also held remnants of Islam and Christianity; it also holds artwork which expresses the hope for peace between religions.

There aren't words to describe the Cathedral...I was in complete awe. Toledo holds the oldest cathedral in Spain, though the building has been reconstructed, and reconsecrated, many times. Even during the Muslim occupation of Toledo, the bishop was able to maintain his seat, for a time. Mudejar is a word which describes the Moors who remained in Spain after the Catholic monarchs reconquered the land. This group thus reflects the combination of two cultures, and often refers to the architectural style.Islam influence was added to the building, and though the current building was constructed in the 1200s, there are a few remnants of the Muslim occupation. The current cathedral building is now considered the pinnacle of the Gothic architecture in Spain. But as I was saying, the inside (where, unfortunately, photography is prohibited) is unbelievable. Not to mention, immense! I don't know how to begin to describe this building. The Blessed Mother appeared on the ground where the Cathedral is, and there is a piece of the stone on which she stood. Remarkable. I wish I could better explain to you what I saw....I guess you will have to come to Spain yourselves!

We were free to eat lunch on our own, and I dined with a few other students at a local bar/cafe/restaurant. I ordered a "house meal" and had the choice of an appetizer, entree, dessert, and drink. My drink choices? Water, beer, or wine. No joke. I learned in one of my classes that the reason the drinking age is lower in Spain is because beer and wine are not considered alcoholic beverages, but rather part of the meal. (In case you are wondering, I had water to drink, since it was only 2:00...) In true Spanish form, we arrived at our meeting place 5 minutes past the designated time, and our tour group had left without us! We went in what we hoped was the right direction, but ended up walking in a circle, without finding the group. We decided our best bet was to meet at the bus at 5:00, which was the time we were supposed to leave. We had a map of the city, and were told if we walked toward the river, through the city, we couldn't miss the buses. So, Maria (a bubbly Norwegian), Chris (an aloof Wisconsin boy, quite taken with Maria) and I set out for the river, on the opposite side of the city. We wandered through very narrow streets (so narrow, that when cars approached we had to stand in doorways so we wouldn't be hit!). Such a lovely, romantic town! Finally, we found the river and slowly made our way toward Puente de San Martin (an ancient bridge which we needed to cross). We were taking our time, stopping to talk to locals and take pictures. At 4:45 we were talking with two older women in extravagant fur coats, and mentioned that we needed to find the bridge. They casually told us it was quite a distance away, and we asked if we would make it there by 5:00. "Certainly not" was their response. I told them that not making it was not an option. They told us to run.

So, we took off running...uphill. Obviously, we wanted to follow the river. But at the top of a hill we reached some sort of private driveway. We were not sure what to do or where to go next (those of you who know me well can understand that I was panicking...think: itchy scalp). Around the corner came a car, so we waved them down, breathlessly explained our situation, and (with their permission) climbed in the back seat of their SUV. Sitting in empty carseats, we told them where to go (though we weren't sure, and they were not from Toledo, nor familiar with the bridge). As we were heading in what we supposed was the right direction, we passed our group!

They had just finished a tour of a Jewish museum, and were waiting for the guide. Much to our chagrin, the group wasn't quite as alarmed, or aware, that we had missed the entire afternoon. In fact, as I talked to my seat mate, he hadn't even realized we were missing! Though I wasn't laughing at the time, (I wasn't too keen on figuring out how to make a 4 hour trip back to Salamanca), our adventure makes for quite a story! And the pictures I was able to take, and quite places I saw, and the people I talked to are worth the stress...

I hope I did not bore you with the history! And I am sorry for such a long post! I have put pictures from the trip on Picasa, take a look!


Sunday, January 17, 2010


Here is the address for my Picasa account:

I just added a selection of pictures of the city!

My First Week

Honestly, during my exhausting journey here, there were moments I doubted I would make it to Spain...but here I am! My first week is over; it is hard to believe! There are times I laugh out loud when I consider what I am doing-living in Spain, studying at one of the oldest European universities, spending time in buildings Christopher Columbus visited, praying in churches where kings and queens worshiped, or crossing a bridge built by the Romans near the time of Christ! Really, it is rather unbelievable, isn't it?

In case some of you are not aware, let me fill you in: I am spending this semester in Salamanca, Spain. The city is about 2.5 hours northwest of Madrid and boasts the oldest Spanish university. I arrived late on Saturday, January 9 and will be here until the end of June!

I am taking part in an immersion program for two weeks before classes begin for the semester. I am staying with a host family until the semester starts. For now, my days begin around 7:45, when I pull myself out of bed to get dressed and ready for the day. My "mother" (Augustina) has coffee (con leche-with milk) ready for me each morning at 8:00. I leave the apartment around 8:35; the walk to the university takes about 20 minutes. I have five hours of class each day, which end around 2:15. I walk home for lunch and siesta at 2:30. I usually spend the afternoons resting or walking around the city. I love to wander, taking new streets, not knowing what I will find. Sometimes, I get a little confused or lost, but I generally have a sense of the direction I should take and I end up finding something I recognize. I've wandered into many beautiful old churches, which are always comforting. Dinner is at 9:30; the different schedule is difficult for me to become accustomed to, but I do enjoy the siesta!

My host family does not speak English, and therefore communication is challenging. I get frustrated when I am unable to express myself easily, and I have to remind myself of the reason I am here-to learn to speak well! There is another tenant who is a student from Spain and he is usually able to understand what I am trying to convey in my broken Spanish. He has been very helpful. My language proficiency is improving, though slowly. I am very nervous about my semester classes, but my motto for this trip is: Be calm, carry on. And that is what I intend to do.

I will move into the dormitory on Saturday and will live there for the semester. I have a wonderful opportunity to serve as a teaching assistant in the English department here. I do not yet know what that will require, exactly, but I am expecting a rewarding experience! I am planning on taking three classes at the university: Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language, Introduction to Spanish Short Story, and Iconography. I am also taking a class online through my home institution, Bellarmine University.

Well, hopefully I have brought you up to date on my experiences. I am working on creating a Picassa account to share my pictures, and I will post that information as soon as possible.

Mucho amor,