3 Weeks, 3 Differences

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Screen shot 2015-07-21 at 2.33.32 PMHaving never been out of the country, I had very little idea of what to expect when spending a month in a foreign city where few people speak my native language. In preparation for my study abroad trip, I think I may have braced myself a little too much for the culture shock of Spain, assuming there would be such dramatic differences between Spanish and American cultures. While there are notable differences between the two nations, the more I speak and spend time around native Spaniards, the more I’m convinced that people are not all that different from one another. While our customs and preferences may be different, people are people, no matter where they were born and raised. All that being said, here are 3 cultural differences I’ve observed after 3 weeks in Spain:

1. My Observation of Observing

One interesting cultural difference I’ve observed is the Spanish tendency to stare at others. I love people watching for sure, but like many Americans, I will quickly look away if I’m caught staring at someone. The Spanish do not share this sense of embarrassment; when walking the streets, sitting at a café, or a park, they tend to boldly observe one another. On numerous occasions, I’ve caught someone staring at me, and when I meet their eye, they do not turn away. At first I thought I had something on my face or stood out completely as a tourist, but I’ve come to understand that it’s just a strong sense of curiosity. Stare on, Spain. Stare on.

2. Pace of Life

In Spain, the pace of life is very different from that of the U.S. Unlike a morning commute in Philly, characterized by beeping cars and aggressive SEPTA crowds, the people of Oviedo appear to be in no rush getting from one place to another. During the day, people can be seen slowly strolling the streets, window-shopping, or relaxing on park benches. During the afternoons, not all, but many people head home for a siesta, a short nap or break, and then return to work for a bit in the evenings. When it comes to eating, a meal in Spain can take up to 3 hours, and no one immediately rushes off when given the check. The Spanish have a unique word, “sobremesa,” which refers to conversation that occurs after dinner, and restaurants are in no rush to turn over tables, allowing people to stay as long as they please. This is definitely a refreshing change of pace from the U.S. where productivity and efficiency are often valued over leisure.

Campo de San Francisco, the perfect place to relax in Oviedo

Campo de San Francisco, the perfect place to relax in Oviedo

3. Differences in Provinces  

Before deciding to study abroad in Spain, I admittedly knew very little about the geographic and political makeup of the nation. I later learned that Spain is divided into fifty autonomous provinces, each with their own unique identity. Oviedo, located in the northern province of Asturias, is very different from the extremely warm and sunny southern provinces or the eastern provinces, many of which speak a unique Catalan dialect. Even within a single province, different cities have their own character. On our last excursion we visited the city of Santillana del Mar. Located in the province of Cantabria, the historic town is surrounded by lush fields and houses the Museum of Torture. We then headed to the Asturian region of Llanes, a coastal beach town, before heading home to Oviedo. All of these cities were within a few hours of one another, but they each had distinct identities, architecture, natural landscapes, and customs. Many people who live outside of the U.S. are unaware of the differences in culture and landscape among the 50 states, and I am guilty of not being fully aware of the large differences between the 50 Spanish provinces. Nonetheless, the more I learn about the different regions of the country, the more eager I am to explore them.

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The Church of the Colegiata in Santillana del Mar

A view of the sea in the coastal town of LLanes

A view of the sea in the coastal town of LLanes

First Impressions of Oviedo

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It’s crazy to think I have officially been in Spain for 2 weeks now. Time flies! I spent my first week of Orientation in Madrid, and have spent the last week in the city of Oviedo, located about 5 hours north in the Province of Asturias. After being in each city for 1 week, I’ve noticed some big difference between the two environments.

The Mountains of of Asturias, as seen on the bus-ride from Madrid to Oviedo

The Mountains of Asturias, seen on the bus-ride from Madrid to Oviedo

Size

Madrid is a heavily populated urban area with over 3 million inhabitants, many of whom come from all over the globe. Oviedo, on the other hand, has a little over 200 thousand citizens, many of whom have lived in Asturias for an extended period of time. In fact, my host mom has lived in the city her entire life! Along with a reduced population, the physical size of the city is much smaller. After only a week, I’ve gotten a good idea of the city’s layout and have become familiar with the cities main attractions–the University campus, the Theater, the Calle Gascona, a major street full of restaurants and Sidrerias, and the Cathedral of Oviedo.

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Catedral de Oviedo, the largest Cathedral in the city

In addition, because the city is much smaller, it seems that students studying abroad here get a lot more one-on-one attention. On Wednesday we had the opportunity to tour the Ayuntamiento de Oviedo (City Hall) and got our picture in the paper. Clearly, Temple Spain is doing big things. One week in and already famous!

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Temple Students on the front page of the newspaper in Oviedo

Climate

I thought I was used to the heat, as summers in Philly can get pretty sweltering. Turns out, they have nothing on summers in Madrid. Temperatures started out pretty mild in the mornings, but by late afternoon, temperatures ranged from high 90’s to about 106 throughout the week. In Oviedo, because of the city’s proximity in the North, the weather is much more mild. Comparable to weather in Ireland, most days the temperature averages somewhere in the 70’s. On bright, sunny days, everyone flocks to the nearby beaches in Gijon, but the city also has a fair share of rainy, overcast days. No matter the weather, it is a far cry from the sweltering heat of Madrid.

A sunny morning in Oviedo on my walk to class

A sunny morning in Oviedo on my walk to class

Prevalence of English Speakers

Much like New York City or Los Angeles, Madrid is a culturally diverse city, with inhabitants from all over the globe. While this is a fantastic aspect in terms of access to museums, art exhibits, shopping, and dining, it also means that a large percentage of the population speaks some or fluent English. At times when I would use Spanish to communicate with someone, they could tell I wasn’t a native speaker, and replied in English in order to be courteous to me. This is not the case in Oviedo. My host mom (like the majority of my classmate’s host families) speaks no English. The vast majority of Oviedo’s population, including many store owners, waiters, and pharmacists, speak no English. Therefore, in order to communicate with anyone or make purchases, speaking in Spanish is a necessity. This was definitely intimidating at first, and people can usually tell right away that I’m not a native speaker, but the more I practice, the less daunting it becomes. In a larger city where it’s easy to revert to the language you are more comfortable with, it’s a lot harder to improve your language skills.

Day-to-Day Life

During the orientation week in Madrid, each day had roughly the same structure: We would hop on a bus around 9 AM, travel to our touring destination for the day, return around 2 PM for lunch, and then we were free in the evening to explore on our own. In Oviedo, we still have lots of chances to explore the city, but we also have to factor in time spent taking classes. We take classes each morning until around 2 PM, and afterwards, we are free to spend the remainder of our afternoon and evening however we choose.

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A cloudy day at the Universidad de Oviedo Campus

Popular activities include going to a park, the beach, studying in a café, visiting a restaurant, shopping or taking a siesta. So many options! In addition, on Saturdays, the University hosts all-day excursions to nearby towns. This past Saturday, one of the towns we visited was Ribadesella, a picturesque beach-town on Spain’s northern coast. There is definitely a nice balance between time spent learning in the classroom and time spent outside the classroom in order to take advantage of all that Oviedo has to offer.

Playa de Santa Marina, located in the northern coastal town of Ribadesella

Playa de Santa Marina, located in the northern coastal town of Ribadesella

Another big change between Madrid and Oviedo is the living situation, which went from shared hotel rooms to homestays. It is definitely an adjustment living in another person’s home and communicating only in Spanish, but even after one week, I have felt that my Spanish improving due to the constant need to practice. The view from my apartment didn’t take much time to get used to.

View of Calle Cervantes, Oviedo

View of Calle Cervantes, Oviedo

Regardless of the differences between each of the two weeks, Spain has been a great experience so far, and I am eager to spend my next 3 in Oviedo!

Hasta luego,

Kenz

Fly In, Fly Out…of España

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Everywhere you turn, you hear cheers and greetings of strangers wearing red polos and khaki shorts. Why are they so happy at 9 in the morning? Your mind races as you sign in at registration, gazing up at J&H in both fear and excitement. Sound familiar? New Student Orientation is an experience almost all Temple students share. The Temple Spain program has its own week-long Orientation Program in Madrid before moving north to Oviedo, our permanent home for the next 3 weeks. One major benefit of the week was the chance to spend time with our classmates and professors. Upon arriving in Oviedo, we are placed in separate homestays, which limits our interaction with other students. Having the chance to make friends and meet everyone in the program made it much easier to meet up once we were positioned all over the city, and walking into the first day of class already knowing all of the Temple students made the transition to life in Oviedo much easier. Another benefit from this week was the exposure to the Spanish language and customs. Having the opportunity to practice speaking Spanish in a carefree environment gave me more confidence when speaking to my host mom (who speaks no English) and having a week to adjust to the Spanish eating routine, which involves a late lunch around 3 PM followed by dinner around 10 PM, was extremely helpful, as well.

All in all, I was so glad we had this week of Orientation in Madrid, and I can bet that the vast majority of my classmates would agree. All this talk about Orientation has got me thinking about my own Freshman Orientation back at Main Campus. As we spent the week touring the major sites of Spain’s capital city, I started wondering what a typical Orientation tour would be like if it took place in Madrid. Where would you go to study, to hangout with friends, to exercise? Let’s find out…

Tuttleman Library = City of Ávila

As incoming students, constantly sharing your space with others in college is hard–I get that. Sometimes you just need some privacy to think and study. Whenever you need an escape from the hustle and bustle of campus life, head on over to Avila. Equipped with massive stonewalls that fortify the perimeter; the city was prepared to handle attacks from enemy forces. This isolation means that there’s no way anyone will interrupt you as you cram for Midterms.

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Fortress wall in Avila

Pearson McGonigle Fitness Center = Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas (Bull Fighting Ring)

Do you we have any student athletes in the group? Perfect, not far from the Hotel Europa is the breathtaking Bull Fighting Ring. The tradition of bullfights is a major part of the region’s culture, though our tour guide explained that about 20% of Spanish citizens love the tradition, 20% hate it, and 60% don’t have a strong preference. Whether or not you agree with the continuation of the spectacle, you are definitely in for an action-packed experience if you attend a fight. Also, for those of you worried about the Freshman 15, don’t sweat it (pun intended). You’re in luck because in Spain, everyday is leg day. Europeans walk everywhere, all the time. No need for IBC because those cobblestone streets provide an intense workout wherever you are headed.

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Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas (Bull Fighting Ring)

Beury Beach = The City of Toledo

It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, and you want someplace to relax with friends. The city of Toledo, with its stunning natural landscapes, provides a perfect meeting spot to appreciate the great outdoors. No matter your grade, major, or background, all are welcome. In fact, Toledo is known for being a city where 3 religions–Christians, Muslims, and Jews–coexisted peacefully for ages.

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Toledo

Tyler School of Art = El Prado

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Statue of Goya at El Prado

Whether you’re a Tyler student hoping to be inspired, or simply want to marvel in the presence of master paintings, El Prado definitely does not disappoint. Located in Madrid, the museum houses works of Spain’s most famous artists, Griego, Velazquez, and Goya, along with countless other masterpieces.

I think we can all agree that the Spain Orientation program gives a very literal meaning to the familiar chant you hear at Temple orientation: “fly in, fly out.” After a week full of excursions and exploration, everyone felt prepared and excited to embark on the next chapter of our adventure: Oviedo.

Hasta luego,

Kenz

¡Vamos a Madrid!

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Finally the day had arrived! I was headed off to Spain, feeling extremely at-ease, well prepared for the weeks ahead, and 100% confident in my grasp of the Spanish language…SIKE! I was none of the above and as it turns out, I accidentally booked my flight to Madrid a day early (whoops), meaning that I would be traveling and spending the day in the city alone before my 26 classmates and 3 professors arrived the following day for orientation week. Having never been overseas before, you could say I was a little anxious for my flight that evening…

Flash-forward roughly seven hours: as my plane was beginning to descend into Madrid, sunlight filtering in through the windows— it was 8:30 AM when I arrived in the city— and I felt reinvigorated by the day ahead. The airport signs were easy to follow, and I managed to get a cab to take me to the Hotel Europa, which was to be our home for the next week. Despite the fact that I hadn’t slept at all on the plane and it was about 3 AM in Philadelphia, as well as approaching 100 degrees in Madrid, I could not wait to start exploring the city. After checking into the hotel, I began to wander the streets. I admit I got a little lost, but the cobblestone alleys and intricate architecture were all so picturesque that I didn’t mind one bit. Here are some pictures I took during my taxi ride and walk around the city, just minutes from our hotel situated in the very center of Madrid:

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Building nearby Puerta del Sol, Madrid

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Puerta de Alcalá in Plaza de la Independencia, Madrid

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Street in the center of Madrid

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Apartment balcony in the center of Madrid

As both a coffee lover (addict) and a sleep-deprived individual, I needed some caffeine in my life. Thankfully, there is no shortage of café in Spain. I ordered “café solo” or black coffee and soon discovered that Spanish coffee is served in much smaller quantities than your typical U.S.-sized mug and is a LOT stronger. As much as a love heading to Cecil B. Moore for a cup of Dunkin, the Spanish coffee is quickly becoming my new favorite.

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Café solo from local restaurant, GARBON

I love people-watching as much as the next girl, so I decided to grab a table at a restaurant overlooking a small plaza, watching as local “madrileños” and tourists strolled through the streets. It was about 105 degrees at this point, but the overhead umbrellas sprayed a cool mist about every 10 seconds. Anytime Temple wants to install those to the tables on Liacouras Walk, let me know. I’m 100% on board.

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Scenic view from local restaurant, GARBON

I thought I would practice some of my Spanish skills, so I ordered my dinner in Spanish, feeling like a pro. The waiter smiled and responded, “Oh, you speak English?” At the time, I felt a little discouraged in my speaking skills, wondering if I had pronounced something completely wrong. As I would soon learn, a high percentage of the city’s population speaks English, especially waiters and shop owners, who want to be courteous to non-native speakers. Fortunately, in Oviedo, where most of the inhabitants know little to no English, I will have the opportunity fully immerse myself in the language.

By around late afternoon, I was definitely ready for a siesta to combat my jet lag. It had only been one day in the city, but I was already entranced by the beauty and history of the region and extremely eager for the orientation week that lay ahead. ¡Buenas noches, Madrid!

Hasta luego,

Kenz

“5, 4, 3, 2, 1…We’re Going on a Trip”

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If you scrolled through the notes on my phone or flipped through the pages of my planner, you would probably be amazed (horrified) at the ridiculous amount of lists I’ve accumulated over the years. I LOVE writing to-do lists, whether it’s planning out my week or steps for a project, so as I prepare to fly off to Oviedo, Spain in a matter of weeks, I thought I’d share my personal “Study Abroad To-Do List.” If you’re a student preparing to jet off to another country soon, hopefully you find these tips useful. At the very least, maybe you can relate and make me feel a little better about my borderline-crazy list-making tendencies? Either way, enjoy!

1. Appreciate your Hometown.

Chances are if you’re planning to study abroad, you’ll be away from the place you call home for a significant amount of time, whether it’s a month, a semester, or a year. Take the time before you leave to do “touristy” things in your hometown and snap some pics while you’re at it. If you begin to feel homesick while you’re away you’ve got some memories/pictures to keep you comforted. Also, if you’re living around Temple before you depart, make sure to check out this site for fun things happening in the city:

http://www.visitphilly.com/things-to-do/

2. Set Goals

We all have different reasons for studying abroad- maybe you want to become fluent in a language, experience a new culture, or just eat some really amazing food (not judging)— but whatever the motivation, try to think about a few specific things you want to accomplish during your time abroad. No regrets, am I right?

3. Packing

Wish I could tell you some foolproof, efficient method of packing, but this is coming from a girl who packed for freshman year of college the night before leaving. Rookie mistake. From that pretty traumatic experience, I’ve learned that it’s best to start packing your bags a few weeks in advance and to try to pack as light as you can. Don’t forget to check the packing list in the Temple Abroad Program Manual and here are some more helpful packing tips from people who clearly have their lives together:

https://www.pinterest.com/templeuabroad/  (the official Temple study abroad pinterest)

http://www.goabroad.com/blog/2012/07/19/packing-dummies/

http://blog.flat-club.com/2014/07/how-to-pack-for-one-month-or-more.html

4. “Como se dice…”

No matter where you’re headed- London, India, Japan, or in my case, Spain— you are bound to run into some cultural and linguistic differences that may throw you for a loop. Do your best to prepare by researching the culture and lifestyle of the area you’re visiting, and if you’re traveling to a country where you are unfamiliar with the language, try to memorize a few key phrases before you head off. The free app “Duolingo” is a super helpful language-learning tool with tons of games and puzzles.

5. EMOTIONS!!

Are you a seasoned world traveler with no qualms whatsoever about living in an unfamiliar environment? If so, good for you, my friend, go right ahead and skip this step. If you’re anything like me, preparing to study abroad may leave you feeling a little, okay a LOT, of nervous anticipation. Regardless, don’t let that stop you from pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. Embarking on a study abroad program allows you to explore a new environment and acquire new skills, friends, and memories along the way. Obviously, I am no travel expert, as this is my first time studying abroad, but I hope these steps are helpful in your travel plans!

Until next time,

Kenz

Mis Padres visit Oviedo

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As I briefly mentioned in my last post, my parents came to visit me in Spain for my spring break, or Semana Santa. In most of Spain, if not all, spring break is held the week leading up to Easter. This is probably due to the
large amount of festivities held throughout the week, such as the parade celebrating Holy Week in Oviedo.

My parents and I traveled to 4 cities in Spain, making a two-day stop in Oviedo. Though the time was short, we filled those two days with Oviedo’s famous museums, a self-guided tour led by yours truly, and the delicious restaurants offered in the city. We arrived in Oviedo from Madrid by train at about noon, dropped our stuff in the hotel, and grabbed a quick bite to eat at a local cafe.

Later, we took Oviedo’s easy bus system around the city, eventually landing at the large mall right outside of the city. We rode the bus back into the city and ate in a local marisqueria called La Chalana, where the Temple group and I actually ate our first Jaime Dinner in Oviedo. Eating quite possibly the best steak dinner I’ve had in a while, my parents and I easily agreed the meal was one of the best throughout the entire trip.

The following day was full of visits with my family. First, we made a trip to the cathedral of Oviedo. A mass was being held when we visited, so we were unable to see that part of the cathedral until later in the day (big tip: if there is a mass while visiting most cathedrals in Spain, you can almost always get your ticket stamped saying that you plan to return later in the day to tour the inside of the cathedral!). We toured the cathedral museum and the cloister, since they were open for tours during that time. The cathedral in Oviedo is also a very significant part of the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage from various points in Europe, ending in Santiago de Compostela, a city in A Coruña, Galicia, because it is the only one along the northern route that has only one tower on the facade, instead of the normal two or more towers in other cathedrals.

Plaza de la Catedral in Oviedo

Plaza de la Catedral in Oviedo

After, I took my parents to the free Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts). There are two parts to this museum, one with older works of religious and monarchical paintings and the other with more recent works from artists like Picasso and Dali. At night, we had the opportunity to watch the Spanish soccer team play in a European qualifier against the Netherlands, with some takeaway pizza.

Though my parents didn’t get to spend a lot of time in Oviedo, there is definitely so much more to see and experience. If you have guests coming to Oviedo, you might take them to the archaeological museum, definitely important in Spanish and Asturian history; the museum also happens to be free! The only downside to this museum is that it’s closed Mondays and Tuesdays — the two days my parents were here. If the weather is nice, beaches are within an hour away; towns like Gijon and Aviles have beaches, as well as large varieties of restaurants – Gijon actually has a restaurant that claims to sell Philly cheesesteaks!

If you’re in the mood for something in nature other than the beach, Mount Naranco is definitely a sight visited by a lot of Oviedo and Asturias tourists. Located at the top of a mountain, a Jesus statue — one very similar to that in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — stands, lit at night, watching over the city of Oviedo. You can get to the top by hiking (Warning: it’s about 3.5 miles to get up to the top) or by taking a bus that leaves you off at other pre-Romanesque buildings, such as churches, and then the statue is right around the corner.

The statue of Jesus Christ on top of Mount Naranco(Credit to Sienna Vance)

The statue of Jesus Christ on top of Mount Naranco(Credit to Sienna Vance)

Culture Week at UniOvi

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With what feels like forever since I last wrote a blog post, I promise I’ve been doing a lot within the city of Oviedo and traveling a bit to experience other Spanish cities to compare to Oviedo. When comparing cities and other regions to Oviedo and Asturias, possibly the easiest comparison is among the gastronomy and landscape of the city itself. For example, fabada is a very popular soup in Asturias with beans, vegetables, and chorizo, whereas octopus is a typical dish in Galicia, the autonomous community to the west of Asturias I visited a few weekends ago. Oviedo is full of hills (I remind myself it’s a slight workout every time I have to walk up the large hills), but Salamanca, located in the autonomous community of Castillo and Leon to the south of Asturias, is fairly flat and easy to walk through.

A great way for students studying in the University of Oviedo’s Casa de las Lenguas to learn about Spain and the differences between communities is through the culture week held a week before Semana Santa – when spring break is held. Depending on the coursework you are taking in Casa, you would sign up for either one or two workshops from cooking, botany, theater, storytelling, photography, singing, journalism, and film. I was lucky enough to get the two I wanted, photography and cooking, for my two workshops for the week.

In cooking, I learned more about the gastronomy of Spain to build on what I had already learned in my Society and Culture of Spain class. When losing at the history of Spanish cuisine, religious influences played a huge role in what types of foods were cooked and how they were eaten. For example, Christian influences brought a lot of “finger food” because typically utensils were not used; the Jewish brought a lot of new vegetables, such as green beans (they’re called Judias Verdes or Jewish beans in Spanish); the Muslims brought saffron, a main ingredient that is still used in a lot of Spanish dishes today.

Photography was a different type of class in comparison to cooking. We took pictures around the city of Oviedo – mine were pictures of food and colorful houses – and printed them out. We added captions to all of our pictures and decorated a frame for the picture. The pictures were then on display at the end of the week when other workshops introduced their topics to those students who had not been in them.

Currently, the university is on break for Semana Santa. I was lucky enough to have my parents visit me for the week, during which we are visiting Madrid, Oviedo, Bilbao, and Barcelona. With a lot of sights to see and attractions to visit, I’m sure I will have a lot to do with the next few days, to have even more to relate back to my now second home of Oviedo.

 

Below are the two photos I used for my photography workshop with their captions:

Jamon y queso

“Queso y jamon, para no perder la direccion” (Cheese and ham, in order to not lose the way) – I used a play on words with the more popular Spanish phrase “Con pan y vino se hace el camino” which means “With bread and wine, you can do the walk”

 

"El exterior no siempre dice algo sobre el interior" (The outside does not always depict what is in the inside) - the professor who supervised the photography workshop and I discussed many different ways to say something about looking to all parts of things that may appear beautiful or ugly, because they could be competely different internally.

“El exterior no siempre dice algo sobre el interior” (The outside does not always depict what is in the inside) – the professor who supervised the photography workshop and I discussed many different ways to say something about looking to all parts of things that may appear beautiful or ugly, because they could be completely different internally.

 

La Vida es un Carnaval!

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All I knew about life in Spain before coming here was that nearly every day is a holiday. There’s actually a joke – one that I think might also have some actual facts supporting it – that there are more holidays in Spain than regular days. While I wouldn’t say that this has rung true thus far, there have been plenty of celebrations since I’ve arrived here in Spain.

Semana Santa [Holy Week], San Fermín [Running with the Bulls], La Tomatina [Tomato Festival/Food FIght], and Las Fallas [in Valencia, Burnings] are probably the most well-known festivities in Spain. Another holiday, one that is actually celebrated across the world, just passed during the month of February: Carnaval. Carnaval is celebrated similar to that of Halloween in many countries across the world, usually during the month of February, before the Christian season of Lent begins. For those who don’t know, Lent consists of the 40 days before Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday. Since the Catholic calendar does not consist of dates, but rather quantities of days or weeks, these days are different every year. Given that Spain has a very large Catholic population – and very rich history at that – Carnaval is a special celebration not to be missed if visiting Spain before Ash Wednesday.

Foam from Aviles Carnaval! (Photo courtesy of elcomercio.es)

Foam from Aviles Carnaval! (Photo courtesy of elcomercio.es)

My friends and I got to experience Carnaval in three cities: Aviles, Gijon, and our wonderful new home of Oviedo. First up was Aviles, a city about a half hour’s bus ride from Oviedo that actually looks and feels extremely similar to Oviedo – hills, winding streets, and lots of people (for this holiday, a lot of people is better!). Aviles has a very distinct Carnaval with a long-lasting tradition. There is a parade like many other cities – all three Carnavals we attended had parades – but before the parade, it was time for ponchos and rainboots for the tourists and non-dressed-up Spaniards. No, it wasn’t raining, at least not from clouds in the sky. Instead, foam is blasted across the main road through Aviles near the main plaza, with agua gushing out of a large fire-hydrant-like hose into the sky and onto the foam to create a messy mixture that excites the kids and others who brave their way into the mix. Though I didn’t watch much of the parade, I heard plenty of shouts from children about seeing their favorite characters on floats from Frozen to Spongebob.

Gijon Parade - Costumes and instruments with dancers and famous characters reminded me of home and how important Mummer's is to Philly, just as Carnaval is to Spain.

Gijon Parade – Costumes and instruments with dancers and famous characters reminded me of home and how important Mummer’s is to Philly, just as Carnaval is to Spain.

Gijon and Oviedo definitely had much smaller Carnavals in comparison to Aviles. However, they should certainly not be overlooked for this holiday. The parade in Gijon was epic and reminded me a lot of the Mummer’s Day Parade in Philly. Large groups marched down the route through Gijon in matching outfits and with large (and large amounts of) instruments for dancers to perform to the beat of and to hear traditional and popular songs throughout the night. I didn’t stay very long after, as I wasn’t feeling well that night and it was also held on a Monday. The weekend after Aviles, Carnaval in Oviedo took place and, still feeling sick, I didn’t stay for much for this one either. Carnaval left us with a real sense of home, especially with the parades so similar to those of New Year’s Day, and with lasting memories to say that we braved the foam and the ear-pounding music that came with a true Spanish holiday.

A Chinese dragon from the Gijon Carnaval Parade

A Chinese dragon from the Gijon Carnaval Parade

Things I kinda, sorta (but don’t really) miss from home

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Aside from a fairly mild—OK, it was pretty severe—case of homesickness a few weeks ago, I am only just starting to slightly miss what comes with living in the U.S.: convenience. I was definitely one of those hypocritical “Americans are lazy” people—you know, those people who complain that the U.S. has too much convenience and not enough quality stores or restaurants but then hits the newly developed local Target store for mascara, a pair of flats, and some milk and eggs (not to mention Starbucks and Pizza Hut for the ride home).

Not that convenience doesn’t exist here; it totally does! In Spain, the one-stop-shop is El Corte Ingles. With each location being somewhat different, you can find drugstore and high-end cosmetics on the floor above women’s shoes, which just so happens to be the floor above the supermarket. Besides El Corte Ingles, there isn’t much that an American would consider “convenient.”

The first thing I honestly thought I would miss a lot more is coffee from Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks. My obsession expanded over the years to even having the apps I can add money to in order to receive coupons and free coffee every couple drinks (trust me, so worth it!). However, Spain has an endless supply of cafes con leche and amazing variations of the drink college students and young professionals love so much. While I wish an iced coffee was more common, my daily intake of cafes con leche has led me to the point of endless love for the drink that only costs a Euro ($1.18 recently!) at the school cafeteria and elsewhere never more than two Euros. While I’m sure I’ll run to a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts once I go home in May, I am 100% certain nothing will compare to the strong, decadent cup of joe I enjoy each day here.

Where you'll see me every Sunday afternoon

Cafe & futbol – where you’ll see me every Sunday afternoon

The next thing I thought I’d miss is Target. With a Starbucks right in almost every storefront, it’s a coffee lovers’ dream to drink coffee while browsing through the different sections of a Target store; but, of course, this isn’t the only thing I miss. From $1 makeup to discounted iTunes gift cards every holiday season (seriously, why pay full price?!), the convenience of a Target is something I adore about living in the U.S. I actually brought a Target purse with me and have used it for everything other than school; perfect size for everything, including travelling to Germany to visit family, and has held up for the last month and a half. However, with El Corte Ingles and the inexpensive chinos stores – think dollar store but better quality – it’s hard to not find an alternative to, quite possibly, my favorite store back home.

The one thing every one of my friends asked me how I’d survive without is WaWa. Born and raised in Philadelphia, there isn’t a time in my life when I don’t remember a WaWa being within walking distance. It was always the preferred stop on the way to a sports game or before heading down the shore for the weekend. I’m actually pretty sure most of the breakfasts I ate during my senior year of high school were from WaWa. And let’s be honest, hoagiefest is a time of the year most tri-state area folk look forward to. With the different options of sandwiches – bocadillos – I don’t really have the time to miss WaWa as I’m eating tortilla espanola on fresh-baked bread.

The final thing that I actually do miss about home is the variety of food. Don’t get me wrong, I love the food I’ve been having and I have tried more than I thought I ever would so far, but it’s all actually traditional Spanish food. The only “traditional” American food I can even think of is the idea of fast food (implication: convenience!!!!), but the best part about the U.S. is the variety of food options, in my opinion. You can easily have your favorite Mexican spot, pizza spot, and, from a born-and-raised Philly girl, cheesesteak spot (hint: it’s not the tourist attractions of Pat’s or Geno’s). Not that these places are nonexistent in Spain, but they are definitely far and few between. Five girls from Temple and I ate at the local Mexican restaurant recently. While it did the trick for our Mexican cravings, it was definitely not the Mexican we’re used to back home (a.k.a. muy picante![spicy]).

Homesickness abroad comes in various forms, and for me, convenience has stood out. But, I have used that homesickness to fuel my curiosity for what Oviedo and the surrounding areas offer, fom the rich culture and history, to traditional cuisine, to Spanish tchotchkes that I might not see back home.  So, there are things I kinda, sorta (but don’t really) miss from home, but by exploring as often as I can, I am learning to appreciate Oviedo’s strengths. I know I’ll have stories to tell to those I have missed back home and I’ll appreciate them even more upon return.

An amazing cupcake from an amazing "confiteria" or "paaderia" which sells bakery items as well as cakes and chocolates

An amazing cupcake from a “confiteria” or “paneria” which sells bakery items, as well as cakes and chocolates

School, Sidra, and Sand

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Living in Oviedo has many perks – great food, a great atmosphere, and accessibility to many great places. Also, it has the University of Oviedo, where the Temple in Spain semester and summer programs are held for Spanish language and culture courses. With three weeks of school already completed, it’s hard to believe that my group and I have been here for over four weeks. As homesick as I’ve gotten, I definitely would not have been able to cope as easily as I have without the wonderful distraction of school.

Personally, I’ve always secretly liked school: it gave me something to do, it kept me busy after hours, and, of course, it’s taught me some incredible lessons. Being in a school in another country is no different in these respects. Luckily, there are no classes held after 3:00 p.m. each day, giving us plenty of time to explore the city of Oviedo and, on the weekends, giving us time to reach the airport for an early flight if we wanted to travel. So far, my classes have varied between reviewing grammar material to learning the history of Spain and the culture that I wouldn’t have learned in a language class. I can definitely see that I will learn a lot in my classes and I am excited to learn more.

Some breaks from homework consist of meeting up with friends and heading down to Gascona – El Bulevar de la Sidra [Boulevard of Sidra]. Gascona is a small strip of restaurants – mostly sidrerías – where you can have anything from a drink with friends to a full meal. The two times I’ve gone thus far with friends, I have had tapas and sidra, the traditional Asturian drink of cider. The first thing visitors realize about sidra is the way it is poured: the bottle in one stretched arm and the glass held at the hip. This process oxidizes the drink; if this process weren’t to occur, the sidra would be similar to flat soda. In the glass, you will be served a culin, which comes from the word culata meaning “butt.” A culin of sidra is the typical amount (about 6oz.) and is meant to be drunk quickly, as the sidra “dies” if it sits (no worries, it just gets flat—still safe to drink but definitely not as appetizing).

El Bulevar de la Sidra

El Bulevar de la Sidra

Waiter pouring sidra (notice that he's not even looking at the glass!!!)

Waiter pouring sidra (notice that he’s not even looking at the glass!!!)

Sidra machine in La Chalana, where we had our first group dinner in Oviedo. Just a press of the green button and you've got yourself a perfect cup of sidra.

Sidra machine in La Chalana, where we had our first group dinner in Oviedo. Just a press of the green button and you’ve got yourself a perfect cup of sidra.

When needing a weekend break, Oviedo offers easy access to other places in Asturias, Spain, and the rest of Europe. Two weekends ago, many of the Temple students took a day trip to Gijon, which is easily accessed from Oviedo through a quick train or bus ride. Gijon is a beach town located in the north of Asturias against the sea of Cantabrica. It is similar to Oviedo in the way that the streets are winding and sometimes confusing, but is still small enough to figure out how to get back to the train station. Unlike Oviedo, however, Gijon is very flat with very few hills. We spent the day discovering many of Gijon’s seaside sights from exercise parks and cliffs to famous statues and fancy restaurants.

Our first of many stops to take pictures in Gijon

Our first of many stops to take pictures in Gijon

Cantabrica Sea in Gijon

Cantabrica Sea in Gijon

Arbol de la Sidra (tree of Sidra) - more than 3,000 bottles of sidra were recycled to create this tree in Gijon

Arbol de la Sidra (tree of Sidra) – more than 3,000 bottles of sidra were recycled to create this tree in Gijon

Since then, the entire Temple group has been travelling. This past weekend, I went to Germany to visit family, two girls went to London, another went to Madrid, and the rest on a trip to Brussels, Belgium. The quick and easy (and usually inexpensive) flights offered from Oviedo and surrounding airports allow us to travel without missing too much school, but still give us the experience of a lifetime.