Tuesday, February 12, 2013

5 Down

The 8th of February marked the halfway point of my journey here in Spain. What a ride it has been. It has challenged me more than I ever could have imagined, yet taught me just as much. I am so excited to see what these next five months have in store. 

And again, a blog post that has been extremely delayed. I finally got around to writing about my holidays in Spain.

For Christmas, my host family and I flew up to Bilbao, a city in the north of Spain, to visit family. The weather in the south had been very warm-- almost 70 degrees F, much warmer than I am used to in the middle of December. Walking along the beach in the sun was fantastic, but also meant that it didn't feel like winter at all, so I was looking forward to some chilly weather to maybe force some holiday cheer into my veins via runny nose and numb fingers. However that wish was not granted, as it was a mediocre 60-65 degrees when we arrived to Bilbao, and I was left sweating in my jacket on the 25th of december while my friends and family back home had a wet, frosty day by the fire.
Though one day we did get a little fog.

Naturally I had a very hard time getting into the “Christmas spirit” this year. I consider it one of my favourite feelings, normally provoked by the smell of pine and the constant stream of goodies from my mom’s prolific oven, to the sounds of Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole and the fire bursting to life, to the lights and decorations and spending time with family and friends. I barely realized it was December, and without candy canes and mall Santas, the 25th came and went almost like a normal day.

Nevertheless, I was happy to be experiencing Christmas in Spain. This Christmas was, as to be expected, very different from the one I'm used to. I found it to be a much smaller affair, though I'm not sure if that's due to the culture or specific to my host family. Santa Claus has previously not been a part of Spanish Christmas, but nowadays some parents will give their kinds a few small stocking stuffers. Some people put Christmas trees up, (plastic, of course)  and some people don't-- it was our au pair Janja's first Christmas away from home as well, so we assembled a little artificial green tree to once again try to generate that elusive Christmas feeling.

Christmas tree in Spain
Christmas tree in California

Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena, is celebrated much more than Christmas day, so on the night of the 24th we went to my host aunt's house to eat dinner with my host mom's four sisters and their families. It was a night of totally new experiences. There was an astounding amount of food, including plate after plate of Jamón Iberico and different types of seafood. I tried escargót, baby eels and had my first ever glass of champagne. 

It was an evening of much discussion, laughter, dancing and family, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, although my mind kept drifting off to little Saratoga and my stocking, sitting on the mantel of the fireplace, unhung; the copy of the Polar Express, still tucked away in the closet, unwatched; and my family, sitting together around the tree, without me.  On Christmas morning, I woke up early to open a letter and a care package that had arrived in time, and spent 15 minutes sitting on my futon, crying silently while playing "I'll Be Home for Christmas" by Bing Crosby over and over again, eating my aunt's delicious homemade caramels. No shame. After my little meltdown, I had a great rest of the day, with more family and more food. Even though I missed my family and our Christmas together dearly, I was very happy to be experiencing Christmas in Spain.

The family dancing

Angulitas, AKA baby eels


I don't even know what they are...

On the 5th of January I got to experience a whole new holiday: Los Rayos Magos, aka Three King's Day. More akin to our Christmas, children put their shoes out on the night of the 4th, along with sweet wine and grass, and the three kings come on camel back to leave children either presents or coal by their shoes. I opened my presents from los Reyes (some really nice gloves for sailing and pajamas) and ate El Roscón de Reyes, a traditional cake which contains a little trinket inside. Whoever gets the trinket in their piece is normally obligated to pay for the next year's Roscón. 

A present from Los Reyes

El Roscón

A funny story-- The Reyes each have names ("Melchor", "Gaspar" and "Baltasar"). Baltasar is normally depicted with darker skin, whether it be tan or black. One day I went to see a parade in downtown Málaga for the three kings, and for the finale each of the kings came out on their own float. The Reyes each have names ("Melchor", "Gaspar" and "Baltasar"). Baltasar is normally depicted with darker skin, whether it be tan or black. Each time the first two kings passed by, the crowd chanted their names: "Melchor! Gaspar!". Then when Baltasar came along as the last king, the crowd started to chant "moreno! moreno!" which is translated as "dark skinned person" or "black person". I was slightly horrified to see that the king was not, in fact, a dark skinned person, but rather a olive skinned spanish man covered in black- not brown, black- face paint. 

Overall, the holidays turned out really well for me. I am so grateful to have gotten to experience new traditions, celebrations and a whole new culture. I'm looking forward to every other experience this year throws at me. For now, I'll leave you-- thanks for reading. Besitos y suerte a todos. All the best.

Fun Facts:

A widely followed tradition here is putting together a Belén (aka nativity scene). Special booths are erected in downtown that sell little handmade figurines, items and sceneries, and families assemble extensive scenes depicting parts of the Christmas story or simply life in the Jesus's time. I saw some stunning and incredibly elaborate Beléns over the course of "las fiestas", such as the one shown below. 


Another fun tradition is "las uvas de la suerta" ("the grapes of luck"). On New Year's Eve during the last 12 seconds before midnight, everyone eats twelve grapes which are said to bring luck during the next year. By the time the countdown ends, everyone's mouths are stuffed with dripping, half chewed "uvas", and go around to kiss everyone on the cheek and give well wishes as they choke down the rest of their grapes.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A New Life

I wrote this post about a month ago and never got around to posting it. Typical. So here it is.

I'm snuggled up in my big double bed in my own room, clutching my worn, well-loved lime green teddy bear as I type away on my iPad. The doors to my own balcony are open, and if I lean forward I can look out above the Spanish rooftops and see the glistening lights of the Malaga port, blinking like a hundred kids with flashlights trying to light up the black of the night sky. My host brother Manolo is playing Tears in Heaven on his guitar in the next room, my host mom is yelling at my host brother Fernando in sharp Spanish downstairs... This is my new life.

The view from my balcony

It's been quite a while since my last blog post, which mostly spoke about leaving home and my arrival. I've now been here in Spain for 2 months-- it's actually hard to believe. Sometimes I feel like I've been here for only a few days, other times I feel like I've been here for years; either way, I am definitely beginning to settle in. Here's a quick summary of what my life is like here.I live in Málaga, Andulucia, a port city in the south of Spain. It is a common stop for cruise ships and while walking along the beach, you will notice that every third group are a bunch of pasty white Nordic foreigners coming to soak up the Spanish sun. However, tourists don't affect daily life too much, and living here is absolutely wonderful. My favorite part of the city has to be El Centro. There's a long, beautiful street called Calle Larios which has plenty of shops and resturaunts and things to see. One street over is the Cathedral of Malaga, by far my favorite building in the city-- it's almost 500 years old and overwhelmingly beautiful. Near by is La Alcazaba, a palatial fortress (palatial = resembling a palace) from the 11th century and a roman theatre, both kept in incredible condition. The harbor/port are pretty much right across the street from the center, and there is a new shopping center called Muelle Uno right along the water.

Center of Malaga

I live approximately 10 minutes away from the center, on a big hill that is regarded as one of the nicer areas of the city. My house is what we would call a town house; skinny yet four stories tall and right next to the neighbor's place. My school is about a fifteen minute walk away. Classes begin at 8:20, so every morning I put my uniform on, have breakfast with my host family,and trudge up a huge hill to the back entrance. There are only 4 classrooms for my whole grade which we switch between throughout the day. We have a 30 minute break at 10:30 called recreo, extracurricular activities at 12:45 (I do swimming), and lunch at 1:45. I walk home for lunch and then go back for afternoon classes. That's right, I don't get home until 6 pm. Whoo.
The backside view of my school

My house

My host family is great. I live with my host mom, Sara, my host brothers Manolo (15) and Fernando (13), and the au pair, Janja (24). Sara is a flight attendant, a strong feminist, and quite the comedian. My brother Manolo's passion is the guitar and he honestly plays better than anyone I've ever met. Fernando loves video games and rowing, and he does both with admirable dedication. Janja is a hilarious, energetic Slovenian girl. She cooks and cleans but is really like a part of the family. We all have a good time together.

My host family and I at arrival

In short, I'm loving my life here in Spain. It is far from perfect and far from easy, but it is great. 

Thanks for reading. Until next time.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Adios y buena suerte.

So, I'm finally starting my blog, three weeks after leaving Saratoga. I wonder how you say procrastination in Spanish... Anyways, a lot has happened in my first three weeks away, and I want to share some of that with you. Exchange is an incredible thing and I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to partake in something like this. I have learned so much in just a short time and I am still learning and growing from all that surrounds me. However, growth requires challenges and hardships at times. There have definitely been good times and bad times so far, but all of it is part of immersing oneself into a completely different culture.

I left Saratoga on Wednesday, September 5th. The days leading up to my departure were extremely bittersweet, filled with the stress of packing and the intense sadness of leaving home, alongside the nervous excitement and anticipation of the adventure I was about to embark on. My last night with my family was a whirlwind of extreme emotions, and I am not ashamed to say I cried almost the whole evening, blubbering on my poor brother's shoulder as we said our premature farewell. It didn't help at all that I didn't finish packing until 1:30 in the morning, and then sobbed like I never have before in my bed until 2:30 am, when I finally collapsed into an exhausted sleep. The next morning I was awoken at 4:15 with a vicious slap from reality and the magnitude of what I was really about to do. I climbed into the car with both my parents and when we finally reached the airport,  I greeted my best friend Rachel Menard, who is on exchange in France at the moment and was to attend the same orientation in New York as I. We approached the security line and I said two snotty, tearful goodbyes to my parents, knowing very well that it would be the last time we would embrace for close to 300 days. As Rachel and I made our way through the security line, lugging our 40 pound bags and sobbing in front of many staring strangers, I waved one last time to the people who had given me everything. Two people who had taught me, led me, supported me, who had ALWAYS been there for me and loved me unconditionally no matter what I said or did-- and I felt as though I was leaving a piece of myself behind as they disappeared from sight. Yet as I flew above the clouds, my heart aching and my head reeling with excitement, I knew I was in for something good.

Skipping over my two orientations in New York and Madrid, where I met some great people who I hope to have as friends for a very long time, it was time to board the train to my final destination-- Málaga, Spain. Two other students and I endured the seemingly endless yet way-too-short train ride to Málaga, where I tried to pacify the incessant feeling that I was about to projectile vomit all over the place due to the looming reality that I was about to meet the family I would be living with for the next ten months. I walked through the doors into the train station and saw them standing there-- Sara, my lovely host mom; Manolo, my way too cool 15 year old host brother; and Fernando, my comical 13 year old host brother. I kissed each of them on both cheeks, just as the Spanish always do. It was completely overwhelming and all too surreal, but I was so happy to meet my new family and commence my new life in Spain.

I will try to sum up my first few weeks here in as few words as I can. I can tell you that the unfortunate yet inevitable feelings of homesickness began the first morning I woke up in my new room-- before I opened my eyes I knew exactly what I was going to see. A white ceiling, then blue walls and a messy floor from preparing to pack. I was going to walk down the hall and greet my mother, who would already be cooking something for dinner and watching an unkown documentary or a random movie on Netflix on her computer, like she always did. I would say good morning and hug her, and when my dad came in from working outside I would hug him too, even after he refused the offer because he was sweaty. But I opened my eyes and looked around at my new world and knew very well-- Saratoga was a very, very long ways away.

The last few weeks have been challenging, no doubt about it. But the things I have already gained from being here absolutely outweigh the hardships. I have friends around my neighborhood and at
school. I am forming a great relationship with my host family. I have learned to appreciate the things
around here, but also things that I miss from the US. I have started to adapt to the Spanish culture and language. I am already starting to understand people much more, and I can hold conversations with my classmates and almost always successfully get my point across to people in Spanish.

I am so happy to be here, to be experiencing so many absolutely wonderful things all at once, to be in the midst of the experience of a lifetime. Hasta luego, friends. Much love.