The First Few Days

Here are some observations that I have made in the first few days since my arrival in Alicante, Spain. Some are about Spain and others are just personal things.

  1. “Vale”– Know it. Use it. Love it. (“Vale” means “okay” in Spain. Except it’s used even more frequently than we use “okay”).
  2. Also, WhatsApp–Know it. Use it. Love it.–Before I came, I knew that WhatsApp is really popular in Spain, and it was how I communicated with my host family before I arrived. But it is definitely an essential. Also, it has a lot of really good features for traveling. I can send my location to my host family if I’m lost or if  I need help. And it can make calls, facetime, unlimited text, send pictures, voice messages for free to anyone around the world as long as they have WhatsApp and Internet access. It makes staying in touch with my family and friends back home very easy. (I could easily advertise for WhatsApp).
  3. I don’t know if it is just because I’m an excited tourist or what, but the mall I went to here was sooooo much better than any I’ve been to in the U.S.
  4. Jet lag is a thing.
  5. If you magically transported to the middle of the city without knowing were you were going, you could instantly tell that Alicante is on the Mediterranean coast because of the smell of fish in the supermercado. (This may just be a generalization, but I’ve walked by one supermercado and could instantly recognize the fishy smell. Later that day, I went to buy water with my host family in a different one–same smell. NOT a horribly-strong-OMG-this-fish-has-been-lying-out-in-90-degree-weather-for-ten-hours smell, but anyone could easily recognize it).
  6. I always want to call my mom when it is still night time in the U.S.
  7. I should have brought an actual camera instead of just using my phone. Just like my mother told me. (Mom. Don’t rub it in, but you were right). Alicante is too beautiful to capture through the lens of my iPhone.
  8. Even though Alicante is a decently sized city, it feels pretty calm. There isn’t the same chaotic feeling that I always feel in big U.S. cities. And I love it! It’s also quieter. Of course I have heard cars honking in the street and neighbors talking loudly, but it is nothing like the loudness of the cities I’ve stayed in like Chicago and St. Louis.
  9. My U.S. friends never open my Snapchats when I want them to.
  10. Being fully immersed in the Spanish language– it is easier and harder than I thought it would be. The people I have come in contact with in the airport and my host family do speak a little bit of English. What is easy is being able to say what I need to say. It takes a little bit of time to explain things that I don’t quite know the Spanish translation for, but with Google Translate and with the combined knowledge of English and Spanish, I can somewhat tell stories and express needs. What is really difficult is that there is so much I want to ask my host family and so much that I want to tell them but trying to explain myself takes so much time.
    1. I have been able to use a little humor and sarcasm. This actually really worried me before I came.
    2. (To all my friends who keep asking me– my host family is super cool and really helpful. I’m so glad that I decided to stay with a family. They have really helped me with things like learning how to get to the bus and buying a phone for emergencies).
    3. It’s really hard to talk to my host family in Spanish and then switch gears to text my friends in English. Right now, my mind is geared towards, “How can I say this in Spanish?” and when I think of what I want to tell my friends back home, I think it in Spanish. This is probably just me but going back and forth between languages is really different.
    4. I love cognates!
  11. WiFi is pronounced wee-fee. Somewhere in the back of my head I knew this, but I couldn’t quite except it.
  12. Travel pics get all the Insta and FB likes.
  13. Camo is a really big thing. I wish I would have stolen some of my family’s hunting gear to wear in Spain–I would have been so popular. Every single store I went to sold some sort of camouflage in some sort of form. Lots and lots of camo pants!
  14. The castle is the horizon of Alicante. It seems that everywhere I go, I can see the castle from where I’m at. It is so beautiful and so freaking cool! I live less than a mile from a friggin castle!
  15. I miss my dog.
  16. For some reason, I thought that Spaniards would drive on the opposite side of the street than we do. But they do not. The streets in the city are set up a lot like what I’m used to. I would have no problems driving here.
  17. Alicante has all the essentials. Taco Bell. Mickey D’s. etc.
  18. Plus a lot of cafes and bars and hole-in-the-wall places.
  19. I’m such a typical tourist, and I just want to gush about everything in Alicante.
  20. I’m already having troubles writing this blog because I want to go see everything and don’t have any time to write.
  21. The translations of the names of movies in English on Spanish Netflix sometimes have nothing in common with the actual name.
  22. Everyone else wears heavy coats through the city even thought the temperature is mid-40s to high-50s. I really, really, really tried to fit in and wore my heavy coat while I was walking around the city. But I just couldn’t do it! I was sweating through my shirt in the bus, and I had to take mine off.
  23. “The First Few Day: Part 2” probably coming soon, but I make no promises (see #20).
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A Blog Just to Blog

So my lovely mother informed me that she was awaiting a new blog post, but I do not quite have anything in particular to blog about. Therefore, this post might be a bit boring, and if you’re expecting some wild story about how Spain has flying cats or the sky turns orange when it rains, press the red “x” in the top right corner now. Spain is great and new and exciting, but it is not a complete alien world, and if I blogged about every single aspect, you would be dying of ennui (which is simply another word for “boredom,” but I’m feeling fancy today).

I guess I have to choose something to talk about, so I’ll discuss the things I miss from home and the things I’ll miss when I leave Spain.

Things I miss from the United States (Warning: most of this will be food):

  1. Tex-Mex (specifically Las Brisas). I remember talking to several different people before I left about Spanish food, and each person said something similar to this: “OMG! You’ll be able to eat authentic burritos and tacos!” No. Spain and Mexico are separated by about five thousand miles of water. Spain has amazing authentic food, but I miss my chicken, cheese, and rice with unlimited chips and salsa.
  2. Free water when going out to eat. (Which goes both ways. I miss not having to pay for a beverage, but this also gives me a valid reason to order wine or a beer with my lunch because it’s generally the same price or cheaper).
  3. Everything (except Chick-Fil-A) open on Sundays. There is absolutely nothing to do on Sundays except recover from a hangover. The malls close. The coffee shops close. Most grocery stores close. Everything.
  4. (My friends and family). But don’t tell them. They’ll get a big head.
  5. MY DOG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Loki, if you’re reading this, you’re such a good puppy, and I’ll never, ever, ever leave you again. (And I’m bringing you with me next time).
  6. Supernatural and Shameless. Sadly, so sadly, not offered on Spanish Netflix.
  7. Being able to speak fluently with everyone and not having to tell people to speak slowly as if they were talking to a baby.
  8. Cruising on backroads with my music turned all the way up.
  9. Greenery. My city has beautiful parks spread randomly throughout the city, but I miss being able to see trees through my bedroom window.
  10. Kraft mac and cheese, buffalo chicken, sweet ice tea, Chick-Fil-A, Watami
  11. Walking on the sidewalk without stepping in poop. I know that this is just a cultural difference, and I accept it. However, the Spanish just don’t pick-up after their dogs.
  12. Everything being open during lunch hours. This is the only thing that has really gotten on my nerves here… Everything. And I mean everything is closed between two and five and that is exactly when I want to get stuff done.
  13. Not smelling fish every place I go. It’s so obvious that Alicante is right on the Mediterranean, and great cuisine comes with that. Unless you’re like me and you have a psychological fear of fish. And here, avoiding the smell of fish is practically impossible. The grocery stores have a section specifically for VERY fresh fish, like full head, tail, and scales fish proudly displayed on ice. Most of the restaurants’ menus consist mainly of fish, and since I’m not fluent in the language, I have to diligently search for those few safe words like “pollo” (chicken) and “carne” (meat) to keep from ordering a dish that will make me throw up.

Things I’ll miss when I leave Spain (Warning: most of this will also be food):

  1. Going to the grocery store and spending less than three euro for a large bag of chips, two bottles of soda, and two large bottles of water.
  2. Going out to eat and not having to mortgage my house to pay for dessert.
  3. Tapas. Seriously the best thing ever invented. (But I hope the U.S. never tries to imitate these beautiful, beautiful restaurants because we’d definitely ruin it).
  4. 100 Montaditos. Another restaurant that the U.S. would ruin.
  5. (Cheap alcohol)
  6. (Being able to drink legally)
  7. The fact that is socially acceptable to just drink a glass of wine or have one beer at any time of day in any type of social setting. In Spain, binge drinking is generally for college students, but people of all ages over 18 can enjoy the actual taste of alcohol rather than gulping down cheap beer at social events.
  8. The movies on Spanish Netflix. There are so many more actually good movies such as most of the Marvel movies.
  9. Being able to tune people out. When someone is speaking loudly on the bus or in public, it is so easy to just tune out when you don’t speak the language.
  10. The malls.
  11. The beach. Even though it’s still winter, and I haven’t been able to go swimming yet. I already know that I’m going to miss being 10 minutes away from “la playa.”
  12. Everything being a just a short walk away. I don’t have to get in a car to drive to get something to eat or go shopping.
  13. The bakeries on every corner.
  14. Coffee vending machines. Seriously the best idea in the world. I’m addicted to getting my 50 cent cappuchino between classes, and I will definitely be going through withdrawals when I return to the States.
  15. Speaking of coffee, “bombons” are the best thing I’ve ever tasted. They’re kind of like an espresso with sweetened condensed milk. It is the perfect blend of sweetness and coffee.
  16. KFC. I had only eaten KFC like two times in the last five years… until I got to Spain. I think I’ve eaten KFC here more times than I have in my whole life. It’s the only thing that’s open at 4 a.m. after a night out, and so it is really popular here. When I tell Spanish people that I go to school in Kentucky, they immediately ask “Kentucky? Like the chicken?” I know KFC will be there when I go back to the States, but it just won’t be the same.
  17. Not having access to Internet 24/7. I don’t have anything to turn to when conversations start having those awkward silences, and I’m forced to learn how to communicate in these situations. I feel like I have so much more fun, and I’m able to focus on what’s being said.
  18. Meeting people from all around the world. I know when I get back to my home university, I’ll become involved in programs that allow me to interact with exchange students. However, when your new to the country and the language and someone else is new to all of it too, you tend to gravitate towards each other. I have made friends with people from all over Europe, and I love exchanging cultures.
  19. Fresh bread.
  20. Being immersed in a new language. Teaching English as a Second Language is my major, and therefore I get a little fangirly over the different aspects of culture that are expressed through language. I love how Spanish is constructed and how it sounds, and I always feel so proud when I’m able to say something new or tell an actually funny joke. (Just a warning: I will probably write another long, boring post about the Spanish language). While I miss being able to fully express myself in English, I love learning and speaking Spanish.
  21. Living next to a freaking castle.
  22. Being able to travel to make weekend trips to different countries.
  23. 1 euro coins. I don’t know why, but I just really like 1 euro coins.
  24. Seeing dogs literally everywhere. I feel like 90 percent of Spanish homes own a dog, and owners always take them on walks throughout the city which is nice for tourists (like me) who really miss their own dog.
  25. And I like the fact that there are more dogs than cats. I’ve tried to like cats, but I just can’t, and while there are still a lot of cats in Alicante, they are far outnumbered by dogs.
  26. Dressing nice everyday. Which goes both ways. I don’t like taking the time to get ready, but I also feel more confident when I dress up. In Spain, it’s nearly punishable by law to even think about wearing flip flops and an old t-shirt to class. In the U.S., I could get away with wearing whatever I wore to bed the night before.
  27. Alicante University sponsored social events. Seriously so much better than any type of gathering I have ever been to in my entire life. And a huge culture shock! University organizations will set up student nights at different bars around the city, and if there’s a meet and greet on the university campus, there is a 145% chance that there will be beer.
  28. All fast food restaurants serving alcohol. I don’t even order beer at fast food restaurants, but it’s just so funny that you can order beer at Mickey D’s.

BONUS! Things I don’t miss about the U.S.:

  1. Starbucks… once a white girl obsession of mine, but no longer. I now realize that Starbucks, in comparison to Alicante’s coffee shops, is 1. overly priced and 2. not very good.
  2. The cold.
  3. The prices. (If you haven’t guessed that already).
  4. Fast food. Spain has most of the fast food restaurants that litter every U.S. city, but they are nicer, and local, authentic restaurants are actually the cheaper choice.
  5. Walmart.
  6. Politics. (Even though everybody from every country asks me about Trump).

 

The First Few Days: Part 2

Alright. Part 2. Just a few more things I’ve noticed before I go on to writing longer, more informational blogs.

  1. The Spanish really do like to celebrate their Catholicism. I’d read this before coming here, but I kind of forgot about it when I heard what sounded like gunshots coming from outside. My family and I went to the balcony, and they were shooting off fireworks right next to our apartment. According to the neighbors, it was in celebration of some saint’s feast day (not quite sure who).
  2. Everything– food, phone, clothes, wine– is a whole lot cheaper than I thought it would be. (Even though I’m paying for it in bank exchange fees).
  3. I’ve realized I’m not language shy. Before I came, I read other blogs that told me I shouldn’t let the fear of making mistakes stop me from using the language. I did not need this advice. I love speaking the language every chance I get. (Even though I miss having a conversation in which I can use a large vocabulary). I’ve noticed other English speakers are self-conscious and tend not to speak as much as I do. Honestly, I’m probably less shy speaking Spanish than when I’m in my own country speaking English.
  4. Tapas are my new favorite thing. Tapas are restaurants that serve little plates of food and small glasses of beer. A server comes around with the tray of plates, and you can pick which one you want. It’s very cheap and tempting to a college student on a budget!
  5. I never thought walking would make my muscles hurt, but I’ve walked more in the last few days than I regularly do in a month. I absolutely love that I can walk everywhere, but I’m so out of shape!
  6. Even though I’m right on the beach, it still gets pretty cold! Of course I knew this, but  because of the pictures of palm trees online and the fact that Alicante is in southern Spain, it’s another thing that I didn’t quite accept before I came (like the “wee-fee” wifi thing).
  7. Fast food like McDonald’s and Burger King are a lot nicer in Alicante. Also, they cost about as much as a three course meal, and they definitely cost more than tapas. (So I guess my cheap, late-night college food will have to be the tapas. Beer and snack food. Darn.)
  8. Meeting people from all over the world is easy. Actually meeting people from Spain is hard.
  9. I want to know every languages’ onomatopoeia words because it’s so funny hearing them for the first time.
  10. Meal times are weird, and you are required to get used to them if you want to go out. My friends and I tried going to a Mexican restaurant which was clearly open, but as we opened the door, a server asked “Comer?” to which we said yes because it was 7:00 at night, and we were more than hungry. The guy shook his head and told us that they didn’t start serving food for another hour and a half.
  11. It’s really weird watching U.S. political news from Spain.

This post was not as fun to write as Part I, but I’m hoping that as I meet the locals and spend more time exploring the city, I’ll learn more about the Spanish culture. I’ll also try to keep my few, but faithful followers up-to-date on my travels throughout all of Europe. Adios.

Acquiring a Spanish Visa (aka Torture)

Disclaimer: This post is not for my friends and family but for future study abroad-ers. Alright. S**t’s about to get real.

Preparing for my student visa appointment at the Chicago consulate was an emotional process. Paperwork is not fun for anyone, but I was uber stressed about making sure I had all the right documents. This post’s purpose is to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes as I did.

The preparation was difficult and tiresome. The actual appointment went perfectly.

Here are the steps to getting a student visa:

  1. Make your appointment AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. One of the required documents is an acceptance letter from the university that you will be attending in Spain. Even if you don’t have it yet, go ahead and schedule the appointment if you think that it will come in beforehand. I did not do this. I waited for my letter to come in. Appointments at the Chicago consulate fill up extremely quickly, and you need to schedule AT LEAST five weeks before your trip (but no more than three months according to the visa requirements). My appointment was exactly one day more than one month before my trip and that was pushing it. Luckily, my visa only took two weeks to come in when they normally take about four weeks to process and spend another week in the mail.
  2. Check your requirements way, way, way in advance. If your program is longer than 180 days, you will need additional documents such as a background check and a doctor’s note. These take a lot time to gather. Because my program is less than 180 days, I did not have to do this. However, some of the requirements still took some of time to get a hold of, and I started getting my stuff together just a few days beforehand which you should definitely not do. As of December 2016, the requirements for the visas are:
    • visa application
    • passport
    • recent passport sized photo (2″x2″). I got mine at Walgreens, and it was a little bit expensive. I don’t quite remember, but I think it was about $15 for 2 small photos.
    • acceptance letter from university that you’re staying in Spain
    • evidence of funds for room and board (letter from your home university that show responsibility of funds, evidence of scholarships that will cover cost, NOTARIZED letter from parents assuming responsibility)
    • proof of health insurance
    • background check (ONLY for programs over 180 days)
    • note from doctor (ONLY for programs over 180 days)
    • money order
    • You can find more updated details on Chicago’s consulate website: http://www.exteriores.gob.es/Consulados/CHICAGO/en/ServiciosConsulares/consularservicesinchicago/visas/Pages/inicio.aspx
  3. If you made the same mistakes that I did in Step 1 and 2… cry now. Get it all out. Then get over it and start getting everything together.
  4. Make copies. This is actually a mistake I did not make. I had about three copies of each document which was not exactly needed, but it’s always good to be prepared
  5. You will most likely have to do some traveling to get to your appointment unless your lucky to live somewhere that has a consulate nearby. Make sure you are prepared for this with hotel reservations, transportation, etc. Also, if your appointment is in the middle of the winter, it is always good to check the weather. When my mom and I went to Chicago, we drove into a bad snow storm. Also, check and then double check again to make sure you have every document that you need
  6. Arrive early. This doesn’t just apply to getting a visa. Always be 5-10 minutes early for any type of appointment
  7. Breath. The appointment, for me, was the least scariest part of the process. I was the first person at the consulate that day, and when the guy called me up, I immediately started blabbing about my documents, but he simply just asked me to hand him what I have. He took what was needed and handed me back the rest (I brought extra documents such as plane itinerary just in case, but you don’t really need anything that is not on the list on the website).

And then you’re done, and all you have to do is wait… the hardest part.

Good luck! Even though this process can be a bit rough, it is totally worth it.

Thoughts Before I See New Shores…

First of all, hello readers (aka mom and maybe one other person). Here is my first blog post!

I have been out of the country two times in my nineteen years of existence. The first time, I was about ten-years-old, and I walked from the border of Texas to less than a mile into Mexico which didn’t even require a passport. The second time I was about sixteen and went on a week-long mission trip to Haiti. Everything was planned by our trip leader, and all I had to do was follow her like a little duckling. This trip is nothing like the other two. I have had to research and make appointments and research some more and worry and book my flight and prepare a few thousand documents and get my visa and worry and research again. With all the work, stress, and hours I put into this trip, I expect everything to be perfect which I know is impossible. These past few days especially have been a roller coaster of excitement and worry, but I know, even if my plane gets delayed because of weather (which it is calling for freezing rain the day before), my feet will eventually meet Spanish soil.

When I first began looking at this study abroad program, I romanticized travelling. I automatically began characterizing the different countries I planned on visiting with a sort-of mystical perception. I fell into the typical wanderlust phase that every college girl has. However now, as I begin contacting my host family and interacting with others who have relatives in Spain, I am starting to realize that traveling will not be this magical experience prompted by the enchantments in movies and music; it will be something natural. I will not be entering the country looking out the plane window while mysterious music plays in the background and then accidentally running into a handsome prince in disguise on a cobblestone street in Spain. No, I will be experiencing so much more. I will be a witness to the “everydayness” of a culture that is not quite exotic, but natural, normal, and completely ordinary. Through my foreigner eyes, the way of my life will probably seem so fascinatingly different and maybe even peculiar, but to a native, it is simply their day-to-day routine. And that is what awes me the most! What is normal to me and my family and friends is completely unusual to someone else.

That said, I decided to create a blog for three reasons: 1) to log my mistakes and help future students, 2) to record the extraordinary “everydayness” of my travels, and 3) to shamelessly brag to my family and friends about my adventures.