Reverse Culture Shock

  • 285 days
  • 23 flights
  • 10 months
  • 9 countries
  • 8 languages
  • 7 engineering classes
  • 5 niños
  • 4 Cantabria students
  • 3 Cornell students
  • 2 incredibly supportive parents who made this all possible
  • 1 long year of trying to mentally prepare myself to come back

Tuesday starts classes and, along with it, the real reverse culture shock.

In Spain, university is a little different. For one, we only had two weeks off for Christmas break, we came back and had class for another week and a half, and then had exams until the end of January. After my last exam I remember walking home and having that strange but pleasant realization that I don’t have anything in particular that I have to write or calculate or hand in on a certain date at a certain time; of having a seemingly infinite amount of free time, if only for a short while. But somehow I was lacking that usual feeling of great relief that I would always experience while walking out of my last final at the end of a semester at Cornell, as if someone removed all the cinderblocks sitting on top of me and I could finally take a deep breath for the first time since school began. It wasn’t that I thought I had done poorly on my exams and I was worried (in fact quite the opposite, as the Cantabria courses were quite a bit simpler than Cornell’s), but rather that this time, I suddenly realized, I hadn’t even been holding my breath in the first place.

If I had to choose one instance to characterize my experience abroad, at least academically, it would be this.

In Spain I was not constantly tired and I would get stressed out almost exclusively during finals. And even then, only moderately. And even then, not for all of them. In Spain there was almost never any uselessly tedious or overly theoretical homework. The professors took the time to answer questions and only one (out of thirteen) got annoyed with the frequency of mine. In Spain no one was downing cups and cups of coffee to squeeze in one more problem or one more essay before the crack of dawn. No one was comparing their grades with their classmates or beating themselves up for getting a 9 instead of a 10. No one was fretting over their next internship or their GPA or their extracurriculars or their E-board position. They didn’t fill every waking moment with something scheduled, and instead of just working through lunch they actually took a break to go eat something. In Spain they made spending time with friends and family a priority. In Spain I felt balanced; I felt like a real person.

In Spain. But I’m not in Spain anymore. I’m at Cornell, where one of the smart alecky students would probably tell me “all of that is the reason for Spain’s current suffering economy” (that is false, please go take an economics class), “Spaniards are just lazy like that” (also false, please go meet some working Spaniards), or “that’s why Spain isn’t as productive as the U.S.” This last one is actually true, and when one Spaniard said this to me, my response was “so what?” Productivity isn’t everything. If we can cure all diseases and live to be a hundred and fifty but its a century and a half of being overworked and overstressed without the joys of leisure, art, or simply doing things for fun, I will gladly opt for the shorter, happier life.

Perhaps this type of high-pressure, high-stress, and highly competitive environment is just an American thing. Or maybe an Ivy League thing. Or an engineering thing. Or solely an American Ivy League engineering thing. Whatever it is, if this mentality is considered the pinnacle of education and what every school should strive to be, I am more than slightly concerned with where our priorities lay.

While I am incredibly excited to see all my friends, continue working with my Engineers Without Borders team, lead the Cornell Catholic Community, continue volunteering with Alpha Phi Omega, and take advantage of all the amazing opportunities Cornell’s campus has to offer, I have never been so ready to finish school. Don’t misunderstand me: it’s not senioritis, I love to learn and always will. It’s simply that I love to feel like a real human being even more.

Spain (in combination with Bolivia last summer) gave me the opportunity to take one giant step back and look at my life, the world, and their intersection, as a whole, with infinitely greater clarity. After getting so caught up in the minute and insignificant details for a couple of years, I was reminded who I began doing this for in the first place, and thankfully that alone is enough to get me through this final year.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Advertisements

Grand Budapest Ho[s]tel

As part 2 of my Easter break, I took a bus from Vienna to Budapest to spend a couple of days in the original “twin cities.” I was pretty excited to cross another land border (the only other being Canada) but to my disappointment there wasn’t even so much as a sign anywhere denoting that we were crossing into Hungary, but it’s also possible that I missed it. I checked google maps every now and then to see where our little blue dot was and just after passing through what seemed like another toll both archway thing it showed we had crossed the border, so I’m assuming that was all it was.

Of course, first thing the next morning I head to the main square to meet up with a free walking tour to learn a little bit more about my new temporary home, and the first thing, and possibly most important, that I learn is that Pest is not pronounced “pest,” but rather “pesht.” Pest in Hungarian means “disease” so the tour guide half jokingly explained that we would make all Hungarians really happy if we didn’t refer to their beloved city as such.  We started in Pest, he taught us why all the buildings are the same height, the diverse effects of the communist regime, and then we crossed the bridge over to Buda where he showed us around the Castle (which is more like a little community on a hill), around the famous church, and through the beautifully blooming cherry blossoms.

The tour lasted until early afternoon so he offered to show us where to get real Hungarian food (and therefore less expensive than tourist food) in this incredibly hidden little cafeteria in the upstairs of a building on the Castle grounds. I decided to blindly point and see what I got and I ended up with little pieces of fried dough (that seemed to be the standard base), and some mushrooms in a sauce. Whatever it was, it was delicious. There happened to be another girl by herself, about my age, who asked if she could sit with me and I said of course. She was from France and was only in Budapest to take a standardized exam to get into a Business school, and we talked at great length about what we had thought Budapest would be like and what it actually turned out to be. That’s the wonderful thing about traveling is that even if you travel alone, you still choose whether or not to be alone.

I honestly can’t even tell you with exact certainty what I ended up doing that afternoon (don’t worry, I was completely sober) because I just got so blissfully lost in the beauty of the foliage and the history and the sunshine and the people. I definitely roamed the Castle for quite a bit, went up to the top of the Cathedral to get a better view of the city, and I must have spent a solid thirty minutes, maybe an hour, in one of the main parks just lying in the sun where all the other young whippersnappers (and their dogs) were hanging out. As I was laying there I also happened to overhear a conversation (in English to my surprise) where a young man sat down on some steps next to a girl maybe a little older than me and asked her if she believed in God. She replied that she was an atheist and he asked if she had read the Bible. She replied that she had actually studied the Bible quite a bit and had explored many beliefs but had settled on believing that there was no God, and even if there were, he left creation after he made it long ago. The man was clearly Christian and believed otherwise, but it wasn’t an argument, it was a brief and kindhearted conversation. I only wished that small instances like this weren’t such a rare occurrence.

I decided to walk through town a bit and I happened upon a little donut shop that happened to also be an bookshop (conveniently with books written in English). I decided to stop in and I got an apple pie donut and picked up Matilda by Roald Dahl. I ended up staying almost until the shop closed because I was sucked in by the story, even though I read it when I was little.

For dinner I went back to the Easter market in the square where the tour had met that morning and again I simply picked something and pointed to it. It was some sort of fried pancake thing with roasted vegetables and rice and again, it was amazing whatever it was.

The following morning I got up early to avoid the probable crowds at the famous baths, which was a good call, because the thermal ones were actually relatively small. There was a full size swimming pool (the morning was chilly so I steered clear) and two smaller thermal baths, and although it seemed no different from any other heated swimming pool, it was still quite relaxing. I spent a good long while just floating around, letting the notion sink in that pre-enroll was in exactly a week (the first concrete sign that my time abroad was about to come to a screeching halt) and enjoying the two things I rarely had the opportunity to experience at Cornell: doing absolutely nothing and being warm.

When I got back to the city center I had quite a bit of time before my next endeavor, which was at a set time, so I went back to the donut book shop, bought myself some coffee, and finished reading my previous day’s investment, Matilda.

After a while I went to what’s called the Invisible Exhibition. I happened upon it when randomly searching Budapest on TripAdvisor, and it had great reviews so I decided to check it out. It’s more of an experience than anything else, because a tour guide leads your group through various “places” such as a house, a street, a forest, a bar, etc. in complete darkness (they’re all just rooms though, we didn’t cross actual streets, don’t fret). It was moderately disconcerting staring into space and yet seeing absolutely nothing for about 45 minutes, but it was highly eye-opening (pun intended). We had to follow each other like ducklings, feel statues and try to figure out what they were (astonishingly I guessed the Atlas one correctly), try to distinguish different valued coins (result: impossible), and much more. There were a lot of small things that are very difficult to do without sight that hadn’t really occurred to me before. For one you can’t read and play music at the same time, you can’t really paint, and you can’t read. This last one sounds obvious and I know that braille exists but it had never seemed so real to me that some people can’t simply pick up a book and read it. And I love to read, so that made me really sad. Near the end our guide revealed that she was essentially blind, having lost her sight around the age of 20 (the same age as me). Although I couldn’t figure out how she moved around so easily, as I hadn’t noticed anything unusual about her when we met before the tour. I’d have to say, apart from exploring Budapest in general, this was my favorite part.

The next day I had a flight to Rome, part three of my Easter break, and after my Bolivia flight fiasco last summer and nearly missing my flight to Dublin in March, I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I was pretty hungry by the time I got there and they hadn’t even posted the gate number yet so I went and got lunch. Ryanair only tells you the gate thirty minutes before boarding, and their take off time almost always ends up being their boarding time (but they still arrive on time because they factor in so much extra time). That being said, I wasn’t worried at all about getting to the gate until I went and looked at the departure screen twenty minutes before boarding time (so only ten minutes after they even posted it), and it says last call. I panic for a hot second, and then take off across the airport trying to find signs to tell me where to go and silently cursing Ryanair for its shenanigans. Before I even get to the gate I encounter a line of people on the same flight waiting to even get to the gate waiting area. So of course, they haven’t even started boarding yet and I look like a crazy person dashing across the airport and completely out of breath by the time I get there. But hey, I made it.

Butterflies, Doggos, Pianos, and Yo-yos

…these are a few of my favorite things!

Unfortunately I didn’t get to visit Salzburg, but believe me, if the time and money had presented itself, I would’ve been there in a heartbeat. And if you didn’t get the reference, please go enrich your life and watch The Sound of Music.

Since Cornell’s spring break this year was right before my Easter break, my friend Lauren decided to come visit me in Spain for the week! And since she had never been to Europe before and flying to JFK out of anywhere was equally expensive, we decided to hop on over to Vienna as well where we would have two days together before she had to return home.

She stuck it out for my last few days of classes, getting to sleep in while I was in class (so until 2 PM), and in the afternoons we would go out and explore. I took her to some of my favorite places in Santander, one being the faro, or lighthouse, and wee went to the pre-history museum, which I hadn’t visited in all the months I’d already been there.

The only downside was that it’s incredibly difficult to find completely gluten-free food in Spain, which poses an obstacle with Celiac disease. Nearly everything has bread in some form, so even if a dish doesn’t explicitly contain bread, there’s so much of it around that pretty much everything is contaminated anyway. When we didn’t eat at home we had to do some serious googling to find good places to eat, and we actually ended up finding places I’d never been before. For example, Cadelo was a super tiny restaurant near the funicular, so pretty close to where I lived, and they basically take regular dishes and trade out each ingredient for something really distinct. For example they had Korean lasagna whose “noodles” were crunchy things (whose name I don’t recall), it still had some sort of ground meat, and the sauce was white and had something to do with either lychee or kimchi. It was like nothing I’d ever tasted before.

That Thursday, being the beginning of my Easter break, we set off for Vienna from Bilbao. It took a three hour bus ride and two flights to get there, with a short layover in Brussels, and we arrived that evening. The next morning we decided to start out with a not-so-touristy option and scoped out the clock museum.

We got there a bit too early before it opened, so we backtracked and wandered around a little Easter market that we had passed on the way there that was just beginning to come to life. There were hundreds of hand-painted Easter eggs, stained glass, odd-looking edible options, and beautifully adorable earrings carved out of bull horns (humanely retrieved from bulls that were already dead, don’t worry, I asked). I definitely would have bought a pair or two had they not been $25 each.

The clock museum ended up being surprisingly delightful, with any kind of clock you can think of and more: grandfather clocks, picture clocks, astronomical clocks, japanese clocks (from before time was standardized), and my favorite was a hand-written clock that told time, astronomical position, date, and a million other things, made by a monk some centuries ago.

Since, it had begun to rain quite a bit and I was feeling really nostalgic, I convinced Lauren to go to a butterfly garden next to a really famous art museum. It was in a type of greenhouse, and although it was really humid to keep the butterflies happy, I greatly appreciated how warm it was compared to the cold rain outside. I felt like a little kid getting to watch all the colorful insects flit around and observe the ones still in their chrysalides (fun fact, that’s the actual plural form of chrysalis apparently, like the aforementioned platypodes).

Afterwards we decided to start trying to find lunch and eventually we ended up at a café called Allergiker, which is a little tiny family-run café that is 100% allergy free (unless you’re allergic to dogs). All of their dishes were completely void of gluten, lactose, soy, meat, nuts, and anything else you can think of. We both ordered the daily special, the risotto, and it was AMAZING. We also spotted their huge fluffy dog and pet him as he wandered past our table, and there was a piano for anyone to play. At that point I hadn’t played a real piano (the one in Ireland was more of a science experiment) since the previous May, about 10 months prior, so I was ecstatic. I played the only song I remembered off the top of my head (Falling Slowly) and then I just improvised until they brought us the check. We liked it so much that we came back the next day as well.

We visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral that afternoon and as we were leaving we were ambushed by a gentleman who looked like he was dressed to be a royal something-or-other. He gushed about the Royal Orchestra that was performing that weekend and he asked us if we’d been to see it yet because it was a “must-see” in Vienna. I remembered the father of one of the Spanish families I taught English telling me that even thought it’s a little expensive, if I had the chance I should go see a concert while visiting. I asked him how much it was and I was able to haggle the price down because we were students, and, since I can sometimes be a little too trusting,  it didn’t even occur to me that there was a possibility it could be a scam until Lauren voiced some concern. In the end we decided to go with it: he gave us the address, our tickets with the seat numbers, and to get there before 7:30.

After going back to the hostel for a bit and drying our soaking wet shoes and socks (as it had decided to pour the entire day), we set out to find a restaurant for dinner, as there weren’t many options. We settled on a slightly more expensive place because it had gluten-free options and it was rather close, but we still got slightly lost, more than slightly wet, and arrived later than intended. We had to wait quite a bit for our food, and when it came Lauren’s was a normal amount but mine ended up being just a few small spinach dumplings (delicious nonetheless), but we were afraid to order more food because it would take too long. We asked for the dessert pancakes to-go, the check, and ate quickly. As soon as the pancakes came in their little box we booked it to the metro station where we started eating the pancakes while waiting for the train. It was probably an odd sight but definitely worth it because I at least was still hungry and the pancakes had homemade apricot jam and oh my goodness it was amazing.

We arrived at the address with two minutes to spare, Lauren still joking that we were going to get kidnapped and/or murdered, and we were directed by a well-dressed gentleman into a fancy elevator with a family. Upon exiting the elevator I was delighted to confirm that it was in fact the real deal, because in the vestibule they were selling CD’s, parephernalia, alcoholic drinks, and they even had a coat check.

The audience was smaller than I had imagined but the performance surpassed all expectations. It was a seven person orchestra that sounded like fifty, they played beautiful classics and other pieces I hadn’t heard before, there were dancers, an opera singer, and the conductor even made a few jokes in between everything. All in all, it was fantastic and completely worth it.

The following morning, since the weather forecast was much better, we decided to attend a free walking tour. We took the tram this time because the metro didn’t run very near to the meeting point, but as a result it took much longer due to traffic, so we got there about ten minutes late. Apparently our tour had already left, but the Spanish one was still there. We joined in anyway and, thanks to my handy dandy new Spanish skills, I asked the guide about the English tour. She said that we could join the Spanish tour for the first half and that we would cross paths with the English one halfway through and that we could switch then. Since Spanish tour was better than no tour we decided to stick with it and Lauren ended up hardly even needing translations! We got to see everything from the stables, the garden monument of Mozart, the first ever coffee shop, the government buildings, churches, and parts of the Jewish quarter.

That afternoon we decided to visit the Schonbrunn Palace, as we’d had many recommendations to visit it, but we ended up getting there just before closing time so we couldn’t go inside. However, there was a lovely Easter market outside so we explored all the beautiful crafts, and I especially enjoyed the stall with the wooden toys 😉

Then we went to the famous and preposterously fancy Mozart Café and got chocolate cake to celebrate Lauren’s last few hours in Vienna before she had to head to the airport. After stopping back at the hostel to pick up her stuff and seeing her off at the metro station I headed back to the hostel and in the kitchen a couple of girls asked me if I wanted some pasta. Not about to turn down a free dinner, we started talking and it turns out that they were from the U.S., also studying in Spain, and traveling around a bit. They had just gotten there, coming from Budapest, which is where I was going the next day. They gave me some recommendations and it was really cool to share the similarities and differences in our experiences as Americans in Spain.

The bus ticket to Budapest I had bought for the next morning, but on the tour I learned of the Church of the Augustinian Friars and that there would be Palm Sunday mass held that morning. Thankfully I was able to change the bus ticket without any extra charge (another reason traveling Europe is a million times easier than the U.S.) so I was able to start off Holy Week in the most beautiful church at my first mass in German. Palm Sunday has the longest Gospel reading of the year and I understand pretty much no German at all so I wasn’t sure how that was going to work. I have an app with all the daily readings in Spanish so I pulled that up and luckily this is also the one time a year when different people read the different parts, so based on who was speaking and key words (like names, “Jesus,” and the few words that sound the same in both languages), I was able to follow along reading at just the right speed. I love that about the Catholic Church: no matter where you are or what language you speak, you can still participate and it’s still home.

Still in awe of the incredible choir and music of the mass, I meandered back to the hostel, picked up my stuff, and started walking to the bus station. At that point the only land border I’d ever crossed was to Canada, but not on a bus nor on my own, so I wasn’t sure how it would work. The lady at the desk simply asked me for my passport, barely glanced at it, and waved me on; she didn’t even ask to see my bus ticket. Since I had about three hours until arriving in Budapest, I figured I should sew the rip that had suddenly appeared in my jeans on the first day after leaving Spain (of course). Having to travel very light, I had only brought two pairs to begin with, so I was essentially down to 1.5 pairs of pants just one day into my two-week trip. If you’d asked me to imagine my study abroad experience, I would not have included in my list of likely memorable moments receiving some inquisitive looks while sewing my pants on a crowded bus between countries. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

FAQ Part II

During this time of transition from studying in Spain to moving back and starting my summer internship on The Hill, much like last year I’ve been getting a sínfin of questions, so I figured a Part II would be appreciated.

What was the biggest difference in Spain?

If we’re not counting the foreign language part, the biggest adjustment was actually their daily schedule. Eating lunch at 3 PM and dinner at 10 PM with my host family for the first two weeks was a struggle. One day I forgot to bring a snack for the morning and during the last half hour of class I could barely focus or speak because my stomach hurt so much. (So how millions of children manage to go to school without breakfast every day, I have no idea). Once I moved into my own apartment it wasn’t so bad but I still had class until 2 so there was no way around that. After 10 months though I still don’t feel like eating lunch until 1 PM at the earliest, and I’ll eat dinner closer to 8. Never at 10 PM. Never again. Oh, and pretty much everything was closed 2-4 every day and all day on Sundays and I kept forgetting until I would walk up to a closed shop.

What was your favorite part?

This could go in a million different directions. Favorite city: Santander (might be biased). Favorite place to visit: wherever I have family (Dublin, Northampton, Paris, etc.) ((again, might be biased)). Favorite trip: spending two weeks during Christmas with my aunt and uncle in England. Favorite trip not to see family: Rome (probably because it was during Holy Week…biased?). Favorite trip not during Holy Week: I was very happily surprised by Krákow. Favorite tourist site: La Sagrada Familia, which is what originally inspired me to become an architect (then turned civil engineer). Favorite thing I learned: Spanish (of course). Favorite Spanish food: croquetas. Favorite non-Spanish food: this one particular brand of hummus. Favorite store: Primark. Favorite part of living in Spain: First, that I was much much closer to my extended family, so I was able to visit more often. Second, life is truly less stressful. People thoroughly understand the need to balance work and relaxation.

What was the most difficult part?

Trying to get anything done logistically. E.g. voting from abroad, opening a bank account, getting a class approved, applying for internships from abroad, etc. I’ll be writing a whole other post on this, just you wait.

What did you miss the most from the U.S.?

Honestly, probably my dog. I was able to stay in touch with my friends and family (probably more so than when I’m at Cornell because I had much more free time and flexibility in Spain) but my dog isn’t smart enough to recognize that the noise coming from the phone or the face on the screen is any sort of living being. Granted, the same goes for when I’m at Cornell, but normally I’m home for a month at Christmas, so it was just a long stretch of time without seeing him at all.

What was the hardest part about leaving?

María. 100%. (If you’re unfamiliar with the name, I also call her my niña, my Spanish mini-me, and the coolest 12-year-old I’ve ever met. She shares my affinity for baking, sea otters and platypodes, foreign languages, the color purple, and chocolate).

Are you fluent now?

Officially, no; technically, close enough. According to the international standard for fluency (set by Cambridge for English, Instituto Cervantes for Spanish) I am currently at level C1 in Spanish, which is normally labeled “proficient,” whereas C2 would be considered “fluent.” I actually decided to take the C1 exam in NYC last week, so if I pass I’ll get my Spanish certificate, which is really just a more official way of saying “yo hablo español” and will hopefully help me out if I apply for jobs in other (possibly Spanish-speaking) countries. BUT if by “fluent” you mean “can you read the entire Harry Potter series in Spanish?” the answer is yes. Many people laughed or gave me weird looks when I mentioned that I’ve been re-reading HP in Spanish, but look who has a kick-butt vocabulary now!

Does that mean you’re bilingual?

Now instead of speaking two languages, or even one and a half, I feel like I don’t fully speak either anymore haha. One time I was writing an email and I wrote “I standed” and, truth be told, I would never have noticed anything wrong if that red underline hadn’t shown up. Even so, it took me a solid minute of wracking my brain to figure out why it was considered incorrect. Also, a lot of bilingual people will remember a word in one language but not the other. This has happened to me before, but sometimes I can’t think of the word in either language. However, there is also the increasingly frequent occasion in which I feel like the Spanish word actually expresses what I want to say better than the English, even if there’s technically a direct translation. So honestly, I don’t even know…

Have you dreamt in Spanish?

Yes, but my level of comprehension and speaking is exactly the same as it is in real life. I still have to think a little more when I want to say something and I still make some mistakes.

Are you now going to be one of those annoying people who randomly drops foreign words in casual conversation?

Yes. Hopefully not all the time, but yes. My sincerest apologies.

Are you excited for the upcoming year?

Except for the part about being really stressed out about classes, absolutely! Even though my year abroad in Bolivia and Spain is over, I am no less excited for what’s to come because even if it’s not in the extranjero, it will be no less of an adventure and a challenge.

What are you doing this summer?

I am the Architectural/Structural intern for Cornell Facilities Engineering! This means that I help perform and check calculations, check that designs are up to date with the most recent safety codes, inspect roofs, explore places that I wouldn’t be allowed to go otherwise, update measurements on official drawings, and write up Quick Responses (recommendations for smaller scale repairs). I LOVE my job and if I could forgo my last year of classes and just continue working there until I graduate I absolutely would.

What do you do at your job?

Within Cornell FE is the Architectural/Structural team made up of seven people (including me) and my job is to provide support for whatever projects are underway at any given moment. I draw up plans, update existing ones, help with surveying land, perform calculations (e.g. check how many bolts we need, what size, and how far apart), double check others’ calcs, write up Quick Responses (analysis summaries and repair instructions for smaller scale things), and this week I was entrusted with supervising a concrete pour in making checking the specifications of the mix, placing curing blankets correctly, observing any bumps in the road (figuratively, not literallly), and taking notes and photos of everything.

Do you like your job?

No, I LOVE it. There are always so many different projects happening at once that it’s never boring and I get to spend 30-50% of my time on site visits, inspections, etc. So it’s a 9-5 job (actually 8-4:30 but close enough) but I get to spend so much time out and about and interacting with other people, which I love. The vast majority of my coworkers are adult males, and until last week I was the only female on my team. I think throwing in a 21-year-old female college student really spices  up the mix, especially during our section meetings, because everyone tells me they love the “energy and enthusiasm” I bring. And the homemade baked goods of course 😉

How is being back at Cornell after so long?

It’s definitely a little weird, in part because I keep saying “last year” referring to sophomore year and I completely forget that there existed a year at Cornell between then and now. But it’s actually mostly due to the fact that it’s summer so there are very few people around, I’m not taking classes at odd hours of the day, I’m living in a new place (love that too), I’m not constantly stressed out, and it’s consistently warm. So it looks like Cornell, but doesn’t really feel like Cornell. Regardless, I’m really glad to be back and have the opportunity to enjoy all the great outdoorsy things Ithaca has to offer; something so often overlooked amidst the craziness of semesters and lost in the freeze of winter.

What do you plan to do once you graduate?

Normally when I try to think about this I end up with a headache.

Well, what are some options you’re considering?

Getting my masters (even though the thought of more stress school after graduation makes my stomach churn), volunteering with the Peace Corps, taking a gap year to volunteer in some other way, getting a regular job in the U.S. (not in NYC), working in Europe for a bit (I just applied for my Irish passport), or working in Chile for a bit (I have family there and am technically a citizen anyway). But I won’t be meeting with my advisor until August sooooo no one really knows right now.

Do you still want to be a missionary?

Yes. Whether I end up finding a way to do mission work (e.g. what we did in Bolivia except not necessarily a bridge and not necessarily in Bolivia) full time or if I work a normal job for most of the year and take time off to do mission work, at this point at least, it’s still what I see myself doing with my life.

I hope that’s an adequate update on my life’s shenanigans. If you’re in Ithaca let me know, I’ll be here ’til Christmas pretty much, and if you’re in Florida…welp I won’t be back until Christmas. Hasta luego!

 

By the Grace of God

I didn’t believe in love at first sight until I set foot in Rome.

I had an easy trip coming from Budapest on the Wednesday afternoon before Easter, armed with some Duolingo lessons and the fact that Spanish and Italian share quite a few words (that’s all you need, right?). I took the instructions from my friend Rachel, who’s studying abroad in Rome this semester, and took a bus from the airport to the city center. I honestly just assumed that you paid the bus fare on the bus (as I’ve done with every other bus system I’ve ever encountered) but before I could ask how much it was the driver hastily ushered me onto the bus and pulled away from the curb. Since there was no coin receptor and it was so packed that there was hardly even room to breathe I simply said a mental thank you for the free bus ride.

My hostel, which happened to be a convent previously (how cool is that!?), was located in Trastevere, so the ten minute walk between the bus stop and my hostel consisted of sauntering along the length of the Tiber river, lined with ancient domes and buildings;   not to mention that the temperature was perfect and probably the warmest I’d experienced in several months. I found the hostel easily amongst the little cobblestone streets and after taking a few minutes to get settled I headed right back out to pick up my tickets at the Vatican for the Holy Week masses.

I remember the moment I stepped into St. Peter’s Square (which is not at all a square) and immediately felt something tug at my heart. I was pretty excited about the fact that it was my third ever land border crossing, but it was something much more than that. I’m honestly still not entirely sure what it was, but my best guess is that it was caused by simply entering into a place that is so historically significant, so beautiful, and where some of the most incredible examples of human beings have lived, prayed, mourned, and celebrated.

After standing in awe for a solid several minutes, I started looking for the Puerta de Bronce, where the letter I had been sent told me to pick up the tickets. I wandered around clutching my little piece of paper and ended up asking the post office, the tourist shop, and finally the military guards wielding huge firearms where it was, because all I could find was the ridiculously long line to go through to security to walk through the Basilica. Finally, I ended up wandering in the right direction and when the security guard saw my letter he put me at the very front of the line to go through the metal detector. Then, instead of following the trickle of people up the steps of the Basilica, I went up some side steps to a couple of Swiss Guards and handed over the letter. While one searched for the tickets I chatted with the other, and it turned out that he was more comfortable with Spanish than English, so I was delighted to oblige. The one came back and asked if I was sure that I had tickets and that they were in my name (of which I was 700% sure) and asked for my passport. He didn’t end up finding anything with my name on it but thankfully he gave them to me anyway. Despite their serious demeanor, they were super friendly and nearly impossible to take seriously in their colorful get-ups.

I then took advantage of having already skipped the line for security and took a peek into the Basilica. As I was leaving the sun was just setting and it was absolutely breathtaking.

For dinner I met up with Rachel in Trastevere at this little restaurant and, while sharing some amazing fish and pasta, we huddled over the map and she circled all the most significant places to try to visit in the three short days ahead. If I had been excited before, I was about to leap out of my seat by the end of dinner. We crossed the river and walked around the center of the city quite a bit, stopping at some ruins (home to many many cats), the Pantheon, and Giolitti, where I discovered the wonder that is caramelized fig gelato. Rachel even showed me the Cornell in Rome program classrooms and workspaces, which just happen to share the building with the Russian embassy. It’s all very new and elegant and we chatted with a couple of the other Cornell students; definitely an odd but quite pleasant experience to talk to other Cornellians again.

At that point it was about 10 o’ clock at night so I was about to slowly wander back to my hostel and sleep because I had to be up early the next day, but I forgot it was a Wednesday until they were about to have a meeting for a group project. I had honestly forgotten that it’s entirely normal (and necessary) for Cornell students to work until pretty late at night, and I had a small pang of dread realizing that this would once again be my reality in a few short months. As I’ve may have mentioned before, I have very much a love-hate relationship with Cornell.

The next morning I was up before 7:00 to get to the Vatican by 8:00. The Holy Thursday Chrism mass didn’t start until 9:30 but seating in the Basilica is first-come first-serve so a ticket only guarantees entrance if there’s still room. Again, I felt like a VIP walking up to the Basilica because there was no line or anything; all I had to do was hold on to my bright green slip of paper and flash it to all the police officers, military personnel, security guards, ushers, and Swiss guards (there was a lot of security if you couldn’t tell). There was a door on the right and the left and I chose the right without even thinking and grabbed a seat in the closest row to the front that was still free. I ended up in the 5th or so row next to some seminarians but when I looked across the aisle I regretted not going in the other door because I saw a superfluity of nuns (yes that’s actually what a group of nuns is called, I just googled it), many of whom were Missionaries of Charity (the order founded by Mother Teresa).

The seminarians next to me were speaking English but they seemed to be in deep conversation and I didn’t want to interrupt. They then began to say morning prayer (part of the Liturgy of the Hours) so I listened silently as they read the various psalms and readings. A few minutes after they finished, when I was zoned out and my mind was on an entirely different continent, the seminarian closest to me quite suddenly turned to me and said “so you speak English?”  Trying to hide how startled I was, I said yes. His name was Will and he and his fellow seminarians were all actually from the U.S. but finishing their last few years of studying at the North American College in Rome. He was quite kind and we talked about everything from Charleston, NC to the requirements to become a Pontifical Swiss Guard.

The Chrism mass is held every Holy Thursday where both the washing of feet and blessing of all the chrism oil to be used over the next year takes place. It was  B E A U T I F U L. Everything about it was beautiful. The Basilica itself, the choir, the mass parts all in Latin, the readings in different languages, and, despite only understanding the Italian words that are similar to Spanish, the homily as well. I had never even seen Pope Francis in person before (missed him by just a few minutes in Philadelphia) and suddenly he was only a few people-widths away, looking just as ordinary and grandfatherly as always.

Since Will and I had talked about confession and I told him I hadn’t gone at all during Lent because I was too chicken to do it in Spanish, after mass he tried to help me find a priest. This is much easier said than done in Rome during Holy Week because all seminarians are required to wear clerical collars in Rome, as mandated by one of the 20th century popes (I don’t remember which), so you couldn’t tell who was actually a priest and who was a seminarian. We were unsuccessful so we parted ways, and I was honestly kind of sad because I knew the chances of running into him again, especially with so many people in Rome that week, were slim.

I found one of the pasta places Rachel had recommended to me, Pastaciutto, where I got a bowl of homemade pasta for €5! I asked for it to-go and found a sunny bench right outside St. Peter’s Square. It was still pretty chilly in Santander at that point, so with a dose of sunshine and pasta I was in heaven.

I decided to make the most of the afternoon and explore the Vatican Museums. As I was walking there, a guy jumped in my way and tried to get me to buy a ticket to skip whatever line and the conversation went something like this:

Guy: Have you seen St. Peter’s Basilica yet?
Me: Yes.
G: But you’ve only seen the outside.
M: No, I was there this morning for mass.
G: Noooo, you must’ve just been outside.
M: No, I was at the Chrism mass in the Basilica this morning.
G: No no no, it’s closed to tourists today.
M: No. I had a ticket and went to the mass this morning. Which. Was. In. Side.
G: *still skeptical* oooookay

Because St. Peter’s Basilica is definitely nothing more than a tourist trap where you can glimpse a cute old man named Francisco wearing a pointy hat.

What I didn’t realize until I finally made it into the museum was that you couldn’t just walk freely around. I supposed theoretically you could, but, being Holy Week, it was packed, so there was only a slow trickling mob of people in every hallway. I figured, since the Museums were so vast, that I’d make my way to the Sistine Chapel first and just enjoy whatever art was on the way. Even so, it took me about two hours to get there.

There;s a quote from a great movie called “Goodwill Hunting” (thanks Priya 😉 ) and a great actor named Robin Williams:

“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michaelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling.”

So now I can tell you not only what it smells like, but also what it feels like to stand in a crowded room where everyone is just chatting away and the security guards are constantly yelling at everyone to stop talking and to stop taking photos. The visuals? Breathtaking. The atmosphere? Thoroughly lacking in awe.

That afternoon I simply walked. I went to the Pantheon, got gelato at Della Palma, and somehow ended up all the way at the Spanish steps, which was almost an hour’s walk from my hostel. It was pretty late by the time I got back and I had done so much walking that I physically needed to give my feet a break before even attempting to find dinner, something I don’t think I’d ever experienced before.

The morning of Good Friday I met up with Rachel at Villa Farnesia. We got an audioguide to share and she gave me an extra in-depth tour, as per usual, of all the beautiful artwork since she had gone on school trips there before. While making our way through Trastevere, stopping at countless churches along the way, we happened upon a bakery that Rachel is particularly fond of. We bought some little cookies, including two that were shaped like some sort of indistinct farm animal, and another pastry (at this point I’ve forgotten the name) that looks like a little pie but is even better. We followed the Tiber River nearly all the way to the Colosseum and the last stop, before Rachel had to head back to her schoolwork, was a huge double door with a little teeny peephole. She wouldn’t tell me what everyone was looking at and let me see it for myself after waiting in line for at least 20 minutes. I won’t ruin the surprise but it was definitely worth the wait 😉

By the time I arrived at the Colosseum and the Roman Forum I had to turn around to get to the Good Friday service (it’s the only day of the year there is [technically] no mass, so we just call it a service), and that’s when my bad luck with transportation kicked in. The Via Crucis was to be held later that night outside the Colosseum, so some roads were blocked off. I had been planning on taking the metro, but that particular station was closed and I didn’t know where the nearest bus stop was and I couldn’t get to the tourist info place because it was located on one of the blocked off parts of the street. Luckily, I had taken a photo of the bus map on the first day and found a route that would take me in the general vicinity of the Vatican. I simply walked in the right direction until I came to a bus stop and, since I didn’t have a bus card nor did I know how or where to get one, I hopped on and fortunately the bus was so crowded that I wouldn’t have been able to verify my ticket in the little machine even if I’d had one. And I figured of all the reasons in the world to hop on a bus without paying, getting to the Vatican on Good Friday was an incredibly valid one.

Thankfully I got there pretty on time, but not early enough to go to reconciliation (although I’m not sure if they would’ve had it anyway considering the special occasion). As I tried to find a seat I super quickly scanned the room to see if I could find the seminarians, but I didn’t see them so I just picked the first empty seat I found. Of course, the service was quite somber, but nonetheless beautiful.

Afterwards I had a relatively small window to get from the Vatican back to the Colosseum for the Via Crucis (stations of the cross), but I wanted to see Rachel again so I stopped at the Cornell space for a bit. It was lovely to sit down for a few minutes and someone brought an Italian Easter cake so it was a short but lovely visit.

On the way to the Colosseum I grabbed a slice of pizza (from a place that happened to be named “Florida”) and ate it as I walked. As I got closer, a steady flow of people formed and we ended up being pretty packed together yet surprisingly comfortable as we waited for Pope Francis. Somehow I missed the person handing out booklets (or maybe they ran out) so my brain ended up wading through a flood of Italian words, but I know the stations so I was actually able to follow along pretty well.

Here’s the crazy part. As I was walking back, again in a sea of people, I hear someone to my right say “hey, look who it is!” and out of the corner of my eye I see them point to their left, so I look to my left, expecting to see I don’t even know who, but I don’t recognize anyone. I simply figure that they’re talking about someone I don’t know and keep walking, but oddly enough something makes me turn to the people who were talking to see who they are and LO AND BEHOLD it’s the seminarians! They had been pointing to me! This time there were a couple more with them so we introduced ourselves and they asked where I was staying. It turns out that they live in a house somewhere near Trastevere and, especially since it was nearly midnight at that point, they offered to walk me home, which was incredibly kind of them. I found out that they had also gotten tickets to the Easter Vigil mass the following day, but we knew it would be even more crowded than other event, so when we got to my hostel we said our goodbyes knowing that we probably wouldn’t run into each other again.

Holy Saturday was my last full day in Rome so I got up even earlier than the previous days and set out towards the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. I kept on walking right past all the really crowded touristy places, and anyone who knows me well knows that under all the engineering/sciency stuff I’m also a history geek, but don’t think I was skipping out on all of Rome’s historical sites. Don’t get me wrong, the Colosseum is cool, but I had my sights set on somewhere infinitely more historically significant than a crumbling ampitheater. Not far from all the hustle and bustle is a tranquil plaza with a plain door guarded by two armed military officers with a set of steps inside. They’re made of marble but hidden underneath they are actually wooden. They’ve been named the “Scala Sancta,” or “Holy stairs” because they’re the steps Jesus ascended just before being presented to Pontius Pilate; before being sentenced to death on the first Good Friday.

Before you get all historically accurate, no, none of that actually happened in Rome, but rather in Jerusalem. In the 4th century the steps were removed (who knows why) and specifically brought to Rome. They’re covered with marble because the wood is extremely old and delicate, and quite possibly because they’re simply so sacred. Out of sheer reverence and solidarity with Christ’s suffering, they can only be ascended on one’s knees.

A couple friends of mine visited here a while back and told me that it was actually painful to go up the steps on their knees, and I distinctly remember thinking that I’ve kneeled on countless hard surfaces (marble, concrete, wood, you name it) and it’s not that bad. Kids, do not try this at home. They were absolutely right. I don’t know if it’s because of the marble or because I was practically crawling up the stairs or because I was essentially walking with Jesus en route to his crucifixion, but it HURT. I was nearly in tears halfway up, but I was trying so hard to hide it.  There was a group of nuns there who appeared completely unfazed and spent much longer on each step than I did, so I was completely humbled watching them. I could’ve sworn that my knees were going to literally be blue and green with purple polka dots (yes, I’ve had bruises like that before), but when I got up and hobbled away they were very stiff and sore, but they looked 100% normal. You wouldn’t have even been able to tell that my knees felt like they were going to melt away.

Afterwards I went to visit the church that houses relics of what is believed to be the cross and a replica of the Shroud of Turin. I then met up with Rachel for lunch at Rosciolo, a really good pizza place. They had all their Easter cakes hanging upside down in the back of the shop (I’m not sure why but they have to hang like that to rise properly I believe). We took the pizza to-go since there wasn’t really seating inside and she brought me to a little park nearby and told me the story of how the giant hole in the fence came to be when an old couple crashed into it during the parks opening ceremony. The weather was absolutely perfect and I was also able to pass along to Rachel some extra Vatican Easter Mass tickets that the seminarians had given me because they somehow ended up with so many. I thanked her for being such a wonderful tour guide and we parted ways.

I headed back to the Vatican because I wanted to get some souvenirs for friends and family before it got really busy and crazy for the Easter Vigil, and I still hadn’t been to reconciliation. I went to every souvenir shop I passed by (and there were a lot) to see if they had blue miraculous medals, Saint Theresa of Calcutta medals (ones that specifically said saint on them), and a green scapular. This last one got me the highest tally of weird looks, but it definitely exists. Eventually I found all except the green scapular, and since I still had a bit of time before I figured I’d have to get in line for the Vigil, I decided to try to find a priest for confession. You’d think this would be incredibly easy being in St. Peter’s Square at Easter, but the problem is that all seminarians are required to wear the clerical collar while in Rome, a rule created by JPII. So every time I saw someone in a collar who wasn’t busy I’d ask them if they were a seminarian or a priest, but every answer was the same. Finally, as I stalked the ever growing line to get into the vigil, I spotted a slightly older man in a collar and figured the older he is the more likely he is to be a priest rather than a seminarian. Bingo!! He was actually a priest! And he happened to be from Uruguay but spoke English perfectly. He agreed to hear my confession and tried to see if we could go in a little church nearby but it was closed to the public those few days. So it ended up being a literal sidewalk confession. I think on the sidewalk in line for the Easter Vigil is about as last minute as you can get, but it was totally worth it.

I wanted to find a bathroom before committing to the line and I had to essentially walk along the line on the other side of the barrier to get there and at one point I see an unusually large cluster of clerical collars and I’m like WAIT A SECOND. It was them. For the third day in a row. Against all odds. And this time there were eight of them. All because I was trying to find a bathroom. The seminarians spotted me and insisted that I join them in line because navigating the mass of people alone would’ve been quite an ambitious endeavour. We were standing in line for probably about two hours and at that point it was getting late but I hadn’t thought to get dinner before staking out a spot in line. Seminarians came to the rescue once again when one of them made a sandwich run and brought back food for all, including me.

Once they actually opened the gates to the square everyone was packed together like sardines. Somehow some of the seminarians who were behind got ahead of us and one or two ended up forging ahead to save us seats once they got through security. We ended up breaking into smaller groups so no one got left behind and when we all got through we were concerned about finding each other, but again we all reunited somehow.

The mass began as all Easter Vigils do: in complete darkness with one candle giving light to others and those continuing to pass it on until the whole church is a sea of little glowing lights. That’s always my favorite part. If you’ve never been to an Easter Vigil mass before, I would highly highly recommend going at least once in your life. It’s definitely a commitment because they’re normally about three hours long, but it’s once a year and incredibly beautiful.

During the mass we made our way through the old testament in Italian, French, English, and Spanish, and when it came time for Pope Francis to give the homily (in Italian and unfortunately the only part not in the booklet) I pulled out my journal and decided that writing down the words that I could understand might help. By the end I had an interesting mix of words but it still wasn’t enough to get the gist of what he was talking about. Afterwards I was talking to one of the seminarians about it and I said that most of the words I understood were “Jesus,” “death,” and “mercy.” He simply replied, “Well those are the most important parts, so what more do you need?”

TRUE. THAT.

By the time the vigil ended it was about midnight and the seminarians didn’t want me walking home by myself.  However, the seemingly perpetually hungry Y chromosome was kicking in and they wanted to get something to eat. One of the few places still open was a little gelatería near the Vatican Museums so we ended up there and they told me that the Knights of Columbus wanted to buy me gelato. I was already pretty cold because of the wind but I certainly wasn’t going to turn down free gelato, not to mention that it was finally Easter and we were supposed to be celebrating! I had ordered gelato a few times before so I made an attempt at doing it in Italian, and I tripped up quite a bit but the servers had a great sense of humor and thoroughly enjoyed watching the seminarians come to the rescue.

On the walk home Will taught me a story (I don’t remember why) to remember all the greek letters, and although I think he made it way more interesting than this, I found a video that tells the same story! (the whole part about the little lambdas made me laugh to hard)

Before they dropped me off at my hostal they invited me to Easter brunch with them because they didn’t want me to spend Easter alone, but very sadly I had to decline because my flight to Lourdes was leaving at 1PM the following day.

If I hadn’t already bought the plane ticket I would’ve 1,000% stayed in Rome for the rest of my Easter break. I was heartbroken that I had to leave both the city I had just fallen in love with, of which there was still so much left unexplored, and the seminarians I had just befriended. I’m not gonna lie, I cried for a bit on the plane and made a very comprehensive list of what I wanted to do and see when (not “if,” but “when”) I return to Rome. Then, when I looked up and peered out the window, I saw this:

IMG_3324

It was truly a once in a lifetime experience because I honestly will probably never again be in Rome during Easter, and it was, by far, outside of visiting family, my favorite trip during my year abroad. I still can’t believe that I was able to visit, out of all the seasons of the year, during Holy Week, that I was able to get a ticket for each mass happening while I was there, that I was able to get any tickets at all considering that you’re supposed ask six months in advance and I asked one and a half, that I happened to sit next to an American seminarian on the first day, and that I ran into them every subsequent time I was in St. Peter’s. I’m entirely convinced that this was all purely by the grace of God.

AND, if that all wasn’t enough, it was through Rachel mentioning her past summer internship at Cornell Plantations that made me check the student job site for summer openings because my Ithaca lease started in June anyway and I was already sad about missing one of my short few years at Cornell so I knew I’d love spending a summer in Ithaca. AND when I checked for non-engineering jobs (I was getting desperate), there just so happened to be a posting for a single summer internship with Cornell Facilities Engineering. AND it just happened to be Civil Engineering focused. AND subsequently I found out that two of my best friends and I all, without each other knowing, ended up applying to Cornell summer internship/research positions. AND all three of us ended up getting the position we applied for, even though we each only applied for a single one. AND a dear friend who was abroad the semester before I was and just graduated in May, whom I thought I was never going to see ever ever again, happened to end up working with a middle school summer program on campus in July and the beginning of August. Call it what you want, but I call it the grace. God is good everyone ❤

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hasta Luego #Spain

As my uncle wisely commented, this blog should be called “Where in the World was Meriel” because of course it’s never up to date. I still haven’t posted about anything since my trip to Ireland in March and, because I blinked and the rest of my time in Spain suddenly disappeared, I’m on my way back there right now. Unfortunately you’ll have to wait a bit longer for those but hopefully it will be worth it!

Over the past 10 months there have been moments when something unnecessarily difficult and/or incredibly frustrating has come up that would never happen in the U.S. (or most other developed countries for that matter). A less serious example would be the fact that the roundabout right outside my building doesn’t have a pedestrian crosswalk…you kind of just have to go for it and hope for the best. So in these moments, in order to keep my sanity and make light of the frustration, I would simply laugh to myself and with a half-bitter tone say “#Spain.”

However, this time I say it with such heartfelt gratitude, awe, and inevitable sorrow, because while there have been many difficult and less-than-enjoyable moments, there have been infinitely more moments that have made the aforementioned highly forgettable and entirely worth it. I will dearly miss my friends, my niños, my professors, having the opportunity to speak Spanish on a daily basis rather than simply “practice” it, Bachata/Salsa classes, one particular Spanish brand of hummus, my Cornell water bottle with all my stickers on it that I accidentally left on a plane, popping over to see my extended family every now and again, the coffee (not the bitter American caffeinated dirt water), being able to walk everywhere, and I’m especially going to miss the cultural emphasis on the importance of life outside of work and taking time to relax.

 

I just want to say a huge THANK YOU to:

  • Cornell for giving me this opportunity
  • Jenny (DAT’S MY BIG!!) who played a major role in convincing me to go
  • Sydney for being my study abroad inspiration
  • Zoe, a Cantabria veteran, who basically volunteered to plan my life for me and answer my bajillion questions about all things Santander
  • all my fellow Cornellians abroad who have hosted me, hung out with me, and/or shown me around their little part of the world
  • all my friends back home who have provided an insane amount of moral support and letters/postcards
  • Christopher Michael Huber (DAT’S MY LITTLE!!) who has been the only one to consistently FaceTime me through it all and also got me through my “major” crisis (=crisis about my major)
  • my host mom who is the bomb dot com and even gave me her Quesada recipe
  • my flatmates for being super sweet, considerate, helpful, and patient
  • my Spanish families who have been exactly that this past year: my family
  • Eli for finishing my sentences (when the Spanish words escaped me) ❤
  • My friends who came to visit and brought me Girl Scout Samoas, pumpkin pie spice, graham crackers, and a new graphing calculator (right before my exams)
  • My extended family for being my homes away from home
  • All you who read my blog posts; I’m flattered that you’re so caring and interested in my shenanigans
  • Most of all, my PARENTS without whom NONE of this would have been possible because they drove me to the airport (and encouraged me to go to Cornell in the first place and finally said yes to Spain ((And you gave me flat out “NO” the first time I said I wanted to study abroad in Spain hehehe)) and have listened to my skype rants every Sunday and have done all the things that I can’t do from outside the U.S. and gave me life and all that jazz).

You guys are the absolute best.

Spain, you have been so good to me. No digamos adiós, sino hasta luego

Daffodils and Irish Freckle Bread

About halfway through March I was fortunate enough to discover that I had an unexpected three day weekend at end of the month. My first thought, the same as any study abroad student: let’s go somewhere! My second thought: let’s go to Ireland! Call me unadventurous for wanting to go “home” for a weekend (something impossible at Cornell) over somewhere new, but I was ecstatic at the possibility of visiting my granddad and uncle in Dublin (and my wallet was ecstatic about not having to pay for a hostel and food). I checked the flights and it just so happened that Ryanair’s seasonal direct flight between Santander and Dublin started the Sunday of that same weekend. So I would have to fly out of Bilbao and have a layover somewhere on the way there, but at least on the way back it would be directly to Santander. Not quite perfect, but close enough.

I should start by saying that it was 100% worth it, BUT getting there turned out to be wayyyyy more stressful than it should have been. I must admit it was partially my fault but also very much not my fault. I was flying out that Thursday at 6:20PM, my class ended at 2:00, and Bilbao is only an hour and a half bus ride away, so I had plenty of time, right? Well I got to the bus station in Santander around 2:45 planning on taking the 3:05 bus which would supposedly arrive in Bilbao at 4:30, leaving me plenty of time to then take the local bus to the airport.

I don’t think any bus I had taken from the Santander station had ever been late before (and I’ve taken quite a few) but this one didn’t even get there until 3:20, at which point I was already concerned about getting there on time. However, as soon as it pulled up, I realized that I didn’t have a ticket. You can get them online beforehand, at the station, and for some busses you just pay the driver when you get on. I’d taken a bus to Bilbao many times before and always bought the ticket online, but for whatever reason the system was being really finnicky and wouldn’t process the payment. I figured no problem, I’d just get the ticket at the station. For whatever reason I was thinking that for this route you get your ticket on the bus, but when it pulled up and everyone pulled out their paper tickets I ran upstairs (the station has three floors, the ticket desk and bus terminal being as far apart as possible of course) and asked for a ticket for the 3:05 bus. The lady, who seemingly was not having a good day at all, didn’t even look at me and said that wasn’t possible because the bus had already left. I explained that the bus was late and had just gotten there but she said that regardless, it was past the time of departure so she couldn’t sell me a ticket. After a moment of major déjà vu​ (back to standing at the gate in Miami airport last summer, entirely out of breath after running probably the equivalent of a mile from my connecting gate, and being told I couldn’t board the plane to Bolivia that the rest of my team was already on) with a knot in my throat and the tears coming fast, I slid the €7 across the counter and she printed me a ticket for the next bus at 3:45. From checking the bus times beforehand I knew that this bus would make more stops and therefore take longer than the other would’ve, not arriving in Bilbao until 5:30.

So yes, it was my fault for not having a ticket, but if the bus had arrived on time (at 2:55 like it was supposed to so it could leave at 3:05) I would’ve been able to still run upstairs and buy a ticket. And even if I’d already had a ticket, the bus left so late that I probably still would’ve been really pressed for time in getting to the airport.

Thankfully the next bus left exactly on time and on the way there I was able to check in for my flight online and call a taxi to be waiting for me when I got there (as it would be much faster than taking the local bus). Somehow we arrived ten minutes early so, while kicking myself for not having asked for the taxi to be early instead of right on time (I hadn’t wanted to make the driver wait around) I looked around for a taxi stop. I figured there must be one close to the bus station but I couldn’t find one anywhere and there weren’t any station workers around to ask. As soon as the clock turned 5:31 I called the taxi company and they simply told me that the taxi was occupied, which completely defeats the purpose of calling ahead (and that made it sound like they only had one taxi even though it was a whole company), so then I was just fed up with all forms of public transportation. While still wandering around trying to find a taxi, one pulled up right next to me at a stoplight and happened to be empty. I asked if he could take me to the airport and thankfully he said yes and helped me put my bag in the trunk before the light turned green.

He was very friendly and tried to make conversation but at that point it was 5:45 and I was so nervous that I could hardly form sentences in Spanish. He said I would’ve found one faster if I had gone to where all the taxis were, but he was speaking almost too fast to understand and I was too annoyed in general to bother asking where on earth that had been. When we got there I handed him cash, told him to keep the change, and ran inside. I was scurrying between the two screens on opposite sides of the check-in area trying to find out which gate the plane was at but it wasn’t displayed on either of them. I checked the time, 6:10, and ran to the information desk to ask, trying to sound as calm and sane as possible. The man looked at me, smiled, and calmly told me that the flight has been delayed but will probably be at gate 3. To say I was relieved was an understatement.

I went through security and actually had a bit of time to sit and try to relax. The plane was set to leave at 6:45 but didn’t end up taking off until about 7 so I was still a bit nervous about making my connection. The layover was in Barcelona, meant to be an hour and 45 minutes, now shortened to only an hour, and I wasn’t sure if I’d have to go through security again because I was switching from a domestic to international flight. If that wasn’t enough, Ryanair also requires that silly visa stamp on the boarding pass of non-EU passport holders that you can only get at the check-in counter, so I had no idea how I was going to get that. And after hearing stories of people missing weddings, funerals, etc. simply because they didn’t have the stamp, I wouldn’t have put it past them to not let me on.

Thankfully the connection could not have been easier. The two gates were in the same terminal, really close to each other, and I stalked some Ryanair employees from afar until they weren’t busy and asked if they could sign my boarding pass in lieu of the stamp. Also getting their boarding passes signed were two girls about my age with American accents so I introduced myself. In the 45 minutes they made us stand in line before boarding the plane I learned that they were studying for the semester in Barcelona and going to Ireland for the weekend, where they were from, what they were studying, and we even bonded over the fact that we missed the huge snowstorm in the northeast a few days prior.

By the time we landed it was pretty late (11:30) and after the relatively stressful few hours of thinking that I was going to get stuck in Bilbao or Barcelona, I was ready to sleep, so I didn’t even think to try to find the two girls to say goodbye when I got off the plane. I walked down the long walkway to the main terminal but the flow of people stopped and piled up in the hallway right outside the immigration control room. After a few minutes they let a few more people in and I realized why: the room was packed. I have no idea how many flights arrived at the same time as mine but it must have been at least 3 or 4 because I’ve never seen so many people waiting in line to have their passport checked. Normally traveling on a non-EU passport is an advantage because the line is generally shorter, but in this case there were only two non-EU windows open so even though the line was shorter, it moved much much slower.

I got to a window just after 1AM and after asking me the normal question of “what’s the purpose of your visit,” “how long are you staying,” etc. the guy asks to see my boarding pass for my flight back to Spain. Ummmmmm my flight isn’t until Sunday, why would I have the boarding pass right now?? So he asks me to show him a confirmation email or something to prove it. There was no wifi and I didn’t have any data so I wasn’t even sure if I could search through my email (thankfully it was already loaded though), and  for some reason the only email coming up was for my flight there, not the one home. I told him I couldn’t find it but that I could tell him the time, date, airline, everything. He wasn’t impressed. I stood there for at least 5 minutes silently raging at Spain for not letting me get my Irish passport through the embassy in Madrid and frantically scrolling through my email until finally I found it. He let me go but I was honestly pretty annoyed because no one has ever asked me to show physical proof of a return flight when I’m only staying for a few days (and I’ve gone through many passport controls in my life) and he didn’t seem to care that there were a million people waiting behind me in line, including a couple with 5 very young and tired children, at an ungodly hour of the morning after having traveled for probably much longer than I had.

Anyway, I finally made it to my uncle, who had been apparently trying to get a hold of me to ask if everything was all right, at about 1:15 AM, or 2:15 Spanish time. We drove to my granddad’s house where we stayed up for at least another hour chatting and drinking the obligatory Irish tea. So what should’ve taken 7 hours of traveling took 12, but I was just happy to be there. I still can’t even believe how lucky (more like blessed) I was that my first flight was delayed enough so that I didn’t miss it but not enough that I missed my connection, and I am entirely sure that it was quite literally by the grace of God that it all worked out so perfectly.

The following day was my only chance to go into town for a bit so, even after sleeping for not nearly enough hours, I set out for the bus stop. I wasn’t sure how much it was so I asked the only other person waiting, a grandmotherly woman, if she knew. She said she wasn’t sure but gave me an estimate and, due to my clearly-not-Irish accent, asked where I was from. I explained the whole Florida-New-York-Spain-Ireland thing (I’ve had lots of practice at this point) and she said she might know my granddad since he’s lived in the same neighborhood for so long, but she didn’t recognize the surname Green. When we got on the bus she waited with me to make sure I had the correct amount of change and even offered to pay my fare in the case that I didn’t. We chatted all the way until we arrived at her stop and she made sure I knew which stop to get off at before she left. It was only afterwards that I realized that I didn’t even know her name.

When I got into town, thanks to the lady’s very helpful instructions, I stopped in the tourist information office and grabbed a city map since I didn’t think it was worth turning on my phone’s roaming just to have a map for a few hours. I figured between that and the countless times I’ve navigated through Dublin with my mom and siblings during the summers we spent there that I would be fine. I wanted to first visit Trinity College, my mom’s alma mater, so I set off down O’ Connell street. I wanted to double check that I was going in the right direction so while I was crossing the bridge I stepped to the side, pulled out my map, and literally less than three seconds later a very well-dressed businessman stopped and asked me in the most charmingly Irish of accents if I was trying to find somewhere in particular. I told him I just wanted to make sure I was going towards the college and after very happily telling me that I was indeed headed in the right direction and giving further detailed directions to the entrance, he wished me a lovely day and a lovely stay in Ireland. As he trotted away I merely stood there slightly taken aback, in the best of ways.

I had recently heard of the stereotype that Irish people are very kind and friendly, but before then I had really only ever interacted with people who were either related to me, the kids on the block in my granddad’s neighborhood I used to play with, and parish priests; none of whom I’d expect to be unfriendly anyway. But lo and behold, twice within an hour a random stranger was incredibly welcoming and kindhearted towards me.

As I approached the entrance to Trinity, I saw a table covered in Daffodils alongside it (as it was National Daffodil Day for cancer awareness) and in front of the table was a blonde ponytail, boots, and a purse, all looking very familiar. Against all odds it turned out to be the two girls I had met on my flight the previous night! We explored Trinity together for a while, lamented over the insanely long line through immigration at the Dublin airport, and exchanged numbers before they had to head somewhere else for a tour.

Then I made my way through campus to the science museum (which is entirely free, fyi) where they currently have an artificial intelligence exhibition. They had a robot that drew and colored its own pictures, an interactive pet robot, and a machine where if you turned the crank continuously it spit out a penny ever 4 seconds or so to demonstrate the equivalent of their minimum wage. My absolute favorite part, however, was the piano robot. You have to keep in mind that there’s no music school at the University of Cantabria, it’s not socially acceptable in Spain for just anyone to play the pianos in the churches, and I don’t have a piano in my flat of course, therefore I hadn’t even touched a piano since the previous May. So when I walked in the room and saw a piano in the corner I flipped out just a little bit. I racked my brain trying to remember any songs and the only one that came to mind just so happened to be one from an Irish musical (it’s called Once and it’s on Netflix, definitely watch it). The robot’s purpose was to analyze what you were playing and try to play a few notes back that fit with what you’re playing. It didn’t sound very good, but I was so rusty after not playing for so long that I was thankful that all the mistakes I was making blended in with the robot. I probably would’ve stayed and played much longer but figured I should let someone else try. When I got up from the piano, one of the student employees told me he didn’t want me to stop playing.

I did some thorough wandering and exploring around Dublin city center (centre, if I’m culturally correct) and on my way back to the bus stop I went in search of a key part of every summer spent in Dublin: a hole-in-the-wall donut place. And I mean that quite literally because it’s nothing more than a little window where you can buy the most delicious donuts I’ve ever had for €0.80 each, and I had to ask my mom where to find it because I had never bothered to find out its name. They’re nothing at all like Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme. They’re homemade, really fluffy and warm, and come in three flavors: sugar, cinnamon sugar, and chocolate. This is one of the few places I will ever choose another flavor over chocolate, and I love watching them toss the donuts in the little tray of sugar. They were even better than I had remembered.

I then realized that I actually didn’t know where to catch a bus home because it definitely wasn’t the place as where it had dropped me off. Again, from the random bits of memories I could gather from nearly a decade ago, I somehow found the block where we always used to wait for the bus after a day in town, and I even bought some daffodils on the way. This time I sat on the top floor (they’re all double decker, another thing I love about Dublin) and at the very front. While walking home from the bus stop the sun was just setting over the horizon and with all the yellow daffodils glowing it was just magnificent. Unfortunately it was also on this short walk that I somehow suddenly realized that I was coming down with a really bad cold. I was annoyed that it might put a damper on my visit but also slightly relieved because I would much rather get sick at home than at school.

IMG_2706

My granddad had a few options we could make for dinner, but like any real Irish meal they all contained meat. I suddenly realized that it was a Friday during Lent so I asked if there was anything we could make that wasn’t meat, but we soon found out that the only vegetarian option in the house was something in a can that had been sitting in the cupboard for many years (we actually found things that had been there since I was in high school). I told him it was perfectly fine if we had meat since there wasn’t really another option, but, even though he himself is not Catholic, he insisted that no it was not fine and we would find something. He had a flyer for pizza on the countertop that he had received that morning in the mail, so we called them up. I’m honestly not sure if my granddad had ever ordered pizza before, so I made the call, relieved that it wouldn’t have to be in Spanish (Spanish over the phone is way harder than Spanish face-to-face). Of course, with my luck, the guy on the other end spoke so fast and with such a heavy Irish accent that I had to ask him to repeat everything he said a second time anyway, but in the end we got our surprisingly cheap thin crust veggie pizza. I felt kind of bad for putting my granddad through so much trouble just because I forgot to tell him beforehand that I wasn’t supposed to eat meat on Fridays, but he was really happy with the pizza and between the two of us managed to eat nearly all of it.

I had promised my parents that we would skype them when they got home from work, so 10PM our time, but I only made it until 8:30 before I went upstairs and collapsed on my bed. I think getting sick was a delayed reaction of the combination of traveling, being around a lot of people, stressing out, and not sleeping much over the past 48 hours. The next morning I woke up around 7:30AM with a full-on chest, head, and everything else cold. And even though that sounds really early, considering that slept for 11 hours (which is highly unusual for me anyway) it really wasn’t. Since I had gone to bed so early I hadn’t gotten as much homework done as I had hoped, so somehow I mustered up the will power and worked, still in bed wrapped in all my blankets, until 9:30 or 10.

It wasn’t until I heard my granddad’s neighbor Mrs. Sheehy come through the front door, like she does every morning, to bring the paper and chat for a bit that I summoned all my energy, shed all my blankets except for one, and shuffled downstairs. When I slid into the kitchen the first thing they said was why didn’t I just put on the robe that was hanging on the back of my door? The thought honestly hadn’t even occurred to me because throughout college I’ve always avoided having extra unnecessary things because having to fly back and forth is such a pain and very limiting in what you can bring, so I’ve never had a robe. I’ve always just shuffled around wrapped in a fuzzy blanket. But I was already downstairs so I wasn’t going back up.

I made some tea and we all sat and chatted for a while about I don’t even remember what, and after Mrs. Sheehy said goodbye my granddad started telling me stories: of an aunt who worked in a leper colony for a few decades in Africa the better part of a century ago, how he found out he’s allergic to whiskey, and, since St. Patrick’s Day had been the previous Friday, I asked him what the holiday was like in Ireland. He said that everything closed, including the bars, everyone had the day off of work and school, there were several big parades in town, and many people had get-togethers with friends and family. It’s also first and foremost the feast day of Ireland’s patron saint so I’d imagine that a lot of Catholics attend a special mass that day. So to me it sounds like the equivalent of our 4th of July, but minus the barbecues. Also, fun fact, they actually don’t eat corned beef and cabbage. That tradition was started by Irish immigrants when they arrived in America, so really it’s Irish-American rather than Irish. Although my mom had told me that she remembers her mother always making special orange and lime Jell-o with whipped cream as an Irish flag-colored treat. All that said, it honestly makes me sad that when celebrated in pretty much any country except Ireland (I saw it here in Spain too), people simply use it as an excuse to be drunk all day.

A few times a week my uncle takes his two dogs (well really his sister-in-law’s and niece’s dogs that he watches often) and my granddad for a walk in Howth Harbor. I like to joke that he walks the dogs and the granddad. (Side note: If you ever go to Dublin, go to Howth Harbor, it’s absolutely beautiful and you literally see the fish part of the fish ‘n chips you’re about to eat coming off the trawlers.) On the way there we stopped at the pharmacy to get sudafed and cough drops so I wouldn’t be a zombie and they worked almost immediately.

Thankfully I got super lucky and the weather the entire weekend was actually better than in Santander, which is crazy unusual, so the drugs and beautiful weather did me a lot of good. I got to walk Luca, the crazy one, and we meandered around the piers a bit. After learning about breakwater structures, ports, wave patterns, etc. in my coastal engineering class, I actually found it really interesting to walk see Howth from an engineering perspective. We also picked up the fish for dinner, Sea Bass I think it was, at a little family-owned fish shop that my granddad has been going to for as long as I can remember. I also noticed for the first time ever that there was a fish tank with a few goldfish (clearly not for the purpose of eating) and I found it amusing but at the same time slightly morbid.

IMG_3470
My granddad and uncle at Howth (taken a while ago though because I was having so much fun that I forgot to take photos this time)

 

On the way home I asked my uncle if all the daffodils in my granddad’s neighborhood had just been planted recently because I didn’t remember ever seeing them there before. “They’ve always been there,” he said. And in that moment I realized that every time I had ever visited was during the summer, so of course they were never in bloom and I just thought they were all patches of extraordinarily long grass.

Back at home my uncle made tea, put on the Rugby game, and pulled out the tea brack. What is tea brack, you ask? According to my two minutes of google research, it’s a type of “breakfast bread” (but I’d say more like a fruitcake) that has dried fruit that has been soaked in hot tea (normally Irish breakfast tea). It’s also nicknamed Irish freckle bread which is an AMAZING name. (I actually laughed out loud when I read it and immediately changed the name of this post because that is just the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.) Anyway, my uncle said he’d give me a “small bit” to try and he gave me a whopping slice that was probably about an inch thick. Luckily I ended up liking it! My granddad also pulled out some rich tea biscuits so along with everything else it was probably as Irish an afternoon as it could possibly get and it was absolutely lovely.

IMG_2720

After my uncle left with the dogs my granddad and I made fish, sweet potato fries chips, and a rhubarb compote with custard for dessert. We chatted a bit more and, thanks to the aforementioned drugs, I was able to do more homework and actually stay awake long enough to skype my parents. My granddad wasn’t too familiar with skyping, as he just makes calls on the telephone, and he thought it was a great invention to be able to hear and see the other person.

Sadly, Sunday had already arrived and my flight was at 1PM. Had I nearly (or even completely) missed this flight I wouldn’t have been upset in the slightest. I would have no problem being stuck in Dublin with my granddad for a few more days, but unfortunately, with having very easy access to the airport via a 15-minute ride in my uncle’s car and a direct flight to Santander, there was almost no chance of that happening. Darn.

I went for a walk around the block where I used to play with the neighbor’s kids, past the cluster of short trees that we used as our clubhouse, and through the empty field across from my granddad’s house where we used to play fetch with Bruno the Bassett Hound when he and his owner were out. It was a lot of Fado. At one end of the block there’s a cul-de-sac and I stumbled upon an intense hopscotch chalking. Seriously, this kid was training for the hopscotch olympics. It went all the way around the cul-de-sac and up to number 311. You go kid, you go.

I didn’t know until the previous day that this particular Sunday was Mother’s Day (I think only in Ireland though) so I asked my uncle if we could stop by St. Mary’s church to see Nana before going to the airport. It’s the church where my mom grew up, where my parents were married, and where my Nana is buried. I wanted to bring the Daffodils but my uncle said they don’t really like people leaving flowers there (I’m not sure why). We stopped by for a bit, ran into the church organist, and I attempted to make the overgrown and very illegible gravestone look a little less overgrown.

My uncle dropped me off at the airport and told me to try not to get everyone on the plane sick. Lo and behold I ended up in a row with only one other person who coincidentally was just getting over a cold. He appeared to be maybe in his early thirties and introduced himself as Iarlaith (pronounced EER-lah) and we ended up laughing for a good ten minutes over all the strange ways people have messed up our names in the past. It turned out that he actually used to teach English in Gijón, a town not far from Santander, and he was going back for a week to visit friends there. Then he asked me where I was from and what brought me to Dublin, and he got really confused when I answered (I don’t blame him haha). ¿Entonces tú hablas Español? he asked. So we launched into Spanish and it was really cool talking to someone who speaks with the same clearly-native-English-speaker accent and makes the same mistakes that I do.

When we were landing there was a bit of turbulence which is not unusual, but every ten seconds or so we could hear the engines increasing the jet propulsion for a few seconds, and then going back down to normal. As we descended, I realized that we were seconds away from landing and still over water, and then right before we landed I heard the engines turn up but they didn’t die down again like before. I’m pretty sure we were incredibly close to landing in the bay, but I figured worst case scenario I would still make it back alive, so I wasn’t terribly worried. Ahhh I’m going to miss the excitement of flying with Ryanair.

If you made it all the way through I commend you for your perseverance, because I’m pretty sure this is the longest post I’ve ever written. Now that I think about it, I think I wrote this more for me so that I can remember my too-brief time in Ireland this year, but I hope you found it at least somewhat interesting. Keep an eye out for my next post about Holy Week in Rome! I’m going a bit out of order because I’m so behind but everything will make it into the blog eventually so just bear with me. But if you’re impatient like my you check out all the photos at least on my facebook. Hasta luego!

I’m Running Out of Interesting Titles but this is What Happened in the First Half of March Even Though We’re Halfway Through April Now

My oh my, where do I even begin? March has brought so much new and so much endearing routine. Thankfully the new includes the arrival (more or less) of Spring!

IMG_2406

Since I still hadn’t been to the El Faro Cabo Mayor, the lighthouse in Santander, nor tried rabas, basically fried calamari, my friend Ana took on a little adventure one Sunday afternoon. She picked me up from my flat and drove to the lighthouse which has a teeny café next to it so we sat outside by the ocean, soaking up the newfound sunshine and sharing a plate of rabas. We took a stroll through the surrounding parks and ventured out to a narrow strip of land that juts out just past the lighthouse itself, from which you can see the ocean, the coast all the way to the East, and most of the city. I think it might be my new favorite place in Santander.

IMG_2407
This photo doesn’t even do it justice
IMG_2408
This is an opposite view, just so you can see from where I took the previous photo

That Tuesday while I was taking the bus to one of the families I work for, we were sitting at a stop light and it was raining relatively heavily, and suddenly a window on the opposite side of the bus from me completely shattered and collapsed. There was an older lady sitting right up next to it and thankfully she wasn’t hurt but I’m sure she got a terrible fright with the noise and all the glass falling on her. It was completely out of the blue. The bus driver went over to inspect it but the bus continued its route and we all just stayed away from it. Just something to spice up a Tuesday I guess!

IMG_2426

The first Wednesday of March was ash Wednesday so, like any remotely-Catholic, I went to mass that morning before class. Since Spain is more culturally Catholic than spiritually, I was trying to mentally prepare to explain in Spanish why I’d be walking around with dirt on my forehead all day, but as it turns out I didn’t need to. Normally the priest gives you a generous smear of ashes mixed with a bit of water, but instead I had some dry gray ash sprinkled on my hairline. I’m not sure if it was that particular priest, that particular church, or just Spain in general that does it differently but I found it rather bothersome because it looked like I had some dust falling from my hair every time I moved. Ah Spain.

That weekend I went on a weekend trip with an Erasmus (the European study abroad program) group to León and Burgos. Normally I steer clear of Erasmus trips because they mostly consist of drinking and pulling all-nighters partying, but this one seemed to have a pretty solid itinerary and it had been a while since I’d visited elsewhere within Spain. On the bus ride there I ended up next to a girl from Brazil who was super sweet and it was great to be able to speak Spanish with someone (not all, but many of the english-speaking Erasmus kids don’t really put any effort into Spanish). And in front of us was one of my classmates who’s from Barbados but studies in England and a boy from Mexico, so we all ended up talking about food from our respective countries which was super interesting. León was first stop of the weekend and some students from Leon’s university gave us a basic (like really basic) tour/history lesson of the city and then we went to visit the Cathedral. Like all churches in my opinion, it was beautiful, and they gave us audioguides that told us the complete history of the construction and architecture of the church, so my history geek/civil engineer/nearly architecture major was really happy.

We had some free time after that and since it was pretty cold, we took a coffee break and went back to the hostel for a bit. I was sharing a room with Catrina and Paula and, being Floridians, we were kind of cold so we had varying layers of sweaters and blankets, dreading the time when we would have to go back outside. I think Catrina won though because she was basically a blanket cocoon on the couch.

The whole group met back up in the main square but, being Spain, everyone was super late so we were the first ones there. While we waited a group of people wearing tradition dress came marching up the street dancing and playing music. They stopped and performed for a few minutes in the square and then proceeded on through the town. We had know idea who they were or what the performance was so we asked a lady and she said they were a group of people from León who simply liked to practice the traditional song and dance and did performances like these throughout the city every so often. It was a nice tidbit of culture. When the rest of the group finally came, we did a pub crawl (which was also technically dinner). We were split into groups randomly and I was with a few German kids, a Chinese girl who actually wasn’t a student but had been living in Spain for  7 years and came on the trip, and a couple others. At each bar we got a pinxto, a drink, and a challenge. These included being required to feed each other, limbo, passing an ice cube, etc. And one boy in my group couldn’t eat gluten so instead of getting beer at each place they gave us wine, which I was super happy with. Then we went to a club for lots and lots of dancing. I left around 2 AM because we had to be up at 8, but that was considered early, even though I ended up only sleeping for about 4 hours.

Unfortunately Spaniards are Spaniards and some people are just generally inconsiderate so we were several hours late getting to Burgos (and we were only going to be there for a day to start with). We had just enough time to explore the beautiful Cathedral before we headed back to Santander, but let me tell you, it might just be the most beautiful Cathedral I’ve ever seen (before anyone calls me out, the Sagrada Familia is not a Cathedral [yet]).

March, like November for first semester, was also my month of exams. From the week after the trip to León and Burgos to the first week of April right before Easter break I had an exam each week. In a way it’s better that they’re all evenly spaced, but after the third week I was also really tired of studying all the time and just wanted it to be over.

The only bump in the road there was my first Ingeniería Sanitaria exam. The Spanish classes are slightly different from the Cornell Program ones and I had never taken a exam in Spanish (that wasn’t simply about Spanish language) so I was a bit nervous to start with. For some reason the professor arbitrarily decided to have the exam outside of class (not the norm here) and told us it would be held on a Thursday at 1PM because the Spanish classes have a break from 1-3:30. The Cornell Program classes, however, have the break from 2-4 (because that was the old system and the Cornell Program never updated for some reason…) so I immediately informed him that I have class during that time. He said I could just take it at 2 then, which was kind of annoying, but I thought it would be fine. I know that the exam had a 15-minute theory section and then a math problem section that would also be timed. I started right as the last of my classmates finished so I was the only one in the room. My professor gave me the theory part and I tried to keep a good pace because even though I knew the material really well, it takes me a bit longer to read thoroughly through questions in Spanish. I looked around after a bit and realized there was no clock and I didn’t have a watch, but I figured the professor would tell me when my time was up, the same as during all exams I had taken up to that point. He didn’t. I got through it relatively quickly and, thinking I still had time, double checked everything thoroughly. When I handed in the theory and asked if I could start the next part he looked confused, looked at his watch, and said that I had gone ten minutes over (so I took nearly double the time allotted). I was dumbfounded and tried to tell him that I had no way of knowing how much time had passed or had left because there was no clock anywhere and that I thought he would tell me when I was out of time, but he didn’t let me finish and said it was fine and to just start the math part. I was so embarrassed, confused, and even more nervous because I still didn’t have any way of knowing how much time I had and I didn’t know if he would subtract that time from my math section or even let me know when that time was up. A few minutes in I asked him a question about the given information and he told me that I was using the information for problem one to try to solve problem two, which was why I was having problems. At that point I was so embarrassed, confused, nervous, irritated, and generally upset that I was trying to hold back tears as I erased everything I had written down so far and started over. Once again, he did not tell me how much time was left, nor when I was supposed to finish so I went as quickly as possible, worried that he was going to suddenly stop me before I had finished, handed him the exam, and left before I really started tearing up.

I knew it could’ve gone better, but I was pretty confident that I had the right idea and did everything correctly for the most part at least. Exactly a week later I got an email saying that the grades were posted. In all other classes, both Cantabria and Cornell Program, either our grades were available on our individual Moodle accounts, or we were sent an email with every person’s grades but with only ID numbers instead of names. For whatever reason, for this class they posted the grades of the entire class on one document, with the breakdown of points for each section and everything, with full names listed next to each score. Lovely. I almost passed…but not quite. I had aced the theory, but hadn’t done very well on the math. Surprise, surprise. Clearly I knew the material and my score had nothing to do with the langauge barrier because otherwise the theory part also would’ve been really low. At that point I wasn’t even disappointed, I was just mad. The professor, however, later told me that I was actually above the mean, which was a bit concerning considering it wasn’t a passing grade.

Thankfully the second exam was during class so I took it with everyone else and the professor gave us warnings with respect to how much time we had. I was the first one finished with both parts and it went much better than the first one.

In  much happier and more exciting news, as you may have seen in my last post, I’ll be spending (or spent, depending on when I finally post this) Easter in Rome and I miraculously was able to get tickets to all the Holy Week masses, even this late in the game. I am ecstatic for the holiest Holy Week ever!

IMG_2542
The official letter from the Papal Prefecture

Fluency update: In my IS class, the one I’m taking in Spanish, one day my teacher put up a slide with a diagram on it. My professor read all the lables and titles out loud as he explained the stages of the particular process, meanwhile I started copying the diagram. It took me a full 2-3 minutes, until I was about halfway through labeling, to realize that the words I was thinking in my head and the ones I was writing down were not the same but at the same time they were all the same in my understanding and processing of the information (if that makes any sense). In other words, the word I was saying in my head and the word written on my paper weren’t matching up but my brain couldn’t tell the difference between them. As you can see, I was really confused for a second. I looked back up at the slide and realized that the diagram was in English but my professor was of course reading and explaining it in Spanish. Therefore, my mind was repeating what it was hearing while my hand was copying what my eyes were seeing, but my brain extracted the same meaning from both so naturally that it didn’t even notice they were different.

I also sometimes find myself trying to explain or express something in English an the word or phrase that comes to mind is a Spanish one. Even though all the ones (so far at least) have had some sort of English equivalent, for some reason I feel like the Spanish version is more fitting for what I’m trying to say. A few examples have been lo que me dé la ganaagradable, and si te apetece. Out of curiosity,* maybe another Spanish-speaker has felt the same way about any of these?

*Wow, actually I was just about to write por curiosidad and then had to put it into google translate because I couldn’t even think of how the English phrase would be worded. I’m losin’ it guys.

The last weekend of March I also went to visit my granddad and uncle in Dublin (a relatively last-minute decision), but it was so wonderful that I’m actually going to make a separate post about it, so keep an eye out.

And shoutout to a family friend through Girl Scouts, Martha (whose granddaughters troops I used to volunteer with and whose son-in-law was my APUSH teacher junior year of high school (that was an interesting student-teacher relationship haha)) for sending me Girl Scout cookies (like she does so thoughtfully every year) despite my geographical distance!

IMG_2650
She even threw in some cake mix too this time 🙂

Last bit of news so far but certainly not the least: I recently accepted an offer to work as a Civil Engineer intern for Cornell’s Facilities Engineering team in Ithaca this summer! I am over the moon because I miss Cornell dearly (except for the stress, but anyway) and I’m so glad that I get to extend what little time I have left just a little bit more. If you’ll be in Ithaca this summer please tell me so we can hang out!!

See you all super soon 🙂

Study Abroad, de Verdad

Monday

I wake up around 8:30 and attempted to finish the last question of my Uncertainty Analysis (UA) (what a fancy name for statistics) problem set. The question, however, doesn’t make much sense and seems pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of both the class material and my life, so I just jot down a couple things and leave it.

At 11:00 my Ingeniería Sanitaria (IS), aka Environment Engineering, class starts and I have to eat a snack beforehand or else I’ll never make it to lunchtime. It’s my only class in Spanish and I pretty much had to put up a fight to get it approved because it’s outside the Cornell exchange program and the same class is already offered within the program in English. I just thought it would be a waste to spend an entire year studying in Spain and not take a single class in Spanish, and my options were limited because Cornell Engineering is super picky about what they’ll approve. It’s a really interesting class and even though I don’t think I’ll ever need to calculate the volume of a landfill required for a city (essentially the first third of the class was about waste management), we’re starting to get into water contamination and treatment. I actually find it highly practical to learn all this, not just as an engineer, but as an educated human being who should be aware of the environmental impact they make every single day.

Each of my classes is two hours long (twice a week), so at 1:00 I slip into Aula Cornell, the classroom where all the Cornell program classes are taught, trying not to be too disruptive. Since the Cornell program didn’t modernize it’s daily schedule along with the rest of the university, the class times are offset by an hour, so IS overlaps with the first hour of UA every Monday. In all honesty, it’s more of a blessing than a curse because I don’t learn anything in UA. We have a PDF of notes written by the professor, the textbook, and a PDF of all the homework assignments for the semester, and the lectures consist of overly theoretical explanations of otherwise relatively basic concepts and equations. When the professor is trying to clarify a particularly difficult-to-explain concept it always ends the same way: “it’s similar to *example that doesn’t make much sense* but not really, so ehhh…well, you’ll figure it out.” So logically I don’t pay any attention to the lecture and just work on the homework during class teaching myself everything from the notes and textbook. And the best part is that for only the most complicated equations does the professor choose to use different symbols for variables in his PDF of notes than in the textbook so that I have to actually create a key in my own notes so that I can switch between the textbook and his notes and not be entirely lost. For example, for one equation (and this is just one) the professor’s beta equals the textbook’s alpha, his theta equals the book’s beta, and the textbook simply gives you mu but for the professor if you want to find mu you have to take the natural log of beta (the professor’s beta, not the book’s beta). I wish I were making this up. Oh and he finally told us when our exam will be, a mere two weeks beforehand, and only because I specifically asked him if we could fix a date already.

Class ends at 2:00, Spanish lunch/siesta time, and since my motivation level is normally highest on Mondays I head to my favorite study spot in the Interfacultativo (Education) building, about halfway between Caminos (the civil engineering building) and my flat, to do some homework. I’m still not sure if you’re allowed to eat in the library but I’m always on the third floor where none of the staff are and I don’t make a mess so I’m just gonna go with it. It’s my favorite place to work because it has floor-to-ceiling windows and a beautiful view of the Parque de las Llamas, and you can even see all the way to the ocean.

IMG_2547

Since my sushi craving has been gnawing at me for the past week, I go to one of the few sushi restaurants in Santander with some friends. It was a tiny place with just 4 tables, two long and two short, but the sushi is fantastic. We go at 8:30 and Spanish dinnertime is ~9 PM so we’re basically like old geezers at an early bird special when you think about it. Good company + good sushi = a great end to a Monday.

Tuesday

Tuesday morning I have Coastal Engineering at 8:30 and this particular Tuesday we have our first lab session. It’s relatively straightforward in that we go through all the concepts we learned in class and the derivation of the relevant equations pretty quickly and then watch different types of wage propagate through a huge wave flume in the hydraulics lab. It’s all about ocean waves, tides, their behavior, and coastal structures like ports and breakwaters. This might be my favorite class this semester because, growing up in Florida, I always loved watching the ocean from the beach and airplanes and now I actually have a better understanding of how it functions.

IMG_2540

After coastal we have an hour and a half before UA so normally Catrina, Paula, (my fellow Floridians) and I go to the café in the next building over and do homework and enjoy the occasional café con leche or Spanish tortilla. At 12 we migrate back to Aula Cornell for class but I just continue working on my UA homework and normally finish at least the first half by the time class ends at 2.

Since I spend nearly all morning in class on Tuesdays, afterwards I usually get lunch with friends or go home to take a brain break. Since it’s super rainy and chilly, I head back to my flat, about an 8-minute walk straight down the street that the university sits on (I live in front of the Derecho & Economías (Law and Economics) building that’s on the opposite end of campus from Caminos). In the lobby I have to stand on my tip toes to peep into our mailbox (a guilty pleasure of mine every time I come home, even though I know it only comes once a day) and to my delight there’s a thin white envelope sitting there. I see that it’s addressed to me and get excited, and then I see that it’s from the Papal Prefecture of the Vatican and my heart skips a beat. About a month prior I planned a trip to Rome during Holy Week and requested tickets to the masses at the Vatican, knowing that you’re supposed to request them 2-6 months in advance (and since it was for Easter, more like 6). I open it as quickly and carefully as possible, so as to not ruin the official seal printed on the envelope, and by the time I get in the elevator I’ve pulled it out, mentally preparing myself or disappointment…but there’s no need!! I start jumping up and down until I realize that it probably isn’t such a smart idea to jump in an elevator.

IMG_2542

At 6:30 I take the bus to the outskirts of Santander to see two of my niños. Miguel is 14 but he has class so it’s just me and Maria, who’s a whip-smart 12-year-old. She’s pretty much a mini-me in so many ways, which is really cool but actually a little scary; we even have the same birthday. The goal is to “teach” them English but they’re both practically fluent (Maria doesn’t even have an accent when she speaks; she sounds 100% American), so we basically just hang out during our sessions and do whatever we feel like. Recent shenanigans have included bilingual bananagrams and scattegories (meaning they play in English and I in Spanish to make it even), baking apple pie, and looking up trailers and scenes of scary/sad movies (like the shipwreck scene of Titanic).

However, today was cold and rainy so we just sat at the kitchen table drinking tea and talking about life. I honestly don’t even remember exactly what we talked about but it was just really relaxing and took my mind off of school and I genuinely like spending time with Maria. She’s probably the most mature and intelligent 12-year-old I have ever met, and from the very beginning I knew it was going to be hard to say goodbye to her at the end of the year. At the end of the session their dad very kindly drives me home like he does most days, which I appreciate greatly because the bus system is weird and getting home takes 40 minutes as opposed to the 10 minutes it takes me to get there.

Wednesday

Wednesday mornings are my homework mornings because I don’t have class until 12:00 and it’s my only class of the day (something that would never happen at Cornell). I study for my Coastal exam coming up on Friday and when that starts getting on my nerves I decide to update my “wall.” It’s the bit of wall in the corner next to my bed where I hang all my postcards, letters, race tags, etc. and it was long overdue for an update.  Plus, reading all the cards and things everyone has sent me this year make me feel extra loved.

IMG_2544

12-2PM is my Geotechnical Engineering: Foundations, Tunnels, and Excavations class (Geotech for short). I wasn’t originally planning on taking it because it’s not required and we already took the intro class last semester, but my options were limited. Testing soil and designing foundations isn’t exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life but it’s quite practical and really important in any building project. It’s also super cool to go a bit more in-depth about things that we touched on when we were designing/constructing the bridge in Bolivia and things I had already had some hands-on experience with.

After Geotech I go back to my favorite study spot and attempt to continue studying for coastal, but for some reason I just can’t focus. I just really really don’t feel like studying anymore.

Then 5:30 comes much faster than expected and I start walking to the house of my other set of niños. Pablo is 9 but already has the attitude of a teenager, Mateo is 4 and incredibly sweet with a hint of adorable sass, and Lola is 1 and has more energy than I’ve ever seen in a baby. Normally the parents take Lola (as she’s too young to start learning English) and go grocery shopping or just out somewhere, and I watch the boys. I try to always have an activity planned so that all doesn’t melt into chaos, but it’s incredibly difficult because half the time Pablo whines that he doesn’t like my ideas and then when I ask him what he wants to do he says “I don’t know.” Mateo is generally really well behaved but he also follows along with his older brother, so if Pablo is unhappy, everyone’s unhappy. While there are good days and bad days, today is actually probably the worst so far. We were going to make pancakes and the father had told me beforehand that it sounded great, which I took to mean they had checked to see they had the ingredients, but apparently they didn’t. So five minutes in I have no pancakes and two restless kids. Long story short, it ends up being two hours filled with sass, attitude, tears, time-outs, the father apologizing profusely, and me seriously considering quitting (but I didn’t).

On the way home I have to stop to get some groceries because I keep putting it off and two people are simultaneously messaging me asking for help with the coastal homework that’s due the day of the exam, Friday.  I normally go to a Salsa/Bachata class at 9:00 on Wednesdays but I don’t even get home until 9PM so I’ve already missed the beginner level class. I still haven’t eaten dinner either so I turn the stove on to make croquetas really quickly in an attempt to make it on time to the intermediate level class at 10:00, while simultaneously trying to help the others with their homework. I don’t even notice until I smell the burning plastic that the cutting board, which is on the stovetop but on a different burner from the one I (thought I) was using, is spreading everywhere because it’s very quickly turning into a liquid. I accidentally turned on the wrong burner. I jump up to open the window in an attempt to ventilate the smoke that’s quickly building up and to air out the burning plastic smell. Once I assure myself that the melted plastic has stopped spreading and my flat isn’t going to catch on fire I turn on the other burner and put the croquetas in the oil. I’m still trying to help with the homework so these also end up burnt and black, and when I try one to see if just maybe they’re still edible I also burn my tongue. Conclusion: they are not edible.

Somehow I manag to make new unburnt croquetas, scrape the hardened plastic off the stovetop, and finish homework help in time to make it to the intermediate Bachata class. I’ve never been to the intermediate class before but Bachata is like a Spanish swing dance (of which I took two semesters at Cornell) so I feel comfortable enough to try the faster paced class (I wouldn’t have tried if it were salsa though, I think it’s so much harder). Everyone else was too tired or busy studying so just Catrina and I went and have a blast. Partially because it’s less crowded than the beginner class, there are actually enough guys for each girl there, and the teacher is able to work one-on-one with each person more easily. The dance class is always one of the highlights of my week and, especially after my fiasco of an afternoon, it’s wonderful and relieving to forget about everything else.

Thursday

I wake up pretty groggy, even though I got an extra hour of sleep because my first class is at 9:30 instead of 8:30. After IS ends at 10:30 (class is only one hour on Thursdays but only for part of the semester, it’s a little confusing) I walk to the mini bank that’s on campus in the Derecho building to pay for my pilgrimage to Lourdes after Easter with a group from Santander, but the bank is closed for some reason. Still unable to shake the grogginess and seduced by the warm sunshine (something we haven’t had too much of recently), I find a nice little slope angled just towards the sun, pull out my notebook, open it, and proceed to convince myself that I’m study for the next 40 minutes. It was completely unproductive but completely worth it.

After Geotech from 12-2, Catrina, Priya, and I find a table outside to eat lunch and study for Coastal together. Yesterday Catrina and I had been entertaining the idea of going surfing because the weather was going to be so nice today (and what better way to study wave phenomena??) but at the last minute the “study” of study abroad kicked in and we decided to actually study.

At 4:00 I walk to the Interfacultativo building to meet Sofía, the Spanish girl I do a language exchange with once a week. Basically we meet up for an hour and just talk about whatever; she in English and I in Spanish. Today we’re meeting in the park to enjoy the beautiful weather and we end up spending the better part of the hour fangirling over the many adorable dogs meandering through. At 5:00 on the dot, a wall of fog rolls in at an alarming speed. It transitions from really warm and sunny to chilly and misty in just a few minutes. There’s been fog before in Santander, but never as thick or as fast as this, so it’s kind of eerie.

My friend Rachel, who’s studying in Rome this semester, is coming to visit for a few days and staying in Priya’s flat, but since Priya has class until 7 I offered to meet Rachel at the bus station at 6. It’s quite disappointing that she missed the amazing weather, but we decide to walk to the university instead of taking the bus and we have a great time catching up. We even stop in my favorite/the most beautiful church in Santander because we pass by it on the way.

I was planning on getting pintxos with them for dinner later, but when I get home and actually start  studying I realize how much I still have to cover before the exam tomorrow. I end up studying until midnight, taking a study break to make pumpkin blondies. In case you’re wondering, they fail miserably because the recipe calls for peanut butter so then you can’t even taste the pumpkin, and they don’t bake very well no matter how long I leave them in for so they end up being underbaked peanut butter brownies which is fine if you love peanut butter but I think it’s gross unless it’s baked into something so I’m really disappointed.

Friday

My exam is at 9:30 so I eat breakfast in commute (overnight oats are the best). We have two professors and a PhD student teaching different parts of our coastal class so they each wrote their own exam questions for their respective material, but the PhD student is the only one proctoring the exam. As he hands out the exam he informs us that we have an hour and a half but we could easily finish in 30 minutes (that’s what they all say). The professor that wrote the majority of the exam questions did not write very clearly worded questions at all (English isn’t his first language and we understand that, but on an exam it’s super important that the questions be really clear about what they’re asking), so we end up spending at least a third of the time listening to the student explain and re-explain what the questions are asking. As a result, the exam takes 1.5-2 hours instead of the 30 minutes it should have been. It wasn’t difficult, it just really annoying having to clarify so many details to simply understand what the professor wanted.

After trying to unwind my brain from the exam, I take Rachel to lunch at a Spanish vegetarian cafetería that I’ve been wanting to try. Neither of us are vegetarian but we both love vegetables and it’s a nice change from the constant barrage of meat and bread. We decide to go with the chef’s menú del día, which end up being some sort of carrot/sweet potato/pumpkin soup, stir fried veggies with rice, and fried shitake mushrooms, and we finish it off with some really lovely fruit and herbal tea.

I head home and do the first half of my UA homework before going to my niño’s house at 6:30. We hang out on Maria’s bed playing with their rabbit, Tambor (Thumper), when he suddenly bites me for no reason at all. He’s generally a pampered but really friendly bunny, so it’s really unlike him to freak out. We go upstairs to put him in his pen (which isn’t much of a punishment because it’s quite spacious) and then we start nosing around the room. There’s a huge nearly-finished puzzle on the table which we attempt to complete for a solid 5 minutes until we give up (only the sky was left so all the pieces were the same color). Then Maria starts looking through some drawers when she comes across an old hair dryer. I have no idea why this is of such interest but she wants to see if it still works so she scampers to the outlet across the room and as soon as I looked up to see what she’s doing there’s a flash and a gasp and all the lights go out. Naturally, her mom comes upstairs furious and talking so fast that I could barely understand what she’s saying, although the tone says it all. The lights came back on after a minute and we go downstairs. At this point it’s nearly time for me to leave anyway so I grab my coat, politely apologize to her mom (to which she responds that it’s not my fault at all but I still feel somewhat responsible) and say goodbye. Today her dad isn’t home so I take the bus home. The only two busses that stop at that particular stop come every thirty minutes,  one right after the other, so during the 20 minutes until the next one came I wander around a Lidl grocery store nearby just to kill time. I also have to transfer to another bus, so by the time I get home it’s been almost an hour.

At that point I’m just tired and it’s past 9PM so I don’t feel like making a real dinner. I had been planning on making fish or a salad which take very little preparation, but at the last minute I decide to go for the really lazy option: ham, cheese, and crackers, which takes zero preparation. Of course right after I’m finished, my brain frantically tries to remember which day of the week it is and I realize that it’s Friday. During Lent, Catholics aren’t supposed to eat meat on Fridays. Since I hardly ever eat meat anyway, this isn’t really a big deal for me, but that also makes it more difficult to remember because meat is not normally on my radar at all, let alone remembering not to eat it on a particular day of the week. I even went to a specifically vegetarian restaurant for lunch without even thinking about it, and came so close to eating a salad (as non-meat as you can get) or fish (the normal go-to on Lenten Fridays). Oh well. If you eat meat because genuinely don’t remember though, it’s ok, so I don’t feel too bad. I’m just complaining about the irony of it all.

Normally I read before I go to bed but I decided to watch a movie today instead. Since coming to Spain I’ve made a point of trying to read and watch things in Spanish as much as possible, but I don’t like dubbed live-action movies. This is less because the words don’t match the mouth movements (which I know bothers some people but I don’t really mind), and more because I find it just too weird to hear different people’s voices, and especially because the Spanish ones always seem to be really high pitched and annoying. So I decide on Spanish Wreck-it Ralph!

Saturday

At the risk of sounding like a hermit, I didn’t really leave my flat all day. I finish my UA homework, review my IS notes and make flashcards for the material we covered this week, and start the coastal lab report that’s due on Tuesday. I also facetime my friend Chris and write some letters to send to friends in the states, which I’ve been meaning to do for a while.

I experiment with a new pumpkin pancake recipe for dinner and they turn out awesome (a nice consolation after the croqueta/cutting board fiasco). Why pumpkin you ask? WELL. I learned that the word for squash is also the word for pumpkin and there is absolutely no distinction between the two even though they are two completely different types of gourds (I’m sure my friend Sydney, an international agrictulture major, could write a dissertation on that). So now I have a bunch of pureed pumpkin in my freezer that I’ve been using to try new pumpkin recipes.

Before going to bed I read a couple of chapters of Harry Potter. I first read the series starting when I was 7 and continued to read them until the last one was published, and I reread them again sometime after that, but I realized last summer that it had been probably almost a decade since I had read them last and wanted to “rereread” them. This was just before I was headed to Bolivia and I wanted to practice Spanish so I came to the conclusion that I should just read the entire Harry Potter series in Spanish. Because why not?? I wanted to reread them anyway, they don’t have a terribly high reading level, and that way at least if I didn’t understand absolutely everything I wouldn’t be lost in the story because I already had an idea of what was going on. It was perfect. I went to the book store and bought the first book and a pocket spanish dictionary (the cashier said “this will be interesting” and looked at me like I was slightly crazy),  took them to Bolivia in June, and now I’m almost finished with the 5th book. I definitely read a little slower in Spanish than in English, but over these five books the amount that I have to actually use the dictionary has decreased dramatically. The words I don’t understand are so few and far between now that sometimes I’m too lazy to even stop to look them up because I normally understand everything even without the one word.

Sunday

In the morning I study for my Geotech exam which is on Wednesday, but normally the exams for this class are pretty straightforward so I’m not too concerned. I also submit some last minute applications for a few summer internships (that would actually be on campus at Cornell). Rachel and I were going to attend mass together at 1:30 at the church that I always go to (the one we visited the day she arrived), but when I get there she says a man has just locked the church and told her the mass was at 5:00. I can’t understand why the schedule would have changed but then I realize it’s Spain’s Father’s Day so they must have special times. Instead we go back to my flat for lunch, which we were planning on doing after mass anyway. We make some salad and fish and talk about the similarities and differences in our experiences studying abroad, like living in Cornell housing with other Cornell students (Rachel) versus living with natives in a random flat (me), and how we really miss the sense of community and diverse extracurriculars and clubs at Cornell. Studying abroad is fantastic so oftentimes it seems like if there’s something to complain about then I’m doing something wrong and that everything should be just dandy, so it’s just nice to know that I’m not the only one who encounters frustrations, whether big or small.

After Rachel leaves to head for the airport I do some more homework and then head to mass just before 5. Mass ends up being at 5:30, despite what the guy said earlier (honestly I’m not surprised, that’s so Spain). When I get home, like every Sunday night, I make some tea, wrap myself in a blanket, and skype my parents. However, instead of talking for an hour or so as usual, we ended up skyping for two hours, which is a nice surprise. Calling my parents is always one of the highlights of my week (in a very different way from dance class though haha) because I get to tell them about absolutely everything that’s happened in the past week: the good, the bad, the frustrating, the exciting, and even the boring!

Before going to bed I read a couple more chapters of Harry Potter and get so into it that I actually end up staying up much later than I had anticipated. But Monday classes don’t start until 11, something I’m going to miss when I return to Cornell, so might as well take advantage now 😉

¿Qué es el tiempo?

Because I switched my phone over to Spanish back in August, that’s what my Siri speaks, and sometimes my weather app glitches so sometimes I just ask Siri ¿qué es el tiempo hoy? meaning “what’s the weather today?” One day I guess I was just being a minimalist and asked ¿qué es el tiempo? expecting a little sun or some clouds to pop up, but Siri responded “el tiempo es una ilusión.”  Um what? Well, in Spanish tiempo can mean “weather” or “time” depending entirely on the context, so since I didn’t specify “today” she interpreted it as “what is time?” Wow Siri, so deep.

But now that I think about it, Siri is completely right! I am absolutely flabbergasted that it’s already March. It wasn’t until I started planning out my semester that I realized just how little time I have left here. I know I titled my last post “halfway there” but I swear it’s practically over and I’m already beginning to feel the bittersweetness of it all coming to an end. I think this semester is going by so fast in comparison to last semester because even though I arrived in August, we didn’t start class until September, and we had a week long break in December and then another two week (Christmas) break before final exams, so everything was much more spread out. This time February went by in a flash, partially because it took me two weeks to just finalize my class schedule. March will be a blur of exams, half of April is Easter break, 2 friends are coming to visit at various times for a total of 2.5 weeks, I have a bit of time to study, and then BAM. Finals. Over.

Which brings me to summer. For which I still don’t even know which country I’ll be in. But don’t worry, when I know, you’ll know, because I’ll (hopefully) be so excited that I won’t be able to keep it to myself.

Anyway, I’m jumping ahead of myself. This semester I’m taking four classes, three in English and one in Spanish(!!!). I tried to pick a favorite but I’m not sure if I can, so I’ll pick a least favorite: Uncertainty Analysis. It’s really just a fancy name for statistics. Yes, it’s necessary because really engineering ultimately relies on statistics, but oh my goodness it’s such a confusing and mind-numbing subject. And please, someone explain to me what a gram squared is. I would love to know.

I’m also taking Coastal Engineering and Geotechnical Engineering (part II) which are two of my design electives and I find them both super interesting. Coastal is about waves, patterns, statistics, and designing coastal structures like ports, docks, etc. And it made me realize that my physics 2214 class (waves and optics) was actually somewhat useful for civil engineering purposes and worth all the pain. Emphasis on “somewhat.” Geotech is about designing tunnels, excavations, and foundations, and after learning about soil last semester, we finally got to learn about ROCKS!! So enthralling, I know! (But seriously, it’s quite cool). Not to say that the basic engineering courses aren’t practical because they’re absolutely fundamental, but it’s so cool to finally be taking classes where all of our calculations/work have more visible and tangible results.

Lastly, I’m taking Environmental Engineering, or rather Ingeniería Sanitaria. I think one of the interesting parts so far is that now I know how to describe a great many illnesses in Spanish.  We also went on a mini field trip to the waste processing facility in Meruelo, which is where all the waste from the Cantabria region goes. The facility includes screening processes, a compost area, an incinerator, and of course a landfill. It definitely cemented both everything we learned in class and the smell into my brain.

Overall, my classes require a bit more effort this semester and I no longer have the luxury of no classes on Fridays (I knew it was too good to last) but I already know it’s going to be just as much fun as last semester, if not even more so.

In support of that theory, a few weeks ago I went skiing for the first time ever!! When I pictured studying abroad in Spain, skiing on a snowy mountain never entered the picture, but I’m so glad it did. The two girls I went with also happen to be from Florida, and only one of us had ever been skiing before so it was a rough start. Lessons were really expensive so we decided to wing it and the second I got off the ski lift at the top of the bunniest of bunny slopes I fell as flat on my back as my skis allowed me. The slope monitor lifted me back up and steered me in the right direction, but then I couldn’t figure out how to stop so I had to make myself fall again to avoid colliding with the barrier (still at the top of the slope). Thankfully after that I learned rather quickly, and even though I definitely fell the most that day I mastered both green slopes and managed to only fall on the really steep part of one of the blue slopes. Everyone told me that afterwards my legs would be super sore, but the only agujetas I had were in my shoulders and upper back from lifting myself back up each time gravity got the best of me.

Speaking of things I’m really not good at, I found a Salsa/Bachata class at a little hole-in-the-wall bar offered every Wednesday night. Before the first class, the last time I had done any sort of dancing was my freshman year when I took Swing Dance I and II as my two required PE classes at Cornell (which I loved), and this reminded me how much I enjoy dancing. I’m not the greatest at it but the teacher has a great sense of humor and explains things really well and it’s a great excuse for a brain break in the middle of the week. I just wish I had found it sooner!

Another “first” that I would never have expected to happen in Spain: baking apple pie! (And how appropriate that I’m posting this on Pi Day). Anyone who knows me knows that I will never not bake and that my repertoire is pretty encompassing. Except for pie. I made a chocolate silk pie for Pi Day in middle school and I made a pumpkin pie last year from the innards of my first ever jack-o-lantern but that’s about it. Honestly, for the majority of my life I didn’t even like pie.

Anyway, my niña and I were planning on making apple crisp (easier and tastier than apple pie in my opinion), but when I walked in the door she told me she had bought some pre-made pastry and wanted to make apple pie instead. I saw no reason why not so I said let’s do it! Then she informed me that she didn’t have a recipe…so I just googled one. And it actually turned out great! It was so simple that in the end the most tedious part was just peeling, coring, and slicing a million (ok fine, more like five hundred) apples. And she decided to get creative with the leftover dough, which I thought was really cute.

Last news update, but certainly not the least, in December I decided to submit a very last-minute application for the Clark Construction Scholarship (Clark Construction is a huge Civil Engineering company in NYC) and this past month I was selected as the recipient for the 2016-17 academic year! It’s awarded annually to a “top civil engineering junior who has shown an interest in and aptitude for construction.” Honestly I wouldn’t have described myself as a “top” anything, but I’m so glad that my experiences and what I had to say made an impression on them. Shoutout to Sam, one of our professional mentors in Bolivia/the coolest and most joyful engineer I’ve ever met, for writing my letter of recommendation!

14066484_1026092150823456_6867174489234807160_o
Name: Samuel, Sprit Animal: Golden Retriever

Thank you so much for reading my blog! Quite a few people (many more than I would’ve ever imagined) have told me that they read every single post and always look forward to the next one, and I’m incredibly flattered. If my blog makes someone’s day just a little bit better then it’s served its purpose. I wish I had as much diligence writing these posts as you all do reading them 😉 I’ll do my best to post again soon. ¡Hasta luego!