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!

 

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The Smaller Joys

Since this didn’t make it into my last post, please enjoy this picture of my 12-year-old mini-me and I attempting to take a picture with both of our spirit/second favorite animal (an otter!) in Lisbon because coincidentally their family was vacationing there the exact weekend I was there so we went to the Oceanarium together! Definitely one of the best parts of the trip. She’s my favorite ❤

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Anywayyyyy, November has gone by so fast that Thanksgiving just snuck up on me this year. I’m a little bummed because I did’t get a break, but I’m also super thankful that I get to live in a different country for an entire year. Still sounds a bit crazy when I say it.

So far it’s been a month of exams, so I made the conscious decision to put all my international adventures on hold and focus on just being a student. Our prelim “season” started, but as all Cornellians know, “season” refers to everything except the first few weeks of any semester. Once it starts, it never ends. Even still, things here are much less stressful so I’m also incredibly thankful for that. Some exams went really well and others…not so well. On the bright side, while all this will still show up on my transcript at least it won’t get factored into my GPA, which is good, right?? Welp, only time will tell…

It’s also been a month of small but really exciting milestones! Despite having had very little time to run due to multiple exams, I PR’d (broke my personal record) on Saturday during Santander’s annual night race (which was so cool with all the lights!). I beat my time, which I set all the way back in high school when I was super in shape during cross country season, by 3:21. Yup, three minutes and twenty-one seconds. For running, that’s a lot. And it also beats my last race that I ran a few weeks ago by 4:05. Where were these legs back when I actually had a team counting on me!?!? That’s what I wanna know!! Regardless, I’m ecstatic.

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I got a nifty headlamp and they even knew my graduation year!

Another small but really important milestone? My niño’s (spanish children’s) bunny finally likes me! It only took him two months.

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A bunch of international students took a day trip to Parque Cabarceno, which technically has “zoológico” (zoo) in its name, but it’s not really a zoo. It’s more like a nature park with a couple fences here and there. It was BEAUTIFUL. I got to get so close to so many different types of animals (sea lions, elephants, and an ostrich, to name my favorites) and at the highest point in the park you look south and see the Picos de Europa (Cantabria’s mountain range), and if you look North you see Santander and its bay (seen in this post’s cover photo). Absolutely breathtaking.

Aaaaand, since Spain doesn’t have Thanksgiving, I invited a bunch of American and Spanish (and even one Italian) friends over to my flat for “Thanksgiving dinner” complete with chicken (turkey isn’t very common…), stuffing, sweet potato, roasted veggies, ham, mashed potato, apple crisp, empanadas, and, of course, Spanish tortillas. My mom even mailed me cute Fall themed paper plates and napkins, a plastic tablecloth, and cute sparkly maple leaf decorations! It wasn’t anything huge or crazy, but I just loved getting to introduce my friends to a beautiful holiday with lots of friendship and food ❤

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SPANISH UPDATE: I had a dream with Spanish in it!! Not to say that the entire dream was in Spanish but I started talking to some people in Spanish AND used the subjective. Twice. Correctly. So that’s definitely a good sign if even subconscious Meriel can get it right without thinking too much. I’ve also started to outsmart google translate. Sometimes when I’m writing an essay I’ll type in the English to double check my Spanish structure but the translation comes out weird, so instead I reverse it, put in the Spanish, and the English comes out just how I intended it to. Perfecto. Even in Spanish class I’m starting to realize that even when I haven’t previously learned the official grammar rules, oftentimes I can tell what sounds right and what doesn’t, even though I can’t explain why. Knowing that it’s only November makes me so excited to see how far I can get with my language skills by the time summer rolls around!

Some self-reflection:

I have always hated writing. So much. That’s not to say that I’m bad at it though: I did well in AP Lang and AP Lit, I gave a speech at my graduation, and apparently people actually read this blog so I can’t be that bad (right?). However, for some reason writing has always been my least favorite way of expressing myself. Maybe it’s because it takes too much patience to write out words with a paper and pen, or perhaps because a lot of times drawing or music can express so much more without uttering a single syllable. Regardless, even if it’s about something I’m interested in (like this blog!), it’s always been a chore for me.

If you recall from one of my first posts, in my Spanish class (I’m taking two, this is the one through the Cornell program) there are only three of us and we’re at three completely different levels of fluency, so to add a little more challenge and practice for myself, I opt to write an essay each week and my teacher corrects all the grammar, punctuation (it’s actually a bit different in Spanish…weird), and things that just don’t come out quite right. The first week my teacher told me to compare and contrast two regions of Spain. B o r i n g. The next week he just told me to write something in the past tense. Each week he gave me more and more freedom over what to write about so one week when I was a bit homesick I wrote about baking chocolate chip cookies with my mom when I was younger, and when I missed a friend I wrote about seeing them again when I get back.

Ever since then I’ve started to enjoy writing and getting all my feelings on paper, but for some reason I only enjoy writing in Spanish. Maybe it’s because it’s something new and different, maybe it’s because I’m obsessed with learning Spanish, or maybe it’s because things just sound prettier in Spanish, who knows! Granted, I will probably never sound quite as eloquent in Spanish as in English, but I’m mostly just happily surprised that I found at least some form of writing that I don’t absolutely dread. It’s only been a couple months and already I’ve found myself growing in ways I didn’t think were even possible, and that’s just a small example.

Overall, I feel like everything is starting to come together more and more each week, so gradually that I don’t even notice it until I look all the way back to August. Whether I’m holed up in my room doing homework, making pizza with my favorite 12-year-old, or reading my Spanish Harry Potter books, I’m so happy to be here. God is good.

Donostia San Sebastián

Fun fact: There is a region of Spain called the Basque region (not to be confused with País Vasco/Basque Country, a political region of Spain that is part of the Basque region). This includes País Vasco, La Rioja, and Navarra. As well as Castellano (Spanish), they also speak Euskara which is not at all related to Spanish and has unknown roots. San Sebastián is located in Basque Country (next to Cantabria). The city is so close to France that it has shifted between occupations many times throughout history and honestly couldn’t care less which country it’s part of. Thus, the people have a lot of regional pride and there’s a lot of talk of gaining independence from Spain.

More fun facts: Hello = Kaixo (KI-sho),  Goodbye = Agur (ah-GOOR),  Thank you = eskerrik asko (es-KEHR-ik AH-sko)

Anyway, I’ve survived our first sort-of real week of real classes! If that makes any sense. Classes didn’t start until Tuesday because on Monday we spent 2+ hours waiting in the Oficina de Extranjeros, they called our number, and then told us to go take a different number and sit back down. #bureaucracy

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This semester I’m taking Geotechnical Engineering, Engineering Computation, Fluid Mechanics, and (of course) Spanish. Fluids is pretty cool, it’s about (yup you guessed it) fluids and how they move. Computation isn’t difficult (yet) but it’s incredibly boring because all we’ve done so far is some calculus BC review, Taylor/Maclaurin series, and a couple matlab codes.

Surprisingly, I’ve found Geotech to be the most interesting of the three. We’ve learned about the different types of soil and how to classify them, foundations, and basic calculations. I think the coolest part is that in Bolivia we worked with two different types of soil (shale and silt) when excavating and constructing the anchors and foundations so it’s much easier to understand and remember the concepts the professor is trying to convey because I’ve had some hands-on experience.

Spanish class, on the other hand, is a completely different story. There are only four students (the three of us from Cornell and Pauline, from Sweden) and we’re at four completely different levels of fluency. The professor agrees that it’s a terrible system but there’s nothing anyone can do about it unfortunately. The first thing he had us do today was come up to the board and write a paragraph about Superman, and from that moment I knew I was going to enjoy the class. We were allowed to write anything we wanted about Superman so that he could get an idea of where we each are at, and then he corrected each one. At this point that’s really all I want: to talk and write and have someone correct all my little mistakes. Unfortunately the class is only three hours a week, but honestly I could take it every single day.

For some strange reason the university closes completely on the first Friday of school, so we didn’t have any classes. A few of us decided to take advantage and we went to San Sebastián for two days. The first day we did a free walking tour with a very small group called Go Local and they were fantastic. We also attempted to go to the museum on the top of a hill by the beach but there were so many windy paths that we couldn’t find it, but we were not at all disappointed because the weather was beautiful and the views even more so.

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The second day we went to the beach and then rented a couple of stand up paddle boards. I’d been paddle boarding before but never standing up and never in the ocean, so that was definitely my favorite part of the weekend (I don’t have any pictures though because if I did my phone would be at the bottom of the ocean, sorry!).

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The tree lined walkway with the clock tower reminded me so much of Ho Plaza!

Last week a big group of international students went out for drinks and ironically I met a really nice girl who goes to the university but is actually from Santander. Her name is Eli (pronounced like Ellie) and on Sunday we went to see part of an art exhibition. It was a colorful labyrinth with mind puzzles throughout to figure out which way to turn. Afterwards she showed me where to find the best view of the bay (even though it was raining) and a little café called Gallofa (which doesn’t translate to anything). It had desserts, coffee, hot chocolate, and sandwiches, which may not sound very interesting but it really is because everything is just very different than what you would find in an American café, despite the names being the same.

We ordered Colacao (basically what we think of as hot chocolate, even though Spanish hot chocolate means something different) and tostada especial Ibérica, which translates to “Iberian toasted specialty” but we had no idea what it was when we ordered it. Turns out it’s toast, crushed tomato, Iberian ham, and a little bit of salt and olive oil. We ended up talking for hours and I’m pretty sure that was the longest continuous period of time in my entire life that I’ve spoken Spanish, so I was really happy.

P.S. I still don’t have wifi in my apartment so I apologize if it seems like I’ve disappeared off the face of the earth. If you want to reach me, for any reason at all, just send me a message via email, facebook messenger, groupme, or whatsapp (or all of the above if you’re really feeling it) and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible! Promise 🙂

Adulting and Adventuring (in that order)

So much has happened in the past week that most of this feels like it happened a month ago. I did lots of adulting: I found a flat, got a job, moved in/out, and attempted to get a residency card, and I thought I got a concussion (I didn’t, don’t worry), tried lots of new Spanish food, finished Spanish class (minus the exam), and explored Bilbao. I. Am. Tired. Just a little.

I said goodbye to my wonderful host mom on Sunday when she drove me and my suitcase to my flat right across from the university. I’ll be living with two Spanish girls who both seem very friendly, but they won’t be moving in until right before classes start (around the 19th) so I’ll be on my own for a little while.

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The view from my window; the big brick building is where I had Spanish classes

The same day I found the flat I got a job teaching English twice a week to two siblings, a 14-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. They’re both quite clever and attend a bilingual school however and started learning very young so they speak better English that I speak Spanish so there’s not too much actual teaching involved. We talk, play with their pet rabbit, and play games, and the very first day they ask me really intense questions like who am I going to vote for. Goooood question.

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Playing Jenga (our way)

Priya and I had to skip class to go get our residency card, which we’re supposed to get within the first 30 days of arrival but we couldn’t go until this week because the university wouldn’t give us our matricula paper. When we got to the Foreigners Office all they did was give us a paper to go pay the fee at the bank and told us to come back in two weeks. Bureaucracy. Is. The worst.

Then one day I hit my head on an open window (on the corner of the little door thingy) really really hard. It hurt a lot and it was bleeding a little but I felt pretty ok other than the throbbing so I put some ice on it for a while. Then the next day in class, at first very gradually and then very suddenly I felt really dizzy, feverish, and slightly nauseous. I spent the rest of class trying to pretend like I was quietly listening to the conversation when really I was just trying not to pass out. After class one of the people in the office took me to the campus medic and he told me that I had really low blood pressure. He didn’t say why or how to fix it, just that I shouldn’t eat anything that would upset my stomach. Super helpful. Welp. Fingers crossed it was just a one-time thing.

Saturday Priya and I took a bus (3 hours round trip) to Bilbao for the day. We went to the Guggenheim museum, which is supposedly very sophisticated and famous, but honestly most of the artwork looked like it was made my preschoolers. It was a bit of a let down, but there were some highlights. My favorite part of the day was kayaking on the river that runs through the city!

I’ve also had many opportunies to try new Spanish (and some not-so-Spanish) foods

The most characteristically Spanish food I’ve had is seafood paella, but I was really disappointed that it turned out to be very bland and even worse, imagine how unnerving it is to be digging through some rice and suddenly out pops these:

All in all, it’s been a crazy awesome week. This week I’ll be heading to Ireland for a few days to visit family that I haven’t seen in many years so I’m super excited!

“Vosotros” Crash Course

I survived my first full week of (Spanish) class! Or as I like to call it, (being a stereotypical U.S. student who was never taught anything about this particular conjugation whatsoever) Crash Course in Vosotros.

The first day we took a placement test (multiple choice plus short answer). They use the Cambridge system so A=beginner, B=intermediate, and C=advanced, with 2 levels for each. I ended up in level B1 which means you know enough to have a real conversation in Spanish (aside from “hi how are you it’s sunny today”) but you’re definitely not fluent yet. However, all the international students were placed into either A1, A2, or B1 so at least I know I’m on the same level as all the others. In my class there are 9 of us from England, Italy, Germany, France, and Rhode Island (of all places haha).

Class is broken up into three parts: grammar, oral, and writing. Grammar is 9:15-11:15 and then we have a pausa where we all go downstairs to the café and just hang out for a bit. 11:45-12:50 is more grammar with Marián, a very sprightly, kind, and expressive lady who is very interested in our personal lives (in a good way) and likes talking about our current relationships (or lack thereof), living situations, and what we did over the weekend. 12:50-1:50 is the oral class with Rubén, during which we mostly talk about relevant topics like Spanish culture and fiestas, how the medical system works, etc. Both grammar and oral are less like lectures and more like conversations that just go wherever they end up going, which makes the two hour periods a little more bearable. Normally 14:00-16:00 (Spain normally uses military time) is siesta but our teacher asked if we could have writing class 15:00-17:00 instead of 16:00-18:00, which we were all fine with. We mostly watch cortomentrajes, or short films, and then write either narratives, descriptions, points of view, etc.

Ultimately, the days are long, pretty much like high school again except with much less homework, but I think I’m definitely improving. Exhibit A: I was telling my host mom that the other students and I might go to a tapas bar later and when I said tal vez iremos she freaked out. I thought I had said something really wrong but she looked at me very seriously and said that you would never hear a non-native speaker use that phrase or that type of grammar unless they really spoke Spanish. Soooo I’m gonna take that as a sign of improvement.

Aside from class, there’s also been a lot of down time which has been quite relaxing (a word I don’t think I’ve ever used to describe Cornell). Tuesday was a “fiesta” which is really just a holiday on which no one works but there aren’t any special celebrations. It was the feast day of the patron saints of Santander, Saint Celedonius and Saint Emeterius (which is supposedly where the name came from, according to wikipedia: Santemter, Santenter, Santander). Monday night there were fireworks on the beach and my host mom warned me that they would be smaller than in the U.S. and I told her I didn’t mind at all because any fireworks are super cool to watch, and it ended up being one of the largest and LOUDEST firework show I’ve ever seen!

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Sorry this is a lame picture, it was at the beginning and it’s hard to capture fireworks, but I assure you they were fantastic

After the fireworks we went to an international festival happening nearby with live music, rides, and tons of stalls selling food, drinks, and other things from so many different countries (ironically the U.S. stall was selling Mexican food…???). I had a Spanish sangria, my second ever legal drink (the first was in Canada) and it was fantastic. All the international students were baffled when I told them I’m still not allowed to drink in the U.S.

On Tuesday it was really sunny so a bunch of the Erasmus kids (international students) took a ferry across the Bay of Biscay to a beach called Somo. We discovered that they have surfing, wind surfing, and kite surfing lessons there, so those are definitely going on my list of fun things to do (assuming I can get over the freezing cold water).

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Friday night was interesting. We went to a tapas (normally called pinchos here) bar and a discoteca and I definitely learned a couple things.

  1. Don’t go a Spanish “club”

A discoteca is what we would call a club (e.g. music, dancing, maybe a bar). A U.S. club is NOT the same thing as a Spanish club. DON’T GO TO A SPANISH CLUB.

  1. How to talk to Spanish boys at a discoteca: Don’t

At one point during the night Priya (also from Cornell) and I broke off from the group because the discoteca we were in was too crowded and everyone was much older, so we found a different place. Within two minutes of getting there a slightly (possibly very) intoxicated Spanish student, with his posse snickering behind him, came up to us, looked at me, and asked a question. It was quite noisy and he wasn’t speaking very clearly so I couldn’t understand anything. I explained that we spoke English and understanding Spanish was sometimes difficult so he proceeded to repeat the same question over and over. By the third or fourth time I realized he was saying. I tried to continue pretending that I didn’t understand but he was pretty determined and just kept going so eventually I gave up:

Drunk Spanish Student: ¿Un beso? (a kiss?)

Me: No.

DSS: *surprised* ¿Por qué? (why?)

Me: Porque (because)

DSS: ¿Por queeeeeeé?

Me: PORQUE NO QUIERO

DSS: …Por qué?

*Priya shoves between us and steers us far far away from him*

Thank God for Priya.

Anyway. Pictures!!!

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Also the fro yo, courtesy of llao llao (pronounced yao yao), is fantastic! Special thanks goes to the Rhode Island kids who discovered it 🙂   (idk why you get two spoons, Spain is a little weird sometimes)