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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FAQ

As you may already know, this next year is going to be my craziest yet. A crazy year meaning a “sometimes-I-question-why-I’m-doing-all-this-but-it’s-going-to-be-amazing” year. So naturally, this past semester when people started asking about my plans for the summer/next year I was subsequently bombarded with a multitude of questions, to some of which I didn’t even know the answers yet. Although it’s been a few months and after answering the same questions, I think I’ve finally got it all down pat. So if you haven’t already heard my whole spiel, brace yourself, the suspense is over!

Q: Meriel, what are you doing this summer?

(short) A: I will be spending 8 weeks in Calcha, Bolivia with my project team, Engineers Without Borders, constructing the suspended footbridge that we have been working on for the past two years.

(long) A: http://ewb.engineering.cornell.edu/

Q: Wow that’s super awesome! Will you be able to keep in touch with people while you’re there?

A: Probably not. I won’t be bringing my phone with me and even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to use it in Calcha anyway. The plan is to drive to Potosí, one of the larger cities that has electricity/wifi, about once every two weeks so I may or may not be able to check my email. And even if I do have the opportunity…I may just not check :))))  I personally love spending time “off the grid” and away from the overwhelming connectivity.

Q: Fair enough. When do you leave?

A: I leave on June 10th and arrive back in the U.S. on August 8th.

Q: So you’ll be there for essentially the whole summer?

A: Yes.

Q: Ok, so I’ll see you when you get back, right?

(Melbourne) A: I’ll be in Melbourne from the 8th until somewhere around the 20th so if that’s where you’re at within that timeframe, then definitely!

(Cornell) A: Unfortunately no because around the 20th I’m hopping on a plane to study abroad in Santander (northern coast of Spain) at the University of Cantabria.

Q: So you’re not going back to Cornell before going to Spain?

A: No.

Q: Ah ok. So you’re studying abroad for a semester?

A: Welllllll it’s actually for a year.

Q: THAT’S SUCH A LONG TIME!!! [not really a question but every person has kept me well informed]

A: Yes. Yes it is.

Q: But you’re coming home for Thanksgiving/Christmas*/Easter/Slope Day, right?

A: No, unfortunately. They don’t have Thanksgiving over there, the Christmas break isn’t long enough and I’ll have to study for finals anyway (because they’re after the break, which is super annoying). I honestly don’t  know if we have any sort of break in the spring. Exams aren’t even until the first week of June so there’s no chance of stopping by Cornell on the way home, and I hope to get an internship there over the summer anyway. Regardless, it’s too expensive to fly home for such short amounts of time, and I’ll only be there once so I want to make the most of it.

*I’ll be spending Christmas with my Aunt and Uncle who live in England though, so don’t worry, I’ll still be with family!

Q: Wow, that’s a long time. But you’re going to have so much fun. [see previous comment]

A: [I’m never really sure what to say to this because it feels more like a command than a statement… Yes I hope it will be fun, but I can’t imagine every waking moment getting lost in a foreign country, struggling through a foreign language, away from my family and friends, not knowing anyone, and staying on top of difficult classes will be sunshine, daisies, and rainbows. Goodness, I wish!]

Q: How is the visa process going?

A: As of May 27th I have my visa!! (To the people who asked me between January and May I told them it was the bane of my entire existence. But that’s another story entirely).

Q: You can travel all over Europe! Where are you going to go?

A: Actually, I don’t know how much traveling I’ll do. My mom’s side of the family lives in Ireland, England, and Scotland so if anything I’m going to visit there because the last time I saw most of them was 6 years ago. The only thing I’m dying to see in person is the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. I wrote a 10 page paper on it in my Modern Structures class freshman year and it’s hands-down the COOLEST building to have ever been built.

Q: Will I be able to contact you while you’re over there?

A: Yup! I’ll have to get a Spanish cell phone so I can’t call or text anyone in the U.S. but there’s always facebook message and email!

Q: Where will you be living?

A: I will be living in a homestay (with a family) for the first month, before real classes start and while I’m taking the required intensive Spanish class. Then I will hopefully find some friendly international students to rent an apartment with.

Q: What will you be studying?

A: Civil Engineering (my major). If you’re into specifics, I will be taking Intermediate Sold Mechanics (I think it’s like dynamics…or more statics maybe?), Computational Engineering (stats), and various Geotechnical, Foundational, and Coastal Engineering design classes.

Q: Are the classes in Spanish?

A: No, they’re in English (thank goodness). I can barely understand my engineering classes in English so I can’t even imagine trying to learn it all in Spanish haha 🙂

Q: How are you going to survive for a whole year?

A: Great question. When I find out I’ll let you know 😀

And the questions no one has asked me yet, but I ask myself almost every day:

Q: Am I nervous/scared?

A: Yes.

Q: Am I still going to go?

A: Absolutely.

Of course, these are the easy questions and these aren’t even all of them. And sometimes by the end of the conversation I get a “Wow Meriel, you sure seem to have your life figured out.” Rest assured, I do not. In fact, most days at school I feel like this:

doing-science-photo-u1

And when I’m not at school, I’m at home baking my heart out like:

ff923ad5eb83cbf4adb36a3099316c1d

#accurate