Monday, February 24, 2014

Becoming a Global Citizen: The Netherlands

I did a project on Netherlands in my seventh grade Geography class (shout out to Mrs. Noble.) I remember how magical and far away Holland seemed, like a place out of a fairytale. I knew I wanted to go one day. I just didn't know that one day would be so soon. If I haven't said it before, I want to say that I'm unbelievably grateful to be seeing the world at my age. I've learned what it means to be a global citizen and the importance of understanding and respecting other people and where they come from. 

Last week, a few of my friends and I boarded a RyanAir flight for Eindhoven. If you aren't familiar with RyanAir, it's the best and worst thing ever when traveling country to country in Europe. The flights are impossibly cheap (78 euro roundtrip to Holland from Spain) and they're almost always on time. The downsides are the uncomfortable seats, rough landings, poor customer service, and the ways in which they find to charge you obscene amounts of money. For instance, if your bag is bigger than the tiny carry-on requirement, you're charged to check it. When you buy your tickets online, you have to scroll through pages of advertisements and unnecessary extras. Don't forget to check all the boxes with "no" or else you'll end up with a bill of hundreds of euros. And finally, if for some sad reason your host sister spills water on your tickets that you printed out and RyanAir has to print them for you at the airport, you'll pay a fine of 170 euros. This actually happened to my friend Allyson on this trip. Two. pieces. of. paper. Also, RyanAir flies you outside of main cities. We flew to Eindhoven, which is an almost two hour train ride from Amsterdam. Seems like they forgot to advertise this along with their car rentals and city tours. I've learned to expect the worst, and in turn, have mastered the art of RyanAir. 

We took a taxi to the airport in Seville. Caught a plane from Seville to Eindhoven. Took a bus from the Eindhoven airport to the train station. Took a train from Eindhoven to Amsterdam. Took a tram from the Amsterdam train station to a plaza near our hostel. And then walked. These trips are always stressful and it seems like we're always running late, running for a train, etc. As glamorous as travel can be, it can be just as unglamorous. Things get stolen (someone's camera), lost (my hat), and people wander off (my friends.) You run into people, you get elbowed in the face on a crowded tram, and in Amsterdam, you almost certainly get in the way of thousands of bikers. So, even though we may look like we have it all together in our pictures, we actually don't. We're just trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B without getting run over. And I guess we succeeded. 

The first day, we checked into our hostel and explored the magical city. It's full of charm, history, canals, and amazing pastries. Literally every bridge has an incredible view of the river. It's such a contrast from the slow, colorful pace of Seville. I still can't believe the variety of landscapes and cultures in Europe. That night, we headed to see Ellie Goulding in concert at the Heineken Music Hall. We didn't really know where we were going or how to get there, but we figured it out in the end. Her concert was amazing and full of 6,000 screaming Dutch fans. In European countries, (mostly)American and British music is really popular. I've found that concerts are a really good way to remind you of home, and also really cool to tell people that you saw so-and-so in a big city in Europe. Thank you, Ellie. 

It was my goal to visit the Anne Frank house. If I was going to see one thing, that would be it. We waited in line for over an hour in the wind and freezing cold the next day, but we finally made it inside the museum. I had read her diary and was pretty knowledgeable of the Holocaust, but none of that prepared me for the museum. To actually see where her family lived for two years, to see the room that confined her, gave me a tiny taste of what it felt like to be stripped of freedom. She couldn't even look outside without fear of being discovered. I can't really grasp the torture of it, but by being there, I was trying to understand. I'm not Jewish, but I am human, and I felt connected to her in a way that maybe I can't put into words. Maybe as a writer, maybe as a teenage girl who's figuring herself out, or maybe in the way that she longed to make a difference in the world. I will never take my freedom for granted.

That night, we ventured into the Red Light District and quickly ventured back out. It wasn't really a recommendable view, just mostly sketchy. On our last day full day, I saw the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum. As an art fan, I really enjoyed both. Van Gogh's works were really cool because they were in chronological order. As he succumbed to his mental illness, his work became heavier and darker. I won't say anything more, because art museums are not super interesting to blog about, so go if you ever get the opportunity. 

We finally made it back to Seville exhausted. Now when I say I'm going home, I'm referring to Seville, at least for the next few months. I look forward to returning to my tiny bed and chatting late at night with my adorable host mom. How lucky I am to have two places that I belong to. I have many more trips planned in the future, but tomorrow, CARLA IS COMING. Carla is my best friend in the world from Venezuela, and I get to show her part of my world these next few days.

Un abrazo,

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why You'll Miss Walmart When Studying Abroad in Spain

"To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." - Bill Bryson

 Here are some things you may not know about Spain: 

1) The schedule 

Spaniards move at a pretty slow pace, at least in the south. Work here starts a little bit later (my school starts at 9:15) and lunch is around 3. After lunch, which is the biggest meal of the day, there is the best part of the day, siesta. Siesta is wonderful. Siesta is two to three hours of relaxation and rest. Siesta is also when all of the stores shut down. Pharmacies, supermarkets, you name it. If you need something you better get it before 2pm, or else you'll have to wait until about 6pm. It can be really inconvenient. Dinner is eaten around 10pm, though my host mom isn't hungry until almost midnight. 

2) Living

Most of the houses and apartments here don't have central air conditioning or heating. During the summer, they open the windows, turn on their portable fans, and say "Que calor!" During the winter, they put blankets on their beds, exchange the fans for heaters, and wear six layers and slippers at all times. I'm used to walking around barefoot and my host mom seems to find this shocking. She even bought me slippers for Christmas so that I wouldn't catch a cold from the freezing floor. The best thing about winter in Spain are the tablecloths. They're basically big blankets that you cover your lap with and that trap the heat from the heater underneath the table. I could spend hours eating dinner because of this. Also, they're much more energy conscious. My host mom placed a timer in my shower because I was using too much water. She turns off my power strip when I accidentally leave it on. It really has taught me to be more aware. 

3) Shopping

Walmart. Don't ever take Walmart for granted again. Until you get outside of the United States, you don't realize that the rest of the developed world doesn't have access to the same things you do. For example, my friends and I want to make cookies for Valentine's day. In the States, you would go to Walmart/Target/Kroger and have all sorts of varieties of cookie mix. You probably would even have a whole aisle dedicated to baking. In Spain, they don't have cookie mix in the supermarkets. I ended up having to pay about 6 euro for a box at the tiny American store here and they only had one kind, chocolate chip. I'm not complaining really, just marveling at the variety and abundance of what we have in the US. Also, if you want Tylenol, you go to a pharmacy. If you want shampoo, you go to a toiletries shop. If you want bread, you go to a bread shop. If you want pencils, you go to a school supply store. Each category of items has its own separate shop, there is no place where you can buy everything. Watch this video of a few British guys talking about Walmart if you want to see it from their point of view: here

4) University

The European college experience is super different from the American one. Dorms, school spirit, sports, fraternities and sororities, and parties filled with red solo cups are non-existent. Spanish students pick their path of study while still in high school, and then go to the part of the University that offers it. They have to take an exam in their chosen career before they enter. If they decide they want to change careers halfway through their studies, they have to start all over. Also, students live with their parents (this very normal for Europeans, even into their late 20's) or rent apartments, there are no dorms. Extracurriculars and academics are kept separate, too. University is for studying and your free time is spent off campus. This makes me appreciate college back home a lot more.

5) Jobs

Spain is in an economic crisis right now. Basically, the young educated Spaniards can't find work. I have a friend from Seville who I met at a little cafe by my house. She's 25, an architect, and works full time as a barista at this cafe because there are no jobs in construction right now. This is a very common story. I've met lawyers, writers, and teachers who are about the same age who are either unemployed or overqualified for their day job. As a result, the young generation is leaving Spain for other countries in Europe or the United States. 

6) Mindset

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking by the river in shorts and tank top, because it was 70 degrees and sunny. I kept getting stares from all of the people who would pass me by. They were all wearing heavy coats, scarves, boots, and hats. I asked my host mom why no one was dressing for the weather. She told me that Spaniards follow the seasons. It's still winter here and so Spaniards wear winter clothes, no matter the temperature. I found this funny, but also consistent. The people here are very dedicated to traditions, culture, and family. They adopt many of the habits of their parents and grandparents, and connections with their past are strong. America may be new and exciting, but Spaniards know who they are and they're proud of it.

I can't believe I've already been here for a month. I'm excited to celebrate Valentine's day with cookies and Sweethearts that I bought at the American store (because they don't have those either here.) Saturday, I'm leaving for the Netherlands to visit Amsterdam and see an Ellie Goulding concert. I'll definitely post about the trip. Wish me luck!!