My side trip to Italy

Our professor left one weekend completely open to give us a chance to explore the country on our own.  Most of our group went to Portugal because it was only a couple of hours away but I wanted to be a little more adventurous.  Three girls and myself planned a side trip to Venice and although planning it was stressful, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.  First, we had to book a flight and a hotel and we needed it to be cheap.  The flight was right around $100 round trip because the countries in Europe are so close together.  We stayed at Hotel Centrale (http://centrale.hotelinvenice.com/) and it was only €40 per night.  Overall, I spent less than $250 for a weekend in Venice.

We knew nothing about what to do there, so we just explored and it worked out great.  The front desk clerk at our hotel spoke perfect English and showed us where the bus stop was located.  Our hotel wasn’t on the actual island but it took us under 5 minutes to get there.

While there we went on a gondola ride… ($40 per person for 45 min.)

and of course ate pizza, several times.

Best. Pizza. Ever.

We ordered Pepperoni and got a Peppers only

Also, we visited the island of Murano, where they make Murano glass.

They sell anything from blown-glass figurines to enormous chandeliers.  They are quite expensive but I recommend anyone go to at least see them because they are remarkable.

The trip was amazing but we did run into an issue at the end.  We had to be back for class Monday morning but at the time, the bus systems in Spain were having strikes on the weekends, so we could only get a ride back to Salamanca on Monday morning at 5:30 a.m.  However, to get from the airport to the bus station, we had to take the subway that closed from 3:00-5:00 a.m.  In order not to miss our bus, we had to leave for the bus station at 3:00 a.m. and wait for the bus at the station.  We ended up spending our morning in a little cafe in Madrid, then outside of the bus station in the cold.

However, we did not miss class and we did have the time of our lives.


Fun things to do in Spain

1.  The Plaza Mayor in Salamanca

Every night the lights in the Plaza come on and it’s a beautiful sight.  There are cafes and shops surrounding the plaza and most major events are hosted there.  The first week I was there, there was a series of events including a concert, dancers performing, and a trapeze act.

2.  Eating Chocolate con Churros

This dessert is basically the Spanish version of a donut that comes along with rich chocolate.  A thing I liked to do was order a side of milk so that after you finished the churros, you could add the milk to the chocolate and have hot chocolate.

3.  Eating Helado

This is Spanish ice cream and I ate it every day.  It is yummy.

4.  Go to a bull fight

Stadium in Salamanca

I personally never watched the actual bull fight because I didn’t think I would enjoy it, but some friends I met there went and thought it was great.  However, you can get a tour of the stadiums which was fun.  I went to the Plaza de Toros in Málaga, which is the oldest operational stadium in Spain.

Plaza de Toros

5.  Make Paella

This is a very popular Spanish dish that is very delicious, so we decided to try making it on our own; our version was even better.

6.  Visit Santander

This beach town is GORGEOUS and there are many cute little shops.  This is the hotel that we stayed (although I cannot remember the name of it).

7.  Visit the palaces

Palacio Real in Madrid (The current Palace)

 

Palacio Alcázar in Segovia – Walt Disney’s inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle (supposedly)

8.  Visit unique churches

 

Iglesia de Santa María in Wamba

This church was so special because it contained an Ossuary of more than 3,000 skulls of monks.


Cultural Differences

1.  The use of water

In Spain, water is used very differently.  When taking a shower, you do not let the water run for the entire time; it is only used to get wet and rinse off.  It is not offered for free at meals and is actually more expensive to purchase than wine and beer.  When I told my host family I preferred drinking water with meals, they thought it was somewhat odd and always served it to me a room temperature.  However, the streets were cleaned off every morning with water.

2.  The use of electricity

Electricity is also used sparingly in Spain.  My host family gave me certain hours that I was allowed to blow dry my hair and would always lecture me about leaving a light on when I left a room.

3.  Sense of time

I was up at 8:00 a.m. just about every day to attend class or go on an excursion, but my host family would never be up before 10:00 a.m. (except their son who had a job that required him to get up earlier).  I would get done with class around 1:00 p.m. but my family didn’t eat lunch until 3:00 p.m.  Then, dinner would be at 10:00 p.m.  If one wanted to go out, they would arrive to clubs around midnight and they didn’t close until 6:00 a.m.

4.  Saying “sorry”

I had never realized this until I was in Spain, but Americans say “I’m sorry” a lot.  If we are about to cut someone off or accidentally bump into someone, we almost instantly apologize, but not in Spain.  Daily, I was ran into by someone walking on the street without so much as a glance in my direction.  When I asked one of my instructors about this, she said it’s kind of a sign of respect.  Someone who apologizes for every little thing in Spanish culture is placing themselves below the person they are apologizing to; if they don’t do this, they are establishing themselves as your equal.

5.  Fast Food

In the U.S., you can get any type of food at any time of the day.  In Spain, they did have a McDonalds, but it closed everyday at 10:00 p.m.  So, when my friends and I were looking for a late night snack, we thought we were out of luck until we discovered Leonardo’s; as you can tell, this restaurant was probably an idea they borrowed from Americans and let me tell you it is very delicious.

6.  Religion

Everyone in Spain is catholic, literally.  Despite the fact that practicing the religion (going to church every week) is not widely done by Spaniards, they all associate themselves with the Catholic church and it is infused into every part of their history.   I am not Catholic, but after spending six weeks in Spain,  I feel as thought I know more about the religion than many of my Catholic friends.


The University of Salamanca

Before I arrived in Spain, I knew I would be taking three classes at the university, but on the first day of classes we had to take a placement test.  Some students ended up moving to different levels than they originally placed after being in their classes for a few days.

The University of Salamanca, has the most beautiful campus I have ever seen.  Since the University is so old (it was founded in 1134 and given the Royal chart of foundation by King Alfonso IX in 1218; it is the oldest founded university in Spain and the fourth oldest European university in continuous operation), its campus is basically infused in the city’s structure.

The Plaza Mayor

 

The facade of the university

The first few weeks it was very hard to navigate to my classes because all of the buildings were the same color and built in the same style, but once you really looked at them, they were each so unique that I established landmarks.

The three classes I took were Women in Spain, Literature of Spain, and Grammar.  The class sizes were no larger than 15 students and the instructors were amazing; it was obvious that they loved teaching and were passionate about the subjects they taught.  My favorite class was the Women in Spain.  In this class, we learned about the lives of women in Spain and did a lot of comparisons to the lives of women in the U.S.  Women’s rights came much later in Spain than in the U.S. and today they are still struggling to be established as equal.  However, our instructor thought it was insane that women in the U.S. took their husbands last name because she saw it as a woman becoming the property of the man.  Every single day in these classes I not only learned a lot about the Spanish language, but learned how amazingly different two cultures can be.


Arriving in Spain

The students in my program had to book their own flights (I highly recommend you do this as soon as possible).  I traveled with Iberia airlines and paid around $1,100  round trip.  To make traveling easier, I got with a small group of students and we booked the same flight.

Madrid Airport

The biggest advantage to going on a faculty led trip was that travel arrangements were set up by our professor ahead of time.  However, since each student booked their own flight, when I arrived at 11:00 a.m. after a eight hour flight, I had to wait until 5:00 p.m. when the last student arrived in order to leave the airport.  To pass the time, a group of us decided to explore Madrid.  The easiest and cheapest way to travel is the underground subway station.

We decided to eat at a restaurant and I quickly learned that I am not a big fan of Spanish cuisine.

With the program I was in, we stayed with a host family so when I arrived in Salamanca, I separated from the group and went to my new home.

My Bedroom

The Living Room

The Kitchen

There were four adults who lived in the apartment I stayed in and compared to the size of homes in the United States, it was much smaller.  However, everyone in the group I went with stayed in an apartment because houses were only for the very wealthy.  The only advice I can give to students who are thinking about staying with a host family is that no two families are alike.  My host family was very accommodating but weren’t very social; they didn’t expect me to do much with them besides eat meals and let them know when I was leaving.  They gave me my own house key and encouraged me to go out and explore.  I was the first and only student that had hosted.  Other students that I went with had very different experiences.  Some lived with several other students, some from the U.S. and others from other European countries.  Others had host families that took them to the market  and or on tours of the town.  You never know what you’re going to get.


Steps to take BEFORE you leave

This is the most crucial part of the whole process because it can make or break the experience.

The VERY FIRST thing you need to do is get your passport and/or Visa.  Although my passport took less than a month to arrive, I know other people who still hadn’t received theirs a month before we were leaving.

For step-by-step instructions on what you need to do before you leave, go to the study abroad office.  They gave me a time line of important deadlines, including when payments needed to be made.  Also, they had information on scholarships, which I’m sure just about everyone looking to study abroad is interested in.

For my trip, I was advised to get an International Student Identity Card, which is available at the Student ID Center in the union.  It is $22 and is meant to serve as your ID when you are abroad.  Personally, I never had to use this card.

When it came to packing for the trip, it turned out to be somewhat of a disaster for me.  I brought two suitcases because I wanted to be prepared for anything we would be doing.  I ended up dragging two suitcases around with me when we traveled from hotel to hotel the last two weeks of the trip.  I recommend you only bring essential clothing that can be worn repeatedly without having to be washed after each use.  The worst part of the packing situation was that the airline changed its policies while I was in Spain.  On the way there, I could have two suitcases but on the way back, I could only have one; I had to end up paying $75 for my second suitcase and almost missed my flight trying to handle the situation.

One thing I did on my own, and I recommend you do that same, was brush up on the background of the culture and it was as simple as typing things into Google.  I did this so I could become familiar with stereotypes in Spain and other taboo topics so I could avoid being in sticky situations.


Choosing a Program

If I could give anyone advice about college, I would tell them they MUST study abroad.  It is something I always knew I wanted to do and it was such a great experience.  Many students seem skeptical about studying abroad because it is intimidating to leave the country and they assume it is a long hard process to go through, so here are some easy steps to choosing the program that is right for you.

  1. GO TO THE STUDY ABROAD OFFICE!

The staff members at the study abroad office are more than eager to help you find a program that is right for you.  I actually found out about my specific program in my Spanish class because the professor was leading the trip to Spain personally.  However, there was so much more information that I needed to know.

304 Fairchild Hall

 

2. DECIDING WHEN TO STUDY ABROAD

There are many options for when someone can study abroad including the week over spring break, winter intersession, summer intersession, and a full semester.  To figure out which one was right for me, I spoke to my adviser. I am a double major (Public Relations and Spanish) and wanted to graduate in under four years, so I knew I would need to take summer classes. With the course schedule offered for my Public Relations degree, it made more sense for me to spend a summer taking Spanish classes, so I decided to study abroad in Summer 2010.

3. DECIDING WHERE TO STUDY

For me, the decision to go to Salamanca, Spain was an easy one.  It was a faculty led program that included one month of classes (where I earned 9 credit hours) and then traveled the country for two weeks.  There were 18 other K-State students that also went on the trip.  This program was perfect for me because I wanted to travel to a Spanish-speaking country and the professor who led the trip was from there, so he was able to teach us things we never would have learned otherwise.  I was skeptical about the amount of freedom I would have being apart of a faculty-led program, but it ended up being better than I could have ever expected.  There was about one group activity per week that I was in school, but the rest of the time I was a typical student at the university.  Having the professor there, however, was so helpful.  He helped us find the right classes that would transfer back to K-State, he was available for any emergencies (a girl in my group had to go the emergency room), and he explained many aspects of the culture that I wouldn’t have understood otherwise.

All in all, going to the study abroad office is the best thing you can do to get your trip under way.


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