Melissa Montoya '14

I am back! What a bittersweet feeling. I arrived to the states last Thursday and back on campus on Monday, so I have had little time to really sit and think, but that was what I wanted. If I would have had time to let the experience settle in, I probably would have been sadder than what I am right now.  As I reflect on my experience abroad I think of all the places I got to see, the amazing friends I made, and all that I learned about myself, and just thinking about it makes me really nostalgic.

The past semester went by flying and I can’t believe all that I got to do. I traveled to Rome, Paris, and Lisbon outside of Spain, and to Barcelona (5 times), Granada, Sevilla, Pamplona, San Sebastian, and Vigo within Spain. I also became an official pilgrim once I completed 110 km (68 miles) of The Way of Saint James. The traveling aspect of my trip was by far the best experience of my whole stay. I had the opportunity to visit cities and monuments within those cities that I had only seen on TV—seeing before my own eyes the history of the present. For example, the Roman Empire was a key player in the history of civilization, and when I visited Rome, I was able to explore key infrastructure of the empire such as the coliseum and the forums.  For me it was just a humbling experience in general to be on ground that was older than the United States itself.

The other component of my experience was the academic aspect. Fortunately I passed all of my classes, but much more than just passing, I learned very much in those classes about the material but most about myself. Since it was an unfamiliar environment, I had to adapt to hearing all of my lectures in Spanish, but also experiment with different techniques to help me study and do well; it was like I was a first year student all over again. In my Spanish Economic History class I learned about how the roots of the Spanish economy and how this is affecting the economy today. In my Sociology of the Family class, I learned about how the dynamic of the Spanish family has changed and been affected over time due to changes in laws and just the passing of time.  Academics were not my favorite part of the experience, but they were the reason why I was there, so I tried my best.

Food was also a big thing on my plate of my experience in Spain…get it! I loved everything that I had and loved the opportunity to try new, traditional foods. This is was favorite part of my trip to Portugal and Italy. In Italy it was the pasta, and boy was it good. I say I would just return to Rome for the food, and specifically one restaurant that I found on my last day there; it was DELICIOUS! How can I forget about my tortilla española (Spanish omelet), especially the one my host mom made! I loved it so much, I asked her for the recipe and it was the first meal I made back in the states. Food, besides the fact of tasting good, served as a big component of learning about the culture of the countries I visited. By far, food was a very important part of my whole experience.

Last but not least, my host family and time in la Coruña. My host family was great, now I see why they say the Coruña host families are the best. My experience without my host mom and sister would not have been the same. They were very welcoming and always of great help; plus she cooked very well. Coruña is an amazing city and one that I fell in love with. I had the beach within a five minute walk from my house and everything was just so historical and beautiful. I actually enjoyed my morning walks to the bus to get to school, and a little piece of amazing history- Hercules’s Tower- was right in my backyard. The weather probably is probably my only complaint, yet it was not that unbearable. In comparison to the winter in the States, I would take 100x the weather of la Coruña over the snow here in New England. The only issue was the rain.

Spain was an amazing experience and I would not trade it for anything else; I would not have spent my semester any other way. It was a great experience and I would recommend it to every single person. For now, I relish in the memories and in the hope of one day returning.

Ciao España, ya te hecho de menos (Bye Spain, I miss you already)

The cities of Granada and Sevilla are located in the autonomous community of Andalucía—in the south of Spain. Before this trip, I had only spent time in the north of Spain; even though it is the same country, these regions are very different from each other.

Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised by warm weather. What a difference from the cold, rainy days I had had in Galicia. Throughout our weekend, we visited the key sites in both cities. May I say that both the cities are amazing in their culture and tradition because they have so much history. Spain was at one point colonized by an Arab king, and to this day the south of Spain still has preserved much of that history through its architecture and culture.

One of the main representations of this is the Alhambra, in Granada. The Alhambra used to be the royal palace of the Arab king. It is truly a work of art; it is beautiful. It sits atop a mountain and from almost anywhere in the city you can see its silhouette. The interior is mind-blowing. This palace complex is huge; there are gardens and smaller palaces. Regardless of how big it is, every single corner was planned to a “T”. The interior of the palaces are intricately designed with lots of colors and architecture that is heavily influenced by the Arab culture; not a single space is left untouched. The Arab influence pours out into the city as you walk through the Arab market and get to try some delicious tea and Arab desserts.

In Granada we also got to walk around the Albaycin—aka the gypsy town. The curious and beautiful characteristic of this town is that all the houses are located on the side of a mountain and they are all white. To top it off, some of these houses are actually caves.

I absolutely loved Granada. First of all, I am very interested in Arab culture, and I think it is a city that has preserved its Arab history very well. Secondly, I loved the FREE tapas! If it is free it is for me. With the purchase of a drink (did not have to be alcoholic), you would get a small plate of food. I even got to have a “Chinese” tapa- it was noodles, but the thought of a Chinese tapa was quite funny.

Sevilla, although still part of the same autonomous community, was very different from Granada. Sevilla’s atmosphere was more like what is the stereotypical image of Spain: the flamenco, the bulls, and the paella. We did all these things during our stay. We got to see a flamenco performance, got a tour of La Plaza de los Toros, and had paella (my very first paella in Spain). My favorite had to be the performance. From the beat, and if you have heard Middle Eastern music, you can tell that it is heavy with Arab influences with regards to the tone of voice and even the sounds of the guitar. There is also a deep expression of emotion on the faces of the singer and dancer as they performed; it is very emotional and about pain and suffering, but beautiful and amazing at the same time.

My other favorite site from Sevilla was La Plaza de España. It is the biggest one I have seen so far, and I also think it is the most beautiful. Each autonomous community is represented with a plaque and a painting or map representative of the community. There is a seating area in front of each community so you are welcome to take pictures, so of course the Holy Cross kids took their group picture. There is a fountain in the middle and a small river that goes around the Plaza on which you can take a boat ride. This was by far my favorite Plaza de España of the ones I have seen.

On the last night, we watched the soccer game between the two rival Sevillan teams. I know soccer is a big thing here in Spain and this was my first time ever witnessing the excitement first hand. Everyone yelled when their team scored a goal and one little kid even started to cry and throw a fit because his team was losing.

Excitement and passion for something is definitely a stereotype of the Spanish, and I have definitely witnessed it firsthand and feel it now as my time runs out. I am definitely passionate about the idea of one day coming back to Spain and getting to see all the other communities because they all have something unique to offer. However, for now I am so thankful for the opportunity to have visited the southern part of Spain; it was beautiful.

My time is running out! I only have 9 weekends left in Europe…what will I ever do with such little time (damsel in distress pose)! Well, I do have some pretty exciting trips coming up. For example, next weekend I will be heading to the south of Spain; I will be spending my weekend in Andalucia. This is where the Spanish stereotypes of bulls, flamenco, etc actually come from. Then, I will be returning to Barcelona for the last weekend of November; I was there last month, and I absolutely loved it. Finally, I will be concluding my time alone in Spain-before my family comes- with a trip to Rome.

However, planning these trips was not easy, and at times I experienced a good amount of frustration. Here is my little venting session on my experience of planning my trips. First of all, airports. The only airport in Coruña is small and has a limited amount of direct flights. The next best bet is flying from Santiago, which is a train/bus ride away and a pain in the behind. Second, prices. These so called “low-cost airlines” are not as low cost as they advertise themselves to be. Besides the fact that they are not actually “low-cost”, they have all these hidden fees for using a certain card or for just buying your ticket. Third, packing. These so called “low-cost” airlines can be a bit of sticklers when it comes to your luggage. I usually just take a carry-on and a SMALL over-the-shoulder pocket book. On my first trip to Barcelona, I was told that I had to put it (better description is stuff it) into my carry on; I was not allowed to have this small personal item that basically took up no additional space. Regardless, packing is just a hassle in the first place.  Lastly, I have experienced that there is really no other way of getting out of Coruña – or Galicia for that matter- other than by a plane. This is frustrating because I would like to see the rest of Spain without having to go through an airline.

Not everything has to be negative because through all these frustrations I have learned some lessons about traveling:

1. When you are finally decided you actually want to go somewhere, be a comparison shopper. Look at prices the day you decide where you want to go, but don’t automatically buy. “Shop around” for a few days and then buy. Airlines usually have better prices in the beginning of the week (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday).

2. Plan your outfits ahead of time so that way you only pack what you need, and also buy your toiletries in the travel size or buy the traveling kits. It is so useful to have all your personal items together in a little kit.

3. Decide what is most important: a “cheap” flight or your comfort. Sometimes a cheap flight can end up being more expensive-financially and mentally- than you originally might have thought. Even though a flight might appear to be a little more expensive in the beginning, you will thank yourself that you didn’t have to waste half your day getting to the airport just because the flight was cheaper.

4. If you are going as a tourist, do your research about a place before, especially if you are traveling on a budget. The internet does not exist for just Facebook. Google search “(place where you will be traveling) on a budget”, and YouTube it as well for those must-see tourist attractions.

These are just some lessons I have learned from my trips so far. Not only will I implement these for the remainder of my travels here in Spain, but as well as in the future. I am exciting for the rest of my trips and I will definitely post some pictures of all my trips. Talk to you soon.

-Melissa

Although La Coruña is not recognized as a fashion capital in the world, it is the home of one of the biggest fashion empires, Inditex. If this does not sound familiar to you, don’t worry it didn’t to me either, but as soon as I arrived I was bombarded by its prestige. For those of you who know of or have heard of the store ZARA, well then you know something about Inditex. Apart from ZARA, there are an additional 9 brands that all belong to Inditex. Imagine how massive this company is; its owner is the richest man in Spain, and the third richest man IN THE WORLD! Yes, I said the 3RD RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD! And his empire all started right here in little Coruña.

If you ask anyone in Spain if they have heard of ZARA, most of them will probably tell you they own many pieces from ZARA. Although you can pretty much find ZARA anywhere in the world, it is still relatively cheaper here in Spain than anywhere else. That is because its owner has made it very difficult for other foreign companies to enter into the Spanish market; he has created a monopoly.

Let’s talk about some big trends I’ve noticed since I arrived. Mostly everyone is well dressed and fashionably put-together: men with their suits and women with their make-up and heels. Yes, women of all ages wear heels everywhere. Another big trend that I have noticed is spikes. Spikes on your shirt, on your shoes, on your jewelry…everywhere. Scarves are another biggie. Even if it is not cold out, women wear scarves as an accessory. Trends are big here!

There are also some things that are a definite DON’T! For example, sweatpants in Spain are a BIG No-No! Something that back home, is a measure of comfort, here is a deadly fashion offense.  The only reason you should ever be wearing sweats outside your home is if you are going to workout…AND THAT IS IT!

Although fashion may seem superficial, I believe it also has a lot to do with how you feel. Back home I revert to sweats and a t-shirt when I am just not in the mood for “dressing-up”. Here, I would not dare leave the house in sweats no matter how uncomfortable I was. Getting “ready” in the morning has become a routine, and I am actually excited to put together outfits and do my makeup; I feel like everyday is a great day because I look put-together. Next step in updating my style…the heels.

Although today the Camino is affiliated with Jesus’s apostle- St. James, its origin is not religious. The Camino has been around for a long, long time. Its symbols are a seashell and a yellow arrow. The seashell is correlated to the religious meaning, while the yellow arrow was the pre-religious mark. For more information on the camino, visit the official website: www.xacobeo.es/en

In preparation for my journey, I needed to get the adequate clothing, footwear, and snacks . So I bought myself some hiking boots, warm pants, a raincoat, and  lots of chocolate. Now came the fun! The question was, what should I pack, and how can I keep this backpack as light as possible since I would be carrying it for three days. Other than what I bought, there were a few other items that were musts in my bag: toilet paper, lots of pairs of socks, another pair of sneakers, and a positive attitude.

In order to receive the official credential confirming that you are a pilgrim, you need to walk at least 100 km (62.14 miles). SoThursday morning we woke up really early to catch the earliest buses (we had to catch more than 1) to Sarria-the town where we would start the Camino. Distance from Santiago: 111km, or 4 stages away. After a bright and busy morning, we officially started the walk at 9:45 am. The end of this stage was at km 82 (the town of Portomarin), which we reached at 3:30pm. We took some small breaks in between to rest our feet, or just to embrace the panoramas of the beautiful province of Galicia.

The remainder of the weekend was spent …well……pretty much walking. Through towns, passed ruins of old homes and/ or stores, through modern cities, but predominantly through the forest. There were moments when I loathed the thought of having to walk on unpaved roads because of the pain in my feet, but for the most part I preferred that than having to walk through cities. In the forest, I was at peace with myself and one with nature. I know it sounds cheesy, but it was during the moments when I was walking through the forest that I was able to reflect the most on what I was actually doing and I realized that every step that I took, literally brought me closer to reaching my goals-Santiago.

Through the Camino, I realized that life really is like a journey. Sometimes it is good to distract yourself from the pain to reach your goals, while other times it is best to just focus on the pain and keep on going; it will all be over soon. Also you have to watch out for the mud or poop on the ground so you don’t step on it; this to me represents the times you have to be cautious of the decisions you make in life because it can get a bit messy. Lastly, I realized the importance of taking “breaks”. In life sometimes you just have to stop and observe what surrounds you. During the walk, these were the moments when I took pictures. I wanted to capture every single beautiful scene, animal, object along the way because I knew that I would most likely never see it again. Speaking of which, here are some pictures:

Upon arrival to Santiago

Monday was my first day of classes! It was a breeze in comparison to the arduous task of actually choosing my classes. The college-education system is very different here than it is back home. In Spain, a student must choose his/her career field in high school! In college they take the courses that will specifically prepare them for becoming an expert in that field. For example, as an accounting major, I would have decided during my last year in high school that I wanted to be an accountant, and once I started college, I would have only taken accounting/economics classes throughout my four years. Hence, the students here have their curriculum very set and strict.

At Holy Cross you have the ability to choose courses from different departments; the university that is hosting us has implemented the same method for us within the rigid structure of the Spanish system.   This was one challenge of choosing classes. The second challenge was getting these classes approved by our liaison here at the university. You proposed some courses that you wanted to take, and he would tell you whether or not you should take the course based on the professor, etc…..to put it this way, he was our real-life “Ratemyprofessor.com”.

Now to my first day. Very different from Holy Cross. Instead of a 5 minute walk from my residence hall to Stein, here I have to walk 10 minutes to the bus stop and from there take the bus- a 15 minute ride- to the university. Fortunately the whole process is not very confusing, and I enjoy the walk in the morning because it wakes me up.  So on my first day I had a 9am class. I arrive to the building (the campus is huge, and each department has its own building, except for a few). One thing they don’t tell you is what do you do when you first arrive to a class. I was very confused, do I go in or wait for the professor to come in?

It turns out classes were not the bad because it was just the first day; so all we did was go over the syllabus. In my last class of the day, I even got to get out one hour before the usual end of class! The professors were both very nice; they introduced themselves to me and made themselves available for whatever I needed.  Overall a good first week!

Lesson learned:

1. Bring your own printing paper! If you need to print something, the school asks that you buy your own paper. I think this is a brilliant idea because it discourages useless printing.

One month ALREADY! I have just completed one month in Spain; it is crazy how fast time has gone by. Throughout this time, I have thought of some valuable lessons/tips that I wished I knew before I arrived. Here are a few:

1. Bring toiletries and school supplies with you!!!! This is key. If you have the space and weight availability, please do yourself the favor and pack these things (at least for the first month). It has been a pain and very disheartening to have to spend a decent buck on school supplies and toiletries here in Spain. It is also more convenient especially if you use specific products. It has been very annoying to have to spend money on things that I already have at home or that I could have found for a lower price at home.

2. Be open-minded: This is to be expected. If you are in a different country, obviously the customs are different. Be open to new things and meeting new people.

3. Have healthy-snacks throughout the day: The time difference between lunch and dinner is roughly 8 HOURS! This is a long time especially for a girl who tries to eat small meals every 3 hours. I needed snacks in order to be functioning individual throughout the gap. Most of the times my snack of choice was frozen-yogurt from downtown Pamplona.

4. Have some “me” time: It is not always necessary to do what the rest of the group does; they will understand if you would prefer to have an afternoon to yourself.

5. Be stylish: Everyone in Spain is pretty much a walking magazine ad; they are all dressed in the latest trend. If you like to be stylish, Spain (and Europe in general) is very stylish. So use the money you didn’t spend on toiletries-because you brought them from home- and re-vamp your wardrobe. (This is for guys as well!)

These are just a few of the lessons I learned during my first month. I have done so much so far and am very excited for the rest of stay in Spain. I prepared myself somewhat based on these lessons for my new home. Tomorrow I part ways with Pamplona and head to my new home- La Coruna.

Hasta Luego Pamplona, se te quiere!

I am in my third week in Pamplona, and I am loving it. This city is amazing: full of life, history, and surrounded by beautiful landscapes.

Upon my arrival in Madrid, I was warmly welcomed by some family members. I spent that weekend in Madrid and then took off for Pamplona on Sunday afternoon. When I arrived in Pamplona, the day was cloudy and it was raining; big difference from the scorching heat in Madrid, but not for long. Still jet-lagged, the next day in Pamplona, I awoke to a bright and sunny sky. The temperature….the same as Madrid, and so much nicer than back home. That Monday we started with a tour of the beautiful campus of la Universidad de Navarra and went over what was to come in the next four weeks.

Here I am in the third week, and I can say that so far I have had the opportunity to explore and do some shopping in “el casco antiguo” (the old city), sun bathe in the beaches of San Sebastian, walk through the remains of two castles, have a crepe in Biarritz, France, and even run with the bulls of San Fermin (through a simulation).

I am absolutely in love with this city. Here are some pictures; the pictures do not suffice the beauty of being in the physical presence of these sites.

l-r: Royal Palace of Olite (a town in the outskirts of Pamplona); one of my two “runs” with the bulls; el Ayuntamiento de Pamplona (city hall); me in the Plaza de Castillos (downtown)

In just one more day, I will be leaving for Spain! I can’t believe how fast the summer flew by. It is just now that the reality of my departure has set in. Here are a couple of my mixed feelings.

I am nervous about how much I will miss home. I got married this past January, and this summer has been the longest amount of time I have lived with my husband Mikey since our wedding. So, obviously leaving him and my two puppies, Teddy and Cali, is going to be emotionally difficult. Not only is it tough because I will be leaving Mikey, but also, this is the longest time I have left my parents to go and live in an unfamiliar country. Here are some pictures of my family:

Left to Right: Mikey and I on our trip to Magic Kingdom this summer; my parents, Mikey, and I on our wedding day; Teddy; and Cali when she graduated from puppy classes.

In addition to being nervous about leaving my family, I am overly excited. I have an adulation toward Europe and its architecture, diverse cultures, and especially food. Two of my favorite foods are pizza and pasta, and I am anxious to try these foods abroad. It is a fact that one of my life-long dreams has been to tour Europe.

Not only am I excited to be a tourist, but I am excited about the opportunity to immerse myself in the language and the culture. My first language is Spanish, and as the years have passed, I have begun to loose a lot of it. Hence, I am very excited to have the opportunity to improve and ultimately perfect my Spanish.

Spain…here I come! :)