Friday, June 28, 2013

America vs. Europe

One of the students in our group posted this link to our Facebook page, and it is SPOT ON! After living in Europe I can definitely agree with all of these statements. Especially 3, 8, 13, 28, and 32.

 Check it out! You'll get a little taste of the differences between America and Europe, and if you've traveled or lived in Europe before it'll take you right back to the time you spent there!

Thursday, June 27, 2013


They told us before we left that coming back to the US after studying abroad is another big adjustment, just like going to a new country again. I didn't realize how true that statement was until I experienced it first-hand.

Obviously flying backwards over the time zones was a little weird, and so for the first few days I have been really off with my body clock. I didn't know when to be hungry, and I always seemed to be tired and could easily fall asleep no matter where or what position I was in. I'd try to stay awake during the day so I could sleep at night, and for the first three nights I woke up wide awake and hungry at 4AM (11AM Spain time). I've now been home for 5 days and my clock is pretty well adjusted. Another adjustment is the food. I'm used to eating big meals at 3pm and 10pm so that's obviously been a big change. Plus the food here is so different. The foods I'm craving I can't have, because we don't have them here. And I need to be careful with eating greasy American food because my stomach is not at all used to that.

It's also weird coming back to the USA and seeing all of the stuff we have. It's not that they don't have anything in Spain, they just live with a lot less than we do and it's kind of a nice happy medium between nothing and too much. All of the houses and buildings there are so small and here I feel like I have so much space! I can stretch out my arms in the shower again and spread out in my bed and sit up straight in the car. That's nice. It's been weird having my clothes back again though. In the last 6 weeks I've been living out of a medium-sized suitcase and had an extremely limited wardrobe. Coming back and seeing my full closet and dresser is mind-blowing! I feel like I don't need or wear half of my clothes so I'm going to dig through and find some to donate. Everyone here is so involved in their technology and everything as well.

Hearing English everywhere has also been a big change. We spoke English to each other when we were hanging out with our friends and stuff, but all of the signs and stores and people walking down the street were speaking Spanish. Everything we ever heard was Spanish so it's weird to walk down a street and hear someone else's conversation and fully comprehend it. I still think a lot in Spanish and sometimes mumble or speak to myself in Spanish while I'm doing something. It's hard to break out of that. Plus I love the Spanish language and find it beautiful, so I don't want to just stop using it now!

 One last thing I just thought of that I've changed with is my phone. I got so used to not having it and not being able to use it that I don't really use it much now. I forget that I can! Haha. I leave it at home and don't think about it, or forget that I can text someone to hang out if I want to!

 It's really nice to be back home in the States and be able to see everyone again. It's weird though because it feels like I've been dropped in the middle of everyone's summers and lives! Life is in the middle swing of summer here and for me it is just beginning. I also can't stand the humidity here! ICK. No me gusta. I'm slowly but surely getting around and seeing everyone, showing them pictures, and telling them all about my adventures. I need to get working on a photo book, but that just seems like so much work right now! I have tons of unpacking to do too, because I just dropped all of my dorm stuff in my room before I flew out to Spain so I have to unpack and deal with all that stuff in addition to my trip stuff.

 As nice as it is to be home, I really miss Spain already! I just loved it there so much and wish I could have had a little bit more time afterwards to hang out and experience stuff without homework and school involved. A lot of the kids in our program stayed after and I kind of wish I had, just to experience more of Europe. I miss my host family, obviously, but we've kept in touch using WhatsApp and Skype. I think they really miss me because they're always sending me messages and asking me how I'm doing. I'm sure it's pretty quiet around their house without me! I also really miss my friends from our group! We spent so much time together every single day and now BOOM. I'm back here and haven't seen any of them at all. I also miss some of the food. Like rice and chocolate croissants and my host mom's lasagna and some colacao and the delicious fresh fruit. I know that I'll return to Spain one day though, because I loved it that much and want to be able to see so much more of the beautiful country!

 But for the moment, I'm back in the good ole USA so if any of you want to visit me, let me know! I'd love to give you a personal account of my Avila Adventures!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Professional Travelers

I'm officially back in the United States and back in my house in MN. It was so weird to wake up in Spain and go to bed in Minnesota. The miracles of air travel.

I had to get up really early on Saturday morning to get to the 6AM bus. It was really sad to see my room and bathroom completely empty and it looked like I'd never even been there. My dad drove me (and my friend Allison) to the bus with our bags and we got all loaded up. I wish I would have taken a picture of us all. There were about 10 of us in this bus/van thing, and our suitcases were taking up over half of the seats so we were squished in there with giant suitcases. Haha. I said goodbye to my host dad and was all settled in on the bus. Then Rico came up on the bus and walked over to me and gave me a big hug and said goodbye and wished me well for the future. I wasn't expecting that from him at all but it was so sweet of him. We told him he has to come visit us at UND in the fall. Haha.

We got to Madrid smoothly and everything went well at the airport. I was flying home with Ceceli, and at the airport we realized that Susan and Kassy were on our flight as well, but not sitting by us. Unlike my last long flight where I didn't sleep at all, I slept for almost all of this flight! I've been so sleep deprived I was just ready to pass out on that plane and I sure did! I slept about 6 hours out of the 7.5 hour flight.

Ceceli and I had some quality bonding during our traveling time!

One last look at the beautiful mountains in Spain!

We landed in New York and then had to deal with US Customs. The US is so strict about everything and it really gets kind of annoying. We actually had to go through an additional security check in Madrid because we were flying to the US. In New York we had to go down, pick up our baggage, take it through customs, re-check our baggage, and then go through security again. So dumb. It took forever, but we made it through just in time for our next flight to Detroit!

The flight to Detroit was only about 2 hours, but when we got close to Detroit we had to hold in the air because there was a really nasty thunderstorm over Detroit. We were up in the air for about 40 extra minutes and were about to be sent to land in Lansing instead, but then they cleared another plane to land and it landed successfully so we got to go down. Luckily I had about a 2.5 hour layover in Detroit so the late landing didn't affect me much at all. It was really freaky flying through those dark clouds and lightning!

Then I finally got to my last flight--Detroit to Minneapolis. We left a little bit late because we waited for some people that were coming off of another flight that couldn't land because of the storm. On the flight to Minneapolis I was by myself and just planning to sleep some more, but I ended up sitting by a really nice guy and we chatted the whole way. He's the assistant basketball coach at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock and has done a lot of traveling because of his coaching and other things so we talked for most of the 1.5 hour flight. I landed in Minneapolis, just 15 minutes late, and then grabbed my baggage and found my mom outside in the car waiting for me. That all went smoothly and we went back to my Grandma's house for the night. I was super tired and ready to SLEEP some more! My body really didn't know what time it was as far as sleeping or eating, and I ended up waking up wide awake and starving at 4:00am. Haha. Ugh. We stayed there with her and had lunch Sunday and then drove back to good old Brooten this afternoon. (With a stop for ice cream at Red Onion of course!)

Hard to believe I'm back at home after being in Spain just a day ago. I texted my host parents through WhatsApp and they were happy to hear I'm back safe at home, but said they miss me already! Haha. I'll have to Skype with them to keep my Spanish skills intact.

I have done so much traveling in the past few weeks on so many different types of transportation! My passport has 6 stamps now and I've done a lot of things for the first time. I've really enjoyed all of the traveling and sight-seeing and can't wait until my next big fun trip! :)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Final Day

Wow. Today is my last day in Spain. It's hard for me to believe that six weeks has already come and gone. It feels like just a couple of days ago I was boarding my plane in Minneapolis, completely unsure of what was about to happen in my life. I have changed a lot in the six weeks since then, and I now find myself sitting here at my desk looking out over the Spanish mountains.

My bags are all packed, piled up on my bed. I really impressed myself. I was worried I was going to have to  pick and choose things to leave behind or check another bag. I have my suitcase and duffel bag full now, but I still have some room in my backpack which is nice. They don't have a scale here so I wasn't able to weigh it, but I think I should be fine. I had plenty of pounds to spare when I came here and it doesn't feel that much heavier.

School was good. We watched a movie and then had to bid goodbye to our teachers and some of our friends. :( When I got home and we were eating lunch, I had tears in my eyes thinking about how this was our last meal as a family, and then suddenly Nuria accidentally knocked over the water pitcher and it went all over me and I was soaked. Hahaha! It was definitely a mood lightener and I needed that. Then this afternoon I did all my packing (as seen above) and then Allison and I did one last shopping trip. We got a few snacks and food to bring home, and a few more souvenirs.

Dinner tonight was just Nuria and me but that was really nice. She made bacon cheeseburgers, which we've never had, but they were SO good and we had a good conversation. Then she took me for a walk around the murallas and the city and we picked up Marta along the way and just walked and talked. Perfect ending to my final day.

We came home from our walk and sat in the living room and ate colored popcorn and hot chocolate. I was teaching Marta a bunch of fun string games like cat's cradle, witch's broom, Eiffel Tower, etc. and it was so cute and fun. She made us matching bracelets earlier today that are so cute. I'm gonna miss that little girl a lot. The look on her face when we said goodbye tonight just broke my heart.  And she hardly ever comes to my room when I'm in here, but after we said goodbye she's come in here 3 times to ask me something. I think she just wants to see me one more time. I had to say goodbye to Nuria and Marta tonight because they're not going to be awake when I leave in the morning, and it was way harder than I expected. I don't even know the words I would use to thank them for everything in English, let alone in Spanish while I'm crying. Haha. For this reason, I wrote Jesus and Nuria a letter, and Marta a letter too. I'm going to leave them somewhere in the house tomorrow so they find them after I'm gone. I also gave them their picture frames today and they loved them. They're already asking me when I'm going to return to Avila and I wish I could come back ASAP!! After I came back from my shower, I opened up my suitcase and found a note from them inside. We both had the same idea I guess. It was so sweet and heartfelt and I am keeping that thing forever. I also got the sweetest goodbye email from my teacher, Rut today. It made me cry just reading it.

Now that I have my suitcases and everything packed up I'm getting more excited to come home. It's just the goodbyes in the middle that make this all so difficult. I'm getting on a bus to the airport at 6AM and my flight leaves Madrid at 10:25am. I'll be back in the US at around 1ish Saturday and back in MN at 8:31pm. Crazy how fast that all works. As sad as it is to leave everything and everyone here, I'm very excited to come home and see you all!!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Starts with Goodbye...

Today was our last day of school. YIPPEEEEE!! There's nothing that beats that last day of school feeling. Except knowing that I have to leave so soon!! :( I am not ready to go yet, not at all...

Here's a picture we took in my class today. We are the intermediate level, and there are 9 of us girls. We have a lot of fun in there and I'm really going to miss these girls and our amazing teachers, Rut and Berta. We spent 3 quality hours together every day filled with laughs, confusion, a little bit of learning, and a whole lot of fun.

Tonight was our big fiesta night at the school. All of our families came and Rico got up and talked for a little bit and the big showcase was our dancing. We have been practicing dancing all 6 weeks here and so now we were able to perform for our families and all of the teachers. We performed our big Sevillana dance in two groups and it went really well!! Shanna and I were really nervous beforehand that we'd forget a step or do one of the million weird things we've done in practice before. We survived and it went really well! One of our best times ever. My host dad recorded it on my camera for me so I'll have to show some of you guys when we get home. It's a pretty long video so I don't know if I'll be able to upload it on here. Maybe one day after I return. Some of the students danced Pasa Doble and Salsa after the Sevillanas, but we didn't. Rico, our advisor got up and danced the Pasa Doble with one of the other professors and it was so fun to see him let loose and be out of his shell!

My beautiful dancing partner :) Love you, Shan!

After the dancing each of the classes had their own little thing to do. The advanced class had dubbed over cute short videos with Spanish and so we got to watch their videos. Then my class went and we did "Me acuerdo..." The other day in class we all wrote a bunch of things that we remember from our trip here in Spain and so we decided to share some of them with everyone at the fiesta. Of course we played sad sappy music in the background and it was actually a lot more emotional than I thought it was going to be! I didn't cry but I saw a few of the other students from the other classes with tears in their eyes as they listened to us. We each shared three. It was hard for me to decide, but I choose one about running through the rain in the streets of Segovia, how I didn't want to sleep on my first day here and the bus ride even though I hadn't slept at all because I just wanted to see everything and be with the people, and lastly about our wonderful family dinners on Sundays. My family dinner one was the last one that was said out of all of them, and when we went back to our seats Vanessa (my cousin) grabbed me and I looked at her and she had tears streaming down her face. So did Raquel (her mom/my aunt) and my host mom too! Family is a HUGE thing here and the fact that I talked about our family dinners really meant a lot to them I think. Emotions were on a high, and then the other class presented. They had made a slideshow of a bunch of pictures from our trip and it was SO good. Shout-out to you, Kelli. That was an awesome slideshow. I had tears in my eyes throughout the beginning, but after the music got a little bit more happy during it I was fine. It was crazy to look back at pictures from the beginning and realize how much has happened since then and how much we've grown, individually and as a group. The final thing we all did was sing! Cristina (our dance teacher) had us work on a song for the last few days and we sang it for our parents. The verses were a little shaky but we can nail that chorus! Haha. It was about leaving and saying goodbye and I'm glad I didn't translate the lyrics before singing it at the fiesta because it's kind of sad too. I also have that on video if anyone wants to watch :) Then the program director came up and talked for a bit and presented us with our diplomas! It was really cool! We have amazing diplomas that are beautiful and from the University of Salamanca. Univ of Salamanca is one of the most prestigious universities in all of Europe so that's definitely going to be something to frame and hold on to. It was kind of fun to "graduate" again :)

After the ceremony we had some tapas and sat outside and ate. It was gorgeous outside and we took a bunch of pictures and talked and hung out. Then I had to say my first goodbyes and it was so sad! These next couple of days are gonna be rough, woof! I didn't think so, but it hit hard. A group of us were going to go to llao llao so I went over the my family to tell them and say bye and then Vanessa and Raquel said they probably weren't going to see me again before Saturday and so I had to say adios. The Spanish people here are so sweet and kind and always have such kind things to say. Raquel and her family were the first people I met here besides my family and have been around for many of my fun adventures here. I survived my goodbye with Raquel all right, but then when I got to Vanessa I lost it. She had tears in her eyes too. I walked back over to my friends then and they all got mad at me cuz I was crying which made them all get teary-eyed too. We all had it right on the border, just waiting to come out. We all went to llao llao together one last time and took a cute picture. It's going to be so hard to say goodbye to all of these wonderful people. I couldn't have asked for a better group to have spent the last 6 weeks with...

Tomorrow is going to be such a bittersweet day! We have "school" but we're just watching a movie and then eating a picnic outside. I'll have to say goodbye to all of the teachers and wonderful people at the school, and goodbye to most of my friends too. So sad. Especially because I don't know if I'll ever see the students from EMU again. Gotta make the best of our final day in Spain. I also need to buy a few last minute things and pack my suitcase. I have barely started! AHHH. I have like 3 shirts in there, that's all. Crazy to think of how much thinking and planning went into my packing before I came here, and then look at me now. I just can't bring myself to do it.

Here's a picture of me with my grammar teacher, Rut! She is so cute and sweet and I'm definitely going to miss her.

After Shanna left my house tonight, I was talking with my family for a little bit and was pushing back the tears as much as I could. We weren't even talking about me leaving or sad things, we were talking about carpet.. CARPET. Haha. My brain was just emotional and I was thinking about how this is all coming to and end and I'm going to miss our late-night talks. I got tears in my eyes and then they said we had to stop talking or else I was going to make them cry again! Haha. That's gonna be a rough goodbye, that's for sure. I'm gonna stop thinking about it now. Today I printed off pictures for them and bought frames. I have one of me and Marta for her, and one of the whole family. It's going to be hard to give them the pictures without crying, but it'll be what it'll be. I'm really really going to miss them.

Time for this long evening to come to an end so I can get some sleep before the long day ahead of me tomorrow. My last day in Spain.............

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The End

Well, now that I've kind of caught up on all of my happenings over the weekend, I can write about this week. I cannot believe I have come to this point. I only have 2 full days left here in Avila. This week is flying by but I just want it to last forever!

Monday I had 3 tests. It was insane. But it was nice to get those out of the way and now my homework load has dropped to pretty much nothing. I did really well on my grammar and literature tests, but my culture one not so much. Luckily, he's dropping our lowest test grade for that class and our day-trips and activities count for that grade as well.

Tonight we had a formal dinner at a country club here in Avila with 18 of us and Rico. It was fun to get all dressed up and go out to eat and the food was amazing!! I'm going to miss all of these people so much. I've made so many great new friends, and it's sad to think that I may never see the kids from Eastern Michigan again. It'll be weird going from spending all my time with these people to not seeing them again for a LONG while.

After the dinner my host dad came to pick Shanna and me up and on the way home he asked us if we'd gone to Cuatro Postes yet. It's a big monument on the edge of Avila of a cross surrounded by four posts, and it has an amazing view of the city. We said no but that we really need to go before Saturday and he decided to drive us up there right on the spot to see Avila by night. The view was absolutely incredible. Pictures cannot justify the view, especially because it's hard to get good pictures of lit up things at night. But the walls looked AMAZING and the whole area inside was lit up and gorgeous. We tried to take a million pictures, but not many of them worked out very well. It was a spontaneous little excursion but it was so amazing and so worth it.

I have so much to do in these next two days. We have our big end of the summer fiesta tomorrow night at school where our families come and we dance for them and do a few other fun activities. I also need to go to the mall and pick up a few things before I leave, get some last minute souvenirs for me and others, pack my suitcase, clean up everything, figure out my flight info stuff, and finish up school! Luckily for me, Rico said that Shanna and I don't have to take our final because we both have really good grades at this point. THANK GOODNESS. Who wants to take a final exam on their last day in Spain?!? Not this girl, that's for sure!!!

This time in Avila has truly been the summer of a lifetime and I have so many memories and moments I am never ever going to forget. I can't believe it's already coming to an end, but I guess it's time for this girl to come back to MN and keep on living my life in the states. I've changed a lot over the past six weeks and I can tell. It's going to be different living in the US after experiencing all of this, but I am excited to come home and see everyone and try to get back into the normal routine. It's 2:14am so I should probably get to bed, but I'll see you all SO soon!!

One Big Happy Family

Every Sunday we go to my host mom's parents' house for lunch. Nuria is one of 6 children and all of the children and their families come for lunch. There's usually around 20-25 people and it is such a fun time. They can be loud and crazy and boisterous but I've come to love spending time with them and look forward to every Sunday lunch. The uncles are funny and always ask Kelli and I questions or try to trick us with different jokes.

This past Sunday was our final big family dinner before we leave. Kelli and I were both sad that it was our final dinner. All of the family is so sweet and nice and I've grown to love them as family of my own. It was actually really sad to say goodbye for good to some of them as they were leaving. Some of them I'll see again before we leave on Saturday, but a lot of them I won't. I didn't realize how sad this is all going to be!! We bid goodbye to most of the family and then Kelli and I and our host moms and their parents sat around the table for a while and talked and looked at pictures. SO sweet. The Spanish people are so welcoming and accepting and will do anything to make you feel at home. I love the tight family bond that is part of the Spanish culture. They talk on the phone multiple times daily, are always at each others houses for coffee or tea, and obviously share a very special bond.

Here's a picture we got of most of the family on Sunday before we all left! A big bunch. It's like a big Thanksgiving meal every Sunday. They have given me so many memories and moments I will cherish for a lifetime :)


We spent our final Sunday night in Spain in Barraco. Barraco is a small pueblo village of about 2,100 people and is located right on the valley of the Alberche River. We went there to swim and enjoy the sunshine. Kari's family was going, and her mom is friends with my mom so she invited us to come too and then more people ended up coming too which was really fun.

Barraco is out in the mountains and is so absolutely gorgeous. We drove through it when we went to Toledo on Saturday.

Such a beautiful place to swim! Here we are with some of our family members who came with. Marta really wanted to come, but her allergies were really bad so they didn't think she should be outside more. The water was a little chilly at first, but once we got in it was fun. There were a lot of fish in the water swimming around though, and that was kind of freaky. We could see them through the water.

They also had a little kayak rental booth. We thought it'd be fun to take out some kayaks and go exploring down the river so 6 of us students went out and my host dad and Kari's host dad. Our parents were telling us to be really careful because it's pretty dangerous because there's a strong current. We did okay though. Some places were a little rough, like under the bridge, but it was so fun. The view was absolutely AMAZING. We were literally kayaking down a river through a bunch of mountains. It was so unreal and breathtaking. None of us had our phones or cameras to take pictures with though, because we didn't want to get them wet in case of an accident or a big splash. (We did a lot of paddle splashing each other hahaha). So those views will just have to remain in my brain, but they will for a long time. We paddled out for a while and the group of us girls stopped and layed in the kayaks in the sunshine for a while while the boys continued on.

I had 3 tests the next day, but going kayaking and swimming was SO worth it instead of wasting the nice afternoon inside reading books. As we like to say, "You Only Spain Once!!" So we might as well do as much fun and crazy stuff as possible. We're running out of time!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


On Saturday we took a day trip to Toledo. It's about 2 hours from Avila and was the capital of Spain for many years before Madrid became the capital. It is a city with a lot of history, and a LOT of heat! The forecast was for 95 degrees and it sure was hot! I brought 3 big bottles of water and felt like I was drinking it the whole day. My hair only stayed down for about the first 15 minutes of our trip. WAY too hot for hair on the shoulders!

On the bus ride there, Shanna and I were sitting together. We were just going to sleep, but then we started talking and the view out the window was GORGEOUS. Seriously amazing. We were driving through the mountains and we were both so mesmerized by the views. I didn't even pull out my camera for the first while because I couldn't take my eyes off the world around us! We decided to stay awake then and we studied for our tests a little bit and jammed out to Wicked music. WE LOVE TO SING! Sorry to anyone who had to hear us on the bus. It was really cool at one point when we were driving up in the mountains and listening to Defying Gravity. It was so beautiful. I wish we had mountains or something in MN or ND!

Here's a group of us girls in front of the beautiful city of Toledo! Hooray for summer in Spain!

We first went to a big plaza in the city and hung out, got a little food, and got maps. Then we went to a history museum. I wasn't really in the mood for a history museum at the time, but there were a few cool things in there. We moved through it pretty quickly but while the other kids were still looking inside we went and sat up on the roof of the museum where they have a super cute garden and the view over the city was gorgeous.

We stopped and ate our bag lunches and then headed to the Cathedral. We have seen so many cathedrals and churches while we've been in Spain, so a lot of people didn't really want to go, but I'm glad we did! This cathedral was very different from the other ones we've seen here and I really liked it a lot! It's a little different because Toledo (Castilla de la Mancha) is in a different province than Avila, Segovia, and Salamanca (Castilla y Leon) and so the structure and thoughts behind it are a little different. It was huge and had a lot more color. There was an interesting part of it in the ceiling. There was a big cut out area letting light in through a window. It was like a hole to heaven and was so cool. Shanna and I couldn't take our eyes off of it. There were little statues of angels and people and cherubs and a scene was painted and the light was shining in perfectly. It was so cute and so touching.

After the cathedral we walked over to the Jewish quarters to look around there. Then we had free time to shop and wander around the city. It was so deathly hot and we didn't really feel like doing much of anything, but we survived and eventually made it back to the bus. The bad part was that once we were on the bus, we were so hot and sweaty that it was impossible to sleep. I really liked Toledo though and it's definitely a beautiful city I'd look forward to seeing again one day!