Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pre-departure/Final Blog Post EVER

I figured I would title this final blog with the exact same name (with one change) as my very first blog post. I am pleased to say that I am a MASTER…I graduated in Buenos Aires today upon completion of my Master’s education. What a ride it has been! I have plenty of time to write this post while I wait for my delayed flight to leave from Argentina. The last few days of my international education have been hectic. Writing papers and studying for exams…and now it’s over. Last Thursday, I had to give my simposio…a presentation of a research project I did about the Camino de Santiago. It went really well and I wasn’t very nervous to present it to the entire program. I didn’t have a lot of time to breathe after completing the simposio due to the papers and exam that I had to turn in/take yesterday. I DID IT!!

After the simposio on Thursday, we had a celebratory dinner in town. We enjoyed ourselves. However, yesterday’s goodbye banquet was PHENOMENAL. All of my fellow Madrid girls and I toasted to our journey together in this program with champagne. Later, we gave our professor’s gifts and cards as thank yous for their exceptional education. In turn, the director gave all the graduates a book personalized to each of our personalities. It was such a thoughtful gift. There are rare occasions when you meet extremely genuine people, but our director Liria is a sincerely genuine person and I am so glad to have had her as a professor. It was truly memorable.

Before the banquet, I went with my roommate Nicole and Jordan to “La Boca” a neighborhood in Buenos Aires that has artisan markets and all of the buildings are painted with bold colors. It was by far one of my favorite experiences in Buenos Aires. I got myself a little souvenir there J

Today. I graduated. Liria took our class out to lunch and it was delicious. Shortly after, we moved to the auditorium and had an informal graduation ceremony. Liria told us that she wanted to graduate us before the director in Middlebury, VT. I am very sad to leave behind such wonderful people. However, I am excited to head up to Middlebury for my graduation and see people I haven’t seen in a long time. I’ll be donning a cap and gown for the very last time. Incredible.

Now…a final reflection of my international journey… Not just with Middlebury, but my time in Logroño as well. I consider myself the luckiest girl alive to have had the opportunity to immerse myself in foreign cultures. It is an experience that changes you for the better. It is incredibly sad to think my time as a resident in a foreign country is over, but visits will be necessary. (When I make some money). I saw amazing and jaw-dropping places…places I never dreamed I would get to see. I stomped on grapes to make wine, I watched fado singers belt out their emotional songs, I drank Glüewein in a frigid Germany, I danced tango in Buenos Aires and I saw countless Flamenco shows. I am incredibly lucky and my time abroad has enriched my life immeasurably. Now, I am finished, back to Boston I go and I am thrilled to go. I have had the time of my life…here’s to more amazing life experiences. Cheers!


Tango Class

La Boca

La Boca

Concentration camps and Córdoba

I am doing that thing again where I write two blog posts at the same time because I became too busy to keep on top of things. I am going to rewind back to 3 weeks ago when we visited our first concentration camp…. I will say that before coming to Argentina I knew pretty much nothing about it. I definitely should have done more research…because I had no idea that they had concentration camps here. In the entire country, there were about 500 camps. It’s unbelievable. During this trip we toured two and saw the third from the outside…having been to Auschwitz with my family, I thought I would be prepared for the bone-chilling feeling one gets from entering such a horrific place. However, I am convinced nothing can prepare anyone for that.

In the late 70’s and early 80’s Argentina was under a military dictatorship and all those that disagreed were kidnapped and sent to a camp. Two of the camps didn’t remind me of Auschwitz at all…because they were in the CENTER of the cities (Buenos Aires and Córdoba). Literally, the prisoners could hear children walking to school and cars passing by. It is truly terrible… even worse was the one in Córdoba because it is ACROSS from the Cathedral. That was heartbreaking to witness. The Cathedral is a stone’s throw away.

The third camp reminded me slightly of Auschwitz because it was isolated…but not in the middle of nowhere. It is 30 minutes outside of the city of Córdoba. I think the part that killed me the most was the fact that from a distance, the camp looks beautiful. I felt terribly guilty feeling that way knowing what happened there. It reminded me of Tuscany, Cyprus trees lining the driveway, red buildings with a view of the mountains in the back. It was hard to be there. I don’t really feel like posting the depth of the emotions we all experienced being there, but it was a necessary part of my experience here. I learned a lot about the dictatorship in my Political Violence class and I can now say I am not longer in the dark about Argentina’s history.

Our trip to Córdoba was incredible! It was a long trip; a 10-hour bus ride there and another 10-hour bus ride back. The bus was incredible though, it had “semi-bed seats” and I slept like a baby. We did a walking tour around the old part of the city and it reminded me a lot of Europe. The following day, before our trip to the third concentration camp, we went to visit Che Guevara’s childhood home! That was really cool. The trip all around was phenomenal and was definitely one of my favorite experiences in Argentina. I would definitely go again J

El Olimpo: 1st Concentration Camp

El Paseo de Buen Pastor- Córdoba

With Che Guevara

La Perla - Second Concentration Camp

The group at the soccer stadium in Córdoba

In front of the Cathedral

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Perfect Argentine Recipe: Fútbol and Tango

Let’s start with the fever that is fútbol…a fever that had its one-month stint in the United States and probably fell back into submission after their loss. The fever was alive and well in Argentina as you could probably imagine. After their win against the Netherlands, this city went crazy! There was celebrating that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. I’m convinced that people were driving around just so they would be able to honk their horns ALL night long. Those vuvuzuelas that were banned by FIFA because they were too annoying could also be heard until 12am. There was also a period of time when fireworks were going off in the streets. Overall…it was chaos. But…a good chaos, they were celebrating together because their country had made it to the finals!! That’s a big deal!

Now…fast forward from that Wednesday to last Sunday. There were so many people out for this game…I mean it, THOUSANDS of people in their light blue and white jerseys. They were headed towards the obelisk, a monument in the center of the city. We had planned to watch the game on the big screen there too originally, but after seeing how many people would be there…we decided a bar would be better. Good decision. Argentina played so well; it was devastating that they lost in overtime. People looked very sad, but then they turned it around. They were still very proud of their team that Buenos Aires returned to honking their horns, chanting, singing, and setting off fireworks that you could have sworn they won. It was inspirational to see. Later…. we heard there were violent riots in the center of the city. So not everyone took it well. Experiencing the extreme high and the extreme low of Argentine soccer was one heck of a rollercoaster ride, but it was an unforgettable experience to be in Argentina during the World Cup.

The following day held promise because of ANOTHER supremely Argentine experience that awaited us. TANGO. Middlebury arranged for us to participate in a beginners tango class. The novice level was exactly where I needed to be seeing as my coordination on a dance floor in general is TERRIBLE. After learning some basic steps I felt confident that I could practice what I had just learned…. until it came time to be the person to dance backwards. Not good.  My dance partner was a woman who was not a beginner. Already a recipe for disaster. She told me she’d lead and that as a follower I needed to ‘sense where her weight was and that would tell me the direction I should move my feet…tango is a dance about being aware of your partner’… WHAT? There were a few times where I did it correctly and she praised me as if I were a small child and other times where I messed it up. After messing it up a few times she told me the problem was in my right leg…uh? What’s wrong with my leg? I still don’t understand it very well, but hey! I tried it and now can officially say I’ve danced tango, albeit, not wonderfully.

After the lesson, a tango orchestra played for us for over an hour. This band was great! There were four bandoneones, which are like large accordions…they give tango its distinct sound. It was getting late and most of us left before a pair danced tango in front of the crowd. From what I understand, they were very good. I had class the next morning and was having trouble staying awake so home I went.

For right now, this is where I’ll stop. Yesterday we went to a concentration camp and I will share that experience in a couple of days when I get to writing about that emotional tour. Below are photos that I stole from Middlebury. I’m the blonde in the middle staring at my feet to make sure I know where they are going. Yikes.

Beginner Tango dancers

Tango Orchestra: El Afronte 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Renewed Culture Shock?

I have reached the one week mark in Buenos Aires. It has been already been a learning experience and to be truthful I haven't even 'experienced' that much yet. Which tells me one thing: these six weeks are going to raise the bar as far as my culture shock meter is concerned. I think I became a little 'numb' to culture shock while in Spain, even when changing cities in comparison with Buenos Aires.

I knew going in to this summer (or winter) that my Spanish would alter and possibly cause me a bit more vergüenza, embarrassment than normal. Although that prediction has at times come to fruition, I have found that people's reactions to my blunders have encouraged me to keep trying! For example, there is a Starbucks in the center of the university (yes you read that right, IN the university) and I couldn't even say skim milk correctly! The difference isn't that big, but still...you would think someone getting their master's in Spanish would be able to say skim milk regardless of what Spanish speaking country they are in. The barista kindly corrected me and I haven't said it wrong again, yet. I also overcame my tiny fear of using vos for the first time the other day, I was pretty excited that I didn't screw that up. :)

This is a big city. I haven't even seen it all and I can say with absolute certainty I have never been in such a large city before (apart from New York of course). Glancing at a map can seem a bit overwhelming at times. Thankfully, Middlebury helped us out and took us on a historic tour of Buenos Aires on Saturday. We had a bus and everything. Small down side however....it rained all day....and the rain was pretty cold. The tour guide was excellent and rolled with the punches as far as the rain was concerned pretty well. There were times we couldn't get off the bus because we were just so soaked through from the previous stop that even the director of our program told the bus driver to drive on. Luckily, our reward for sticking it out through the rain was a lovely lunch at Il Gatto. We watched Argentina defeat Belgium during lunch and everyone was cheering. It truly is something special to be here while Argentina is doing so well in the World Cup. *Knock on wood*.

Back to our director, she is without a doubt one of the sweetest ladies ever. She, like other Argentines, 'sings' while she speaks. It sounds exactly like an Italian speaking Spanish, I love listening to her. She is also teaching my Political Violence class. I haven't even had a full week of classes and I leave her class with my mind BLOWN. I never knew anything about Argentina's history and it is so intense to learn about. I think part of the reason the class is so moving is because this professor LIVED through those tough times. I cannot wait to learn more. I think I picked some winners as far as my classes go. Besides the Political Violence class I am also learning about Tango, which also means at some point in these 6 weeks I have to actually dance it. YIKES. I am the prime example of a person who possesses no rhythm whatsoever. My last class is Spanish in the World which I think I'm really going to like, I already had to do a oral presentation that is worth 40% of my grade in that class. I believe it went well, it was about a topic I'm familiar with: the different languages in Spain.

There are things that still take getting used to...like pesos. I have to constantly remind myself the number I actually see will not be the same number subtracted my bank account. Divide by eight! The food here is pretty excellent, of course I have always loved pizza and empanadas are always fantastic. I still have yet to try the ever-famous mate... a type of tea that is unique to Argentina and from what I understand, quite strong. Another shocking thing to see, at least to me, is that along the super short walk from our apartments to the university on the wall along the sidewalk there is a huge statue of Jesus carrying the cross located in a large indent in the wall. That was the worst description I could possibly give, it's hard to explain...but it's interesting to see people walking casually...stop... turn and genuflect and make the sign of the cross while cars are buzzing by. I accidentally ran into someone that way because at first I didn't realize it was there. Even having been in Spain, a very catholic country, I never saw anything like that.

Let's see...what else? A few of the Middlebury girls and I have gone out and experienced some nightlife. After making some new amigos, we were introduced to a boliche which is a discoteca. It was really cool and very fun, one negative part is that smoking is permitted inside and I smelled like an ashtray afterwards. Third time's a charm when shampooing smoke out of your hair ladies, in case you were wondering.  Because Argentina is in the World Cup (I'm assuming) the music in the boliche stopped and the Argentine national anthem started playing and everyone was jumping up and down. On the tour, the guide told us something about how the jumping had to do with the war over the Falkland Islands and that if you jump it means you aren't English...I didn't really understand why, but it was interesting to learn that and then to see it. Watch the Argentina match tomorrow and you'll see the fans jumping up and down too!

This post is a bit too long for my liking and probably yours, so I am going to try to update this more than once a week so I won't write a book every time! I must remind myself to bring my camera with me when I go places so I have pics to upload here. Tomorrow is Argentina's Independence Day and their game against the Netherlands...so it'll be a big day! More soon!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

New adventures in a new country

I am the worst at this blog!!! However, I have been requested to continue...and you know what... I want to because later when I am bogged down in some office I will be able to look back here and think.. 'wasn't life so great??'. There is so much that happened in between my last post and this very moment that I am not even going to try to sum it all up. Key things: went on a fantastic vacation to the south of Spain with my sister and aunt, finished the academic year in Madrid, visited Rioja TWICE within the same 2 weeks with my amazing amiga Steph who came over from the States to visit me, and.....officially leaving Spain.....with no pending ticket to return. Man, I still cannot believe Spain is finished. I feel as though it's a part of me....like a necessary extremity that now I have lost. Of course I know I will go back someday for a lovely vacation because to be honest I am addicted to that country, but it isn't the same. The day I have a ticket I will be on cloud nine. My goodbyes in Rioja and Madrid were obviously very difficult and I hated leaving people behind. Oddly enough, I did not cry a LOT which isn't normal for me ask anyone *ahem Victoria and Christopher*. I am pretty sure it is because my brain and heart have not fully accepted that I am not returning next year. I do know for sure Spain has it's own very special place in my heart and it won't be replaced.

So...what now? After returning from Madrid, I spent the month of June celebrating my little brother's high school graduation, spending time at the beach while soaking up the sun, catching up with friends and family and of course, the ever fun task of JOB INTERVIEWS. The latter has not been very fun to think about but oh well...such is life. A full 30 days went by and now...drum roll.... I am in BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA.

I have literally only been here one day. This is my first time ever being in South America and I have been looking forward to it since I was accepted to study here. The flight was soooooooo long and the plane was probably made in the 1980s, but I made it here in one piece. A group of girls I studied with in Madrid and I met in the airport to take a car to the apartments where we are staying. The apartments are nice, although when you turn the stove on (at least in my particular apartment) it smells like burning rubber. Today was particularly exciting because we had orientation, which included a tour of the university, and we watched the World Cup. We watched the Argentina v. Switzerland game with the Argentine students in their gymnasium and they were AMPED up. When Argentina finally won, car horns and fireworks could be heard as soon as the referee had finished blowing his whistle. Like Spain, I have gathered that Argentina also takes their fútbol very seriously.

Now...I am writing this post after returning home from dinner...after watching the US lose to Belgium. This game almost killed me I think. A group of us went to an Irish pub to watch it and there were plenty other Americans in there watching too. Screams of complaint were heard from all sides of the bar. That second goal that Belgium scored was the nail in the coffin. My two teams are now out...so I guess because I am in Argentina, THEY are the team that now has my support.

This blog's title is 'The Real World: España'...but now that I'm no longer in my beloved adopted country should I change it? ... I don't think so... Argentina is an experience that is sure to be very different from Spain, but it is a continuation of the education I have received in Spain this past year. After orientation, it seems we have many plans coming down the pike so hopefully I will stay on top of this blog for the next 6 weeks. I truly will make an effort. Tomorrow is the first day of classes!! The 'semester' finally begins!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The weekend I turned 25...

Here is the second of the two posts I have just uploaded. I’m 25!!!!!!! On February 2nd, I became a quarter of a century old. How did that happen? I feel as though I graduated college…. like…. yesterday.  Anyway, believable or not I decided to celebrate in my home away from home, La Rioja! My friends came from all over and they helped me celebrate. I hate planning things so I said just grabbing pinchos and going out would be sufficient for me. But… no…. my friends didn’t accept that and started planning a few surprises for me. They are the sweetest. We started off with an Italian dinner, which was scrumptious; you can’t go wrong with pasta with truffles. At the end, for dessert my friends surprised me with homemade cupcakes! They made them and had the waitress bring them out all lit up with candles. The candles were trick candles so of course I spent about 5 minutes trying to blow them out!! Not surprisingly, there was singing involved in both English and Spanish, which always makes me go red in the face. It was a fantastic evening.

I got a little ahead of myself though. While I was in Madrid, I went to the Taste of America store and bought the traditional Duncan Hines cake supplies. In Spain, you bring things in for your birthday. It’s like elementary school circa mid 90’s, your Mom makes cupcakes for all the kids in your class. I don’t know if schools do that anymore. I made the cake in my apartment and was alarmed with the excessive batter and I decided that with this much cake… I should share. I brought the cake, carefully, on the bus and the following day I planned to bring them into one of my old schools. I arrived in La Rioja Thursday night after my class had finished. I was lucky enough to get some pinchos with a few of my former co-workers that evening, which is always a good time. We finished at about 1:30am, so by Spanish standards, an early night.

The next day I went to Arrúbal to dish out the Duncan Hines cake and it was a HUGE hit. One of the teachers couldn’t get over how jugoso, moist, it was. One of the classes I re-visited of course had to catch me up on what had been going on in school for the last few months while they gobbled up the cake. The girls had to play with my earrings and hair as per usual, so nothing has changed there. I hate leaving that class because it seems like they have endless things to tell me. However, I was seriously concerned how much cake was still left. I figured most of it would be gone…not even half of it was gone. So…I went with Carmen, the director of the schools to nearby Agoncillo and just had all of my former co-workers inhale it. A few said they were on “operation bikini”, but after a bite of the cake, that disappeared hahaha. There was still SOME left over so we cut the leftovers into teeny tiny pieces to give to the other classes. The pieces were so small the students asked if they could have more. I showed them the empty tin and apologized. It was a great day J That night was the dinner with my friends.

Saturday was the next day of surprises. We went to a Bodega in Haro, which is about an hour away. We went to Cvne, the bodega that is home to “The Best Wine in the World 2013” according to The Wine Spectator. I had been dying to see this bodega!! The tour was great, it was pretty cold out but that didn’t matter. There is a part of the bodega that houses “the wine cemetery”. The cemetery is carved into a portion of a mountain and holds very old and some of their best wines. Because of its location, there is mold everywhere!! They left it the way it is because it makes the cemetery all the more real and as an added bonus it protects the wine bottles. For those that remember the movie The Parent Trap with Dennis Quaid and the late Natasha Richardson, will remember the scene where Dennis Quaid blows off the dust from an old wine bottle and the dust gets in Natasha Richardson’s eyes….this cemetery was absolutely covered in mold and dust. I would not want ANY of that blown into my eyes. I have to admit it was pretty cool looking. However, if I were ever trapped in there I would feel like I was in the middle of a horror film.

I was looking for the “Best Wine in the World” so I could buy it…but they were totally sold out! They were advertising the same wine but from a different year. It’s not the same thing, so I didn’t buy it. Oh well! I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled.

The weekend ended with pinchos galore. On Sunday, my friend Hayley and I just wandered around Logroño taking in the glorious weather. After living there for two years, the gorgeous landscape still enchants me and I’m sure it always will. That is probably part of the reason I’m attracted to La Rioja like a magnet. Anyway, it was a great weekend and I had an unforgettable birthday thanks to my amazing friends!! Also, I got to speak to my family via Skype, which was awesome. My sister sent me a text message that morning with an important birthday message from another family member…see photo below.

P.S. I’m sorry for how long this post is.

Homemade cupcakes with trick candles

Inside the bodega

Inside the dark, creepy wine cemetery

wine cemetery

Dark, mold-covered hallway in the wine cemetery

Picture of the Best Wine in the World next to the 2007 version

"The important thing is to not stop questioning" -Albert Einstein

Stone bridge, Logroño
Camino de Santiago sign, Logroño

Birthday message from Victoria and Kona