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All Good Things Must Come to an End

KellyK

To be honest I have been dreading writing this blog entry. I have had no clue how to sum up my entire study abroad experience. I have had no clue how to write about leaving Spain without leaving tears on my keyboard. It is hard to know how to even begin so I will try to do my best.

Returning to old job.

Returning to my old job.

When thinking about study abroad we all think about our last days at home before leaving to a new country and we think about the amazing experiences we will have while we are there. However, we rarely ever think about what things will be like once we get back home after having lived in a foreign country. The experiences we have in different places change who we are. They change how we think and act, they affect our morals and goals. After living in a new place for a year I can say that I am not the same person I was twelve months ago when I left the United States for Madrid, Spain. I do not think or act the same way. I do not want the things I once wanted. I was scared to come home. Now, after having been home for some time I can say that some days are easier than others. Sometimes I wake up completely content, completely happy to be back with my friends and family and to be living my old life. But, sometimes I wake up and realize that my new home and new friends are on the other side of the world. Coming home can be best described as bittersweet. I am so happy to do and see the things that I have missed so much, but at the same time I am sad. I miss everything about Madrid: the atmosphere, the food, the lack of customer service, the dirty restaurant floors and most of all my friends. Right before leaving Madrid my roommate and good friend explained to me that if our year abroad lasted forever the experiences and friendships that we had would not hold the same importance to us. That we cherish our time in Madrid so much and it is so much more special to us because we know it will end. He essentially explained that all good things must come to an end.

returning to family

Spending time with my family after returning home.

Coming home is hard and it is even harder to talk about, which is probably why we never hear much about it. Even though it’s not easy, even though I still long for Spain every day I know that all I can do at this point is be happy for the experience that I had and feel grateful to have a home and group of friends on the other side of the world. In just a few short weeks I will be starting my senior year at IU. Like most seniors, I do not know what my future will hold nor do I know where I will be. However, I do know that I will always have two places to call home.

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Never Say Goodbye

KellyK

In Spain you rarely ever hear someone say the word adios. Spaniards are almost never caught saying goodbye to anyone but instead always say hasta luego, or “see you later.” Even though the Spanish word for goodbye is one of the first Spanish words we learn, in reality the word is rarely ever said. When I asked one of my Spanish friends why this is they explained that adios is too strong of a word. Goodbye is goodbye forever while hasta luego expresses that you will one day see each other again. Now that my time in Spain has nearly ended I now know that the day I leave will not be goodbye.

san sebastian

Traveling in San Sebastian, Spain

It is still almost impossible to believe I have just completed an entire academic year studying abroad in a foreign country. Just over ten months ago I left the United States to complete an entire year’s worth of coursework in a foreign country and foreign language, with foreign professors and students. The academic aspect of my year abroad has not been easy, however it has been extremely rewarding. Completing all of my coursework in Spanish language for an entire year has been a major headache and to make matters worse Spanish professors do not exactly give you a break just because you are a foreign student. In many of my classes this year I was the only American student in the class and sometimes one of the only foreigners. Spanish professors expected the same type of coursework from me as from my Spanish colleagues. While schoolwork usually comes easy to me the style of Spanish education was hard to adjust to. The opportunity I had to study in a different county and in a completely different learning style was a difficult yet worthwhile experience. Though difficult to adjust to, I successfully passed all of my classes and adjusted to learning in a different language.

While the academic aspect of my year abroad is extremely important many of the things I have learned this year I did not learn in a classroom. I believe that the personal growth I went through this year is unique to the study abroad experience. The things that you learn while living in a foreign country are things that you cannot in any way learn in a classroom and are things that only few truly learn and understand. Upon first arriving in Madrid nearly a year ago I was faced with the difficulty of getting to know one of the largest cities in all of Europe. I was given a two-week period to find an apartment in a different country and was forced to find my way around in a foreign language. When I first came to Madrid I was reluctant to ask for help even in my own language but all of that quickly changed. I now feel comfortable expressing myself in both English and Spanish and have no problem talking to strangers. I have also gained a strong sense of independence. At first I felt uncomfortable and confused living in a foreign country, however, I have now spent time traveling alone both in Spain and in countries where I do not speak the language. After a year of living abroad I feel more confident and independent than I ever have in my entire life and also believe that I can now accomplish anything, anywhere.

Now, with my classes and exams finished I will spend the next three weeks traveling Spain before returning to the United States. When I left home nearly a year ago I thought it was the hardest thing I had ever done, however it cannot compare to how I feel about leaving Spain. When I left the United States I knew I would return a year later and once again see everything and everyone I love. However I do not know when I will return to Spain. I do not know when I will see the friends I have made that come from all corners of the world and I do not know when I will have another life-changing opportunity such as the one I have had this year. My year abroad has without a doubt been the greatest experience of my life and although my time here is coming to an end I know that one-day I will be back. This is not goodbye, just hasta luego.

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Hala Madrid

KellyK

As my time in Spain comes to an end I find myself thinking about the things I love about this country more and more each day. One of the things that I have grown to love especially about Spain is its passion for soccer, or fútbol. Soccer is not an extremely popular sport in the United States, however it is the most popular sport in the rest of the world. When I first came to Spain four years I ago I fell in love with the sport as I watched the Spanish national team win the World Cup for the first time in history. This summer, Spain will be competing for the World Cup again. Although I came to Spain excited to see the national team play in another World Cup, I knew very little about the club teams that exist in cities such as Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. I of course knew of the famous players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, however did not understand just how important and influential these teams are in Spanish culture.

Real Madrid Celebration

The celebration in Madrid after Real Madrid’s 10th Champion’s League title

Having grown up in the Chicago area I know plenty about sport rivalries. I was born and raised a Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bears fan, therefore instinctively dislike the White Sox and Green Bay Packers. However, after having lived in Spain for the past ten months I have learned that these famous rivalries cannot even compare to the rivalry that exists between Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. The argument of which of the two largest Spanish cities is better is never-ending and the rivalry that exists between the two cities’ soccer clubs makes matters even worse. Unlike a normal sports rivalry the animosity between these two cities goes much deeper than just the soccer field. Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous state of Cataluña in Spain. Cataluña prides itself on its distinct culture and language that are different than that of Spain although it is part of the country. Strangely enough, over half of the population of Cataluña wishes to separate from Spain entirely and become their own independent country. In addition, during the Spanish Civil War Madrid and Barcelona represented the two different sides of the war. During the Spanish Civil War, which took place from 1936 to 1939, Madrid represented the Nationalists led by Spain’s dictator General Francisco Franco while Barcelona represented the Republicans or opposition. During the war Franco made the language spoken in Cataluña illegal, took away the area’s autonomous rights and bombed the city of Barcelona. To this day the soccer clubs of Barcelona and Madrid remember what happened during the time of the Civil War and both clubs still represent different political views.

However, the animosity that exists between Madrid and Barcelona is not the only great sports rivalry I have learned about this year. Madrid itself has two large soccer clubs, the infamous Real Madrid and the lesser known Atlético de Madrid. While Real Madrid is considered by many as the greatest soccer club in the world Atlético de Madrid, or Atlético, has long been regarded as worst of the two soccer clubs. However, this year Atlético made it all the way to the la Liga Championship, beating FC Barcelona in the final game to win the championship. But, Atlético’s successful season did not end there. Atlético made it to the final of the Champion’s League to play none other than Real Madrid in the championship game. This was the first time in history two teams from the same country had played against each other in the Champion’s League final, and they also just so happened to be two teams from the same city. Madrid went crazy when it found out that its two soccer clubs would go head to head for the most important championship in Europe. Real Madrid, went to the final game having already won the Champion’s League nine times, while Atlético hoped to win for the first time. The game represented more than just a cross-town rivalry. Real Madrid is often considered the “rich man’s” team that is still to this day associated with the Franco regime in Spain and has some of the best players in all of soccer. On the other hand Atlético represents the normal people of Madrid, or the “people’s team.” When all was said and done Real Madrid took the title with the score of four to one and won the Champion’s League for the 10th time in history. Even though Atlético did not win a new standard was set and Atlético put themselves on the map as one of the best soccer clubs in Europe. Despite the rivalry the entire city celebrated Real Madrid’s win and more importantly, Madrid’s win as a city.

I consider myself so lucky to have lived in what many consider to be the greatest soccer country in the entire world. This year I have learned that soccer is not just a sport in Spain. Soccer represents politics views, identity and above all national pride. Although strong rivalries exist between Spain’s greatest soccer clubs the best Spanish players from each team will play together this summer on one team in Brazil for the World Cup. While in the past the animosity that exists between these clubs divided the people of Spain the national teams’ success in the last World Cup united the county for what many consider to be the first time since the Civil War. Soccer is not just a sport in Spain, it is a national pride that has had the power to make a heavily diverse and divided country come together as one. Now, I can only hope that I can see this country that I love so much win the World Cup again this summer.

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Triumphs and Tribulations

KellyK

Studying abroad, just as anything in life, comes with its ups and downs. Having lived in Spain for seven months I consider myself lucky to have run into such few conflicts or difficulties. At the beginning of every study abroad experience students are briefed on all the possible setbacks that could happen while living in a different country. However, no matter how many times we are told to watch out for pickpockets or told what to do in case of an emergency it is hard to believe that anything bad can or will happen to you while abroad.

soccer match

Friendly soccer match between Spain and Italy

One of the greatest fears of anyone traveling to Europe are the ever so infamous pickpockets. I cannot count the times I have been warned to watch my pockets while on the metro, never carry anything valuable into touristy areas or never take my eyes off my purse. While I definitely take precaution with my personal items while traveling I have never had an issue before and never believed that I would be pickpocketed. However, just a few weeks ago while taking a jam-packed metro to watch the Spanish national soccer team play Italy in a friendly match that is just what happened. The thought of possible pickpockets at such a crowded event definitely crossed my mind, however when my iPhone was taken right from my pocket I was in complete shock. To make matters worse I was then left with no way to take photographs of my favorite Spanish soccer stars during the game. While losing your phone has to be one of the greatest fears of any college-aged student, I can now say, after having gone a few weeks without a phone, that it is not nearly as bad as it seems. Sure, I am using a wind-up alarm clock from the 80s and communicating with friends and family via email, but I can honestly say that not having a phone has helped me not to waste my time abroad on Facebook or snapchat.

Las Fallas

One of many public sculptures created by local artists in celebration of Las Fallas.

Nearly a week after the mild crisis of losing my phone my friends and I went on a trip to Valencia Spain for a local festival called Las Fallas. Las Fallas is a festival unique to the city of Valencia that celebrates the beginning of spring, however it can best be described as a weeklong, nonstop, out of control party. Due to the popularity of Las Fallas many travel companies in Madrid offer low-priced bus rides to Valencia for the festival. However, these cheap rides come at a price. Buses left Madrid for Valencia at nine in the morning and did not return to Madrid until six a.m. In other words, I chose to go on a trip that entailed exploring a new city for nearly 21 hours straight with no sleep, all for the low price of twenty euros. The trip went well up until about 2 a.m. when pure exhaustion and confusion started to kick in. After losing our group my friend Clayton and I wandered the city in search of a place to wait and stay out of the cold until our bus’ departure at 6 a.m. Thinking we had plenty of time we started to look for a taxi around 5 a.m. to take us back to the meeting point. However, we soon came to realize that catching a taxi in Valencia is no small feat. Due to the lack of taxis in Valencia and innumerable amount of people in the city that night we soon realized that we would have to find an alternative route to the bus. At this point, pure panic started to set in. Now, nearly 5:50 in the morning with ten minutes to go before the bus left my friend called my nearly non-functioning Spanish cell phone to tell me that the bus would not be waiting on anyone and that I could try finding another bus the next day. With just ten euro in my pocket I then realized that I would be stranded in a foreign city with absolutely no way home. However, just at that moment, my friend was able to catch us a cab. I had never ran so fast in my life, but finally, exhausted, delirious and in tears I reached the bus that would take me home to Madrid.

The setbacks that present themselves while abroad, though tough and sometimes annoying, are a true test to the flexibility and ability to overcome difficulty that students who chose to study abroad possess. No one ever told us that studying abroad would be easy, and if they did I would not have been driven to do so. Studying abroad has taught me a number of things, and not just foreign language skills. The personal growth that I have experienced during my time in Spain is something that I believe to be unique to a study abroad experience. I am now fully confident that I can take on anything, anywhere.

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Half Way There

KellyK

I recently celebrated my six-month anniversary here in Madrid, Spain. It is crazy to think that I have been away from my friends, family and home for half a year. The fact that my time is half over has left me with mixed feelings. I can now say that I have successfully survived my first semester at a foreign university, have nearly completely adapted to a new way of life and survived a full six months abroad without any sign of extreme homesickness. When I look back at my time in Madrid I cannot believe all that I have accomplished and how fast time has gone by.

Templo de Debod

Exploring Madrid – Templo de Debod

When I first decided to study abroad for an academic year instead of a semester I had plenty of doubts. People warned me that I would miss home, fellow students told me I was crazy for choosing to miss out on an entire year in Bloomington and my family and friends begged me not to leave for such a long period of time. I also pondered all of these ideas before leaving. Right before I left for Madrid I again thought that I was completely crazy for choosing to leave my home for a year and I was overwhelmingly worried about the length of time I would be spending in a different country. However, the moment my flight landed in Madrid any doubt I had was left in the United States and I have never looked back.

Now that I am half way through my study abroad experience it is a great time to assess what I have accomplished and how I have changed during my time here in Spain. First, my language skills have drastically improved, as has my understanding of Spanish culture. The small cultural things that once annoyed me I have now found myself doing. I seem to have adapted the “no pasa nada” mentality that is ever so present in Spanish society. However, as proud as I am to have integrated into Spanish society I have a feeling that showing up late to everything, walking at a turtle-like pace and not eating dinner till midnight or later will not cut it once I get back to the states. At the beginning of the year my director told us that by the time we left we would find ourselves so accustomed to the Spanish way of life that we would grow to resent cultural costumes in the United States. At the time I thought she was crazy but I can now say that the thought of passing people speaking English on the street and shaking hands rather than kissing someone hello scares the living daylights out of me.

Basilica de la Almudena

Basilica de la Almudena

Knowing that my time in Spain is half way over has left me both happy and sad. I am so excited to return home in a few short months to see my family for the first time in almost a year. I am excited to eat all of my favorite foods, watch my favorite TV shows and enjoy all my favorite American things. However, at the same time I cannot believe how fast time has gone by and how quickly I will be leaving a place I now consider home. The past six months I have spent in Spain are without a doubt the greatest of my life and I can only hope that the next few months before I head back home will be even better.

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Holidays away from home

KellyKSpending holidays away from home can be one of the hardest aspects of studying abroad, however it can also be extremely fun. As Spaniards do not typically celebrate many holidays that we have in the US such as Thanksgiving or Halloween I was scared that I would miss out on some my favorite holidays during my time abroad. However, spending American holidays in a different country has actually turned out to be a unique and exciting experience. (more…)

Spain on Strike

KellyK

As a college student I have become somewhat familiar with the idea of strikes. Every now and then students will protest tuition or things such as social equality. However, though I have seen plenty of small-scale strikes at Indiana University or protests on the news, it had in no way prepared me for what I would experience in Madrid.

spain on strike (basura)

Spain has a long history of strikes and protest. After years of political unrest, economic turmoil and dictatorship holding strikes and protests has become a fairly normal part of Spanish culture. On any average day it is normal to see groups walking through downtown Madrid protesting about wages, politics or equality among a number of things. In addition, strikes are not seen in a negative manner as the media in the US often portrays them. Protesters and people on strike are often left alone to voice their opinion and police rarely intervene unless things get out of hand. Protests and strikes are in fact a normal aspect of life for many Spaniards. (more…)

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