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Today is 6/27/13 I am already a few days into my summer study abroad semester in Spain. I will attend the Universidad de Deusto. They say it is the most prestigious university in Spain. I will take two courses, Spain in Europe and Culture & Politics; both will transfer to the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA, towards a major in Spanish. I also plan to submit this blog as a Global Inquiry general education requirement. To keep an accurate and detailed account, I also keep a journal to record daily experiences as they occur and then I post what is significant. I am a good student and I seek to study abroad to become more culturally aware and fluent in Spanish. I applied to and won the CIE Faculty-led Scholarship through the UMW Center for International Education (CIE). I choose to go this summer because of the unique excursions offered by the program. I hope to return in the spring of 2014 to take more classes for the Spanish major and to do an internship. For this, I won the Grellet Simpson International Scholarship, the most prestigious scholarship offered by UMW.

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On Wednesday, June 19, four days before I departed for Spain I was e-mailed by my host mother, Lourdes. She introduced herself and here is a bit about her:

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She is a single, middle-aged mother of two daughters who are 20 and 29 and no longer live at home, but may visit frequently. She lives in a nice apartment that is a 20 minute walk from the Universidad. I have a room to myself and Internet connection. She works with transportation for the disabled and was previously a book saleswoman, so her apartment is full of interesting literature. She is a very nice, talkative MONOLINGUAL SPANISH-SPEAKING woman who loves cooking! I will definitely learn how to communicate well in Spanish with her as my host mother!

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She asked me what foods I like and anything about my life. They say that she is a good cook and she hopes I like to cook too. She is happy to receive me into her house and hopes that I will enjoy my stay. Alongside the email, she attaches a picture of herself. At first, I felt guilty for not contacting her first. Even though I was given her contact info weeks before, I have been busy preparing for Spain and forgot to write. I felt I owed her a very nice, long letter – in Spanish. I prefaced the letter saying that although I may make mistakes or miscommunicate, I always mean well. I begin with introduced my background and then my habits:

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I was born and raised in Santa Fe, NM. The bilingual environment and rich heritage inspires me to learn more Spanish at the collegiate-level. I love both the arts and nature, that I am an artist and enjoy the outdoors too. I describe my family and reasons for wanting to be a bilingual speech-pathologist. Yes of course I love to cook!—and I look forward to cooking together. I ask her if she likes spicy food, offering to bring a bag of Chimayo Red Chile that is local to Santa Fe. I love to do yoga and would like to join her in Pilates class.

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In her reply, she tells me she enjoyed my letter, saying how impressed she is with my Spanish. She wants to make dishes that aren’t too spicy, and that she is confident that we’ll get along well together. How wonderful! I am so glad that I was matched up to her. Before, I was unsure that I had not given enough information in the application process but now I realize that the reviewers consider all of the information you give—not just the Personal Qualities Statement.

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I begin my journey on 6/23 at 4:15pm when I leave Washington, Dulles International Airport on a 7.5h flight to Paris. The AirFrance plane was a double decker! I sat on the bottom level and checked out the staircase and upper-level midway through the flight. Although I wanted to walk around and trade seats with other students to get to know each other, nobody I talked to was interested. Soon, I forgot all about it and I watched movies during the flight and couldn’t fall asleep even if I tried because, for me, the day was just ending while, for the Parisians, the day was just beginning. I arrived in Paris at 5:30am on 6/24 (11:30pm Washington, DC and still 6/23) at Charles de Gaulle and stayed for a 3h layover. It was sad not to be able to explore Paris but that’s for another trip. It looked green and humid and the flight attendant announced it to be 10 degrees Celsius. It was 1am in VA and I had already eaten dinner, a glass of champagne, breakfast, and cappuccino on the flight.

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The Madrid flight from 9:35-11:40am was huge! The passengers seemed like quite an ethnically diverse group. The flight attendants made announcements in English, French, and Spanish—the 3 lenguas francas. My nerves took a beating with travel already and I refrained from ordering more wine on the second flight.

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Landing in Madrid, I was shocked to see the landscape. It was a dry desert and grass plains—like Santa Fe—with green trees. I bet the Spanish settlers came and stayed around Santa Fe because it reminded them of their home. I was glad that my suitcase arrived and without much wear. Half of my 1oz perfume bottle leaked but that’s about it. After meeting up with the Centro Internacional de Español (CIDE) representative, Jen Crystal and Deine [de-yen-ay], we took a bus to the hotel. We ate lunch as a group in the hotel dining room at 13:30. The food is not as gourmet as it was on last  summer’s safari in Africa so it was easy not to over-eat. I was glad that my hotel room was on the 8th floor so I got an opportunity for exercise (climbing stairs). I do not want to gain weight on this trip. My friend Lisa (and roommate for UMW fall 2013) and I want to be running buddies at future opportunities. She is a nice girl, concerned more about studying and learning than drinking and partying, and so am I. Although I do want to have fun and enjoy an ocassional drink and night out, I want to keep my head.

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We had a “descanso” (break) after lunch until 16:00. I went up to my room, showered, unpacked a little, reorganized my stuff, and changed into a cute floral dress with a navy blue blazer. I know I looked like such an American on the plane—wearing sweatpants, a group “UMW in Bilbao” T-shirt, and travel vest—but at least I was comfortable.

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At 16:00, the group met to go on a bus tour. I realize here that I hadn’t slept in over 24h. Ken and Mom, the US Environmental Protection Agency is comparatively equivalent to the Spanish Ministerio de Protección Medioambiental though I only saw the building of the Ministerio de Defensa. El Corte Inglés is like a US Macy’s or Dillard’s. The city has improved much under the dictatorship of Franco. The arquitecture is extraordinary; I see many buildings of the styles Art Nouveau and Romanticism in contrast with Chicago’s newer Modernism ( a reaction against them). The street “Serrano” is Madrid’s “golden mile” or richest street. “Castellana” refers to the people who live in Madrid. “Salamanca”is the name of a rich man who paid for many buildings. I saw the American Embassy and another grand building called “the America house. The most emblematic fountain is Seville Fuente. We passed by the Prado museum which I am going to visit in a few days. Then, I saw the largest bank in Spain. It was hard to see the monuments from the bus, especially because the CIDE rep would talk about it in Spanish before we could see it and gave the English version after we had passed it. It felt very fast paced due to the interest of time and I am tired; my eyes feel heavy.

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The highlight was the Palacio Real (Royal Palace). Every room was totally different and ornately decorated. The richness was overwhelmingly breathtaking. Definitely a place to go to again. There is so much, it is impossible to look at everything in one visit. Then, I went to the Armory and saw nights in armor and horses. Spectacular. Awesome. I CAN’T BELIEVE I AM HERE, SEEING THIS IN SPAIN!!!!!!! I really can’t say I did the palace justice because I was not the most awake and alert, though I was enthusiastic.

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At 20:00 we met as a group for an info session where we were given “itinerarios” for the next few days; they will help me in documenting the details of my trip. We learned essential info about our stay in Spain. At 21:00 we ate dinner and I fell dead asleep at 22:00.

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The next day, Tuesday 6/25, we visited the town of Segovia. It is most famous for its “acueducto”and “catedral.” We did a guided visit of the Alcázar (cathedral). The tower had really steep, long staircase. I took a lot of pictures here. At the end of today this memory feels like it happed yesterday; I am so glad I journaled some on the bus. Otherwise I’d forget what happened. We had lunch at Restaurante Convento de Minimos at 14:00. I ate chicken breast and icecream.

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At 17:00 we arrived at the hotel and had free time until 21:00 (dinner). Lisa and I took the metro to estación Retiro where we walked through the Parque del Retiro. We got lost in the park and walked for hours before finding the museum CaixaForum at 19:30 and my feet hurt. Though the museum closed in half an hour, we paid 4 euros for a ticket and went anyway. I saw one exhibit about ancient Mesopotamia; Lisa breezed through two. There was a lot of info about the Sumerian and Akkadian peoples with identical English and Spanish versions. The artifacts were strange and intriguing. I am still amazed at what an impressive civilization Sumer was. Even though they wrote on clay tablets, dried and baked in the sun, the writings were of advanced concepts like city or building plans. The “copas” (bowls) were perfectly made and decorative as well as functional. I didn’t read everything but I got a good look into the life of a Sumerian. At the gift shop afterwards, I got my Mom two Sumerian-style magnets of (1.) Terracotta wall fragment and (2.) Fragment of a mosaic. I think they make good gifts. They take up little space and she can see beautiful, interesting reminders of history and culture every time she looks at the fridge. I wish I could have seen the other exhibit but there was no time left. So we left, walked down the street and ate dinner on a plaza in downtown Madrid. For 12 euros (6 each), we split a paella dish called “Paella del Señorito.” It had chopped fish, calamari, gambas, mejillones, and guisantes. It was delicious.

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We met up with 2 other girls from our group at the Atocha metro station. We stood on the wrong platform for 10 minutes while I reviewed and double-checked the map multiple times. Something didn’t seem right—our stop, Chamartín was not listed on the route because it was going in the opposite direction of where we wanted. After I explained this, the girls and I made our way to the route going in the correct direction. At each stop, the conductor announced (in Spanish only) that the train would not continue service after we reached ###, a stop on the map. I was really confused and didn’t know if I heard right. Before everyone stood up to get off, I said to Lisa, “The conductor keeps mentioning something about this stop. If everyone stands up at this stop then I understand him correctly or I don’t know Spanish at all.” All of the passengers stood up to get off and I explained to all the girls what was happening.

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We made it back to the hotel and ate (again, because the divided paella was not enough). I had a salad and then a sweet soup of coconut cream and pieces mixed with a little sweet soup of pineapple. Then, a lovely yellow custard with bourbon sauce.

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Wednesday, 6/26: Today we pack our suitcases and checked out of the hotel. I will be in Bilbao tonight! At breakfast, I heard that several parents had called Dr. Sainz asking where their child was. I hope one of them was not my mother—[I asked her tonight and found out that she was not among those parents]. No I haven’t called or emailed her yet but that’s because I have not been able to access the Internet nor have I found a payphone. I hope she knows that I am ok. I overhear conversations from others who do not seek any contact with their parents at all. One guy talked about moving out and living by himself for no practical reason, but only because he wants more solitude. I thought wow! My mom and I are lucky to have such a healthy relationship.

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This morning we go to the Museo del Prado, the national museum. There are many famous, awe-inspiring paintings by Spanish artists: Goya, Velasquez, El Greco. There was a guided tour (in Spanglish) of the highlights from each period (e.g. Baroque). It made me want to take an art history class. Afterwards, I went to the featured exhibit Belleza Cerrada where I was surrounded with a breathtakingly gorgeous collection of 281 paintings and scultures of 16th – early 18th century religious scenes and figures, images of heaven and earth, succulent fruit, animals and nature, and everyday people. It was astounding. No offense to Chicago’s Modernism and reactions against romanticism and art nouveaux, but I prefer such early periods that glorify beauty and pleasure.

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A video reviewing the exposition:

http://www.museodelprado.es/exposiciones/info/en-el-museo/la-belleza-encerrada/video-un-recorrido-por-la-exposicion/

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Pictures of the masterpieces:

http://www.museodelprado.es/exposiciones/info/en-el-museo/la-belleza-encerrada/interactivo/

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At the gift shop I bought a few useful items that are beautiful and decorated with exquisite Spanish paintings. I bought mom another magnet for her fridge, this one is Las Meninas (1656), one of the most famous paintings by Diego Velázquez. Soon, we returned to the hotel before departing on the 5h bus ride to Bilbao. I had wheat bread and the best blue cheese I have ever had, squid, and another different type of seafood of which I don’t know the English translation. For desert, arroz con leche, coconut mousse, and chocolate mousse with decaf coffee.

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My host mother is like all mothers…she keeps on feeding me when I am full! We had Spanish tortillas (plain- no topping because it’s the first night) and she has explained a lot to me already. Anyway she is a kind woman. Her bilingual daughter is here now. I do not know how good she is at speaking English because we haven’t tried. I made good small talk, gave her the presents and chile. She loves Placido Domingo- How did I know this already? I finally connected to the Internet successfully and I am using my laptop now which is more comfortable.

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