Santiago Bernabéu

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The day before class started, we checked into our hotel and had some time to explore the area. Gladys and I went to lunch across the street from our new hotel and had some tortas. The waiter quickly noticed that Spanish was not my first language and began speaking to me in Brazilian Portuguese (?). After, we met with a few classmates and visited a few places such as the Spanish National Library.

Spain

Beautiful building outside of our hotel

National Library

Nat Lib

Spanish National Library

 

First day of class and we got to visit the stadium of Real Madrid: Santiago Bernabéu. When we first arrived, there was a special event happening so we had a few hours to stall before coming back and getting tickets; unfortunately the tickets were first come first serve with no previous reservations… this place must be quite popular.

Santiago Bernabeu

Waiting outside of the stadium

In the meantime, a few of us decided to head back and visit a fruit market that we had seen the day before. I bought some cherries and a small fruit tray of mango, apple, kiwi, strawberry, and dragon fruit.

Fruit Market

Fruit Tray

Of course the fruit had a different taste being from a place that I am not used to. The apples and kiwi  tasted especially different from normal and not in a good way (makes sense for the apples, being from the apple state of Washington and such (; ). The mangoes, strawberries, and cherries on the other hand were incredible! This was also my first time trying dragon fruit. It tasted pretty plain, but fairly delicious. While adventuring around and trying fruit, we also went to a Starbucks and learned a few new things: First, Starbucks cards do not work in Spain. Second, iced coffee does not exist here either! The best they can do is provide a hot coffee and a cup of ice.

We headed back to the stadium where I witnessed an escalator pile up for the first time… not pretty. We headed to the top of the stadium and worked our way through the floors, from the museum to the locker room.

Real Madrid
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Throughout the tour there was a strong sense of pride. The trophy displays were dramatized, videos replayed Real Madrid victories and best moments in time, favorite players were highlighted. It was also extremely crowded and many visitors wore jerseys. By the end of the tour we were all exhausted and hungry. We still had another tour to go on: a walking tour of Madrid.

A storm hit during the second tour. It was raining, not like Seattle raindrops, but raining pennies. We finished the tour at a chocolateria for chocolate churros. Afterwards we headed to dinner and had paella; a Spanish favorite. This was my first time eating paella and certainly not my last.

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4 Things That are Completely Different in Spain

  1. Drinking Gas – Yes, people drink gas in Spain… but not the kind of gas that you are probably thinking of. Gas is what people call sparkling water and it seems to be a big deal. In some restaurants, they will automatically give you sparkling water if you ask for water, unless you say agua del grefo (free water/tap water).
  2. Clubs – If you plan on going ‘clubbing’ as in dancing and bopping around with friends, don’t go to a club in  Spain. You may be surprised to find yourself in a brothel instead. If you’re looking for the dancing kind of club, use the term discoteca (or disco for short).
  3. Coca (Cola) – In America, we ask for Coca-Cola and think nothing of it. Ask for Coca-Cola in Spain and you may get some strange looks. People normally just say “Coke” or “Cola” because coca is slang for cocaine in Spanish (which makes sense given the notorious history of Coca-Cola).
  4. Preservativo – Many Spanish and English words sound similar to each other so I now have a tendency to think that if there is a Spanish word that sounds like an English word, they are likely to mean the same thing. Therefore, preservativo must be the same thing as preservative, right? Not right. Preservativo actually means condom, not those things that keep your mayonnaise and ketchup from going bad.

Cultural Differences: Milk

One of my biggest worries about going abroad is the possibility of getting sick in any shape or form. I feel like I have prepared for the most worst case scenarios imaginable, yet I still worry. Especially when it comes to food.

When Gladys and I went to the grocery store to pick up some stuff for the hotel, one of our grocery list items was some milk for cereal. We started looking for it and couldn’t find it anywhere in the refrigerated/dairy sections. Do Spaniards not drink milk? Well, they do. Just not the same way we drink milk in America. Gladys came back to the cart with a cardboard box of milk. But that’s not necessarily the strange part… The milk wasn’t in the refrigerator; it had been sitting in a pyramid of milk just in the middle of the store. Room temperature.

Even “Silk” isn’t refrigerated.

I don’t know about most American households, but at every one I have gone to the milk is tossed if it sits out for just a few hours. So how is it that milk in Spain can sit out indefinitely and still be good? Apparently, there is such a thing as ultra-high temperature processing (UHT) milk. Aseptic processing is used to sterilize the product and use sterilized packaging. The difference is that the milk is heated to a higher degree for a shorter amount of time than traditional milk in order to sterilize the product. UHT milk has close to the same amount of nutrients as traditional milk, but has a shelf life of about 6 months!

If you would like some more information, here are some articles to start with:

How UHT Milk Works” – Milk Unleashed
Why does organic milk last so much longer than regular milk?” – Scientific American

 

How to be Cheap When Traveling Within Another Country

Traveling can be quite expensive, especially when working with a college budget. I’ve gathered a few tips on how I have tried to save money while traveling abroad. But forewarning, this doesn’t work in all countries and all instances.

1. Choose a hotel with complimentary services

A travel tip I learned from my mom is to always choose a hotel with a complimentary continental breakfast and airport-hotel shuttle. What would I do without my mother…

The Holiday Inn Express is fairly well-known for breakfasts as well as a few others. Tourist areas tend to charge a lot more for meals so a complimentary meal can go a long way. Especially if its all-you-can-eat.

The free shuttle is a big one, even more so if it goes to the city center where most activities will be. It saves a lot of money that might otherwise be spent on a spendy taxi. 

2. Shop at the grocery store instead of constantly eating out

Eating out is a large part of cultural experiences, but the food from the grocery store can contribute to new experiences as well and even cost less. Gladys and I decided to gather food from the grocery store for a few meals and snacks for the three days we would be at our hotel before the program started. It costed less than 25 euros for both of us during the three days and we only ate out once.

3. Wash your clothes in your own hotel room

Since we had a few days in hotels before meeting our host families, the limited amount of clothing that we all brought had its fair share of wear. In other words, it needed to be washed… and who wants to spend money on ridiculously priced hotel laundry service? We also didn’t want to show up meeting our host families and say “Hi it’s nice to meet you, now I have a full suitcase of laundry for you to wash”.

The only other (viable) option was to wash our laundry ourselves in our hotel rooms (tread lightly on this one because there are multiple variables that go into making this tip successful). Before I left for Spain, I did a whole lot of reading blogs, Google searches, Pinterest posting, etc. to find the best tips I could. One that I found was to buy single-use Tide packets (good luck finding these in the stores because I didn’t). Instead, Gladys and I washed our clothes in the sink and bath tub with shampoo. Now our mistakes were 1) we didn’t have much time for them to dry and 2) the ratio for clothes that needed to be hung and spaces to hang these clothes to dry effectively were about 10:1. Hence, most of our clothes remained damp for quite some time.

My advice? Try to find single use laundry packets or just use shampoo, make sure you have enough time and space for your clothes to dry, and don’t wash too many clothes at the same time.

4. Cost-efficient flights

If flights seem to be outrageously priced at your nearby airport, try flying out of another destination. Since I live in Washington state, it isn’t a great hassle to fly out of Vancouver, BC… especially when those flights cost about $300 less (~$850 roundtrip) than those coming out of the United States. It was even easier because Gladys lives in Bellingham which is a lot closer to the Canadian border than the Tri-Cities (or even Bothell) is.

You also really have to weigh your priorities as well. Our trips to Spain and back were both about 30 hours (longer than average) with about 3 connecting flights and long layovers because our flights were so cheap. If I were to do it again, I would consider paying a little extra for a more comfortable trip.

5. Apply, apply, apply

Honestly, there is no way I could have studied abroad without financial aid or scholarships. Fortunately, my financial aid covered the cost of tuition/housing. That just left the travel expenses, insurance coverage, food/activities, hotels not covered in program and some of the miscellaneous costs. I applied for about 3 study abroad scholarships for this trip and received one for about $1,600 and the only conditions are that I promote study abroad as a Study Abroad Ambassador (talk about my amazing experiences abroad and encourage others to join? Easy!). With an $850 airfare, the rest of this really helped me with food and paying part of the program so I didn’t have to take out as much of a loan.

Scholarships can be very discouraging, especially when you are someone like me who doesn’t receive many. The good thing about study abroad scholarships is that there is a much smaller pool of applicants because not as many students study abroad and apply for scholarships compared to the larger amount of students who apply for general scholarships. There are even program/location specific scholarships that give you a shoe-in. Still can’t afford to study abroad but want to travel to another country? Try an internship, working, or teaching English abroad.

6. Buy travel insurance

One of the best investments I made for studying abroad was buying the comprehensive travel insurance for students (okay, it was a requirement to go on the trip but still…). If anything, it gave me a piece of mind that if anything at all happened I would be covered. And something did happen. I got sick and ended up in the hospital for some time. No worries though because everything was covered and it only costed $75 (the cost of the insurance)!

8. Negotiate

Something Americans don’t do enough of. Many times we go to a store and think that the sticker price is the only price (which isn’t always necessarily true). Different countries have different customs, but I found haggling in Spain easier than I ever have elsewhere. I actually talked a guy down for a backpack that was $15 to $10 (so proud).

9. Convert currency before leaving (including any change)

I learned this one the hard way. I simply didn’t make enough time to go to the bank before leaving and thought I would be fine. Boy was I wrong. So much hassle could have been avoided if I had just converted currency beforehand… plus conversion rates may be more expensive in other countries.

10. Find a bank that has the lowest withdrawal fees possible

I heard of some companies charging crazy fees for withdrawing money abroad. I also didn’t want to carry all of my money with me in fear of losing it all and having nothing. Fortunately, I had a BECU account and was able to use this abroad with only a 10% fee.

The overall themes for being cheap in another country is doing your research beforehand and knowing when to spend a little more money for protection/comfort. It may not always be the best idea to go with the cheapest possible everything because you’ll get what you pay for: cheap. You still want to enjoy your time and feel protected… but if you are someone whom is okay with that, than by all means go for it!

Tears and Tapas: Part 2

When Gladys and I woke up in the morning, we realized that we practically fasted by accident for 24 hours and started feasting on trail mix while we decided on breakfast. We ate at the hotel buffet and made plans to meet up with Jaynie and Amy, two other members of our group. The hotel shuttle went downtown and apparently dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. Gladys and I spent about an hour trying to figure out buses to get from middle of nowhere to middle of somewhere to meet Jaynie and Amy. To our surprise, the bus dropped us off in the middle of somewhere so we adventured around while we waited. We ended up at this beautiful palace. Pics.

Palacio Real de Madrid

Palacio Real de Madrid (inside fence)

We got slightly lost then made our way to Plaza Mayor. I had paella for the first time and it was bomb. It was a tapa which is a huge thing in spain… Very affordable and very delicious. I also had a fresa (strawberry) juice which is always my favorite. We met Jaynie and Amy and adventured around some more getting very lost and leading to naps in the park.

After the adventure, Gladys and I went to the grocery store to get some food for the hotel. As we exited, the streets were absolutely crowded. No one could move. Is this how it always is in Madrid?? Apparently there was a “special religious person”. Gladys and I made our way out of the human wall successfully and began our trek to where the hotel shuttle would pick us up.

It was a long walk, especially having to haul groceries, so we took the metro for the first time which was fairly easy to navigate. We then had about an hour and a half to wait for the shuttle. After many fancy dressed people walked by, wedding photos taken, and a discussion with a nice old man, we had about ten minutes for the shuttle to arrive so we kept our eyes peeled.

Puerta de Alcalá A popular place for wedding photos in Madrid, Spain. Also where Gladys and I waited 90 minutes for a disappearing shuttle

Puerta de Alcalá
A popular place for wedding photos in Madrid, Spain. Also where Gladys and I waited 90 minutes for a disappearing shuttle

A few minutes later and Gladys spotted the hotel shuttle. Leaving. It didn’t even go past us it just went to the other side and left without stopping! A little panicked, we decided to wait a bit to see if it came back. It passed on the other side of the roundabout. And never came back. We decided that our only choice was to hail a cab. We didn’t even know how to hail a cab! Gladys and I finally walked up to a cab that was parked at a stoplight. Then we realized another problem: we didn’t know where the hotel was. Fortunately, we had the phone number and the cab driver was kind enough to use his phone to call the hotel and ask for the address (even though we were being charged for that duration of time. Ugh).

The next day we decided to just stay back at the hotel and relax. We went to the pool, did some homework, and had much less stress.

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I’ve heard many things about studying abroad. For instance, it is a life changing experience that may change a person as well as his/her views. Also that a lot of stress may come with it on top of the amazing experiences. Either way, I’m really looking forward to the rest of this adventure… As long as there are a lot less tears and a lot more of those tapas.

 

Tears and Tapas: Part 1

I’ll be honest, when I am extremely exhausted AND hungry, I become rather “hangry” (but who doesn’t?). Take both of those and add being completely lost and not being able to speak the local language and well… Let’s just say its not fun.

That’s exactly what happened to me when I got off of the plane and to say the least, I wanted to find a corner and cry. Fortunately, I was traveling with another student in the program. And I was in luck… She speaks Spanish.

I’ve heard mixed things about having to know Spanish in Spain. Some say I’ll be fine with English and my limited knowledge of Spanish because they speak English there. Others say I’ll learn Spanish quickly because I will definitely need it. I would say that for the most part I would’ve been fine with my basic Spanish knowledge, however I would have been screwed if I were to handle the situation that Gladys and I were in solo.

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First of all, we couldn’t find the baggage claim even though the flight attendant gave directions in three languages. Those languages happened to be Spanish, Dutch, and what I assumed was French or German (those are nothing alike but please forgive me, I was half asleep at this point). We meandered around looking for our specific baggage claim but “Brussels” was nowhere to be found. We finally asked for help and were sent on a wild goose chase around the airport to “Lounge 6”.

We got to the lounge and there were sliding doors with human stick figures drawn on them and red X’s crossing them out. Well what can this possibly mean being the only possible entrance! No humans allowed? Limbs will be lost if you stand in the door? It ended up being the entrance and I still don’t know what the signs mean. When we finally found the “Brussels” baggage claim, it was closed. Awesome. We then had to head over to the “lost baggage” counter and finally found our bags. Now to find the shuttle.

We asked the tourist info for help on this one. He kept looking at me and talking as if I would understand him or something (nope). Turns out the hotel shuttle isn’t frequent and we have to call for it and ask someone to come. There was a payphone around the corner. Payphone. With coins. Coins that we did not have. Gladys and I spent about an hour (or what felt like an hour) trying to find different ways to find change since there were no currency converters around. We finally found a vending machine and got a Kit Kat and some coins. We waited even longer for the shuttle. When the shuttle finally dropped us off at a cute little hotel, we both showered and crashed at about 6pm. I was done with that day.

And The Adventure Begins.

 06/21/2015, Blog by Alicia Lookabill, Media and Communication Studies, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (UW Bothell) Spain: The Politics of Soccer in Spain and Beyond

 

 

Alicia First Blog Post 2This study abroad trip is the first time I have ever left the United States and my flights have already taken me to three new countries (okay, so I can’t cross them off of my “To Visit” list since I never left the airports, but it’s still pretty cool). I departed for the Vancouver, B.C. airport from Bellingham, Washington at about 5 am on Thursday the 18th. At the Canadian airport, I couldn’t use my phone (I decided to use wifi whenever available for contacting the outside world and to buy a prepaid phone in Spain for local use) and it was already getting difficult because I forgot to text my parents that I had even left. Plus, I was already lost. This trip is going to be trouble. So of course I was happy to be back in the United States when my flight took me to Chicago. I also didn’t have to worry about currency or whether my debit card would work in Chicago which is something I have to consider elsewhere.

After a two hour layover, we boarded our longhaul flight for Brussles, Belgium: a whopping 7 and a half hour trip. I sat next to an 8-year old Belgium girl from Iowa whose family was sitting across the aisle with two babies (thank goodness I bought new headphones). She was incredibly polite and said sorry at least 20 times for… Well, nothing. She started talking to me a lot and I helped her navigate the TV. Then she told me about how all of the girls at school were mean to her and that is #1 out of the times I just wanted to cry.

It was really difficult to sleep on all of the flights because I had the middle seat and had no way to lay down or relax. I only had about two hours of sleep total for the entire 28 hour trip. And the night before leaving I only had about 4 hours of sleep. Safe to say I was pretty sleep deprived and ready to be at the hotel when we finally landed. But of course, that’s just where the adventure begins.

Alicia First Blog Post