Sunday, September 16, 2007

Semester Begins- February 14th

We then had a one week hiatus (although we still went to our grammar course twice a week) to begin choosing our regular courses for the semester. As a result of getting the history course out of the way during orientation, we only had to take two courses in addition to the grammar course to make a total of 12 credits for the semester. A lot of my friends took 3 more classes, but I only took 2 because I had extra credits and wanted as much free time as possible to explore Spain and other countries.
However, even choosing 2 courses was a bit daunting. A lot of the information online was not updated, and courses showed up from other semesters that I wanted to take but that weren't actually offered the semester that I was there. In addition, I was nervous about taking a course in which your only grade is the final exam, which is how most Spanish classes are set up. I finally settled on a "cushy" course taught in English (you were allowed to take one English course but no more than that) and a translation course which I thought was way beyond me but was convinced would teach me a lot. I'm not a translation major, and what we did was completely new to me. In addition, the entire grade is based on the final exam, so I had no way of measuring my progress until then.
After choosing classes, you have to go through a bureaucratic process in which you make an appointment to register with the university and then pay a 6 euro matriculation fee at a bank. Although it seems silly and a little irritating, I was enamored with the country by this point that even these tasks seemed fun.

As I got into the swing of things, I got more comfortable in my courses. My grammar class was a breeze because I've always kind of enjoyed grammar, I felt comfortable in my English course, and figured I'd work things out for my translation final. I was able to arrange my classes so that I had Mondays and Fridays off, and could do some traveling outside of Spain, which was a huge reason I went to Europe in the first place.

FALLAS!!!!- one week in April

I didn’t know anything at all about Fallas before I got to Spain. It’s a week long festival honoring Saint Joseph in which huge ninot structures are displayed in the city. These were traditionally made of wood but are now made of synthetic materials- and are multiple stories high. At the end of Fallas, all except the best ninot, which is kept in a museum, is burned. There are also series of parades every day and night, fireworks everywhere, and Fallera girls (the Spanish equivalent of beauty queens here) walk around in their Fallera clothing. There’s a lot more to the experience, but it’s something you need to see to understand. My Spanish suitemates went CRAZY during Fallas, and as incredible as it was, I was relieved when it was over, because I was just tired and wanted to sleep through the night. The fireworks there are a lot more about sound than sight, and when they went off your whole body shook.

Independent Travel- Italy- April

The first trip that I took outside of Spain was to Florence to visit a friend who was studying there. I was lucky to have someone to stay with who also knew the city well enough to show me around and make sure I got to see the best things. I saw Michelangelo's David and Brunnelleschi's Duomo, things I had read about in textbooks but never thought I'd see in real life. I also visited the Buboli gardens which were massive, and something I didn't even know existed until I went. The country was beautiful and the food was, of course, incredible. I ate dinner one night with at a restaurant famous for its rigatoni, and I can honestly say it was the best pasta I ever ate.

Independent Travel- The Netherlands- May

In the end of April, I decided to visit a friend who was studying in the Netherlands, in Leiden. I arrived on Thursday afternoon, explored Leiden for the day, and met all her dormmates. There were only two actual Dutch people in her dorm, but I got to meet a bunch of people from Great Britain, and we all ate dinner together that night. The following day we went into Amsterdam because I was curious to see the famed "Red Light District" and a photography exhibition that my friend mentioned. My friend didn't want to pay to visit museums she had already seen, so I returned myself the next day to visit the Van Gogh museum, the Anne Frank House, and the Old and New Church. The most memorable thing for me was the Van Gogh museum, because he's been my favorite artist since childhood, and I'd never seen his work in real life. It was set up chronologically, and I had the leisure of looking at things for as long as I wanted because I was traveling alone. On the train back to Leiden that night, a man sat next to me and started speaking Dutch to me. I told him I was sorry that I didn't understand, and we ended up speaking in English. But that was a cool part about being in the Netherlands- no one could point me out as a tourist because I look Dutch. In Spain, people are always shouting "Hey rubia" (meaning "hey blonde girl”) at me, and it's impossible to pass myself off as a native no matter how well I'm speaking Spanish that day. In the Netherlands I felt like I was almost passing for a native (I rented a bike like they do), and that was fun for me.