Back in America

22 Jun

After a life-changing four months abroad, I am back in the USA! I can’t even begin to describe how incredible my time in Europe was. From studying in Malaga to backpacking through Italy & the UK, every moment was meaningful and memorable.

I formed international relationships with new friends, was force fed vegetables by my host mom until I actually began to enjoy them, learned how to read Korean, enrolled in ballet classes at a Spanish dance studio, got to the point where all the cathedrals and parks began to blend together, took a few too many cheap budget air flights, and so much more…

It’s been an adjustment being back to a summer schedule in the states, but I am so glad to be home. I miss Europe so much already, and know I will return in the future. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have been given, and can truly say that my experience abroad has influenced the rest of my life. 

University of Malaga

22 Apr

In Spain, I take classes at La Universidad de Malaga – all of which are taught in Spanish!

I just finished my language class last week, and tomorrow I am giving presentations in both my Culture and Literature courses.

My professors are wonderful, and truly invest themselves in ensuring that the students understand the material. They prefer to be called by their first names (Maria Jose, Antonio, & Cristina)- I found this out after I addressed Maria Jose as “Senora” the first day…

The university is about a ten minute walk from my apartment. My language class, which covered Spanish grammar & conversation, went from 8:30am-10:20am, Mondays through Fridays. Now that I have finished that course, I don’t have to be at school until 10:40, which is when my Spanish Culture course starts.

I have met some incredible people at the university. These are friends I am sure I will stay in touch with once I leave– it has been great having such a strong support group with whom I am able to constantly practice my Spanish. I am close friends with everyone in my language class (there’s 15 of us), and we spend a lot of time together outside of school. There are only 8 people in my Culture class, and 7 in my Literature class. The small class sizes have allowed for so much personal attention from the professors- I am very appreciative for the overall learning environment at UMA.

Entrance to my campus:


The steps I walk up each morning! (also the meeting point for reuniting with classmates) :Image

At night, the university is closed off with a gate, as are almost all buildings here:


On Easter, my classmates set up a surprise Easter egg hunt for me in the classroom so that I would feel at home! My professor & the class didn’t understand significance of eggs & the Easter bunny though… explaining how a giant rabbit visits all the children’s houses and leaves candy while hiding eggs does NOT make much sense in Spanish!


The different countries represented at the University of Malaga:Image

My literature & culture classroom:


For the breaks between classes, students spend time outside in the courtyard:

IMG_5339My Literature professor, Antonio, sitting at a desk while another student “teaches” the class:



This is the UMA campus in the city center (my campus is in El Palo, about 20 minutes by bus from the center):



Now, time to get back to studying for exams! Hasta luego!!





A random photo collection of my meals in Spain…

17 Apr

Food in Spain, and all throughout Europe, is a BIG deal.

My culture class is currently covering gastronomy and the Mediterranean Diet, so I am learning about the different diets of each region in Spain.

Olive oil is its own food group basically- it is used in every meal! Here, we eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, soups and stews, potatoes, ham, and EGGS.Lots of eggs.

Spanish tortilla is common, which consists of eggs, potato, and onion. Paella is also a popular dish my host mother prepares every few weeks (rice with veggies and meats). “Croquetas” look like fried mozzarella balls, but are really filled with a meat puree (sounds gross, tastes amazing). “San Jacobos” are the less complicated Spanish version of hot pockets…cheese & ham covered in bread crumbs and cooked in oil.

Malaga is a city on the water and thus seafood is a staple in the diet (I try fish when it is served, but I admit I am not a fan!).

I have become a veggie lover, something I do not think my parents will believe when I return. I even eat salad now!

I took a cooking class with my study abroad program, so hopefully I can prepare a few of these dishes back in America :)


Some very pink “hamburgers”:


Croquetas, with fried eggplant drizzled in brown sugar honey in the background:


Dinner at home- San Jacobo with veggies:


Calamari rings (served as a tapa):


We usually have spaghetti at least once a week! (served with an omelet or fried egg):

A random photo collection of my meals in Spain...

At a restaurant with classmates, the table all ordered different plates to share among everyone! Chicken wrap, peanut sauce chicken skewers, and beef wrap:


Lunch with my host family- rice, fried egg, meat mystery:


Rice casserole and chicken! (we eat a lot of rice….)


Meat with a homemade spinach pie!


Sandwiches for a day trip made by my host mom (HUGE!):


Oranges covered in cinnamon:





7 Apr

DSCN1025I took a day trip to Morocco yesterday! SO INCREDIBLE.

At 2:30am, I woke up and got ready to go. After a 3am bus ride to the city center, one hour procrastinating getting a cab, and a 5 minute taxi ride to the police station meeting point, I was on a bus to Tarifa by 5am! Tarifa is a small town in the Cadiz region, at the very southernmost tip of Spain. You can see the Strait of Gibraltar – the city is only a few miles from Africa! I got on a 9am ferry to head to Morocco, and was in Tangier by 8am Moroccan time (two hours behind Spain).

Some of the day’s activities: riding a camel, touring the hills of Tangier, visiting a carpet shop & a spice shop, having lunch at a traditional restaurant (don’t drink the tap water!), watching a snake charmer perform, and of course haggling souvenir prices on the streets. I got back to Malaga at 8pm after an exhausting, but completely worth it, trip.

I never thought I would be able to just head over to an entirely different continent for a day. This experience was prodigious and really changed my perspectives on the world. I am realizing the values of travel, and how important it is to see with your own eyes the different lifestyles of people in other places. As citizens, we watch the news and read about foreign countries, but it takes being exposed firsthand to really have an impact. I am so grateful for this semester abroad- I have a new outlook on other cultures and lifestyles, and am truly appreciative of all of the opportunities I am experiencing.

Semana Santa

7 Apr

Semana Santa is the Holy Week throughout Spain, leading up to Easter Sunday (though it is not celebrated in any way similar to in America). Large processions take over the streets, with people dressed in traditional costumes and carrying large “tronos,” religious sculptures taken out of churches and placed onto elaborate floats made of silver and gold. Each procession lasts hours. Members of each procession wear conical hats and robes, and some carry candles while others march in a band or are part of the group carrying the trono. The traditional dress resembles what the KKK organization styled themselves with…very eerie to see for Americans, but it’s what the people in Spain have worn for the parades throughout history.

For the first part of Semana Santa, I stayed in Malaga. Along with a few school friends, I did an intercambio language exchange with a woman from Malaga, who showed me around the city to see all of the different processions. She hoped to improve her English while we worked on our Spanish. We ended up in the Malaga Cathedral for a mass, saw 4 different processions and salidas (when they exit the church or building the trono is housed in), and avoided the majority of the rain!

I also took a day trip to Marbella, where I visited the beach and “Old Town”. Michelle Obama visited this town, and there were newspaper clippings and photos of the visit in many of the shops. There was even an ice cream flavor named for our President & his family!

For the last part of Spring Break, I traveled to Cartagena, a city known for its large naval station, in the region of Murcia. It was well worth the 7 hours travel time each way!  I visited my friend Marta and her family. We went sailing on the Mediterranean, had lunch on the balcony overlooking the water, explored the city, saw some more processions in the streets, and they helped me continue working on my Spanish (they said it’s improved greatly since I saw them last!).


Unfortunately, I came home with a terrible cold (my excuse for not posting sooner!!). Hoping it gets better soon, it’s been a week. Can’t say how much I took our medicines in the US for granted! Wishing I had some Emergen-C & Tylenol right now… Although, it’s been a great learning experience—I went to the Spanish pharmacy & got some medicines for my symptoms after talking with the pharmacist (I am no longer nervous about using my Spanish with strangers!) My host mom says I am sick because of the change in weather (we have had rainy and cold days turn to sun and wind). Half of the people in my class were absent the other day, so I think something is going around. Only 3 weeks left in Malaga- I hope this cold goes away soon so I can get back outside!

Las Fallas in Valencia

23 Mar


Every year in March, Valencia is transformed into one of the best known festivals in Spain. The city is full of noise, fire, and millions of people that come from around the world to experience this celebration.


The history of Las Fallas is that carpenters would celebrate the arrival of spring by burning all the leftover wood that they had saved up to burn during winter when there was not enough light to work late outside. Now, the “wood” that is burned has evolved into elaborate ‘fallas’ or structures made of wood and paper (anything that will burn!). Constructing these sculptures is a process that spans over the entire year, and each one can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Many of the fallas are commentaries on current world events or problems. Several criticized the  government of Spain for budget cuts or corruption, many focused on the “sinking ship” of Europe, etc.


Others were focused on springtime, events such as the Oscars, or tourism in Valencia. This one showed Steve Jobs!


There is a panel of judges that visit each of the hundreds of fallas and choose the best ones. The winning fallas go into a museum. On the last night of Las Fallas, all of the fallas that did not win one of the top prizes are burned to the ground and completely destroyed!


The city is so full of people, that it’s almost impossible to walk without pushing your way through the crowds. The problem is that everyone throws their trash on the street- over 10,100 tons of solid waste and ash were removed by city workers by the end of the festival.

Also, technically the streets are still open to cars – even though it would be faster to just walk than wait for a path to clear!


People dress up in the traditional festival attire, and perform dances and music in the streets. A fallera dress can cost $1,000. Little babies would be dressed in mini fallas outfits, while the older people go all out with their attire.


La Ofrenda is when flowers are taken to be offered to the Virgen de los Desamparados. The bouquets are used to create this dress (or “traje”) that is preserved until the end of the month. The red and white design is done entirely with the flowers:


The craziest part of this festival was the obsession with noise and fire! Every day at 2pm is the Mascleta, a huge fireworks display that is more for the noise than the view (because it is light outside!). Everyone gathers to watch it, and it is shown live on the news. This happens every day from the beginning of March through Las Fallas (March 15-19). So much noise! Just getting to the city center to watch the Mascleta is a challenge in itself- so many people everywhere:


Late at night is El Castillo, or the large fireworks show. None of the fireworks I’ve seen in America even compare to this! I did not think I would be able to hear or see anything afterward, it was so loud and bright.


After El Castillo, everyone goes back into the city center to listen to DJs and live music in the streets. The city really does not sleep! The government tries to have the music shut down at 4am, but it didn’t seem like anyone observed this rule. From young children to teenagers to grandparents, everyone is outside celebrating.

During the day, I did get a chance to do some general “touristy” exploring in Valencia, which was great!


I can’t think of anything to compare Las Fallas to, it really is an event that one needs to experience to truly understand!


23 Mar

Over the weekend of March 9-10, I traveled to Granada, another city in Andalusia about two hours northeast of Malaga. This is definitely one of my favorite cities in Spain. An incredible town, Granada has rich history and beautiful architecture. From the ancient gypsy caves to the vast palace/ fortress La Alhambra, every moment of this excursion was full of new discoveries.


Though it rained the majority of the first day, the streets were still full of locals and tourists. The old buildings were absolutely beautiful to admire, and each alley was full of vendors selling handcrafted tapestries, silver jewelry, colorful lanterns, spices and nuts, and so much more.


Granada is also the city of free tapas! When you order a drink at any restaurant, they bring out a small appetizer of whatever they are offering that day. Depending on the place, it may be just a small serving or it could be enough to satisfy as a meal. For every refill, the server brings out another dish! A cheap way to try many different foods from Granada!


At night, I went to a flamenco show in a “cueva,” or cave. When Los Reyes Catolicos, Isabel and Ferdinand, conquered Granada in the 15th century, they mandated that everyone must have a place to call home, and this these caves became full of gypsies & those seeking to avoid persecution. The flamenco show was amazing, although the cave was a pretty far uphill hike in the rain!


The view of La Alhambra lit up at night was breathtaking, and made the hike definitely worth it!


The entire next day was devoted to exploring La Alhambra. SPECTACULAR. There were so many beautiful flowers and plants, and then seeing the architecture and learning the history was just amazing. I stood in the same room where Queen Isabel made the deal with Christopher Columbus to go on the voyage where he discovered America! Because it was a fortress, there are incredible views of the entire city. I really loved Granada, and hopefully will return (maybe when it’s not raining!)



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