And…We’re Back!

18 Feb

Quite frankly, I am ashamed by my own blog performance. Here I had the opportunity to be this fount of funny stories, knowledge and insight, but I have been slacking on my duties.

I have a wee bit over three months left on this side of the pond. And yes, I know that it is going to fly. Therefore, I am going to make the most out of this time to regale you with stories of my life.

So what I have I been up to since you heard from me last?

-Trip back to the United States. Yes, I had the chance to go home for Christmas and the holidays and it was (by far) the greatest culinary 12 days of my entire life. I don’t think I will ever retain such power over my food choices at home ever again. In addition to the food, it was beyond lovely to spend time with my family. So many moments that I just wanted to freeze and live in forever. I was very excited to see my dog upon my return home. I thought he was excited to see me too, until he ran right past me to go greet my dad. Whatever, Kodiak. I’m sure he will remember who I am the next time I’m the only one home and he is hungry.

-I took a nice little trip to the Netherlands, which is just another place that I never anticipated traveling to. It was certainly an interesting city with parts that reminded me of London, Copenhagen, and even Princeton, NJ. We saw a lot of museums, wandered the canals, and tried some traditional culinary delights. For me that included herring on a bun with onions and pickles. It was truly as magical as it sounds. We also happened to be there on National Tulip Day, so we were treated to a display of tulips right in the center of the city. It went a long way to brighten up the cloudy skies. I think my favorite parts of my trip to Amsterdam were the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House. All that I really ever knew about Van Gogh was the fact that he cut off his ear. But this museum was incredible. It was very interesting to see his artistic progression and to learn about his life and struggles. And, I could actually appreciate many of his works, so that was a plus for me as well. The Anne Frank House was very impactful. While her diary is a common read for people in school, it is something else to walk through the house, see the rooms that she hid in, and see actual pages from her journal. An experience that is difficult to describe, but really made me think that

To add to my list of traveling adventures, I was swiped for explosives again, this time at the Madrid airport. The kicker was that this time they had to double check that I was of legal age (aka 18) before doing the test because they thought that I was too young. Ah, the baby face strikes again. I had to reassure them that no, I am 23.

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The canals (notice how the houses are all tilting in different directions)

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Did I take enough pictures of the canals?

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Celebrating National Tulip Day

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Going early in the morning = no crowds at the sign

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-Fulbright Mid-Year Seminar. For four days, the entire Fulbright Spain program meets up to discuss the progress of our grant so far. It was a fascinating conference that included presentations from senior researchers, discussion groups about our role as teaching assistants and our cultural adjustment, and more presentations from Fulbright grantees about their research/side projects. I was delighted to give a presentation on my role as a Fulbright teaching assistant at IE University. Since I am the only university TA in Spain (yes, I do consider myself the chosen one), I thought that this would be a great forum to introduce the other Fulbrighters to what I actually do every day. I had a great time presenting in front of the ~150 audience members. I stand by the fact that if I could just get paid to talk for the rest of my life, that is what I would do. In order to jazz up my presentation a bit, I included some Snapchats that have chronicled my journey so far. I was initially worried about the reception of my selfies, but the audience did seem to enjoy it, if I do say so myself. Here’s a little selection for your enjoyment:

The Mid-Year Seminar was a nice break from real life. For those four days we ate and drank like kings, had the opportunity to partake in cultural events, and socialized like nobody’s business. And, in true Fulbright fashion, one evening included a cocktail party with an open bar. I thought that I would have to wait until the end of the year to have another Fulbright open-bar party, but I’m definitely glad that I was wrong.

After the conference officially ended, I stayed behind in Burgos for the day with my friend Sally. Despite it being a cold, rainy, and windy day, we took advantage of seeing another interesting city in Spain. One highlight of the day was the giant Evolution Museum, that included artifacts from nearby archaeological digs, including bones from millions of years ago. While I had felt a bit small compared to some of the the accomplishments of other Fulbrighters discussed at the Mid-Year Seminar, seeing these remains made me feel absolutely dwarfed. It really puts you in your place. And then, there was an entire floor dedicated to Darwin, the evolution of man, and other fun science tidbits. I was very proud that I actually remembered some information from my evolution class last year. While it was not a city that was originally on my radar, I was very impressed with Burgos: the museum, the cathedral, the beautifully colored buildings, and walkable streets. I was decidedly less impressed with the weather (tropical storm force winds and pelting rain), but I did learn that umbrellas do, in fact, flip inside out in real life, in addition to the movies.

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Me clearly thinking I’m hilarious while presenting

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Monasterio de las Huelgas

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The “I’m halfway there” sign pic (can you believe that the next one you will see will be the one from the end of the year??)

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The cathedral of Burgos

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More cathedral views

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Up there on my list of cool ceiling designs

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That sure is some wood carving

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How I feel when someone tells me there’s no dessert left

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Clearly the weather was beautiful

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A colorful Spanish plaza

-Day trippin’. Since I go a little stir-crazy staying in Madrid for an entire three day weekend, I try to get out of the city for at least a day. With my friend Sally, we have taken on two places outside of Madrid: Alcalá de Henares and El Escorial. Alcalá de Henares is the birthplace of Miguel Cervantes, so our visit mainly centered around checking out his home, as well as some other historical buildings. El Escorial is the site of a monastery built by one of the Spanish kings. It is absolutely massive and now houses the caskets of many royal family members. I am not over-exaggerating when I say that a walk through the lower level is basically like taking a walk through caskets. I, of course, find it very fascinating.

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Alcalá de Henares

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Monasterio de San Lorenzo

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Snow in Spain!!!!

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Another monastery view

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I also took a day trip to Cuenca, a city about two hours outside of Madrid. Cuenca is known for its “hanging houses,” which, as you might suspect, are houses that are hanging off the side of the mountain.

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A little bit of nature

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The hanging houses

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Just some houses built into the mountains

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Probably laughing at my own joke…..

-Workin’. Yes, I still do that too. As it is the beginning of the semester, my office hours are not too poppin’. Seriously. They are starting to pick up for the next few weeks, which will hopefully be a good thing, provided that all of the seniors don’t expect me to read their entire theses. I have been hosting some thesis workshops for the students in an effort to fix some of the problems before they even happen. In some, the attendance was high and I was able to (hopefully) impart my wisdom. And in others, well, no one showed up. So, we will see how the final products turn out. I also have my usual conversation classes on Mondays and Tuesdays. Attendance has been a little low this semester, but unfortunately, that is out of my hands. I did bring in American candy to share with them, and they really enjoyed the dark chocolate with peanut butter (I know, I was surprised too). Side note: the moment that I knew my mother loved me was when she let me bring an entire box of Gertrude Hawk Smidgens back to Spain with me.

I did have fun showing my students Super Bowl Commercials. While I have missed many big events this year, the Super Bowl was the one that I felt was the largest cultural experience that I was not able to partake in. So instead, I regaled my class with facts about numbers of chicken wings that Americans eat and showed them a selection of commercials from this year’s game.

-Just surviving. I had a much tougher time coming back to Spain after the holidays than I thought I would. Before I left, my younger brother, Chris, said to me “Don’t go back. Stay here.” And my only response was that I couldn’t stay, simply because half of my wardrobe was still in Spain. It was just too easy to be at home, surrounded by family, food, and fun. And, I essentially came back to the apartment where I was by myself. But, I had weekend jaunts and friends, both of which made it easier to re-adjust to life in Spain. I am amazed at how fast time had moved so far- I have been back in Spain for almost 6 weeks- so I know that it will continue to fly. So, I am keeping my nose to the grindstone: working hard, making travel plans, and trying to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way. And, since I wasn’t able to stay as Chris requested, we use The Bachelor as a way to make sure we are staying in touch. There are many things that I never imagined I would be doing this year, and talking about The Bachelor weekly with my 15 year old brother is one of them.

-And, the most recent rip was a foray into Galicia, which is an autonomous community in the Northwest of Spain. In one weekend we were able to see two cities: Santiago de Compostela and Ourense. I really liked Galicia. It is known for being rainy and having a lot of green. I appreciated the more ‘nature-y’ feel of the province, as we don’t get very much of that in Madrid. Ourense is known for its thermal baths, so we spent part of the day at them (aka an afternoon of lounging in pools of hot water). Life’s rough. I know.

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View from the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

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A little bit of nature (a foreign concept in Madrid)

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Puente Romana

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Look, more nature!

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A Roman bridge in Spain

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Sunsets in Galicia

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Yes, I know that I just pared down dozens of days into some short blurbs. I wanted to give you the highlights of the past few weeks as a) I know no one has time/desire to read too much about my life; b) There are only so many entertaining things that happen to me; and c) I’ve got to leave space for some pictures.

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