Incredible. Amazing. Inspiring. Rewarding. Life changing. Unforgettable. Adventurous. Stupendous. The adjectives are endless to describe my time here in Madrid, Spain, my home for the last four and a half months. 

There are so many thoughts racing trough my head right now as I am packing to up my life and heading back to the States. You always hear about a study abroad experience and form an idea of what it would be like but for me everything was different than I expected, and I mean that in the best way possible.

As I look back at my blogs I am reminded of my travels, conversations with my Señora, the stress of school, new friends, and so much more. It's all so much to soak in and makes you feel a bit overwhelmed.  I am walking away with a mind full of memories, a heart full of adventure, and a hand full of lifelong friends.

When I first came to Madrid I was afraid. Who isn't. You're away from home, you don't know anyone, your Spanish stinks, and your wardrobe clearly does not match that of a Madrileña. But you know what? You just have to not care. That is the only thing I can say and the only advice that will make your time abroad that much more worthwhile. You have to step out of your shell and be uncomfortable - it is the only way you are going to learn. It's the only way you are going to live. 

While in Madrid I faced many challenges. There are the obvious ones such as language barriers, miscommunications, stress over school work, tough decisions on where to travel and if it is worth the dent in the bank account. Then there were the ones I never saw coming like my father having surgery, then his complications from the surgery and my mother simultaneously breaking her ribs while my father was in the hospital, missing Beat Bucky Week, and not seeing my nephew get so big! They were all hard to face but I am still standing and typing into cyber world. I bring up the challenges because they were the times that made me realize that I had made a few really great friends that will always be there for me.  

I think that is the true amazing thing about my experience. I have done amazing things but most rewardingly I have found friends that support me through thick and thin and truly showed me I had someone to lean on. I came to Madrid knowing absolutely no one. I knew Rachel from a distance. She and I went to Southwest High School in Minneapolis, Minn. together and were in the same Spanish class junior year (her senior year) but other than that no one. I am glad that I came without knowing anyone because it made the adventure that much more exhilarating (also stressful) and lead to only a broader experience of making more friends. Yes, while you study abroad you form closer relationships with some people than others and that has been the case within our small group of eleven, however the entire group is great. 

Besides forming new relationships and learning the Spanish language I traveled.  A common goal of any study abroad student is to travel everywhere all the time. Being the antsy, gung ho explorer I am I had the same mentality. Then I realized: 
a.) I don't have funds for that 
b.) I would get so tired, even at the ripe age of 20 (almost 21 thank you) 
c.) I love Madrid too much to neglect it. 

So, here I give a word of advice, and it is to stay grounded. You can get so caught up with previous conceptions and what other people are doing but you have to be true to you and do what is best for you. I enjoyed every weekend in Madrid because I would always explore and find something new. I wouldn't have been able to see all that I have and have all the conversations with locals if I had traveled every weekend or puente.

Today, for our final day in Madrid, Rachel and I went for a little walk around Madrid and we brought up the fact that everything we were doing was being done for the last time. That is such a strange concept to me right now. I am having difficulty realizing the fact that I am leaving on a plane in ten hours and that the next time I come back (and I will be coming back) will be as a working, real world adult. It's a little too much for me to comprehend. And a little too much for me to even express with words - that never happens. So, for now I am going to let this day pass and let tomorrow come and write a recollection post in the same spot where I wrote my expectations blog post for my semester abroad, at home in Minneapolis sitting in my bed with layers of covers to mask the frigid temperatures. 

Stay tuned. Unless the world is really ending tomorrow. Gulp.  
 
On the bus this morning I ran into some of my Spanish friends I made here in Madrid and I became a little emotional. I have formed very strong bonds and relationships with people this semester and I don't want to say goodbye. I didn't think it was going to be this hard. 

We joke about them coming to the United States and then they ask what there is to do in Minnesota. I say, with a quizzical face: "Hike? Fish? Walk around the lakes? Go up north to more lakes?" And they are unimpressed. Needless to say that is not their cup of tea. At the end of these conversations I alway end up saying I will be coming back to them, and it is true. 

I'm going to miss all the ties I have made in Madrid, but I know it is not goodbye, it is a see you soon. 

On the other end of the spectrum I can not wait to be reunited with my friends back home. I haven't seen some of my friends in Minnesota in over six months since I stayed in Milwaukee for the summer for an internship with Tap Milwaukee. I miss them dearly. As for my friends in Milwaukee, they have had a blast in their first semester in off-campus housing and I can't wait to get back and start my experience outside of a dorm too. It is bitter sweet saying goodbye to your friends on one continent knowing you are going back to others, but that is why you say "Hasta luego" rather than "Adios". 
 
Today is my dear friend Elise Angelopulos’ birthday. Some say she was born to be a New Yorker, but I say she could quite possibly have a pretty happy life as, dare I say it, a Minnesotan.

Elise and I have a rather strange friendship story.

We both are journalisms majors at Marquette University, we both were in the same freshman journalism practicum as well as news media writing class, we have the same advisor, we have the same love for travel and Spanish and we both studied abroad for a month the summer of our freshman year in Italy for journalism. There it just so happened that we were assigned to be one another's roommates, not knowing anything about each other except the fact that we were two different folks who practiced quite the different strokes. 

Elise and I are quite the opposites at times: I am a Birkenstock wearing, nature lover who is from Minnesota and apparently says “jeepers” too much and she is a high heel wearing, fashion forward New Yorker who says “orange” really strangely. I guess you could say we are a match made in Heaven. After Italy we became very close, mainly due to our love for food, wine and ability to stress over minute things, and ever since we parted ways at the airport in Rome at the end of June we have been in constant communication or in each other’s company. When we returned to the United States from Italy we texted and chatted on the phone like we had been friends for ages. When we returned to Marquette for sophomore year we both lived in one another’s rooms in Schroeder and found a mutual hated for Economics and love for Chipotle and shopping after a test in Economics – journalists don’t do math, especially these two journalists. 
  
Being away from each other this summer was hard and now that I am abroad and she is studying abroad in Madrid this coming semester, we won’t have our daily bonding time and weekly life chats about how we will both be single women, starving journalists and living together with a bunch of cats. Like I said, two peas in a pod.

Now today is her 20th birthday and I am not there to ring in the big day with her. Once again I am missing out on celebrating a birthday of someone I really care about. I won’t miss that, and I look forward to being able to say happy birthday to someone in person and give them a big bear hug. It is hard to be away when something big is happening at home, especially when it involves people you really care about and miss.

I will miss, however, waking up to emails and messages from my friends and family that say, “Thinking of you” and “Miss you!” because it always made my day that much better. You feel special when someone sends you an email, and even more special when someone sends you snail mail.
 
December 1, 2012 marks the countdown until I leave Madrid, Spain and head back home to Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 21 days I will be on a plane, leaving friends behind in Madrid and a woman who is like my third grandmother and will be going back to my other life. As part of my countdown I will be posting each day something I will miss about Madrid, Spain or Europe and something that I look forward to in Minneapolis, Milwaukee or the United States. After many conversations with my classmates and friends we have come up with many responses for the next 21 posts, but each is a double-edged swords.

I will miss my daily conversations with my señora at dinner and when I come home from school. Her family stories and life experiences have shown me how incredible

I look forward to being able to communicate with my family and friends in an easier manner and in other forms besides email and Skype. My parents recently had a computer fiasco and are not very technologically savvy so they have not been able to install Skype on their own. My friends and I also rely on texting and the fact that we live close to one another for communication, so it will be nice to be back at the good old Marquette and be a block away from my friends’ apartments. 
 
Man, has it been hard being in class for two weeks straight. Time for a vacation.

Tonight marks the beginning of another journey here in Madrid. I will be traveling Europe for a week and on my itinerary is Paris, France; Budapest, Hungary; and one last destination that will be made on the fly. 

Sadly, I will only be in Paris for 24 hours, but those 24 hours will be made the most of as I plan on doing a high speed tour of the city and scratching a few things off my Paris to-do list. 

To-do list:
1. Pinch the top of the Louvre 
2. Eat cheese and crackers and drink wine in front of the Eiffel Tower for lunch
3. Pinch the top of the Eiffel Tower and go to the top 
4. Go to Angelina's and have the best chocolate in Paris
5. Eat a crepe with strawberries for a dear friend of mine
6. Try not to drool while looking at all the extremely well dressed Parisians. 
7. Not be mad if I don't succeed at number six because it is a tall order.
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Pack pack, tin, all I have for the week
After completing my wish list I will be reuniting with a friend from high school who is studying abroad in Paris for the year. I hope to do some standard activities that locals partake in with her that evening and next morning. If there is one thing I have learned anything from studying abroad so far it's to work with what you have and if you know people who know the area, don't hesitate to ask. I would hope someone would ask me for advice on Madrid when they came, it's a complement of sorts. 

After Paris is a a two day stop in Budapest. Now, you may ask, why Budapest? Well, it has the beautiful State Opera House that also has very inexpensive tickets, the Hungarian Parliament building is massively gorgeous and the city just happens to look like a real life Hogwarts. Need it get any better? I think not. The two men who are accompanying me agree that these are valid reasons to go as well. 

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List of Budapest sayings and destinations
For the three of us going to Budapest we are a little nervous about the language aspect.  We made a list of words and questions we will most likely have to ask. If all else fails we always can use our hands and just point at random things on a menu. We may feel a little unintelligent but I think that's a good thing to feel when you're in an unfamiliar place. It makes you appreciate and idolize those who come to a country not knowing any part of the language but succeed. I think of how hard it will be to ask where the bathroom is and get scared, I can't imagine finding a home and friendly faces. 

After our trip to Budapest will return to Madrid Thursday and decide where and what we would like to do. So far the choices are beach, a grape festival or relaxing around Madrid and exploring a bit more. I am up for any. 

All in all we are very excited and anxious to start traveling Europe. Some are going to Italy, some are going to Prague, while others are winging the whole week. That's too much spontaneity for me, one last minute jaunt is all I can handle. Baby steps. 

Ciao for now! 
- Andrea

 
I'm sitting across my bed, feet dangling aimlessly over the edge like when I was younger and I think back to the simple times when I was five years old. There was no worry in the world about what you were going to wear the next day. You didn't question if those black flats you wanted to wear really went with that navy dress, or on a more serious note, you didn't wonder where in the world you may end up come fifteen years from now. 

Oh, how being a five year-old with a broken arm from rollerblading was so easy. Now I think about those things almost every day - maybe not the black flats and blue dress scenario, that's only every once in a while. This all has a point, I promise. 

Fifteen years ago I knew I wanted to travel. I knew I wanted to speak another language and see the world outside of what I knew at that age. I still want that same thing, the only difference now is I don't have a broken arm and I'm a lot older. Some would say wiser too. 

Tomorrow I begin my journey to Madrid, Spain with nine other Marquette students. Each of us comes from a different background but all have one thing in common, we are going to the same city, most of us are on the same flight, and I guarantee you the majority of us are peeing our pants, whether they want to admit it or not. 

For three and a half months I will be living with another Marquette student and a woman I can only envision to be like my grandmother. Her name is Señora Irene Romero, who is supposed to be a great cook (a trait my grandmother sadly did not possess, unless it was baking), and lives near the university I will be attending, Universidad Complutense. (My grandma Frances lived in St. Paul, Minn., maybe Irene isn't much like my grandmother at all...) I will be attending school, taking an art history class at el Museo Nacional del Prado, and stumbling over my words left and right, but that is all part of the fun, right? 

The correct answer is: Right.

Follow that answer up with the question, but what will I do without my family and friends when I need shoe advice? That one is harder to answer.

When the reality of leaving my family and friends began to creep into my consciousness I didn't like it one bit. I would shew it away from my brain while at work and when my mother became a little choked up on the phone I would drastically switch the topic after saying to her, "It's OK ma." I wouldn't accept the fact that I wouldn't be in contact with the peopleI grew so close with these last two years or have them right down the hall of my Schroeder dorm room. But alas, last Sunday came and I said goodbye to my friends at Marquette and co-workers at the Journal Sentinel. On the six hour drive home I may have listened to a few maloncoly Whitney Houston and Taylor Swift songs and put "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" by Taylor Swift on repeat.  Then after about twenty minutes I hit a torrential downpour to match my tears and smudged mascara. I had a few choice words for the weather man at that point. Shortly after though I realized that when you take a leap of faith on yourself to be independent for this period of time, your friends and family are letting you go because they know you're strong enough to do this, and that they will be right where you left them. Well, hopefully not right where I left two of my best friends, they were in the rain. 

Fifteen years ago I guarantee you I was asleep in the same twin size bed I am sitting on right now. I have ditched the Pooh Bear sheets (not the pillow though, it's too cute) and I still have the same bear my brother made me in Home Economics on my bed stand. The difference is tomorrow morning I wakeup for a flight that leaves for Madrid, Spain and not for a day at summer camp. You can plan your life as much as you want, but you just never know where you may be fifteen years from now. 

As a dear friend of mine would say, traveling is the only thing that makes you richer. I wholeheartedly agree with that statement and hope that through my adventures this semester I only grow to be someone I look back on and can say, "Dang, I'm awesome." No, but really, fifteen years is a long time, so my mantra for this trip is to take each day as it is and hope my travels make me a richer person in all aspects of life. 

Ciao for now!
- Andrea