There has been a change in plans, no longer will Elise, my friend studying in Copenhagen, Denmark, and I be going to Geneva, Switzerland liked we planned earlier, instead we are going to Brussels, Belgium. We will shop at the Christmas Market, share a bed in our hostel, go ice skating and sledding (both offered near the Christmas Market) eat waffles on waffles on waffles with a side of chocolate and sample some delicious beer. That doesn't sound to shabby to me. 

I made a point in coming to Spain with a less rigid schedule and the vow to not plan out every last detail, to be more of a go with the flow type of person. So far it is going rather well. (Insert audible gasp by my mother here.)

As a more detailed explanation as to how my flexibility has changed I have created two before and after scenario. 

"Andrea, Switzerland is not going to work and we have to find another option:"
Three months ago: My jaw drops and I say, "You have got to be kidding me."  I then would have become extremely frazzled, distraught and frustrated. I would have entered an extreme planning mode, whipped out my planner, calculated which weekends work best with upcoming exams, trips, cost, hostel arrangements etc. 

Now, three months later: "No problem, lets see what we can find." (Insert an audible gasp by my friends who have thought this day would never come.)

Since I've adopted the more carefree, less pressure mentality it's been quite easy and pain free to change plans, make spontaneous decisions and at times just follow the crowd. 

In three weeks time I am heading to Barcelona to recoup after our midterm exams and the weekend before I believe another student in the program and I are taking a day trip to El  Escorial, The Valley of the Fallen and or Avila, a beautiful town Northwest of Madrid and coincidentally where my señora grew up. We haven't made any concrete decisions yet, but we have plenty of time.  

Day trip and we haven't made any concrete decisions:
Three months ago: This is not enough time to plan, what are we going to do? How are we going to get there? What time of the day should we leave? Get back? Oh my gosh this is all happening so fast! Are we sure we want to go to El Escorial and The Valley of the Fallen all in one day? Jeepers, this is stressful. 

Now: Okie doke, lets worry about it after exams and look it up a few days before we go. 

I personally laugh at this personal growth. All my life people have told me to take a chill pill and calm down. I thought that was absurd because who else was going to get things done? Well, the answer is still me but in a calmer, more convenient manner that benefits everyone involved. Who knew all it would take was half a contingent, the Atlantic Ocean and four months abroad to calm my worrywart side of me down. 

In summary, studying abroad gives you more experiences than you could ever imagine and it simultaneously allows you to develop as a person as long as you let it. At first I didn't want to let the experience change me because I was afraid of what it would change, but now I'm glad I did. And so is my warnout planner. 
Streets upon streets filled with crowds of people, multiple languages and cultures, and colorful stalls selling different products, it is all you can ask for on a Sunday morning at el Rastro just south of the La Latina metro stop. 

El Rastro de Madrid, or more commonly known as el Rastro, is one of my favorite parts of Madrid. The open air flea market is held every Sunday during the year and offers everything you could possibly need, and that is not an exaggeration. The market is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., a solid six hours for you to find what you need. A winter coat for 10 euro that would normally cost 30 to 40 in a store, is easily found during this time of year, cute clothing for males and females can be found at bargain prices, especially if you look at the two euro liquidación piles. If you're looking for handmade jewelry and original artwork, then this is the place to go. Last but not least, if you want to get your hands on authentic Spanish music then look no farther than the several vendors who blare their favorite picks and allow you to sample them before purchasing. 

The first time I ever went to el Rastro was several years ago when I first came to Madrid. It was sensory overload with the number of people in the streets canned like sardines and the occasional vendors yelling their deal of the day at those who walked by. The prices were unbelievably cheap and the numerous souvenirs, house products, clothes, artwork and more were too much to choose from. I learned from that experience that you have to go in with a plan, and my plan for my trip last weekend was a warm coat or hat and a gift for my mother. 

We went to el Rastro at 12:00 in the afternoon, a good time to go if you want to be behind the tourist crowd that comes along around 11:00 a.m. and the bargainers between nine and ten. The group of four and myself walked up and down, strolling to see if what we were looking for popped out at us. Some of us purchased wool socks and tights, a jump drive and winter hats and headbands, others bought gifts for family members. I purchased a knit headband and a gift for my mother, though I can't say what I bought for her since she reads this blog more than everyone combined. Sorry, folks. 

While shopping and hunting down the best deals you can't help but just people watch. With all the different nationalities and languages being spoken it is hard to not whip your head back and forth in awe. I am 100 percent guilty of staring at people at el Rastro, I won't deny it. It's too fun not to do. 

The best thing about open air flea markets is that you can take your time moseying through the aisles and no one will care because they are doing the same thing. The same is true at el Rastro though I do believe that this market has something over others I have been to and I wasn't sure if my observation was correct until I did some more research. Here, the aisles are broken up into categories and each street has something different to offer but the one common thread between all the streets is the fact that local antique shops open their doors for the Sunday cliental to stop in and peruse if the stalls prove to be overwhelming. Now, the antique stores weren't the observation I was talking about it is the following streets that seem to have something special to offer.   

  • Calle Rodas: Where lots of people, mostly young, swap trading cards. The street is known for buying and selling magazines, stamps, and trading cards. Get your Yu-Gi-Oh! on here. 
  • Plaza de Cascorro: Get your fashionista on here. This is known for it's fun and unique clothing and accessories. 
  • Calle San Cayetano: has permanent stalls that sell hand crafted paintings, drawings and of course art supplies. Also known as "street of the painters" or "Calle de los Pintores." This is a LeRoy Anderson, Jr. type of aisle. 
  • Collectable and rare books, magazines and other reading material can be found at vendors around calle Rodascalle CarneroPlaza de General Vara del Rey, and calle Carlos Arniches. If you want to brush up on your old Castilian, be my guest. 

Having no rhyme or reason is difficult when you're shopping, but knowing these streets consistently offer the same items week after week is comforting. 

After spending time at el Rastro it is customary to go have a beer or sangria and enjoy tapas. There are multiple places that you can go, relax and talk about all your great deals. So, by the time five o'clock comes around on a Sunday after the market you should have no reason to not be all smiles. After all, you at least got to hear lively Spanish music and look at beautiful artwork for free.  
Today I received my absentee ballot for the 2012 Presidential elections! This is the first Presidential election I can vote in and I must say it is stressful. 

It is hard to be an informed voter, there is no doubt about that. You can listen to all the chatter and talk within your social group, you can watch television and unwillingly listen to the campaign advertisements but in the end you really need to put your own foot forward and do the research yourself. 

At this time the United States, in my opinion, is ready for change and I believe it has been for quite some time. This change is not the coined term for Barack Obama, nor is it to say Mitt Romney is the answer, I simply mean a positive change away from what our country is currently facing. There are things that I would personally benefit from if either candidate was elected, and there are things that would not help me in the least and don't coincide with my beliefs at all, however you have to remember that November 6, 2012 is about the greater good, not just yours. 

As I was watching the debate this evening I couldn't help but think: Can they stop interrupting one another? Oh my word, it was horrible, but it showed me just how much each cared. In retrospect, it made me realize how much I hope everyone else cares and how many people think their vote doesn't matter. As we learned in our history class here in Spain, voter turnout is not equal across the world. In Spain approximately 75 percent of the population votes, in the US it is slightly under 60 percent, that means a little over 40 percent of the population in the US believe their voices can't be heard. That's not a great feeling. 

The students and faculty at the Complutense are currently protesting the price of education and the lack of reciprocation they have received from the government. I may not agree with the fact that their education cost the quarter of ours and they are upset, but I applaud their participation and ability to standup for what they believe in. Some go as far as to not attend class and walk the halls of the school chanting. They want their voices to be heard and I genuinely think people are listening. 

So, today when I was doing my own research I made sure to know everything I personally needed to know in order to make an informed decision not only on who I wanted to be President, but also on many other positions that are less glamorous, but nonetheless just as important, such as school board Representative or state Representative. Oh, and don't forget the proposed Constitutional amendments - I was sure to vote on those too. 

Today was a day packed with politics, but I can now proudly say I have fulfilled my civic duty and voted in my first Presidential election. All that is left is to mail it back and await for the final ballots to be counted on November 6. 
There will be a new flock of students taking our place next semester here in Madrid, Spain and after hearing who is coming I think our señoras will be in for a good time. 

Tuesday the students at Marquette University who applied for the Spring 2013 Marquette en Madrid program found out if they were accepted into the program. It's a rarity that anyone is not accepted, but I was still crossing my fingers for those who applied. 

Generally the Spring group is much larger than the Fall, my group is abnormally small with eleven students, and I have a feeling this coming semesters group is going to be abnormally large. However, a large group will make it all the more fun to plan trips, go out in the evening, allow for more familiar faces in class and make for an even better opportunity to get to know students that you may never have met at Marquette.

Right now it may be overwhelming with all the tasks that need to be done before you go, but take some time and say congratulations to yourself for being accepted into a great program. Brace yourself for a great time.  

Now, here are some tips that the majority of students here have mentioned along the way: 
  1. Don't pack a lot, it sounds redundant but everyone repeats their outfits and soon no one even notices. Plus you will want to bring a lot of things back, save space!
  2. Follow the guidebook that is provided to a point, we found a lot of discrepancies with it. You can wear what you want here, yes colored jeans and skinny jeans are in, but so are flared jeans, khakis etc.  Everyone here has their own personal style here,  you can too.
  3. Girls don't bring heels, you don't use them. Guys a nice pair of shoes but nicer more stylish tennis shoes are popular. Oxford shoes are the way to go, along with boots.  
  4. Bring tennis shoes because you will be doing a lot of walking tours with Ricardo the art professor, no one cares if you look "American".
  5. Get ready to eat a lot of delicious food, so much for a diet. There is no gym here unless you pay for one.
  6. Don't by a Eurrail pass unless you plan on taking the train multiple places with people and you have planned trips ahead of time, bus and plane are the most frequents modes of transportation for weekend trips. 
  7. It's chilly at night, if you don't want to buy a light jacket, for sure bring one! 
  8. Flannel pajamas keep you nice and warm at your señoras
  9. A backpack for trips on the weekends is more common than a carry on. Each cheap airline here has different measurements and they are generally smaller than the carry ons in the United States. Backpack is a safer choice.
  10. Make a list of places you absolutely want to go, time goes by so fast! But don't forget you're here for Spain. 
You're in Europe and you want to travel everywhere. A desire that is completely acceptable and quite the norm for travelers and citizens, the only snag is you're on a budget and a time crunch. So, you have to make decisions. Tough ones at that. 

Before coming to Spain I had a list of several countries I wanted to visit, I knew going in that it would cost a decent amount of money but as the economy changed in the United States so did the economy in Spain. As a result I have had to dwindle my list down to two more out of the country visits and a few city trips in Spain. A decision I am content with. 

There are cheap airlines in Europe, RyanAir and easyJet are the two I prefer. Well, maybe not RyanAir, but there are also buses that are inexpensive and trains that can take you to nearby cities for a decent price too. One thing to always remember when you are planning trips is the cost of food and lodging, something I didn't realize would influence my decision to cut down on travel as much as I thought. No one judges you for having a tight budget, especially if you're a college student. The reasons why I am heading to Lisbon, Portugal this weekend are because the transportation was fairly inexpensive, lodging was reasonable and the cost of food and other items are also fairly cheap. Everyone wants the same thing: a fun experience that doesn't break the bank and you can do that, you just have to be willing to look and make some tradeoffs.

After a nice long Skype session with my friend who is studying in Copenhagen, Denmark we have decided to rendezvous in Geneva, Switzerland in mid-December. It was one of the few locations her and I both could find cheap (well, cheap-ish) flights to. We wanted to travel to each others current homes, but both of us would have paid an ungastly amount of money, so we made one of those tradeoffs. For three days we will be hiking, sight-seeing, and eating all the fondue, cheese and bread possible. Geneva is an expensive place to travel in so we will cut back in other ways, like making sandwiches for lunch when we will be hiking, finding cheap places to sleep (but still secure so our mothers don't have a bird) and just being smart about what we really need to spend money on. I must admit, when I saw the breakdown of the ten cheapest countries I was excited to see Geneva on it, only then to be heartbroken when it was on there for being one of the most expensive cities in Europe, coming in at $111.49 US/day. My travel companion and I will not be touching that price mark, no way jose.

All in all, I am more than satisfied with the amount of traveling I will be doing. In Spain I will be heading to Barcelona and Sevilla at some point, though it is to be determined when, but I also am glad to spend time here in Madrid on weekends. There is plenty that I have not seen and I don't want to take the city for granted. I often think that students become enthralled in what country they can go to next, which is a good thing, but forget about the places they can go to within the country they are studying.
My professors here have to think there is something wrong with my face. The constant look of intense concentration and confusion coupled with one eyebrow raised is becoming my permanent look. I think I need to learn how to say, "I need a brain massage," to go along with a joke I told myself today, "Perdón mi cara," or "Pardon my face." (I'm funny guys, I know). I also have never tested the theory of cracking an egg on a sidewalk on a hot summer day, but I imagine it feels a little bit like my brain being fried after two straight hours of history, politics and art lectures in Spanish and then repeating for grammar and composition after a 30 minute break. 

A classmate of mine said it gets easier after a few weeks. You won't be so stressed to catch every detail of the lectures, your Spanish will improve and your ear will become acclimated to hearing Spanish rather than English. I'm sure this is completely true, but for now all I want is for my face to go back to normal and starfish my bed when I go take my siesta.

So, a few words of advice for those traveling abroad to a country where you aren't familiar with the language: 

A.) Don't worry about writing down all the notes, just listen for a bit and then write down what you remember. 
B.) Take deep breaths, you aren't the only one who doesn't understand, and don't be afraid to ask questions.
C.) Talk to your señoras - mine is a gabber and I love practicing my Spanish with her because she corrects me.
D.) Learn the fun way! Our group goes out to local places and learns local words and some have a class where they learn slang for part of it and then we all share!  
E.) Have fun. You're in a foreign country.
May 15, 2012 marked a special day for me, but more so for my brother and sister-in-law. Nolan William Anderson was born into the world at 2:52 p.m. and was a whopping 21.5 inches long. As an Anderson, we don't disclose what we weigh so you will have to guesstimate. The whole family could not have been happier.

Less than three months later on Sunday, September 9th, Mr. Nolan was baptized and I couldn't have felt sadder. I mean I was thrilled, some would say pumped, that he had a special day all to himself, but I was just disappointed that I didn't get to see the little guy get all dressed up in white and not have a clue in the world why water was being poured on him and who the heck that strange dude with a black and white collar was. I missed an important moment in Nolan's life and now I'm also missing out on Marquette's basketball season and fantasy football. Dang it! 

Studying abroad is, in a way, a sacrifice. You know you are going to miss birthdays, late night study dates in Raynor, the chatter of what ridiculous event happened the night before, the hype before a big game and the genuine feel of being on a campus that turned into your second home. 

Missing all those things is a debbie downer, but studying abroad is a sacrifice that only makes you a stronger, more independent individual. 

Here, in Madrid, you learn to navigate the metro, think about the places you want to travel to become richer in experience, and find out how to convert Euros to US dollars and then become extremely saddened by how bad the exchange rate is. There are countless things you learn that you never expected to, however, the most strengthening experience is finding out how life is on your own, away from the people you rely on most. In all honesty, at times it stinks a little. There are moments where nothing sounds better than a venting session with my mom or moments when I want to be back home with my friends to actually see the humorous stories unfold rather than just hear them. But the reality is that these feelings are seldom once you learn how to brush things off your shoulder, not look back, keep trucking and remember how you're making your own memories with new people. 

A professor and travel buddy of mine told me something really important while in India: you can't control what is out of your hands and what is unchangeable. I heard this over and over before but in India when dealing with technology fiascos and here where I am, for all intensive purposes, on my own it is finally sinking in. I've learned that you can't control everything and that it is actually enjoyable to fly by the seat of your pants. I don't miss being a control freak one bit. I have even been limiting the amount of time I spend with my planner. For those who don't know me well, that is a rather large step for me. Picture a collection of post-it notes and lists color coded for the importance of tasks along with several notes in the margin regarding upcoming deadlines, birthdays, anniversaries and more.  

In the United States I am a plane ride away from my friends or an apartment away from making a lifetime of memories, I'm a button away from a conversation with my mom but here I'm a metro stop away from hanging out with my brand spanking new friends and a room away from my señora who is watching a gameshow. I wouldn't trade one for another because I know there is a time in life where I will always be missing out on something and someone. 

Nolan and I have had some good moments. He won't remember them, but I always will. Jae Crowder also won't remember the time he gave me a high five either, but I will. Studying abroad is a sacrifice, but so is going to a school in Wisconsin away from my family. You just have to make the most out of every decision and moment you make. It's just how life works, so enjoy it while it lasts and don't dwell on what you may be missing out. Now, that's what I call a problem free philosophy. 
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