Generally when I wake up in the morning my apartment complex and surrounding area are quiet as a mouse, the only sounds you hear are the swirling of a spoon in a coffee cup, a hairdryer going off a few apartments above and the creaky floorboards. Today was different. Helicopters, chants, and whistles overpowered the hairdryer and floorboards - I woke up in the middle of what will soon be history come the end of the day. 

Today marks the second general strike in Spain of the year incited by Cumbre Social (Social Summit) comprised of over 150 groups nationwide including trade unions (police, Guardia Civil and military) as well as the Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), the Spanish Worker's Commission, and Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), the General Union of Workers. The European Union attempted to coordinate all austerity protests across Europe for this Wednesday to voice the overwhelming sentiments that the governments are shafting their citizens. 

It is no secret that the European Union, and more specifically the southern EU countries such as Spain and Greece, are in an economic crisis. Spain has seen a substantial rise in unemployment rates, a recent increase in taxes that simultaneously coincided with a decrease in pensions and benefits all to lower the public debt. In Cataluña it is not only about the injustices against the new living standards and personal rights but also a way to take a stance against political figures in the farthest northeastern autonomy of the country where regional elections are to be held in less than two weeks on November 25. 

With almost 100 percent of workers in the energy, construction, automobile and shipbuilding industry heading the efforts and taking part of the nationwide halt there have been severe disruptions in travel. In a recent email from the Marquette University program director for Marquette en Madrid, it was stated that IberiaAir Nostrum and Vueling  have cancelled a combined 473 flights, while Air Europa cancelled 92 flights; and EasyJet has cancelled 26. The numbers are only to rise. 

Local transportation in Madrid, as well as in other cities in the country, are running on minimal service and citizens are being urged to pre-book taxis or rental cars and leave time on either side of your commute if you are embarking on an important journey. 

In addition to travel strikes, universities have also closed for the day as professors and faculty are protesting their drop in wages and lack of compensation with the rise in taxes. Dani, my intercambio, said he would not have come to school anyhow if it was mandated because with the general strikes he would have to leave at 6:00 a.m. to get to his 8:30 a.m. class, a trip that usually takes no more than 45 minutes. He also said he and other Madrileños avoid the metro because extremist are likely to act out. One method is putting glue on door handles to the metro and other transportation services, while riots and invasions in commercial city centers and malls is not uncommon. 

In Madrid alone there have been 32 arrests and 15 people treated for injuries, according to an Associated Press report, and are likely to rise as the day goes on with protests planned outside prominent buildings and plazas such as Puerta del Sol and Plaza de Atocha. Currently, the wait between metro rides is 20 minutes, which is not terrible, but because of the length in lines and number of people waiting to get on, the norm is to wait for three or four trains total until you can squeeze your way on. 

With Spain's unemployment standing around 24 percent of the workforce, or 5 million citizens, and the projected plan by the government to further cut spending in the coming year the country can expect several more of these strikes in the near future. For now I will have to cherish my mornings with the hairdryer, creaky floorboards and swirling of the coffee spoon and wear earplugs when the days for the general strikes arrive. 
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. 
"WE ARE MARQUETTE," a chant said by many when our men's basketball team is up by fifteen and the Bradley Center is a sea of blue and yellow. This is a time when happy moments surround our school's slogan, but I bet a lot of us never thought three words could transcend the barriers of an ocean, triumph over death, and bring a group of eleven students closer than they could have imagined. 

Last Friday my fellow classmates and I received the tragic news that our resident director and personally coined, "fun mom," Dr. Eufemia Sanchez de la Calle, passed away the night before in a car accident. 

Sanchez de la Calle, also called Femy by her students, was an associate professor of Spanish and resident director of the Marquette en Madrid program. She was a woman of many things, but most people know her for her smile, laugh, intelligence and all around joyful demeanor. 

Our group of eleven was scattered across the continent when we received phone calls from the Office of International Education. Five in Italy, one in France, five in Spain and one in Germany. Many of us thought it had to do with us failing our intensive orientation courses, what we all found out put that presumption to dust. Terence Miller and Gail Gilbert informed us that we lost not only a teacher, but also a friend we held near and dear to our hearts. 

Some may have known Femy for only the month that they have been in Spain, others, such as myself, had Femy for one or more classes at Marquette. In cases such as these time doesn't matter, the growth of the relationship does, and each of us grew closer to her than I think we even realized. 

When I first met Femy I was a scared freshman in her first semester at Marquette University. I had been placed into Spanish 3500, a level clearly not meant for me but somehow the placement exam thought so. Femy was the professor and we all sat in our rows in Lalumiere Hall staring at her. She was a pretty woman with brown hair and discreet highlights and an accent that made me shrink even further into my chair because it made it more difficult than it already was to comprehend. We went around, one by one, and did the usual shpeal: state our name, year, and major. 

Well, let me tell ya. When my turn came around and I said I wanted to be a journalist Femy gave me a large smile and a slightly audible laugh. "A journalist?" she asked me after a grueling 55 minutes. I said yes, and she told me to go for it, but not loose myself in the chase. She also said to keep my second major as Spanish a month later when I wanted to drop it. Just as a precaution if my other career didn't work, she said while laughing in my advising session.  

She was a funny woman, and always made a point to greet everyone and make sure they were doing well. Here, she frequently would check in on us and made a point to speak in the best Spanglish I have ever heard when she knew we didn't understand what she was saying. She was the queen of taking group photos, buying us ice cream and making sure we had enough to eat at every meal we went to. After hearing the news of her death we all recalled these events and asked one another, who is going to make us take those ridiculous photos? What about our Thanksgiving dinner we were supposed to share with her? Who is going to find humor in our crazy stories about our señoras and then crack jokes about them? You can't replace Femy, she was one of a kind. 

Since her passing we have received numerous forms of support from the university. E-mails from Campus Ministry, Mission and Ministry, OIE, outreach from students who also knew Femy, and a wave of generosity from faculty here in Madrid. However, as comforting as this support is, it's each other that the eleven of us rely on. Within group, none of us have refused a hug, we accept each others tears and sniffles. We don't expect one another to move on any time soon, in fact we expect it to take each of us a different amount of time. Each of us are grieving differently but we have one another, we have our new family. Our group of eleven  and the support coming across the Atlantic Ocean is, right now, the epitome "WE ARE MARQUETTE." No one is alone in this time of difficulty, and if you feel you are look to the Marquette population, we are not just a family during basketball games, but also during times of tragedy. 

We miss you, Femy. We miss your smile, positive attitude, generosity and the fact that you were a professor who meant business but also acted as our temporary mother who wanted everything to go well for her students, including the discotecas. You were an inspiration to many and we will never forget the impact you had on our lives, regardless of how long you were part of them.  I think I can say, on behalf of all of Marquette and the people you have touched, thank you.

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Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, home of Real Madrid C.F.
It is two hours before the beginning of what was to be known as the match of the Champions League. White and blue flood the streets, chants echoe in the crowded metro, and the names Real Madrid and Manchester City are heard everywhere you turn. In the United States football is the game to watch, in Europe it is fútbol too, but the faster, lower scoring version with jersey's that flatter the figure more. Just saying. 

I have been to soccer games in the United States, a few Minnesota Thunder and University of Minnesota, Twin Cities games but they pale in comparison to this. Soccer players are not royalty in America like they are in Spain and across Europe. A stadium the size of Santiago Bernabeu wouldn't be filled to the brim on a Tuesday night at 8:45 p.m. Fans wouldn't take a personal days to travel to a game 2,027.3 kilometers away and they certainly wouldn't be told to stay in their seats until the home team fans have exited the stadium to avoid altercations either. This is the point in which a Minnesotan like myself would say, oofta. 
Now, for a baseball game it is acceptable to tailgate, but here there is no such thing, and even there was it would not be up to par for serious European fútbol fans. Bars are packed with people, money is thrown down like someone won the lottery, plastic cups and spilt beer cover the floors and outside the streets are crammed with fans talking dirt about the opposing team who just happens to have fans an arms length away. A few meanmugs and death glares are exchanged between opposing fans as their adrenaline is increasing, but no hand gestures. Yet. 

Crowds begin to swarm Santiago Bernabeu and the chant, typically heard from the stadiums bleachers, is loud and severely out of tune. Some things don't change no matter what country you're in. As we entered the stadium, encountering other American students and Englishmen who were appalled by our choice of team, you can't help but  feel one with all the other Madrid fans. 

As we approach our seats the crowd continues to chant as the players set up for kickoff.

Ale Real Madrid ale ale, 
Ale Real Madrid ale ale, 
Ale ale ale,
Ale ale ale,  
Ale Real Madrid ale! 
When you experience something that is so deeply rooted into a country's culture, you can't help but feel overwhelmed. My brain was doing overtime processing the fact that I was with such a diverse crowd at such an important game that was clearly mean for the passion of the masses. I was witnessing a level of passion I had only read about in "Among the Thugs" by Bill Bufford.
The crowd after Marcelo scored.
People sat, stood, screamed, together. Men and women yelled "joder" each time the ball missed the corner of the goal by what appeared to be inches. When Edin Dzeko of Manchester City scored the first goal between the 64th and 71st minute, two men in their early sixties along with a girl in her late teens lifted up their hands simultaneously and yelled a numerous expletives. Not even five minutes later Marcelo Vieira da Silva Júnior scored in rebuttal to Manchester. The same three jumped from their seats with the rest of the crowd and yelled, "Ya era hora," meaning it's about time. 

The race for the win continued and the fans didn't cut the players any slack as the teams were neck and neck until the last five minutes where Madrid scored two goals to take the lead from a tie. Packer fans can be opinionated and defensive but Real Madrid fans are opinionated, defensive and are really not in a good mood when their team is loosing. In Spain, if you say fútbol you're grilled about your favorite player and the latest game like as if you were being sworn into office. In the United States if you say soccer people think, why would you want to get hit in the head with a ball? My response, why would you want to be tackled by five men at once?