Picture
Kevin and Emily serenade the Spaniards with Taylor Swift's hits.
People always say you haven't had a successful trip to Milwaukee if you haven't been to one of the breweries or had a locally brewed beer, in Spain many of the university students we know say you haven't been integrated into the culture until you have been to a botellón. Well, I guess I have been integrated into the Spanish culture! 

A botellón is a gathering that involves alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages where you sit outside and chat, drink, share stories and have a grand old time before you head for a bar. For our first botellón we stayed inside because it was rather chilly outside. Those of us with intercambios have really been able to dive deeper into the Spanish culture and Amanda's intercambio, Alejandro, invited us over to his friends apartment to partake in the festivities. We all immediately said yes as we haven't had the opportunities to go out with Madrileños and after experiencing what we did that night, I don't think any of us would decline another invitation. 

When we arrived with Alejandro the five of us were a little nervous. Yes, we can carry a conversation in Spanish; yes, we know how to have fun; yes, we know we have an accent, but that didn't stop us from having butterflies in our stomaches. Upon our arrival we were immediately greeted by about fifteen to twenty Spaniards, they were sitting in the living room socializing and when we walked in their heads turned towards the door and they smiled. After taking the sight of five American's in they stood and got in a line. The procession of besos (kisses) began. For a solid five minutes we gave kisses on the cheeks and heard countless names that I could not tell you to save my life. They all were very welcoming and extremely interested in getting to know us while we were very interested in getting to know them. We spoke in Spanish and those who could speak English wanted to practice, it was a great start to a great evening for all the people at the party. 

When we started to talk to a smaller sample size of the group we began to discuss the differences and similarities between the United States and Spain as well as the Americans versus the British. One male studied in England for an entire year and when he spoke English out came the perfect British accent, we all were under the impression that he was British and English was his primary language until he told us otherwise. When we spoke about the American accent in comparison to the British accent the Spaniards said both were fairly easy to understand, but that the vocabulary is different. They have a point. It is just like how the Spanish from Latin America has a different vocabulary than the Spanish from Spain. We then moved on to the touchy topic of stereotypes. The Spaniards went first saying they thought all Americans would be rude, fat and egotistic. They explained that much of Europe and many Spaniards believe that the United States population believes they are superior to all other cultures. They said that we are more advanced when it comes to some things, but not all. One male even said to watch out for China, and I will admit he has a point because we should. We asked if we fit the stereotypes and preconceived notions and thankfully they said no. We didn't get to share about what we had expected in terms of people, but then again as the group of five of us discussed later, we didn't really expect anything out of the ordinary or really know what to expect.

After the serious conversations we decided to do a Spaniard versus American game session, I'll spare you the details and let you know the Spanish are fast. We were crushed. To bring the botellón to full swing and just relax for a bit we decided to play a little bit of music. While Kevin, Amanda and Emily played the guitar and sang American pop songs, Rachel and I spoke to one girl who studied abroad in London, England for a six months the year prior. This was the most comforting of all conversations that night in my opinion. 

María asked if we have started to think, sleep and eat Spanish and we couldn't lie to her, we said no. She was neither surprised nor offended and explained that she is nowhere near as good at English as she hoped she would be after London. She said she and her friends used Spanish together because it was a way they could feel secure and grounded in a different place far from home. María did what the most of us here are doing. Go to classes taught in a foreign language, converse with vendors, people on the streets and our host-mothers in a foreign language, but spend your free-time with students who speak your native language. She was so happy that we spoke Spanish to her and she spoke English to us, and so were we, but what was even better to know is that our group wasn't the only one to stick close and speak a first language. 

As the night came to a close we reconvened as a whole group. Some people left giving us our two besitos on the cheeks while others stayed as we continued to talk about the evening and how we all need to have another botellón or two before the end of the semester. It was a refreshing evening and one of the best I think I have had in Madrid. We spent the night like real madrileños and it could not have been better, especially after we taught them how to photo bomb pictures, they loved that. 
 
Picture
It is perhaps the most acceptable holiday to refill your plate more times than you care to remember and still gorge out on pie afterwards all while being surrounded by family and friends. You eat, drink, tell stories and laugh that hearty laugh and the delicious aroma of hot, homemade turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, pie, biscuits (I could obviously go on) fills the home. It is Thanksgiving - my favorite holiday. 

This year Thanksgiving Day was quite different than what I am used to, and what many United States citizens are used to. While students back in the United States have part of this week off to celebrate the holiday, us here in Madrid, Spain still have classes, and while you watched football, the 2012 National Dog Show, or the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade we, or rather I, watched the season finale of Covert Affairs. Needless to say, the beginning and middle of my Thanksgiving were no match to the customary holiday music, family-filled day I have had since I was just a wee little kid. However, the day took a turn for the best when Dani, my intercambio, and I walked around the city of Madrid and he showed me a breathtaking view of Madrid from the top of a hotel. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me at the time. It was a pristine view. While I was with my intercambio I couldn't help but think that there was something about speaking Spanish on Thanksgiving that made me miss home even more, but it helped that Dani was intreagued by the American holiday and asked why we liked our potatoes to be mashed. Several confused faces and cheerful laughs were shared while I tried to explain that phenomenon.

Picture
After chatting for a few hours he walked me to Sol where I met the rest of the Marquette University  students were dressed in our finest attire, that we brought with us that is, and we headed to have our Thanksgiving dinner at Restaurante Botín. For over 30 years Marquette has celebrated the holiday at Botín and it was a pleasure to carry on the tradition, even if it meant swaying from your own, and it was an incredible experience to eat a meal at the world's oldest restaurant opening in 1725, according to the Guinness Book of Records

What made the dinner more special was the presence of Femy's brother and sister-in-law who came to have dinner with us, he said they came in honor of her. It was very sweet of them and made all of us reflect on how we are grateful for the time we had with Femy before her death. In addition to Femy's family a few of our professors from the semester and orientation class came. The table was segregated with profesores on one side and estudiantes on another. It was a blast to see them outside of the classroom, share our traditions, and watch them be confused over why we thought this meal was the best meal of the year. Needless to say our plates were spotless by the end of the meal and they had barely touched theirs.

We did not know what to really expect. Paloma and Lilliana told us it would be an authentic dinner, but we did not really know what their version of authentic would be. But when we saw the turkey, and the vegetables we became overjoyed and could not wait to dive into the meal. 

These were the best parts of the evenings delicacies: 
  • Potatoes, they were not mashed but they were very good.
  • Cranberries. They were from a can, but that did not bother me because I love cranberries mixed with turkey mixed with gravy. It was delish
  • The turkey. Oh my goodness gracious it was heavenly. I like dark and white meat and they gave me both by chance and I could not believe how wonderful it tasted. 
  • Last but not least, the pumpkin and apple pie. To die for. I am a big fan of cinnamon and there was a strong taste of the spice in the apple pie. And the sheer fact that the restaurant served pumpkin pie made my heart melt of happiness.
Picture
We were served one plate of food, going back for more was not an option, but it was plenty to eat. We could barely finish our pie, but we obviously did. While enjoying our pie we also were serenaded by local university students who sang "Ai Se Eu Te Pego" and classic Spanish hymns that our professors sang along to. It was an evening full of sharing stories, laughing at jokes and embarrassing moments and our professors and directors witnessing some of us dance to the live music. All in all, it was a success don't you think? 

So, that was my Thanksgiving experience. It was different than what I am accustom to but it turned into one of the best nights I have had in Madrid because I was surrounded by my friends who are like my family. We all are grateful for this opportunity to study abroad in Madrid, and as fate would have it Thanksgiving marked the beginning of our last thirty days. Studying abroad has been one of the greatest gifts given to me but I wouldn't be able to do it without my parents, so I give thanks to my parents Elin and LeRoy Anderson; to my brother and sister-in-law and their new son, Nolan (he is such a cutie); to my friends I have back home who are as solid as rocks; to the new friends I have made here; to Paloma and Lilliana for being there for us after Femy passed away; to my health; to all the traveling and cultures I have been able to experience; and my education. I hope you had a wonderful Turkey Day, we sure did.

 
Oofta-weefta, I am exhausted. These past two weeks have been nothing but studying, reviewing, creating power points, writing essays and more for my mid-terms in all five of my classes. 

Whoever said there was no studying while you study abroad had it wrong. 

Last Friday was a day filled with two exams, one covered Hispanoamericana literature and the other was on old Castilian and mid-evil literature. If your mind just exploded trying to figure out what constitutes being either of those that, try studying it for five days straight.  

The weekend provided a little break but consisted of more studying in order to  prepare for my midterm in Spanish culture on Monday, and theology on Tuesday, but nothing prepared me for advanced grammar Tuesday afternoon. That was just brutal and worth 40 percent of my grade. Can't wait to see that...

Wednesday was a recooperacion for last weeks Theology classes where we presented a power point presentation on a book in the Bible. It  was a grand three and a half hours straight of Theology. Judith, my assigned book and biblical figure, and I are now best buds after all the time we have doesn't together this past week. 

I will admit it is a little aggravating seeing all the photos and hearing all the stories of people studying abroad via other programs through Marquette that do not have as heavy of a course load it would seem. The students here in the Marquette en Madrid program and I have all expressed the desire to be able to travel for a week and not have to worry about the repercussions of missing classes, or being severely behind on assignments and material but unfortunately we can't so we take it with a grain of salt and use the three day weekends to our advantage. After these mid-terms I could use a vacay and look forward to Barcelona and Brussels in the coming two weeks. For now, I will just live vicariously via students studying in the King's College program in London, England or the John Cabot University program in Rome, Italy.  
 
Picture
Christmas wreath outside Starbucks entrance.
Sitting in a Starbucks is far from what I would call a cultural experience, but sometimes you need a little taste of home. So as a treat from studying since nine this morning at the apartment (it is now 7:30 p.m.,  almost eleven hours of straight studying) I decided I needed a pick-me-up and a Starbucks apple crumble latte sounded like it would tickle my fancy.

After walking around the neighborhood for a bit and printing some things for class I ventured to the Starbucks a block away from the apartment in Arguelles and saw my first Christmas wreath in Madrid hanging on the door. I entered and what greeted me? "Jingle Bells," possibly my favorite Christmas song ever. OK, maybe not ever it’s a close call between "The Christmas Song" by James Taylor, "All I Want for Christmas" by Mariah Carey and any version of "Jingle Bells." 

I know, I know, it is not even Thanksgiving, but it’s midterms and I love Christmas because it is the one time my whole family is together and the bickering is at a minimal. Sorry mom, it’s true. 

Now, back to Starbucks. 

If you have never had an apple crumble latte you absolutely need to try one. It’s everything about Christmas in one sip: the apple, the cinnamon, the whipped cream, a smile can’t help but spread across your face when the hot milk reaches your tongue and you taste the delicious taste of, dare I say it again… Christmas.

As I type this The Beach Boys's "Little Saint Nick"  just came on and another smile can’t help but creep onto my face, you can’t not be happy during the Holiday season. Music tells you to be joyful (and triumphant), you are close to spending a nonstop, possibly too much, amount of time with your family and you get to eat delicious food. That all sounds incredibly wonderful, I don’t know what there is to be grumpy about. 

Currently, my cute, red, Christmas Starbucks coffee cup that contains my delicious apple crumble latte, is sitting on the table next to my computer as I plow away on Theology. My once disgruntled face is now relaxed as I recall all the unforgettable holidays I have had in my life and the fact that I am very lucky to be abroad and to have had the experiences I have had in my life. It was almost a year ago to this day that I was processing my visa applications to go to India with Diederich College of Communication, and now after a great journey there I am here. It is crazy what the world has in store for you. 

I leave you with a question posed by the great Charlie Brown:  "Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” I know what my answer is, but do you?   

That being said, as I take my last sip of the Christmas-in-a-cup-latte, I sign off from this blog post and wish you a happy start to the week. Christmas countdown: 37 days. 


 
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.
Picture
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. 

Picture
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

 
As I study for the three exams and two papers I have this week I can't help but get distracted. You check your Facebook, look at Twitter and see if Ted has posted anything funny lately, drink the tea your señora made you because you're sick, and then you wind up looking at memes

I don't know who created memes, how they became so popular or why I find them so amusing, but the other students and I have been studying all day and I decided to bring a little joy to them by posting a meme in our group page on the fact that you only live once, more commonly known in it's acronym form: YOLO

We all thought it was work a chuckle, hopefully you do too. 
Picture
Our group page with our study guide posts.
Picture
Our group page made a little more fun after a days hard work.
 
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.