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.  
 
As I head out for my last night out in Madrid one thing comes to my mind is how I am greatly going to miss the transportation. It is so easy here and I know I am always a short walk from a metro, bus stop, or even a street that takes me directly to my piso. Madrid's size is deceiving and is completely walkable, but yet it still has great mass transit. I don't look forward to the transportation back home. Pardon my blunt opinion, but it sucks. On the bright side this makes wandering off campus unlikely and means more time on campus and having enjoyable evenings at places that are literally only a few blocks away. That means I can always just dash away without having to figure out any transportation except the form Mother Nature granted me, my own two legs. That will be nice. 
 
Short one today because I am feeling overwhelmed with a difficult final in Advanced Grammar. 

I am going to miss being constantly surrounded by different cultures and languages. Madrid, Spain is a hub for all European cultures and it has been incredible to witness the ability of language and culture to transcend barriers. I find myself thinking about how diverse Europe is and how plain the U.S. can be. However, I look forward to going home and looking more closely at the different cultures there are. I think I will be looking at things with fresh eyes for a while and I'm excited for that. 
 
Each night after I eat dinner around 9:30 p.m. I am ready to sleep. I become so stuffed I can't fathom doing anything but star-fishing on the bed and relaxing for a bit, but I can't. I have to be strong willed and complete more homework and items on my to-do list. After being here for the semester my body has adjusted to eating late in the evening, except the longing to face plant on my bed has not disappeared. At first I was alway starving by 7:00 p.m. and thought I would never be able to adjust to eating so late, however my body has shocked me by its ability to adapt and now I have found that I love eating later in the evening, even when I have more work to do after. I will miss the late night dinners and having a nice study break around 9:00 each night, but I will be taking this Spanish custom back to the U.S. and can't wait to eat later in the evenings, around 7:30 or 8:00, each day. It's a great way to avoid the cravings for a late night snack and munching. 
 
People are everywhere in Madrid. On any given day you see a new fashion statement, new person in your apartment building, and an unfamiliar face in your class. However, even in the densely populated city of 3.3 million you run into the same people who you live by or take the bus with when you are out and about in a different area of the city. 

It is refreshing to wake up and head out the door knowing you are going to have another day of first sightings. I am definitely going to miss people watching and always meeting someone new. Being an extrovert really pays off in the third largest city in the European Union. Though, as much as I love meeting new people in Madrid I look forward to meeting new people at Marquette. I haven't had a semester yet where I haven't made another lifelong friend and I can't wait until I am back at my home base meeting and greeting the new people at my work, in my classes, and my apartment building. It will be strange not having to give two besitos on the cheeks though, I love that custom here. Maybe I can bring it back to the good old 414 and it will catch on... 
 
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A wonderful surprise from Dani, my intercambio, today. American staples I miss: Heinz Tomato Ketchup, peanut butter, and brownies.
Try explaining what a brownie is to a Spaniard and you will finish feeling exhausted. 

After that failed attempt try explaining what peanut butter is, and you will receive a weird look. 

Then, go to the next level and try explaining the importance of Heinz Tomato Ketchup to a Minnesotan and most likely they will not just give you a weird look but also tell you you're weird. 

This was my experience with my intercambio one of the first times we met. For those who don't know what an intercambio is, it is a concept created by our director where you exchange cultures and languages with someone from the country you are studying in. In my case I practice my Spanish with Dani, my intercambio, and Dani practices his English with me. We talk about cultural differences, stereotypes, ask questions regarding verbs and tenses, and yes gab about ketchup. Our conversations terribly deep and sophisticated. 

Today, after I was having a bit of a rough day in regards to exams my intercambio appeared in our Marquette University office. Much to my surprise I asked what he was doing here and he handed me a bag. Still confused he said told me it was a bag filled of things I said I missed from the United States. I was so taken aback by his generosity I had no idea what to say except one thing: What is it? He laughed and told me to open it but only after he left. The anxiety was killing me. I had no idea what to expect. My friends told me it had to be peanut butter, we all know how much I love that crunchy and creamy food staple. I mean, what college student doesn't? 

Before he left he told me he wrote me a letter and to only read it after he had left the office as well. I was in a state of confusion and had not expected this at all. He said goodbye and quickly ran out of the office, and when I say ran I mean a pace between a speed walk and jog. I think he was nervous that he may have misunderstood my food obsessions months ago. 

After reading the letter I was filled with the longing to stay in Madrid forever. It reminded me of all the great connections I have made here and how much I am going to miss his and I's weekly conversations and excursions to different parts of the city. 
The letter was a great start to the entire gift and after reading it I could not wait to what else was inside. Immediately I saw ketchup. Not just any ketchup either, Heinz Tomato Ketchup. Here in Madrid we all have been having a hard time with the lack of ketchup. And the strange taste of it. Also, the color. It is just really not the same here. I was overwhelmed with joy when I saw the bottle and the label. The first thing that popped into my head was, Now I can actually enjoy my nuggets when I splurged on them for lunch! I kid you not. It's the little things back in the States that you take for advantage. 
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Heinz Tomato Ketchup Fiery Chilli.
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Jif Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter from Dani.
After the ketchup, which later upon further inspection has "fiery chilli peppers" in them, was peanut butter. Those who know me well know I love my peanut butter. Obviously Dani could not get my favorite,  Market Pantry Creamy Peanut Butter from Target, but he purchased the next best thing: Jif Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter. How the heck did he find this when I searched high and low for it over a month ago? Answer: Taste of America, the self-dubbed Original American Supermarket. I should have used Google
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A two-bite size brownies. Scrumdiddlyumptious.
Under the delightful peanut butter and ketchup were ... Wait for it ... Feel the suspense ... Do you really want to know? ... OK, I will tell you ... Brownies! Oh thank Bajesus. I had not seen a brownie in over four months. This summer I baked them all the time in the evenings when it was cool enough and in Madrid we don't eat a lot of junk food. Except for Príncipe cookies, those are deadly. When I saw those sixteen two-bite size brownies with chocolate frosting I about died. OK, that is a little strong, but I did become extremely overwhelmed with joy. Who knew a pastry could make you feel so such happiness. And the desire to eat them all, by myself. Luckily, in public you have to have self-control so instead I opened them and shared them with those who were in the office. However I will not release the details as to what happened to the ones no one helped me eat. Let us just say they did not go to waste. 

Dani made me realize something else today, that one person can really change the way you think about something, or someone. I never thought I would miss our conversations so much. Or the funny way when we both don't know what one another are trying to say and then hover over his dictionary to search for an appropriate word. At first I thought the intercambio would be awkward and was nervous, but we became friends within minutes once he tried to crack a Simpsons joke without success and I had to break the news to him that Bart Simpson is not the badass he once was on primetime T.V. He then broke the news that my chances of Pasapalabra were slim to none. A girl can dream though, can't she? 

Now, 16 two-bite size brownies later (don't worry there are some left), with two unopened containers of condiments I am going to wait to open until I get home, and four months of wonderful experiences here I am glad that I have stepped out of my comfort level and had an intercambio with Dani. Sure, he may not understand my love to peanut butter and jelly minus the jelly, but I also don't understand why going to Arizona to see the desert is on the top of his bucket list when he has been to Egypt. We all have our quirks and he and I laugh at them. Maybe I will make him a peanut butter sandwich to show him what he is missing out. Then we can talk about a rendezvous in Arizona. 

If you're in Spain and want to try a brownie, hit me up at my piso, I'll be nommin' on them. 

 
Today we hit the single digits. What. A. Scary. Thing. 

I have mixed feelings about going home. I want to see my family and friends and get back to my normal life where I have no time to rest, but I also want to stay here and keep practicing Spanish and experiencing the culture. Oh how a mind and soul can be torn. So, in the spirit of being indecisive and unable to make up my mind this countdown post is related to modes of communication. 

In the United States I don't like how I am never unreachable. Some times I just want to shut my phone off for a few days but know that would not be goof for a.) my mother's sanity and b.) my career. Here, I am reachable by email, social networking and my small Yoigo cell phone that has no data plan and currently does not work. I like it but I don't like it at the same time. When I really need to get a hold of someone my phone either does not work or I have no euros left on it. However, I like the fact that I can go about my day and have no distractions and walk along the streets and not be texting, but rather looking at the scenery around me. It's nice to have both hands free the majority of the time. I'm going to miss being unreachable because it means I won't have time all to myself where someone couldn't interrupt me. However, I am looking forward to having my data plan and GoogleMaps directions at the tip of my fingers. Being directionally challenged is hard. I also know that my mother will be at peace when she knows she can just call my normal phone number and hear my voice. It will be nice to hear hers too. 
 
Yesterday on the bus I saw a girl with the same Christmas socks I just had to throw away in the garbage because I wore them too much. A hole had formed and despite my hopes that it could defy the rules of physics and wear and tear, the hole grew. They were bright red socks, with green, gold, and blue presents on them, atop each present was a different bow and white snowflakes covered the ankle joint area of the socks. The snowflakes made me think: BAM! Christmas time! Needless to say they were pretty cool. 

My grandmother and I had a habit of giving one another holiday and destination themed socks and this happened to be a pair she had given me several years back. When I saw the girls socks peaking out from the cuff of her jeans I became a little excited. I know that is strange, really strange actually, but I couldn't help but think how wonderfully random and coincidental it was that when I just threw a pair of my favorite holiday socks away, another person was sporting them. My grandmother obviously had great taste if a female Spaniard had the same socks and decided to wear them when it was still light out. But then my excitement hit a roadblock and I found myself asking: Do they have Macy's here? That is where Grandma Fran always purchased them...

After mulling over where the girl purchased her socks my stream of consciousness brought me back to the dinner table Monday night with Irene. How are the two related? I'm not quite sure myself yet. 

I was not having the best evening and for the first time in my whole time here I just wanted to be home with my family but Irene had a uncharacteristically sad look on her face that made me snap out of my own stupor. Monday, December 10, 2012 marked the 20 year anniversary of Irene's husband's death. When she told us tears began to swell in her eyes and she tried to discretely wipe them away with her black sweater that had red roses on the sleeves. A peculiar choice for a day of such significance. My roommate and I had no idea what to say to her. My thoughts switched back and forth from English to Spanish and I became frazzled. I didn't want to see such a wonderful women be so sad. At this moment she reminded me of my grandmother when it was the anniversary of my grandfather's death. Grandma Fran never let it show, but inside I knew she was torn to pieces each St. Patrick's Day. Irene, unlike Grandma Fran, showed her emotions and wanted to talk about it. So, after my brain became less frantic I muttered out the most pathetic thing possible: Lo siento. I have been here four months and all I could muster up was an "I'm sorry" to my favorite señora in the world? It was a shame but she smiled and was glad we cared. 

Irene is a strong women and adores her children, even her unofficial children like myself. When she began to talk about the memories her and her husband shared I couldn't help but smile. She explained how he died, how the following months were hard for her, and how she just had to keep busy otherwise she would become overwhelmed with sadness. One reason why she began hosting foreign exchange students was because she didn't like how the house was so quiet after her husband died. She said he brought so much life to her life, and then she smiled that big smile and chuckled. Clearly she was having an internal dialogue or recollection of memories. After dinner she didn't do the dishes, nor did she hum a happy tune per ritual, instead she talked on the phone with her daughter for a few minutes and headed to bed. It was disheartening to see her in such sad spirits and not like herself. 

The next morning Irene was up bright and early gabbing away on the phone with, what I am assuming was her daughter who lives in Switzerland by the conversation. She had a smile on her face and sipped her coffee as she sat on the couch. As I left for school Tuesday morning I was relieved to see her in a happier mood. That night at dinner we then shared memories we had of Christmas and what traditions we had. Irene became very excited when she was talking about all the toys she had purchased for her two youngest grandchildren and how she has to go to Zara to look at for a nice piece of clothing or accessory for her niece and then a jewelry store for a necklace for her daughter. 

After telling me all of the things she had to do in preparation for the holidays I told her my sock story. She laughed. 
She asked how something so simple can make me think about such unrelated things. I didn't know the term for stream of consciousness, but I think she understood what I was trying to get at. At one point I honestly just told her I was weird, and she said everyone has their quirks. She continued to laugh for a bit and said she was feeling much better today. She said it is much better to talk about how she is feeling with someone than to let it bottle up inside. She is 100 percent right, something my grandmother and I could learn a lesson or two in. Suddenly the sad disposition I saw the night before came back and Irene quickly explained why - she didn't want us to leave. She looks forward to having the new girls in January and is thankful that the weeks between our departure and their arrival will be busy, but it still eerie to be alone in her apartment with no one there to talk to. 

Not long after reassuring her that the holidays will be fun Irene asked me if I was ready to go home. I couldn't lie to such a sweet woman so I said yes, but that I was going to come back and see her and while I was back at school I would write to her. She understood that I needed to go back home, she is a mother after all. So then, after I finished my clementine at the dinner table in the kitchen she bid me goodnight, but not after saying she liked the pair of Christmas socks I had on. I told her they were from my grandmother. She laughed. 

Man, I'm going to miss her. 
 
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". 
 
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Five-day forecast: Madrid, Spain.
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Five-day forecast: Minneapolis, Minn.
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Five-day forecast: Milwaukee, Wisc.
I am sitting in the library at Universidad Complutense de Madrid, my university here in Madrid, Spain, and my fingers are like icicles. The weather is in the high forties but inside the concrete buildings it feels more like the low thirties. It's a far cry from the cold that is plaguing Minnesota with the recent snow storm, but it is still cold. At the University the heat is nonexistent. With the economic crisis facing Spain I don't blame the administrators for not wanting to turn the heat on, but my freezing hands do take offense at times. The weather this semester has been beautiful and we have lucked out. I am definitely going to have a hard time saying goodbye to the scarf and blazer weather, more commonly known as fall, and I am dreading the cold that I am going home to in Minneapolis, and then later to Milwaukee. However, I can't wait to see a pile of snow and feel snowflakes on my face. Winter is my favorite season and it has been hard to be here where snow is virtually nonexistent unless you travel to the mountains. On the bright side of living in the midwest, we have heat. I look forward to that luxury.