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.  
 
My mom, ladies and gents, is one of a kind. Her name even proves it: Elin Anderson. How many Elins do you know? Beside's Tiger Woods' ex-wife. The answer is: not many. 

When I was growing up I was a daddy's girl, but when high school hit I turned to my mom for a lot of things that my dad couldn't help me with. Boys, life, what shoes to wear, how to prep my father before telling him I had a car accident, all that fun stuff. She was always there for me, through thick and thin. As much as my mother is there for me as, well, my mother, she is more than that - she is an inspiration. She is one of the most caring, devoted people I have had the pleasure to know who has the heart of a lion. She also has an uncanny amount of determination. When she sets out to do something, she does it and there is no stopping her. Even ask Papa A about that. 

You may be asking why I am being so gooshy and sentimental right now (unless you read the title of my blog post) and the answer is that today is my mother's birthday. She would die of a heart attack if I told you how old she was, so that will be left up to your imagination. Though, I will testify and say she doesn't look a day over 30. I'm obviously not biased or anything. 

Elin doesn't ask for much. She is the kind of person who gives and gives and gives and never wants to take back, so today, Mom, I am giving you the gift of not just the postcard you already received a week ago, and the gifts to come when I return, but also photos, moments, and qualities that I always smile at when I reflect on. Especially today where I am missing out on celebration I always enjoy partaking in. 

My mom is a closet traveler. She loves to go and explore new places and the majority of her life she has been stateside. Before I went to college her and I would go on mother daughter vacations once every two years or so and they secretly have been the best vacations I have ever been on. Besides to Canada on family trips her and I never went out of the country until the summer before college to Mazatlan, Mexico. Elin knows how to have a good time when she is relaxing and enjoying herself on the coast, let me tell you. Other trips have been to Florida, a college tour road trip, Itasca State Park and Duluth, Minnesota many a time, New York City, New York and countless other places. My mother has treated me to many memories, and I only hope to return the favor one day on my dime. 
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Elin and Andrea in New York City, NY summer 2006.
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Andrea and Elin in Mazatlan, Mexico summer 2010.
Family comes first in the Anderson household and my mom and dad are the backbones of the family. My brother and I were always taught that no matter where life takes you and who comes and goes we have each other has constants. Elin reminds me of that every time I call her at home. She is always willing to stop cleaning or come in from gardening just to catch up on my past day or two and then the short conversation turns into a twenty minute conversation. As my time in Spain has passed I have realized how important family is to me. With the many health issues that continue to plague the Anderson clan my dream of doing international journalism has dwindled because I want to be able to be there for my parents and see my brothers family grow. My mom always said to follow my dreams, and I know she has followed hers, so I am going to follow another dream of mine, to always be there there through thick or thin for my mother and never let her down. 
The majority of my family and friends know I have a pet peeve of bad grammar, punctuation and sloppy writing, but the emails my mom sends me crack me up every time. It is not that they are poorly crafted or that my mother is not intelligent - she is one of the smartest people I know - it is just that they are so dang funny and she hates computers. 
  • The subject line is HOWDY almost every time.
  • There are capitalized letters and words done by accident. 
  • A different sign-off is written every once in a while, the standard being MOM.
Needless to say it is never a dull virtual conversation had between my mother and I. 
When I was growing up I never liked being told I looked like my mother. I remember one time when my mother and I were at my Grandma Frans and my grandmother told my mom, her daughter, that the reason she always confuses our names is because every time she seems me I look more and more like my mother. Keep in mind my grandmother saw me about once a week and was as sharp as a tact, which means she is basically right. As I have matured and become older I really do see that we look quite a bit alike, especially when you look at photos of my mother when she was younger. My father will tell you that my mother and I are more alike in other ways, such as our stubbornness and persistence to always be ahead of the game. And the amount of post-it notes and lists we both make. I think her and I kill a tree once a year in the amount of paper we use for lists. 

Prom junior year in high school my mom was so happy to see me all dolled up and it was in one moment when I was with my closest and lifelong friend Lisa where I could see in her eyes that she was proud of the woman I was becoming, and that made me happy. I remember thinking then, if I could be half of the person my mom is then I will consider life a success. I still think this to this day, almost every time she sends me an email or we get off of the phone I am reminded of her larger than life sneezes and big smile. She is one incredible lady. 

So, this is to you mom. May you have the best 30th birthday a lady could ask for. I love you and can't wait to give you a big bear hug like we used to share in four days. 

Feliz cumple mamá, I love ya. 
 - Bugs
 
I love food. There is no doubt about this statement. If there is food in front of me I will eat it, it's a curse.

Today I will be learning how to cook some of the delicious meals Irene has made for me and I am beyond excited. I already have my notepad and pen ready and the cooking extravaganza does not even begin until 6:00 this evening. 
I am not a good cook, I take after my mother that way who can make the staples: chicken, goulash, pastas, potatoes, etc. but she can make a mean stuffed manicotti and chili. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. 

This semester I have been spoiled. Irene is one of the best cooks I have ever met and I have certainly not starved or dwindled away in the last five months. Her homemade soups and authentic Spanish dishes she learned to cook from her mother have left me stuffed each evening and I dread the day I leave and have to cook for myself. I'm going to forever miss her wicked croquetas and carrot soup. However, I am excited to go back and devour a Chipotle burrito and eat two bowls of my mothers chili after shoveling the snow that is accumulating in Minneapolis.  This is going to be such a bitter sweet goodbye. No pun intended. 
 
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.
 
Never before in my life did I consume as much jamón (ham) as I have here in Spain in the last four months. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love it and find it to be a great topping for a bocadillo, but I think I will be OK with saying goodbye to the meat for a solid three months and switch it up for my go-to sandwich meat: Turkey.
I look forward to eating turkey. There, I said it.

To keep the food trend going I am really going to miss the coffee here in Europe. You only need a small cup in the morning and you are wired for the rest of the day. It may not look like it will pack a bunch, but it sure does! 
 
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.
 
It has come to an end. The political ads, the e-mails, the phone calls, the constant Facebook statuses and Tweets, they all are fading into the past and I am quite thankful for that; however, I am more thankful for the fact that our country has the right to cast their vote and participate in a democracy. 

Last night I could not sleep because for the first time I was able to vote and see what impact it had. I followed Twitter, Facebook, the election webpages for CNN, National Public Radio (NPR), Huffington Post, the first ever special election website for Marquette University Student Media and I was becoming incredibly frazzled. Why? Because there were so many different tallies, numbers, percentages, nothing was in sync and all I wanted to know was which was most accurate regarding the Presidential race. 

At 2:30 a.m. my time, 7:30 p.m. Central time it was looking like this: 
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NPR shows electoral votes: Obama 65, Romney, 82
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CNN shows electoral votes: Obama, 64, Romney, 56.
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HuffPost shows electoral votes: Obama, 65, Romney 67.
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MSM shows electoral votes: Obama, 64, Romney, 56.
How did I know which one to trust? I didn't, it was too early to even think about trusting one over the other and all the predictions I was seeing made me anxious because it was too early to call and I just wanted to know. 

Being abroad in Madrid, Spain while the elections were happening, especially my first ever Presidential election I could vote in, was difficult because I didn't get a taste of the hands-on, in the moment excitement. I always pictured myself in the newsroom in the basement of Johnston Hall on Marquette's campus biting my finger nails and live-blogging, that obviously did not happen but the students who were able to did a great job keeping me informed on a state and national level. While I am a little melancholy over the fact that I wasn't in the States  I was also thankful I was not because all day I didn't hear a thing about it. No one talked about it in the streets, in class, at work, it was a relief. Yes, there were multiple newspaper articles about it and my señora was kind informative and told me Obama is the reason most of Europe still takes a liking to the United States, but that was the only point I really spoke about politics. Though, I did see enough "I voted" comments online and have seen enough Facebook statuses and Tweets to gain a sense of the tension that may be occurring on campus and across the country. I guess you can never really escape reality when you follow social media websites. 

When I awoke this morning I was not entirely sure I wanted to know the results, both on a national and state level. Minnesotans voted on two potential constitutional amendments. The first was to clearly state that a marriage is between a man and a women, the other was to implement the concept of a Voter ID. Regardless of whether I wanted to see the results or not I had to look, there was no questions about it. 

First I went to CNN.
Then I wanted a second confirmation and a more visual breakdown of all the states, especially to see who took Virginia, Ohio and Florida. I went to Huffington Post
After seeing both results match up with one another I wanted to see how my former and fellow colleagues at Marquette Student Media handled the reporting and see if their information matched up.  
It sure did and to go full circle I went and checked on NPR's election site. 
For the first time in the whole election process I was looking at the same numbers and the same outcome. It was nice to know I was being informed correctly, regardless of who won or lost. 

After seeing who won the positions on a national and state level I hurried on over to see how the proposed constitutional amendments turned out on CBS Minnesota. Minnesota voted against both amendments, last night when I went to bed it was neck and neck, too close to tell. 
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Fifty-one percent of Minnesotans voted against stating marriage is solely between a male and a female.
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Fifty-two percent of Minnesotans voted against the implementation of a Voter ID.
This morning I woke up seeing clear results and in fact, results that made history. Tammy Baldwin made history twice becoming the first openly gay politician, and the first Wisconsin woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Two states, Colorado and Washington also legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Also, an understated vote took place win Puerto Rico yesterday where nearly 80 percent of the population voted and 54 percent of the voters said they wanted to become the 51st state of the United States. The 2012 elections were not only about the Presidential race, something I feel many people forget. 
In my opinion, it doesn't matter who you vote for or what you voted for, if our opinions are the same that makes a conversation over politics that much easier, if not that is OK with me since I don't enjoy talking about politics anyhow. To each their own. The only request I make is that if you chose not to exercise your right to vote and are going to rejoice or complain about the results being released I think you may need to reevaluate whether you should be since you didn't put your vote to use.  If you want change you have to make it happen. 

Today I watched President Barack Obama's acceptance speech, regardless if it would have been him or Romney, hearing these words made me feel as if my voice can be heard and that there is hope. Especially for Puerto Rico, I would like to go there without the hassle of a passport. 

"Whether I have earned your vote or not, I have listened to you. I have learned from you, and you have made me a better president. With your stories and your struggles I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever for the work there is to do that lays ahead. " - Barack Obama, Nov. 7, 2012.
 
This weekend I breathed the smell of Minnesota. The smoke from a fire in the mountains mixed with the smell of hot s'mores, that then combined with the smell of a fresh downpour and cut grass. After a bit the smell of fallen leaves and fall came and soon I couldn't help but take deeps breaths of the wannabe Minnesotan air. Cercedilla, Spain you had me fooled from the get-go. 

This weekend  seven of us hiked the trails of the Sierra de Guadarrama, a stretch of mountains located approximately 60 kilometers from the capital of Spain, and in the Northwest of the Community of Madrid in Cercedilla. Madrid is a cosmopolitan city, there is no doubt about that, and when we found out there were hiking trails and outdoor activities nearby we all became anxious to get out of the city and stretch our limbs. 

Getting to the town was easy. You can hop on the Renfe or take a bus, each the same price, and it takes you directly to the bottom of the mountains where you walk up the road for about half a mile before you get to the beginning of the trails. At first we planned on taking the Yellow Trail, a five hour hike with a slower incline but farther distance, but before we began our trek we found the Orange Trail with a duration of three hours with a steady incline and better views. We opted for the latter. To our surprise the approximated times were not accurate, we finished the Orange Trail in two hours, with stops for the views and lunch. Next time we will  dominate the Yellow Trail instead. 
The weather was unpredictable. For hiking it's better to overdress than underdress and the majority of us came covered in layers but some opted for a more breezy experience. As we hiked I became hot, I took my North Face fleece and rain jacket off, ditched my scarf and was still hot hiking up the hills in my t-shirt. Being bundled up served me well when we came to the top where the wind was strong and the temperatures were significantly lower. I even donned a pair of mittens while we ate our bocadillos at a plateau in the mountain ridge. Emily and I bundled up as much as we could at this point, but we soon realized that our group had a wide spectrum in terms of tolerance for cold weather. 
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Andrea and Emily bundled up at the top of the Orange Trail.
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Emily and Kevin: one bundled, one not.
Not only was it nice to get some exercise it was a great way to see a different side of Spain. We're used to such a busy city where it seems no one ever sleeps and cars are on the roads 24/7. In Minneapolis and Milwaukee there are at least times of the day and places where you can go an escape the hustle and bustle, but as of yet we haven't been able to find somewhere to do that, until now. 

The pine trees, rocks, gravel, actual green grass, and the action of hiking all made the three of us from Minnesota feel right at home and added a little kick to our step. Nature was upon us and it felt oh so good. The views were absolutely stunning. Clouds covered the peaks of the Sierra, mountain bikers engraved their paths on the side of the trails, there were actual boulders on the side of the trails and for the first time in months we saw wildlife, including  a n earthworm Kevin named Herman and later a cow we all took photos next too. Needless to say we needed a dose of nature rather than city. All-in-all our excursion took about six hours from meeting at the metro station to arriving back to our designated Señoras and it was a highlight of the study abroad experience. Could we go again? Yes, but it's beginning to get cold and we all know Emily and I don't handle that well here. 
 
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.