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.  
 
In the spirit of finals I have decided to write a countdown post on the importance of grades. 

Students at Marquette University found out their final grades yesterday, just when I am beginning to take my finals here in Madrid at the Complutense. Unlike back in the U.S. I will not know my grades until the end of January, a good yet also bad thing for if I did not pass a class I will not have been informed until it is too late to take up another class at MU. But let's just hope that is not the case. 

Here grades are somewhat important to Spanish students. After a conversation with one of the directors here I found that receiving a six out of the 10 point scale that is doing well. I'm sorry but what? When I first heard this I didn't understand. Paloma continues to explain that as long as you pass that is what matters, your GPA is irrelevant. After the explanation I realized I could definitely get used to that. The professors here are not accustom to the U.S. grading scale and do not quite grasp the fact that you need a high grade to pass the class and an even higher grade for it to count for your major. I am not going to miss the continuous stress over whether they will grade on the Complutense scale or our scale, it's just too stressful and I can't count on one hand, even two for that matter, how many conversations and panic stricken moments I have had over this. I look forward to getting back to the normal grading scale. Less anxiety will be had that way. 

On the other hand I am going to miss how calm the professors are when it comes to exams. They consistently reassure us that we will do great. Easier said than done, yes, but it does help. How much faith I have in that statement is questionable, I will just have to wait until the end of January to find out. Cross your fingers for nothing lower than a C people.
 
It's a strange thing, social media. It can notify you of the happiest things in life: engagements, birthdays, new jobs and internships. But it also can bring to attention horrendous things like what occurred today in Newtown, Conn. 

My heart and deepest sympathy go out to the families, friends and employees involved in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School where, as stated by CNN in an early report 26 people, 20 being children, were killed by a man who entered the school around 9:30 in the morning. 

This year we have seen a number of tragedies related to gun violence, but I do not wish to focus on the gun violence but rather the tragedy and people effected. Now is not a time to politicize over whether there needs to be stricter laws regarding gun control in the United States, it is the time to reflect on how our country, how humanity needs to pull together and be there for those who have lost someone near and dear to their heart. 

This summer in Wisconsin we as a state came together to mourn the lives lost in the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek only weeks after the shooting at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater. I was an intern this summer at the Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee, Wisc. and never had I witnessed such compassionate reporting but more importantly compassionate souls. 
 
Today's shooting is one of the deadliest school shootings our nation has seen in its history. I can not imagine the sorrow the parents of the children whose lives were taken too soon feel. I can not imagine the feeling of receiving a phone call or text message that delivered such horrendous news. I simply just can't imagine at all. 

This evening when I went to gather more information about the elementary school online their website directed me to this message:
Due to an extremely high service demand as a result of the events that have occured today, this website is temporarily being redirected to this page rather than the school system's usual home page.
To help deal with the events of today, there will be a memorial mass this evening at 7:00pm at St. Rose Church.

As a journalist my mind goes to one thing: fact-checking and the hunt for information. As a compassionate person my mind goes to a more important realization: people care. That is what I want people in Newtown, Conn. to know today, that we care and are their for them to lean on. 

Regardless of our political standpoint, our stance on gun control, or our views on whether mental health is an illness, there is one thing these families and classmates need to know - that we are here. 

I also am proud to say I am a student of Marquette University where today the flags fly at half-staff and the university sent out a Peace Prayer to be said by the students, faculty and alumni. The actions of Marquette show that there are at least 12,000 people who are sending their support and condolences to the victims out east. 

So, I ask you all today to set aside the negative energy and the political banter and show your support. You can prey, you can talk to a friend, or you can write it out like me, but whatever you do don't forget to show the compassion humanity is capable of because there are people out there who are waiting to see it. 
 
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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. 

 
Yes, I was just in Barcelona, Spain and now I am headed to Brussels, Belgium for a two-day trip to partake in some holiday shopping at the Christmas Markets and indulge in waffles. Sue me. Actually, please don't because I could not afford that at this point in my journey. 

We leave tonight on a Ryanair flight (gulp) and come back late Thursday evening, also on a Ryanair flight. Prayers are appreciated. We really do not have anything planned whatsoever for Brussels and in all honesty, that feels extremely nice in comparison to Barcelona where we went all day for two and a half days. 

We know we want to spend some quality time at the Christmas Markets, ice skate, look at the incredibly tall Christmas tree at the Markets and be reminded of Rockefeller Center, visit La Grande-Place (an UNESCO World Heritage Center site) and then go to the Musical Instrument Museum, where it is free the first Wednesday of every month. What a coinkydink! But other than that we do not have many plans and we all are content with that. 

Many of us have several papers to write so some of us decided that Thursday in between our check out time and catching our flight we are going to find a cafe with Internet and hunker down. Homework in Belgium? Why not!

This is my last trip outside of a day trip to Aranjuez, Spain on Friday and I am a little sad that my traveling has come to an end. However, I have been blessed to have such wonderful excursions and a great group of students to share them with. It is hard to believe that I have been to so many different countries and cities in my short time here and it is coming to an end so soon, but it is time to say goodbye to Europe and hello to my home in the United States. 
 
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.
 
December 1, 2012 marks the countdown until I leave Madrid, Spain and head back home to Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 21 days I will be on a plane, leaving friends behind in Madrid and a woman who is like my third grandmother and will be going back to my other life. As part of my countdown I will be posting each day something I will miss about Madrid, Spain or Europe and something that I look forward to in Minneapolis, Milwaukee or the United States. After many conversations with my classmates and friends we have come up with many responses for the next 21 posts, but each is a double-edged swords.

I will miss my daily conversations with my señora at dinner and when I come home from school. Her family stories and life experiences have shown me how incredible

I look forward to being able to communicate with my family and friends in an easier manner and in other forms besides email and Skype. My parents recently had a computer fiasco and are not very technologically savvy so they have not been able to install Skype on their own. My friends and I also rely on texting and the fact that we live close to one another for communication, so it will be nice to be back at the good old Marquette and be a block away from my friends’ apartments. 
 
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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.

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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.
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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.  
 
Oh Ryanair, how I love you so. 

Last week I came across an article in the business section of Time and what caught my attention? Three words: Ryanair, standing, flight. 

The article, "New Low for Flying? Standing-Room-Only Flights Possible," informed me that the European low fare airline is currently attempting to launch a standing-room-only section on their aircrafts for short-distance flights within Europe. The cost you may ask? A whopping 1.50 USD without the airline administration fee, and with the fee flying one way the cost would most likely come out to be around $11.00 -- drastically less than even its cheapest flights currently. 

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about an airline who has a habit of having technical difficulties allowing standing-room tickets, but the student in me thinks it is a great idea. With the creation of a stand-room-only section the cost of all tickets will decrease, bring more name recognition and popularity to the airline, and maybe even make them a profit so they can fill the plane all the way with gas. It seems like a win-win in my mind. 

That being said, I do have my reservations about how safe it would be during the takeoff and landing but I think, like any student who wants to travel Europe, they would install some sort of handle bars both vertically and horizontally so you can brace yourself. I would hope. Then again I will contradict myself and say I recall reading that Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, did say that if an aircraft did crash a seatbelt would not save you. He is correct, but I just wonder what else he may skimp out on. Time will only tell, but for now I wish my flights all cost $11.oo. Viaja con Dios, lucky ducks.