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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. 
 
Don't worry guys, I didn't break up with you, Madrid just keeps me busy.

Things have been extremely chaotic here the last few days and I'm finally able to group my thoughts together in order to form cohesive, non-Spanglish sentences. I will be getting in the groove of blogging everyday and have a few coming later today after a few meeting with the U.S. Embassy and having our photos taken for Marquette. Oh, and after dinner. And maybe a nap... You can't not follow the siesta rule here.

To hold you off watch the T-Swift music video and think of me. The bears make me laugh, and the squirrel jumping in the back at 2:34 makes for a nice chuckle. I hope you giggle too.
 
I'm sitting across my bed, feet dangling aimlessly over the edge like when I was younger and I think back to the simple times when I was five years old. There was no worry in the world about what you were going to wear the next day. You didn't question if those black flats you wanted to wear really went with that navy dress, or on a more serious note, you didn't wonder where in the world you may end up come fifteen years from now. 

Oh, how being a five year-old with a broken arm from rollerblading was so easy. Now I think about those things almost every day - maybe not the black flats and blue dress scenario, that's only every once in a while. This all has a point, I promise. 

Fifteen years ago I knew I wanted to travel. I knew I wanted to speak another language and see the world outside of what I knew at that age. I still want that same thing, the only difference now is I don't have a broken arm and I'm a lot older. Some would say wiser too. 

Tomorrow I begin my journey to Madrid, Spain with nine other Marquette students. Each of us comes from a different background but all have one thing in common, we are going to the same city, most of us are on the same flight, and I guarantee you the majority of us are peeing our pants, whether they want to admit it or not. 

For three and a half months I will be living with another Marquette student and a woman I can only envision to be like my grandmother. Her name is Señora Irene Romero, who is supposed to be a great cook (a trait my grandmother sadly did not possess, unless it was baking), and lives near the university I will be attending, Universidad Complutense. (My grandma Frances lived in St. Paul, Minn., maybe Irene isn't much like my grandmother at all...) I will be attending school, taking an art history class at el Museo Nacional del Prado, and stumbling over my words left and right, but that is all part of the fun, right? 

The correct answer is: Right.

Follow that answer up with the question, but what will I do without my family and friends when I need shoe advice? That one is harder to answer.

When the reality of leaving my family and friends began to creep into my consciousness I didn't like it one bit. I would shew it away from my brain while at work and when my mother became a little choked up on the phone I would drastically switch the topic after saying to her, "It's OK ma." I wouldn't accept the fact that I wouldn't be in contact with the peopleI grew so close with these last two years or have them right down the hall of my Schroeder dorm room. But alas, last Sunday came and I said goodbye to my friends at Marquette and co-workers at the Journal Sentinel. On the six hour drive home I may have listened to a few maloncoly Whitney Houston and Taylor Swift songs and put "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" by Taylor Swift on repeat.  Then after about twenty minutes I hit a torrential downpour to match my tears and smudged mascara. I had a few choice words for the weather man at that point. Shortly after though I realized that when you take a leap of faith on yourself to be independent for this period of time, your friends and family are letting you go because they know you're strong enough to do this, and that they will be right where you left them. Well, hopefully not right where I left two of my best friends, they were in the rain. 

Fifteen years ago I guarantee you I was asleep in the same twin size bed I am sitting on right now. I have ditched the Pooh Bear sheets (not the pillow though, it's too cute) and I still have the same bear my brother made me in Home Economics on my bed stand. The difference is tomorrow morning I wakeup for a flight that leaves for Madrid, Spain and not for a day at summer camp. You can plan your life as much as you want, but you just never know where you may be fifteen years from now. 

As a dear friend of mine would say, traveling is the only thing that makes you richer. I wholeheartedly agree with that statement and hope that through my adventures this semester I only grow to be someone I look back on and can say, "Dang, I'm awesome." No, but really, fifteen years is a long time, so my mantra for this trip is to take each day as it is and hope my travels make me a richer person in all aspects of life. 

Ciao for now!
- Andrea