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.  
 
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. 
 
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... 
 
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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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.