Saturday, July 12, 2014

Por Siempre..

Even though I have now been home for about two weeks I haven't wrote about my last week in Spain, which I can safely say was my best week in Spain and probably in my whole life. It made it that much harder to leave Spain after a fantastic year, it made me appreciate just how much I love my friends and family in the Spain.

My last week in Spain consists of going fishing in Santa Pola with my best friend and her mom, going to the gorgeous island of Tabarca with my whole grade (Tabarca is a small island off the shore of Alicante and it's absolutely gorgeous), and the elementary school's graduation and celebration.

On Sunday I went with Trevor a fellow exchange student in my area to go see the hogueras in Alicante, it's basically like las fallas in Valencia but closer to us. They make a whole bunch of sculptures and light them on fire. Except the tradition for others is to go to the beach and make a bonfire and have a party there. There's a whole bunch of good luck traditions you're supposed to do like jump over the bonfire and jump three waves both at midnight and it gives you good luck and some type of purification.

I had been planning to go to the beach with my best friend and her family who I became close with and there we would meet up with a few other friends because our other friends were going to go to Santa Pola which is a bigger city. Lo and behold when I came to the beach I happened to find all of my friends there and they had thrown me a surprise going away party! It was amazing I will remember it forever. Not only did they throw me a party they gave me some gifts include an Elche jersey with my name on it, a Spanish flag, and numerous photos and slideshows from everyone, among other gifts.

However I decided two more times that I didn't want to say goodbye so the following days included a dinner and a trip to the beach. Starting Wednesday I would have pretty much a goodbye every hour. After a long day of hard goodbyes I came home to yet another surprise going away party thrown by my family for our family friends. Also invited were my two closest friends in Spain. They actually ended up staying the night in Spain and helping me pack on my long last night in Spain.

I have no words to say how grateful I am for everyone who has made my year in Spain as amazing as it has been. Every day since I've been home I've missed them so much. La unica cosa que puedo decir a vosotros es que os echo de menos y os quiero muchismo, muchas gracias a todos!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fin de Fiestas

So in theory I was going to be typing more on here and I kinda forgot last week so please forgive me. At this point I have less than two weeks left in Spain. To me it still doesn't feel like I'm going and it doesn't help that the fiestas of my town just finished and there I made so many more friends. It feels like the summers just getting started and I'll be here the whole summer, but sadly that's not the case.

This past weekend my friend Lucia came in for the fiestas and it was so much fun, we stayed up until the sun rose at 6 am (a tradition for the last night of the fiestas), before going to bed for maybe an hour when she then had to go home to Madrid.

As the day gets closer the more I want to stay here in Spain, although I must admit there are a few things I miss from the States, so here are the ten first things I will do when I get back home:

1. Relish in the air conditioning of pretty much everywhere. Here in Spain no one has air conditioning, just imagine 23 teenagers in a room all day that's about 85 degrees Fahrenheit with only two windows to open... I'm lucky enough to say I occupy one of the desks that sit right next to the window so score to my table partner and me!

2. EAT! (All of this is assuming my stomach will allow me because since being in the Spain it has turned quite particular) my first few meals I already have planned out steak (and vegetables on the side), chocolate chip pancakes, panera bread, and then my dad's quesadillas. I haven't eaten any of my favorite foods (listed above) for about ten months.

3. Shower, in my amazing shower. It will be a long shower too where I don't have to worry about running out of warm water or using too much.

4. Sleep in my own bed. My bed is the most comfortable thing on this earth.

5. Watch any tv that isn't Disney Channel. As much as I love my little host brothers here in Spain I don't love Disney Channel. There's only so much Disney Channel you can take, and I have been blown past the limit. Side note to this, this will include catching up on my guilty pleasure of trashy reality tv shows including the Kardashians, Bachelor/Bachelorette, and Honey Boo Boo.

6. Drive through Chicago.... I miss my city. Elche while amazing and equally my home is not quite as astonishing as my Chicago skyline.

7. Walk around the house in bare feet or socks. Here in Spain they have something against go around the house if you're not wearing slippers, sandals, or shoes. I will be happy to be able to take of my shoes stepping in the door and not have to put anything back on until I leave the house again.

8. See all my friends and family. This one's obvious, you gotta miss them sometimes. I'm lucky enough to have a group of my friends meet me at the airport when I come in.

9. Freely wear my Adidas sandals with socks and pajamas. I may have just proved an American stereotype but I don't care I'm comfortable and that's what matters.

10. Cry uncontrollably and spend all day texting my friends from Spain. A year ago I never thought I would be as attached to so many people as I am here in Spain, I have made some of the greatest friends here and some of them sadly only within the past month, I almost feel cheated of my time with them. Although I don't know where the future will take me I know La Hoya will somehow be in it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

24 Días...

It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating my first month here in Spain but here I am with about only three weeks left. Since there is such few time left I'm going to make a point to post on here more.

Luckily for me of my last four weekends in Spain three of them are my town's fiestas or festivals and then the last one is a festival in Alicante.

Last weekend was the first weekend of the festivals, my host family had a communion in Madrid so they let me stay here in La Hoya with my best friend Ainoa (shout out to Ainoa's family Loli, Pepe, and Pablo for letting me stay with them). The first weekend we had the charanga which is basically a parade with your friends and for weeks leading up to it you work on a choreographed dance and you all dress up in costumes and we go through the whole town and the farms. This year it was raining which supposedly never happens but the charanga still went on and even though it rained a little bit in the beginning we had lots of fun. We were dressed up as fairies or tinkerbell, the best were the "Princessos" who were the "fortunate" boyfriends and guy friends who dressed up with us.

This week there's a bunch of tests at the moment two down and three to go... Also a little bit of advice to the kids who are coming to Spain next year or going to any other country, is this year goes by fast. Take advantage of every moment, you really don't understand how fast the year goes until you're in June thinking January when you thought you had all the time in the world was just yesterday. 

Hasta Luegooooo

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Abril y Mayo

Here I am writing another blog post, even though it has been month it doesn't seem so far away. With that being said in a month I will be landing in O'Hare and will no longer be living in Spain. I have no idea how to prepare myself for that moment, but that's not what I'm going to write about right now.

So much has happened in the last two months, some things even happened before I did the Camino to Santiago but they sorta got skipped over after the adrenaline rush that the Camino gave... Speaking of which I have tendonitis in my achilles tendon, it's still swollen a month later....

Before I went on the camino my real mom came to visit me here in Spain, we travelled to Barcelona which was crazy. It felt so great to be in a real big city again, Barcelona is different than Madrid it has this whole whimsical feel to it, it's just a fun city to be in. After going to Barcelona she came here to Elche to get to know my family and go shoe shopping ;).

Then after the Camino my dad. First in Elche to get to know my family and then we went on a trip to Sevilla. Sevilla while not as famed as Barcelona is equally as beautiful with the mix of cultures, the obvious Spanish influence with a strong Arabic history as well as being the door to Spain from the whole western world (the Americas). It's a city full of gorgeous architecture and culture.

Literally the day after my dad leaves, I started my month of festivities. That first weekend I went to a baptism. The next weekend was my little host brother's communion. I must say it was the first communion I went to and probably the best. He wanted to have it at the tennis club so he could play padel, tennis, and soccer as much as he wanted and it turns out we were the only people there! We were so lucky and the staff there were great we were pretty much there for ten hours because we left roughly at 11 PM, even though it was only supposed to be for "La Comida" which was at 2/3.

The next weekend I went to Madrid to go visit my friend Lucia and literally within fifteen minutes of being of the train we received a phone call from two more exchange students telling us to meet them at the Prado Museum where we would later meet with a few exchange students who were living in Barcelona. We ended up getting in for free and Lucia and I decided to play spy on the other exchange students. It was more of a one sided Hide and Go Seek, but it was one of the most fun experiences I've ever had in a museum. The next day we met up with Hugo and literally walked all over Madrid we spent a good ten hours in the center of Madrid. Might I add that was after looking for Hugo, who doesn't have a phone, in Madrid's largest train station... After all that Lucia and I went back home and ate junk food and watched TV (a somewhat American tradition that I had been missing greatly) On the way we also founding a vending machine that will give you whatever you want for only five cents...

The next weekend I had my host cousin Juan de's Communion, it was fun too we made a photo call for him, but it wasn't nearly as private as ours was. Though it's always fun to see the whole family.

The weekend after that was this past weekend and was the weekend of our last AFS Valencia orientation. Instead of it being in the usual Valencia we went to a hostel in Benicassim that was literally right on the beach, a step up from pretty much every hostel I had been to, excluding maybe the last one we went to on the Camino. Not only was it all of us students placed in Spain it also had about twenty students who were from Spain and going to places like the US, Germany, Thailand, and Malaysia to name a few.

It was really fun and I actually got to become friends with a few kids who were coming to the states, fingers crossed they get put in the Chicago area. We also had the most freedom we ever had at the orientations and at night my friend Verena and I went swimming in the sea, it was freezing but so much fun! On the last day we made a card from group photos that we gave to the volunteer Mary Paz in our head area. She really has done so much for all of us and would drop everything she was doing to help each and everyone of us. She really deserved all that we could give her and more. She was so happy, she told us no one had ever done that for her before, we couldn't imagine that because all of us knew there were so many times that we couldn't have gotten through the year without her.

That was a very abbreviated summary of my last month. I only have one month left here the next three weekends are my town's fiestas and then my last weekend is a holiday in Alicante. So I pretty much have everything booked, but I can't believe that in literally thirty days I will be back home, I have no idea how to feel but I'll try to keep this blog more updated as this experiences winds down.

Might I also add I literally saw the best soccer game of my life. Where Elche tied FC Barcelona securing a spot in the first league next year. I have never seen such an amazing game with so much energy in it.

(Photo creds to Jose Luis for this amazing Leo Messi photo, proving how close our seats are)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Camino de Santiago

As of yesterday I got back from one of the greatest experiences of my life, the Camino de Santiago. What's so great about walking 120km/75miles in four days you ask? The answer is whole heartedly the people. Even though it was so much fun seeing Galicia which has a gorgeous countryside very green and rather foresty (complete opposite of Elche) and we had an insane amount of luck that it didn't rain at all during the trip in the rainiest part of Spain, the experience wouldn't have been nearly as fun and amazing without the other exchange students who are about the best company you can ask for on a trip like this.

Day One (4/12)

The first day, my friend Tinya from Murcia had came over to sleep at my house so we could catch our 7:15 train in Alicante. My real mom had just came in town and had a plane at 9 something so she drove us to the train station, safe to say that after waking up at 5 am we got lost in Alicante and the only people out to ask questions were particularly drunk people just going back home from the clubs. We eventually got there and met up with Trevor and Kassidy the two other students from our area going on the trip.

After our first two hour train we had literally run through the train station to go to the metro to go to another train station all within one hour so that we didn't miss our next delightful eight hour train ride. Luckily we made it on time and even enough time for Kassidy and Trevor to buy some Burger King Whoppers, yes we realize how American we were being.

Fast forward eight hours and we've arrived at Tui which is where we started the Portuguese route of the Camino de Santiago, we got to the hostel and met up with all our friends who we hadn't seen since last September, pretty much we all forgot about how tired we were. Anyways I almost had to go to a different hostel because they thought that hostel was full when they took me and another exchange student upstairs to our own room with two nice beds, a balcony, a tv, sockets for both of us to charge our phones, and our own bathroom. They asked us if we minded being away from the others let's just say we were pretty happy to have our room.

Day Two (4/13)

This was our first day of walking we had two times to eat breakfast 8:15 and 8:30 and we had to leave at 8:45. We decided that we would try the earlier breakfast and wake up around 7:30 so we could get ready comfortably, so my room mate set his alarm for 7:30. The next morning I woke up at 8:15... After waking him we came to the conclusion that since we were so close to the Portuguese border his phone had set to Portuguese time which is for some reason an hour behind... Great start to the trip right? No it was fine we got ready a bit rushed and we were even the first ready of everyone.

The first day walking was really fun for me at least just to see the different landscape from Elche's light brown dusty/dirt that pretty much covers everything and seeing trees that weren't palm trees. I walked pretty much the whole day with Haley who was my room mate back at the New York Orientation and she actually lives in Galicia. Right before we had lunch that first day we found a little river and we all went swimming in it because it was HOT out especially when your walking.

The end of the day we got to the hostel and everyone was walking around like zombies because our feet hurt and we had huge blisters, it was super easy to sleep that night because we were all so out of it.

Day Three (4/14)

To be honest I don't remember much of day three seeing as it was the less eventful of the middle two days of walking. Actually that's a lie. Supposedly it was supposed to be the hardest day of walking with it being mostly uphill, I don't really remember it being that uphill but I do remember it was a really long morning I think we walked more than 20km in the morning, they also thought we weren't going to make it to lunch and they had the cars ready to take all of us and we begged that they didn't take us so the lucky group of us who were in the front got to walk it all.

Now the fun part that I left out about this trip is that I almost didn't go on it. Why? well because Thursday I was sick with a stomach bug again but this time I actually had a fever and not just any fever a fever that was pretty much 104 degrees Fahrenheit. I also threw up several times, I made the deal with my mom that I could go if I was able to keep my food down Friday which I was and hence I went on the trip. Anyways that lunch I got super nauseous but luckily I had an amazing group of friends with me Victoria my friend from Chicago talked to the kitchen and got them to make me food I would be able to eat and even a tea that reduces stomach inflammation. Later my friends came outside with me to get some fresh air and keep me company. After talking to the doctor he decided I should put my bag into the car and I should try to walk it without the bag and see if I felt better. I felt a lot better by the end of the day.

The hostel where we stayed there were rooms with bunk beds that the first people got and then the rest of us were put in two rooms with a lot of mattresses on the ground, me and my friends Hugo (from New Zealand) and Victoria got put in a room with half other people half AFS so we just brought our mattresses into the other room. The hostel was not the most glamorous it was cute though it was owned by a family and they cooked for us which made up for the lack of hot water.

Day Four (4/15)

This day was definitely the best day hands down. First off we started a lot later because that morning we were only doing 11km so we didn't get going until 10:30/11ish. Shortly after Victoria, Hugo, Moritz (our other friend from Germany) and I somehow ended up last. Last as in not able to see who was in front of us last.

Which I should probably explain how this walk works is they have yellow arrows and yellow seashells all along the path and at every fork or turn. It's actually really well marked and you just follow those and generally the hostels and restaurants are on the pathways and everything.

Anyways we decided we were the fun group for a while a volunteer was walking with us and we had a fun time screwing around with him trying to steal his hat and eventually he got tired of us walking so slow and left us his walking sticks and he like blasted ahead, he probably finished first. So there we were with two walking sticks, most normal people would use them to walk but Hugo and Moritz decided it would be great to try and hit plants with them. So that also contributed to our tardiness then we also decided we wanted to make friends with some sheep (these sheep had tails apparently that means they were badly kept) we failed we had several farmers yell at us and several sheep run away from us. We got to this one town and we texted the others to find out if they were at the restaurant and literally just as we turned the corner we found them as we were crossing over the bridge to get to them they applauded us, apparently we were over thirty minutes late.

After lunch we proceeded to bring it up in the back stoping for many excursions along the way. One we had stopped at this fountain to fill up our water bottles and instead of the typical 10 min break it turned into more like 45min-1hour. Moritz being the curious and sassy German he is made us all follow him to the church that was across the street, he found a secret staircase that lead up to a small, dark, spiral, stone staircase. Once we saw the light again we found out we were in the bell tower, we carved our names into the bell and even rung it. Literally about twenty mins later Hugo had to put his socks on so we all stopped and sat in the middle of road and took another break. Experiences like that and impromptu dance performances might be the cause of our two hour delay. Yes I did just say two hours as we were getting to the hostel everyone was leaving for dinner.

Day 5 (4/16)

This was our last day it was kinda sad but I still knew that each day on el Camino felt like two days in real life. Walking that morning was pretty uneventful I found out that on all the little shell signs they actually had the amount of kilometers that were left to Santiago, oops guess I missed the first million that we saw. They also wouldn't let us be in the back and so this one guys host parents were constantly following us and pushing us along.

After lunch we pretty much stayed together in two groups one group started ahead of our and then there was ours. We only had about 8km left and we knew it so we ended up taking a lot more pictures and everything. As we got closer we started looking more out of place with our hiking backpacks, our athletic clothes, our foreignness in general. As we got closer we saw the cathedral and ran the rest of the way there screaming and cheering winding through all the people. It was pretty surreal to get there.

We took pictures and later at 7 we went in for the 7:30 mass, there weren't any seats for us so we sat on the stairs which was probably better because we probably smelled pretty interesting. Four people from our group even had a speech about what we did and they recited it during the mass it was really pretty. The mass ended at 8:30 and many of us had to go and quick.

Lets just say it was a mad-dash for the next half hour between running around the cathedral, finding all of our bags, getting taxis, getting to the train station, getting our tickets. We had a bus at 9:30, and at 9:20 we were still missing Trevor and another girl Erika who had pretty much everyone's tickets. We all got on to the bus where we somewhat followed the game of Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona (Copa del Rey) but seeing as we're all exchange students radios are still hard so we understood names and when someone scored a goal.

After arriving to Madrid at 6:30 the next morning Hugo hung around with Trevor and I at our one hour lay over where we tiredly searched for an outlet for Trevor to charge his phone, because our tickets were on the phone and without the phone = no tickets = no bus. We luckily charged the phone enough to get on the bus and fast forward to about 2:30 and after 17 hours of traveling Trevor and I had finally made it back home.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


Before I get into telling you all about Elche I'll start with my grades that I got for this trimester:

Biologia: 4
Castellano: 4
CMC (Ciencias del Mundo Contemporaneo): 8
Educacion Fisica: 7
Filosofia: 7
Fisica y Quimica: 7
Informatica: 7
Ingles: 10
Matematicas: 6
Valenciano: 6

Anyways... So now that I've been living here in Elche for a while I thought I would tell all of you about how great Elche is and some interesting facts about it.

1. Palm Tree Land?
Elche or Elx (In Valencian) is famous for it's palm trees. Yes it's palm trees, Elche is home to Europe's largest palm tree forest, not sure if that's the correct terminology, but has more palm trees than it has people. Here in La Hoya, where I live, we are having a lot of our palm tree's cut down because a bug called El Picudo has been destroying all the trees.

2. Elche's Special Paella
La Paella is a Spanish staple that you'll find in every part of Spain. There's millions of kinds vegetarian, seafood, chicken.... and the list goes on and on. But there's one type of paella that you'll only find in Elche and that's the Arroz con Costra, it's like a normal Paella but has a "tortilla" which here in Spain is more of an omelette made out of eggs. They bake the tortilla into the paella, and it's pretty amazing!

3. Hymne de Elche
This is probably my favorite tradition from here in Elche. It's called the hymn of Elche which is a song that we all sing at the beginning of every soccer game (seeing as I have season tickets). It's a crazy atmosphere when you literally have over 20,000 people singing a song together and you're able to look around and see all the scarves and flags held high.

*Fun fact at 0:04 you can see me in the front row with a green sweatshirt holding a scarf

Another fun fact about Elche CF and traditions is that during the whole twelfth minute of every game we applaud. It's to applaud us the fans because they believe that we were the twelfth player that helped them succeed to the first division last year.

4. Shoe Factories
Elche used to be one of the biggest shoe manufacturing cities in the world providing for companies like Zara among others. Within recent years thanks to outsourcing most of the factories have been moved to China leaving a lot of people unemployed here in Elche. With that being said there still are quite a few here and the majority of my friends parents work in them, also due to this the shoes in Elche are significantly cheaper than in the rest of Spain.

5. Dama d'Elx
Elche is famous for La Dama de Elche which is a bust they found in Elche at the end of the 1800s and it's believed to be dated back to 4th century BCE.

So that's just a start to some of the amazing things here in Elche. They also have an amazing countryside with a thriving agricultural business which will result in me being a fruit and vegetable snob when I come back after being used to such amazing and fresh fruit and veggies, and by fresh I mean we go outside and pick it off the tree kind of fresh.

Hasta Luego!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Mid-Year Orientation

I can't believe we just had our mid-year orientation (well it was kind of late we were the last chapter to do ours). At this moment I've been in Spain for over six months and less than four months are left, and it's going to be a busy last four months as well.

Last weekend we had our orientation which I think was probably our most productive orientation despite really only having one volunteer there. Basically a shout out to Marypaz who won our vote for best volunteer I know she actually helped a lot of my friends who were there with issues that they were having and in general there wasn't as many icebreakers as normal, which was nice. Also we had the largest attendance to one of our orientations with eleven students (given two were students from other areas who had missed their orientations).

The first day as normal was pretty low key. The next day we did some activites and then we went to go see la mascletà which is part of las fallas. Las Fallas is a festival they have in Valencia which is to celebrate Saint Joseph (maybe? Puede ser?) they build a whole bunch of really cool sculptures of pretty much anything and then on the last night of the celebration they burn them all like a huge bonfire. Well part of the festivities was la mascletà, la mascletà is a a fireworks show in the middle of the day where the "queen" or gran fallera gives the signal from the city hall that they can start the show and immediately billions of fireworks start going off (wasn't sure in the moment if they were fireworks because you couldn't really see them) supposedly it's more for the noises. It was a crazy experience that I definitely won't forget.

To be honest they're a little creepy to see burning

We had more activities and later at night we had more free time we walked down to a plaza and our volunteer said have fun meet us back here in two hours. Now seeing as most of us here in AFS Valencia live in small towns that was about the best thing they could've said. We all stayed together in a group at first but then me and my friend, Lucia, who was from Madrid but missed her orientation, broke off because we wanted to go walk around more while the others preferred eating. We walked aimlessly around Valencia and some how found ourselves again in a mass of people at the town plaza, this time we were able to see all the fireworks and it was amazing it was so different from fourth of July basically because we were super close and the noises are completely part of the experience that you can't miss. Also the people there are completely part of the experiences we made some friends at both of the shows and those are some of my funniest memories from this orientation.

La mascletà

The next morning was out last day, Lucia and I really wanted to do some shopping so for some reason we thought it would be a great idea to go shopping in Spain at 8 am on a Sunday. In retrospect it was not the smartest decision seeing as many stores in the States don't open till at least 10/11. It was a strange experience walking around Valencia it was practically deserted, eventually we found a cute little cafe to eat breakfast in and after eating breakfast we probably did the most American thing ever and we got ice cream... At nine in the morning... While we were out though many people were giving us lots of thumbs up and whatnot, however they all thought that we were just coming back from partying the whole night... We finished the orientation by going to a museum about las fallas and the sculptures which marks the first time going to a museum in Spain. A little odd right? Six months and never going to a museum. Unless you count la bioblioteca valenciana that I went to with my school only a few weeks before the orientation, I didn't really understand anything seeing as the whole presentation was in Valencian but I found a buddy or two who didn't understand either, but they didn't have an excuse like I did.

Also fun fact while I was looking up what Las Fallas was, because to be honest I didn't really know the whole significance of it just that they burned a whole bunch of stuff, theres a part that's pretty much called the waking up which is when a band goes through all of Valencia playing and waking everyone up, which for those of you who were there in Valencia with me I think that's what was playing that one morning.

This was more of recap for my parents and whatnot my next post will include my plans for the weeks to come and some fun facts about Elche. Hasta Luego!