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Haz el bien, y no mires a quién. -Spanish Proverb


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The “study” part of Study Abroad

I’ve hardly said a word about school here in Spain, partially because I don’t want to bore anyone and partially because it really is only a fraction of the entire experience itself. The most tangible goals of studying abroad are to earn college credit (in my case, for a Spanish minor) and to beef up your résumé, but as anyone who has studied abroad knows, that goal is almost secondary to the learning and discovering that comes from the experience in its entirety.

That said, I AM attending college courses at la Univerisdad del Pais Vasco (University of the Basque Country), and I’d like to tell you a little bit about it… 🙂

My classes are part of USAC‘s program, so they’re specially designed for foreign students and not part of UPV’s “normal” curriculum. That is how most study abroad programs work, I assume. This program has four “tracks”, or levels, and I was (somehow) placed in the highest track. I can say now, halfway through the semester, that being in the highest track has really been bittersweet. I feel like it’s a good challenge, but at the same time I could really use the review of some of the basics of grammar and verbs, etc. that I didn’t learn very well the first time around. It takes being in another country to realize how little of their language you really know! I need to do a better job of brushing up on some of my basics in my free time.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, I start at 11am with a conversation class. I ended up being the only student in the Track 4 conversation class, so it’s just my teacher and I, and I really don’t mind that it turned out that way. There’s certainly no room for slacking off or zoning out, but I just view it as an hour-long private Spanish lesson. Not bad at all. At noon, I head to my Civilization and Culture class (there’s a whopping TWO students in that one!), which I really enjoy too because I’m learning so much about Spain’s history, customs and traditions WHILE living here. That comes in quite handy on several occasions. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have two classes starting at 10am with the same professor, Juan. My friends and I lovingly refer to him (amongst ourselves!) as our Spanish grandpa. He is always teasing us about the amount of chocolate and coffee we consume, accusing us of chasing boys, and telling us to lay off the kalimotxo on the weekends. After arriving late to two of his classes in a row, Juan now refers to me as: Megan…My favorite disaster. I have two classes with him back to back: Stylistics, which is largely an advanced grammar/usage class, and Spanish Literature. Taking a literature class, for me, is like pulling teeth. I always want to and try to enjoy Literature, but at the end of the day I’m just a science geek…I have a hard time slowing down to the pace of literature interpretation, though I do think it is valuable and meaningful in its own right. The lit class I’m taking here is growing on me, though. I appreciate that it’s teaching me more about Spanish history, giving me practice with reading comprehension and maybe even making me more reflective and other profound things like that :-p …Thanks for that, Juan 🙂

I find that, when it comes to studying, I have a bit of study-abroad-induced attention deficit. Knowing that such an exciting new world is literally out my front door, it’s hard to stay in and study. Needless to say, I get a lot more homework done on rainy days than on sunny ones.

I haven’t posted any pics of the campus of UPV because, well…there’s truly nothing to see. And I wouldn’t just say that. There are two campuses–one homely-looking one in Leioa where all the Spanish classes are and one more handsome-looking one in the center of Bilbao. Since I’m only taking Spanish classes, I only experience the unaesthetic one. One big difference between campuses in the US and campuses here is that here, there is no emphasis whatsoever on “campus life” like in the US. In the States, we’re encouraged to hang out with friends on campus, meet up for study groups on campus, eat on campus and even spend our leisure time at on-campus activities. And a lot of us do most of those things. Most of us live on or very near campus for at least a part of our time in college, whereas here there is no on-campus housing. Most students in Spain live at home with their parents at least until they graduate college, and if they don’t live at home there is no dorm-style housing, so they just live in off-campus flats. Moral of the story: the need for a campus to be visually appealing is a lot less, since students simply come here for class and maybe a coffee or lunch, and then they leave.

Now, having said all of that, the people at UPV would probably appreciate if I mention that the campus IS under a lot of renovation right now, and within a couple of years will probably look a lot less disheveled. I do have one nice picture, taken from one of my classroom windows looking out into the open center courtyard inside the main building on campus:

UPV Biblioteca Central

UPV Biblioteca Central

Speaking of school, I have a couple of presentations tomorrow so I really should be getting around to preparing them.

¡Que pases una buena semana!


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Un poco de todo

“Your own culture is not better or worse than this one. It is only different. Use this experience to become not only bilingual, but bilcultural” -Ibon Zamanillo, USAC Bilbao Program Director

To avoid making one long, boring, run-on post about updates on various subjects, I have divided my updates into a few categories. Read them all, or read those which pique your interest most 🙂

School…I put this category first so I don’t forget about it….just kidding! (Relax, Mom and Dad!) Our FANTASTIC program director, Ibon, has a lot of wise words for us all the time (which I will from this point on refer to as Ibon-isms), and one is that his motto for this program is simply, “Learn AND Enjoy!” I’d say that I’m doing equal parts learning and enjoying. I’ve always been a good student, but so much of this experience isn’t about classroom learning. I’m learning Spanish in the streets, in stores, restaurants and bars. I’m almost never home, so other than “reflecting”, as I’m doing now, I’m learning, enjoying, or sleeping (un poquito) at all other times.

I was placed in the highest track of Spanish of this program which is a little intimidating, but I’m always up for a challenge. There are even a few US students that are native speakers here, and I end up interacting with them quite a bit which is very beneficial for me. There are only a few students in my “track”, so my biggest class is only 5 students. There is definitely no room for dozing off or zoning out as the classes all depend on almost constant interaction.  All of my professors are superb. I’m lucky: I’ve always liked school, and I love Spanish, so…I’m in heaven!

Weather…I’m obviously loving the weather here because no matter how rainy or windy it gets, it is still not -40 degrees. Ever. I can always feel my fingers and my face, and that is quite the luxury for me. I will say that I am 100% thankful that I am a North Dakotan though. Really. The students here from the Southern US think its too cold,  and the students from other temperate maritime climates think its normal. We Mid-Westerners, however, are on vacation. This is balmy for us. We’d break out the shorts if that was acceptable in Europe. This is the first time in my life that I am thankful for being accustomed to sub-zero temperatures.

The only downfall of the drastic climate change is that is has wreaked havoc on my allergies and minor asthma symptoms.  I went very quickly from dry, dead Grand Forks to very humid, blossoming Getxo, and my sinuses are quite perturbed about it.  I will adjust though, with a little help from my friends albuterol and Zyrtec.

Not quite warm enough for a bikini, but warm enough for me to lay on the beach!

Social life...It’s funny to consider this its own category because really, in Spain, there is no other life. Everything is social. Spending a quiet afternoon or evening in complete solitude is almost unheard of. This has taken some getting used to for me, as I regularly go into home-body mode and need some convincing to get me to go out. I will use this cultural custom as my excuse for not blogging too frequently–I’m not allowed to sit at home, okay?!?

Life is definitely more interesting and exciting here. There is always something to do, at all times day or night. Last Friday most of us USACers attended “Art After Dark”, an event mostly for the younger crowd during which you can visit the current exhibit at the Guggenheim museum while listening to a DJ brought in from somewhere in Europe. There was one interesting room in the museum that had tall poles with multilingual scrolling marquees, so we had a good time taking some pictures:

On Saturday day night in downtown Bilbao,  Team Athletic de Bilbao (soccer, obviously) was playing Real Madrid, the team considered to be the best in the country. Several students from the group decided to fork over the large chunk of change to attend, but the others of us opted for the next most exciting option: watching the game on the TVs at the bars surrounding the stadium. It was really an interesting experience– hundreds of fans gathered in the streets and crowded around several TVs to watch a game that was going on just a few feet away from us. Somehow, Bilbao ended up taking the victory over Madrid 1-0….for the first time in 6 years! All hell broke loose at the end of the game and we ended up rushing into the stadium at the end of the game with the rest of the “street fans”, and we even got to stand on the field…just for a moment. It was quite the rush! Spanish people are not jokin’ around about their love for soccer. Or calimocho: the popular red wine and coke mix (sounds gross, but is not) served and homemade everywhere around here. See my Youtube channel for a couple of videos from our crazy night outside the stadium.

Adjustments…I think the biggest obstacle for me right now is that I still get lost almost every time I try to go somewhere new in town. I’m just used to streets being laid out in a convenient grid, with no confusing roundabouts or plazas turning everything around. I end up asking strangers where things are at least 5 times a day. I’m not sure how many times I’ve had to ask, ¿Dónde está el metro?, just because I know how to get home once I can find the metro. It makes every moment an adventure. They are just very time-consuming adventures. That is the other main adjustment: time management. Transportation in Grand Forks takes, maximum, 15 minutes. If you had to go all the way across town at 5pm, it might take you that long. To get to school here, I have to catch a bus 45 minutes before my class. I’ve been the crazy American girl running through the streets to barely catch (or just miss completely) my bus almost every day. I’ve promised myself to put an end to that. Wish me luck.

As always, be sure to check my Picasa albums and Youtube channel, linked on the right side-bar, for new pictures and videos.

Thanks for reading!


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’twas the night before Spain

Tomorrow I will embark upon the longest journey of my life to date. I will get on a plane just a few hours from my home, but when I land I will be 4,500 miles away. In a different time zone. A different world. I have told many of my friends and family in recent days that the stress and nervousness has been outweighing the excitement, but that is soon to change. What’s packed is packed, what’s done is done. Now I just have to get on the plane and begin to soak up each moment

My feelings tonight are reminiscent of those I had the night before leaving for my first study abroad trip– a summer program in Costa Rica. One thing I loved most about my entire experience there was that each morning, it was so easy to get out of bed because I knew that a brand new day of great adventure lay ahead. The adventures were both big (zipline tours, surfing) and small (exchanging money, conversing with locals), but all incredibly valuable and stimulating. I savor each and every memory from my month spent there. Even the times that were frustrating, scary or difficult I remember fondly because they were such valuable learning experiences. I’m thrilled to have five entire months to be immersed in a new culture. Five months to call a new place home. Now THAT is pretty rad.

Saying goodbyes has not been fun. I have never been away from friends and family for this long, and I know it won’t be easy. Thank goodness for all of the ways modern technology allows us to stay in touch, even across oceans! I will close tonight with a short video clip of two fluffy friends I will miss very much, my sister’s corgis: