Guest Blogger: Lauren Andraski
I didn’t title my post with easily translatable Spanish, but with a few words in Basque, that translate to “Gracias, País Vasco” or “Thank you, Basque Country.” I could not have asked for a better place or better people to spend our first vacation with. Our original attempt to plan our trip for Semana Blanca was in vain, and kept changing from Barcelona to Florence to Nice to Bologna…until we finally asked our program director for advice, who suggested we go to Bilbao and San Sebastian. At that point, we were so frustrated with booking tickets that he could have suggested going to the US and we almost would have considered it.
Luckily, the US was not his suggestion and luckily we were willing to put up with an 11 hour bus ride to the northern-most part of Spain. We knew that we would spend the first part of the week in Bilbao, but feared going to San Sebastian because we heard news of intense waves and flooding on the news. When we would ask a Spaniard, they told us how terrifying the weather was only before proceeding to tell us that we have nothing to worry about. While in our hostel in Bilbao, the receptionist (probably the 9th person we had solicited advice from) reassured us that it was in fact very safe to travel there. Our minds were put at ease and we couldn’t be more excited to explore the basque country region!
Almost everyone says that the only reason to visit Bilbao is to see the Guggenheim Museum (pictured above). Despite only seeing it from the outside, we were perfectly content with the rest of our trip there. The first morning, I did my absolute favorite thing to do while traveling. I got ready early so that I could sneak away for my very necessary coffee (yes, I have an addiction. Let’s not talk about that). I like wandering around a new town and peering in coffee shops and wading through the ones that are too crowded and too barren until I find the one that is just right. There, I can strike up a conversation with the barista and ask for their suggestions of the best things to do in town.
San Sebastian has to be one of the best places I have ever visited. World famous for its cuisine and lovely beach, I would recommend a trip here to anyone. Though surely the beaches are nicer in the summer, they are also likely more crowded.
As promised, our friend from Bilbao invited us out with her friends for pintxos (pictured above) and drinks, where they introduced us to the term “bote,” which is where every person contributes a small amount of money in order to buy larger plates of food instead of individual servings. They also introduced us to the term “sobre la marcha,” which essentially translates to “play it by ear,” which was exactly what we did. We would wander around, see something pretty, sit and stare at it for half an hour, and do it again.
Everything in San Sebastian was wonderful. We stayed at a wonderful pension, Pension Goiko, where we met wonderful travelers, cooked wonderful food (eggplant and spinach pasta, to be exact), and spent time with wonderful people.
Guest Blogger: Jenny Aguayo, Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office
Prior to venturing out on my journey to Spain, I had already begun to suspect that many of the preconceptions I had made about Spanish culture would result as myths, and I was more than ready to discover what things were true and what things weren’t. However, there was one particular thing that delightedly surprised me more than I’d expected.
My all time favorite aspect of Spanish culture is the Siesta. I was rather excited to become acquainted with this practice because I was such a “pro” at this back in the States. Or so I thought. All my life I thought the Spanish Siesta was just another way to say “nap time.” To my undoubted surprise, there is a lot more to the Spanish Siesta than napping.
Siesta is when the entire city shuts down and prepares for the apocalypse.
Or, at least, it seems that way. Gates come down and stores are locked up to show that everyone’s gone home!
Siesta is a time during the day where everyone goes home for lunch aka “La Comida.” By “everyone” I really do mean everyone. Shops and businesses close down and schools arrange time for students to go home around 2pm. The purpose of the siesta is to uphold the traditional values of family togetherness. This value varies quite a bit in the States, but it’s interesting to see how family time is respected by the community as a whole throughout Spain. Siesta is a nationally respected tradition. It is more than break time; it is a time for families to come together and enjoy each others’ company.
As far as the napping portion of the siesta– that’s entirely optional. As I mentioned before, siesta is about spending time with family, but people also take the opportunity to rest before they continue their hard day’s work.
But for how much longer?
The Siesta culture is at risk of declination. As culture evolves, the practice varies across the country and is being reconsidered for continuation. For a really long time the 2-5pm allotment for siesta has been observed by businesses and for the most part is recognized by the government as part of daily function. Controversies are up in the air about whether or not Spain wants to readjust their norms of break times in the workforce. A lot of this has to do with the influence that American working culture has on the world. Americans are known for being “workaholics” who don’t take breaks and prioritize work over spending time with family. Nonetheless, it is because of these driven qualities of our working culture that we have such a strong economy. Spain’s economy, who is currently not doing so well, might be considering making some adjustments by modeling some behaviors after the United States’.
I was pretty amazed to learn about all the dynamics that go into this aspect of Spanish culture. It was one of the many ways that I discovered that there is always more than meets the eye!
Program: College of Media in Pampalona, Spain, 2013
Location of photo: El Perdon Mountain Range
El Camino de Santiago has been portrayed in many movies and TV shows as the “spiritual journey” that will change your life forever. For Alex, Tom, and I, it was a way to get away from the world and get to know each other a little better. With no hiking experience (and no hiking gear on top of it), we embarked on a 15-mile climb to reach the Alto del Perdon. The statue pictured is dedicated to the pilgrims who walk the Camino, and offers a panoramic view of Northern Navarra. My roommates and I decided to join the metal pilgrims and animals in triumph, posing for a self-timed photo as my camera lay on the ground. The trip brought us closer as students in Pamplona and linked us together for years to come. We set out to climb a mountain, with no prior experience, and succeeded. The 10 hours of bonding that went along with it, with no computers, cell phones, or TVs to interrupt, was more of a summit, because the walls between us went down and the three of us returned brothers.
“Lumbisi and UIUC”
Program: SAO – GLBL 298, development and education in Ecuador
Location of photo: Quito, Ecuador
One of my favorite things that I was able to do in Ecuador was to help improve the educational lives of children in a rural community by organizing, teaching, and leading a day camp. While our group often had to confront struggles and adversity while planning our lessons, we were ultimately able to deliver an unforgettable experience to the children in the camp. We were also able to leave a lasting legacy of our summer camp in the form of a mural for the students to enjoy. We created, designed, and painted this mural for our students, and one by one, each student put their handprint on the branches of the tree to act as leaves. In this photo, my classmate Mayumi is just putting the finishing touches of the fantastic mural we collectively created, complete with names to correspond with handprints. I believe that the lasting impact that we made on the children by being there as mentors and role models is reflected in this mural. The students were able to understand that with our combined efforts put together, we are a part of a bigger picture. I think of the students often, and hope that this mural reminds them of the experiences we enjoyed together.
“Experiencing Traditional Moroccan Dress”
Program: SAO Spanish Studies in Granada, 2012
Location of photo: Tangier, Morocco
In this photo, you can see one of my classmates dressed up in traditional Moroccan women’s clothing. I think it’s a great representation of the kinds of academic experiences study abroad students can have outside of the classroom. How often do American students consider the traditional clothing of Islamic cultures? The majority of us, American (college) women, get up, shower, put on sweat pants or shorts, a T-shirt, and go to class. However, in Morocco, there are symbols for every article of women’s clothing. Each article is put on with attention to detail, without any thought about wearing these many layers under the hot Moroccan sun all day. These are the kind of mentally transforming experiences study abroad students can have abroad.