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Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Inquisition Museum

Last Saturday, we went to Córdoba. For those of you that don't know, Córdoba is located about an hour to the North-East of Sevilla, and like Sevilla, is heavily influenced by Hispanic-Muslim architecture and culture. The city is small, but very beautiful. The center of Córdoba is hidden behind a massive stone wall, draped in moss and worn by time. Our adventure to the Mezquita (the famous mosque-cathedral with yellow and red arches) took through the narrow streets, and we came across a sign for el Museo de Inquisición (Inquisition Museum). It only cost 2 euros, and there were suits of armor in the corridor, so we all decided to go and check it out.

Big mistake.

We walked into the first room and I began to read the plaques affixed to the walls. They were translated  into four languages, and situated next to authentic devices from the Inquisition. The more I read, the more horrified I became. I saw metal masks, the "rack," a chair made of nails...I didn't make it past the first room. I couldn't.

As I read the plaques, and saw the machines that were used to inflict such awful torture on thousands of people, I was overwhelmed. I practically ran to the exit, and waited there for the rest of my friends to follow.

Sometimes I just don't understand; how can people, who I believe to be good, who are capable of such amazing things, be so terrible? I would argue that the answer isn't as simple as it seems. I guess a lot of it depends on your point of view--a pessimist would not be surprised that the Inquisition happened and a optimist would be horrified. (You can guess what I am.) So what should we believe? Are humans bad? Or are they good? The sad reality of today is that our world is not incredibly different than the world of the past. People are still driven by dangerous fanaticism and insatiable hatred.
Yet, times have changed. Our world is dynamic, beautiful and filled with innovative people who want cooperation and peace. There may still be those awful things, but we are not living in the antiquated world of the 15th century.

I don't know if people are fundamentally good or bad. I don't know what we should do to solve the "world's problems." But I do know that people are capable of kindness and greatness, and that we should never give up hope for a brighter future.

I guess I'm glad that I went to the museum. It was horrifying, but it is a piece of not only Spain's history, but of the world's history, and it is important to confront and contemplate it.

Adios,
Shannon

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mis primeros paseos en España (parte dos)

I restrain myself, get my bag in order, and meet the friendly MundoLengua staff who take some obligatory "first day!" photos. Needless to say, we all look a little worn out.
Finally, after all of this time in Spain, I take my first true steps into the country that is to be my home for the next five months. I see...orange trees! Beside the parking lot for the airport are orange trees! They're beautiful and orange and I can't believe that this is so normal here. We hop in the car and drive into the city to drop us off at our homestays. Sevilla, from what little I've experienced, is loca. It's loud, cars and cyclists rush around and the wind sweeps down the long streets. We reach our home, which is a lovely apartment painted orange and yellow.

My roommate and I decided that, as soon as we landed in Sevilla, we would only speak Spanish to each other unless it was absolutely necessary to speak in English. This will get us ready to transition from thinking mostly in English, to thinking mostly in Spanish. We valiantly tried, but eventually the exhaustion set in and our conversations devolved into a pathetic Spanglish.

I'm not quite sure what I expected, but this definitely is not what I expected. I think it is the overwhelming language thing and the fact that I haven't slept in quite some time, but I can feel the beginnings of the culture shock set in. We have an early dinner and head to bed to catch some much needed Zzzs.

La aventura empieza!

Adios,
Shannon

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mis primeros paseos en España

It was a long day. A looonggg day. A Reagan to JFK to Madrid to Sevilla day. The funny part is, that the fact that I'm studying abroad--that I'm living in another country still  hasn't sunk in yet! And I'm writing this from my new home!

But let's rewind...

I suppose my technical "first" steps were when we entered the Madrid airport, after a long and sleepless night across the Atlantic. I can never sleep when I travel to my destination, so I figured I'd be on top of it, and take a sleeping pill. Then I swallowed it without water. And it got stuck in my throat. I won't go into the details, but let's just say waiting three hours for the "soft gel" to disintegrate was not my idea of an enjoyable flight. Moving on.
We landed thirty minutes early and wandered around the airport for a few hours, picking up other W&M students until we had all assembled in a pack before our gate. We hopped on the plane, which was packed full of other students, ages 19-23, all bound for Sevilla. While, of course, I'm glad they've chosen to expand their minds with study abroad, why did they have to choose my city? I don't want to meet any other Americans! I can just go home to do that!
I still manage to keep my spirits up and chat with my seat mates who were---you guessed it. American students. The plane flew through a cloud most of the time, so whenever I glanced out the window it looked like we were in Heaven or something. For obvious reasons, I abruptly dismissed this notion.

And then...through the wisps of fog and air, Sevilla! Or, more accurately, the land around Sevilla! It was rolling, green and tan, patched with farms and tall buildings. As I looked down at it all, I realized that whenever I go abroad, I always expect it to look wildly different than the US, and therefore am usually slightly disappointed. The truth is that every country has suburbs, and they all kind of look the same.

We landed in Sevilla, and all was going well until baggage claim. I have been lucky, off all the flights I've taken, I have never lost a bag. All great things must come to an end, apparently. After successfully retrieving one bag (the unimportant one, of course) and waiting for about twenty minutes, the conveyer belt stopped and an airport official announced that there was no more baggage. I glanced behind me to see over half of my flight also didn't have their baggage.
"Go to the Iberia desk and file the complaint!" the man yelled to the roiling mob. After that, there was just one thing to do--run like hell to the lost & found desk. What never started out as a line soon grew into a war march as raging students barraged the poor Iberian attendants who happened to have the bad luck to work that day. I mean, it wasn't their fault. (The incident, however, is still inexcusable. How do you lose 100+ bags?!)
I waited with the angry villagers for a undeterminable amount of time as people (not officials, other students) barked commands at us that only succeeded in turning the "line" in to rush hour in the Mixing Bowl (to all non-Northern VA people, you're not cool enough to get it). Behind me where a loud group of American students, who were harassing one of the guards and then proceeding to make fun of another one and then talk obnoxiously and loudly. I just wanted to turn around and ask "Why are you even in this country? You are the reason people hate American!"

Saturday, January 12, 2013

It's OK to be Scared

(T-MINUS 3 DAYS)
The first thing you should understand about me is that I don't get stressed. With my life and my schoolwork, I typically adopt a "Everything's going to be all right" mentality and then usually go outside and/or eat some chocolate. So you know when I do get stressed, it's bad. Really bad.
It's kind of weird how it happens. One day, I'm relatively fine; I have a black cloud in the back of my mind, but I'm not really letting it bother me. But then a few days pass, and if the issue is big enough, it piles and piles and piles until I go a little crazy. As my friends like to call it, I feel ALL the feels. This culmination is not a pretty sight, and I'm usually left feeling a little silly and very worn out.

Today, it happened. I hadn't really had my freak-out moment for Spain yet, and I didn't realize how nervous I was until I became an emotional mess. I was calmed only by laying peacefully outside, staring up at the pretty twilit sky, reminding myself that everything really was going to be all right and talking to my mom.

As future study abroad students, we are often told "It's OK to be nervous, it's perfectly natural," but the truth is that we aren't really going to believe that. We're nervous, after all! More than that, I feel like I shouldn't be nervous. I'm a self-proclaimed adventurer! I'm an explorer, a fun-seeker, a traveler! I couldn't be nervous--this is the chance that I've been waiting for my whole life. I felt like being scared would mean that all of these years, I was just kidding myself.

So false. 

OF COURSE, I'm scared. I'm going to be living in a different country for five months, where the language is different, the culture is different--everything is different! I'll be an ocean away from most of my friends and my family...that's enough to make anyone a little anxious.

I don't feel any less of an adventurer because I'm scared. I feel like a young adult who is about to embark on an amazing aventura, but who has a very wonderful life at home, too.
So if you are experiencing similar emotions, the best thing to do is cry (if you're a cryer) and talk to your parents. They'll probably make you feel better :)
And remember: Everything's going to be all right!

Adios,
Shannon




The Quest for the Perfect Walking Shoes

Believe it or not, this venture should be called a "quest." In my time in Spain and in other countries I plan on walking. A lot. And, seeing as I'd rather preserve my feet, this requires a fine pair of walking shoes.

For Christmas, my family gave me a gift certificate to DSW specifically for this purpose. So today, I traveled to the megastore in hopes of scoring a decent pair. After about ten minutes, however, I began to worry. The problem with walking shoes is that they are ugly. Plain and simple. If they aren't straight-up sneakers, they're clogs or some hideous creation with a Mary Jane toe. Definitely not my style. Not only do they scream "OLD LADY" but they also proclaim "TOURIST."
I searched up and down the many aisles, praying that I could find a suitable pair, yet to no avail.
"I need to fit in!" I insisted to my mother.
"It's about comfort, not style," she urged, but I wasn't having any of it. Even if I did purchase "walking shoes" with good support, I wouldn't wear them if I thought they were ugly.

I settled on a fine pair of extremely cute boots that fit well and were comfortable. They weren't exactly what I had in mind, but why shouldn't a pair of low boots suffice as walking shoes? I convinced myself I was right, and that I really had no better options and headed to the front of the store.

That's when I saw them.

Sitting innocently at the end of the row, unassuming and plain. A pair of brown, laced walkings shoes. The best part--they weren't ugly! In a way, there were actually kind of stylish.

I set down the boots and tried the others on and discovered that they felt wonderful. I could see myself traipsing around Sevilla, Rome, Paris in these bad boys. They definitely weren't as cute as the boots, but I decided that I really needed to buy a pair of shoes that I could wear all the time and that weren't going to hurt my feet.

In the end, I walked home with a pair of brown Naturalizer shoes. They are nondescript enough to wear with almost everything, and will most definitely pay off when I spend all day on my feet.

Yay! Non-ugly walking shoes exist!

(Also, they were on sale. #SCORE)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Visado

Today I took the long trek into DC in hopes that my visa was completed and ready for me. We navigated Dupont Circle and marched into the Spanish Embassy where there was no line and I received my passport with the completed visa in a grand total of 10 minutes. We spent the rest of the day lounging around Georgetown and then getting trapped in the East Falls Church metro stop (BEWARE!) and finishing the day off by sitting in traffic on the journey home. My friend who accompanied me on this adventure is also studying abroad, so naturally, our conversation topic kept bouncing back to Spain. This particular time, we happened to talk about fears and excitements, and it really got me thinking. Amigos, we're looking at 13 days until departure. THAT'S LESS THAN TWO WEEKS.
My excitement for the upcoming semester is tempered by mini-freak outs that spike my normally low anxiety levels. At this point, I think that I can sum up my two greatest fears about the trip:

1. That some catastrophe is going to happen, and I won't know what to do/how to deal with it
2. That I will be unable to make friends, especially with Spaniards

Ok, so maybe the first one is a little out there, but I think that the second is a very real fear for many study abroad students. Americans studying in Sevilla, and Spain in general, face a challenge that goes by two names: other study abroad students and English. Spain is a very popular country for students, so when I go there will be plenty of other people who speak English. It would be so easy to just fall back on that, comforting myself with the fact that Spanish was just "too hard." In fact, former study abroad students have explained to my peers and I how their greatest regret was "not making enough Spanish friends."

This will not be the case with me. I'm not much of a quitter to begin with, but with this challenge I'll be even less of one. Everyday, I'm going to remind myself of the amazing opportunity that has been presented to me, and I'm going to live each day to its fullest. No regrets. I know this is superbly clichéd, but I mean it. I think that in recognizing my fears, I will be able to implement actions that will render these "fears" into passing sentiments.

Adios,
Shannon