Thursday, September 11, 2014

Public Transportation

Since it's taking me so long to get through these posts, let me "re-start" by talking about one aspect of Spain, and probably Europe in general, that I thought was amazing - and that is: the public transportation.

Being from a pretty rural town, we don't have a lot of public transportation. Even at school in Raleigh, where there is a bus system, the efficiency is not all that great. Needless to say, I was amazed by the bus system in Spain. The buses were efficient, meaning they were on time, and there were plenty of them. Even if the bus wasn't on time, the system has developed an app, and a website, where you can track where you bus is, and how long until it gets to you. 

I'm mainly talking about the buses, because that's what I used the most. When we arrived, all of the students were given a bus card with 20 bus passes on it. Each ride costs one pass, and the card is refillable as you run out. You can even personalize them.

Other than buses there's the metro, plenty of bike lanes for personal bikes, and a system called "Valenbisi" which is essentially a bike rental system. With the Valenbisi you can rent a bike for 30 minutes from a checkout point. Then when you are done with it (or if you need more time, you can switch it out) just return it to a station near you.

The streets are well taken care of, with trees and recreational areas found all over the city. All in all, I loved being in such a big city as Valencia, being able to easily navigate probably played a large part in that. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Spanish Food

Let me interrupt my talking about our wonderful events, with a short explanation of a major part of the culture. The food. It's one of the things people seem to be curious about. I'll start by explaining that Spain is on the Balearic Sea, closer to the Mediterranean than you might think, so the food is very fresh, and a lot, and I mean a lot, of olive oil is used.

It may have been that my host family was just really healthy, but I didn't find the food served at the house to be all that much different from the food that my family normally eats at home. Healthy food seems to be somewhat universal in that a lot of fruits and vegetables were served, along with grilled meats. I say meats because we had dinners ranging from chicken, to white fish, to chicken burgers, to octopus.

One major difference was that in Spain, bread is served with every meal. Except breakfast, they eat little to no breakfast. At no point is bread eaten plain, there is always something to dip it in, whether it's olive oil, or the juices from the rest of the food. A native Spaniard never eats dry bread.

In an earlier post I mentioned that my host mother made me bocadillos, so let me explain what those are. Basically, they're sandwiches.  But they look like this:

Imagen: Eugeni Pons. Bocadillo de butifarra con judías de Fastvínic
At least, mine normally did. The sausage and egg, or tuna and egg were my favorite. Although there was also some kind of tomato, chili that I sometimes got which I also loved. Because of my class schedule I got a bocadillo almost everyday. The rest of the time my madre would give me a tupperware container full of something from the night before or other left-overs. The main meal was lunch, or "comida" which is served around 2:30, when I had class. So I had to pack one everyday.

There are a lot of interesting food in Valencia, which I'll talk about in a couple later posts. One about a cooking class that I was able to be a part of, and another about an excursion for my culture class. If you have any questions before then I will definitely answer them to the best of my abilities.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Old Valencia

One of the perks of being on a college trip abroad, is that the program gives us plenty of time to figure out the city alone. But, they also take us on little trips that allow us to be tourists every once in a while. Peñíscula was one thing, but early on in our trip we were able to take a walking tour of the older parts of Valencia (where we are usually trying to blend in as students, not stick out as tourists).

Everyone going on the tour met outside of the cathedral, La Catedral de Santo Cáliz, and waited for our lovely guide Paul.

A lot of the conversation was about the architecture and the different forms of construction.  I myself, being in school for civil engineering, found it to be extremely interesting. Especially when we looked at the historical events and happenings that caused the changes in design.

Since this was an opportunity to be a tourist, of course I took a lot of pictures. Here are some more.

We walked around the cathedral, and then over to the Lonja, which used to be the silk market, where I found this window. Finally, we ended up at the train station, and that concluded our tour.

Monday, July 14, 2014


During the first week of classes, we already had activities prepared for us. (As we do for the entire trip.) As it happened, the first activity with the program happened on the same day as activities for both of my classes. But right now I'm going to focus on the guided tour of the Lladro factory, the middle event of the day.

Lladro is a world renowned porcelain manufacturing company. When I say world renowned, I mean, their porcelain can be found not only in the same shopping area as Swarovski, but in the same store. I haven't been in one, but I'd imagine that some of the jewelry costs less than the porcelain.

When we got to the factory, we were welcomed by a tour-guide, and taken to watch a short video about the process of making the porcelain. The video was a brief glance at everything that they make, and a bit about the family Lladro. After the video our group was taken to see more of the process, albeit, sped up, with most of the waiting cut out. The porcelain is made in a mold, and the guide spent a little while explaining the negative and positive aspects of the process. He also told us that one mold can have up to 30 pieces. Once the porcelain has dried for a specified time, the porcelain in the middle of the mold is poured out, leaving the hollow figure. This has to dry for much longer. We got to walk around and see how the pieces are put together. The people working in the Lladro factory are professionals, and have exquisite talent. Each piece is hand-painted, and then fired according to specific instructions. I won't go into the process much deeper here, but if you ever have a chance I definitely recommend taking a tour. Whether it's Lladro, or elsewhere similar.

After the tour, the group was taken into the show room. Pictures are not allowed, so I can't show you the amazing things that they create, but -> here's a link to the website <-, so you can look for yourself. Since everything they make is of such high quality, even the slightest defect makes a figure unfit to be sold. However, there is a small shop at the factory, with said imperfect pieces at discounted prices. They are still beautiful, and to the untrained eye, there is nothing wrong with any of them.

I wish I could leave you to one last picture. But, as I said taking pictures was prohibited. Definitely take the opportunity to look through the galleries on the website. The pieces are varied, and subject matters cover a wide variety of feelings, cultures, and time periods.

Just because no blog post is complete without pictures, and I want to share the cool things I find with you, here is one of a building that I found while I was wandering Valencia one afternoon.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


After the length of my last post, and the time that it took me to write it, I've been a little put off of blogging. That being said, I do want to start telling you about all of my adventures and such.

As you know, our getting here was an interesting process. However, the next day we turned around and ran off to Peñíscola (aka Peniscola). A little history: Peñíscola is a small walled-in town in the province of Valencia, slightly north of the city. Not only does it have a beautiful beach, there's a castle! The castle was built in the 13th century by the Knight's Templar, and was later reverted to the Crown of Aragon.

The history of the castle was interesting, but I was honestly more focused on trying to drink in all the sights. Yes, the beach is amazing. But as my host-mother told me, Peñíscola is a unique town, and a beach is a beach. [Words of wisdom for anyone and everyone traveling anywhere.] So after spending enough time at the beach to eat my bocadillo and cool off in the water, I found some friends and we went wandering around the town.

Basically, once you enter the city all of the streets are uphill. I'm not exaggerating. On the way up to the castle (which you can see at the top of the picture above), there are no flat streets, none at all. A typical street looked something like this:

But then you get to the castle, and it's amazing. It's very split level, and the church below is somehow connected, but also outside? I'm not quite sure. The view from the top was breathtaking.

That's all for now, but I'll work on having slightly shorter posts, and more of them. Hasta luego!

Monday, June 30, 2014

3 Days of Travel

When I left my house at 7:00 am EST on June 25th I had no idea that it would take until about 4:00 pm CET (Summer) on the 27th, to make it to Valencia. Neither did anyone else in our group. This post is going to be long, because it was a long couple of days, but bear with me.

A few days before the group was set to leave, we were told that it was possible that our flight itinerary may change because of strikes going on in France. We're not going to France, I know, we're headed to Valencia, Spain. But, our flight connected in Paris. Anyway, because our plans weren't concrete everyone arrived at the airport in Raleigh at 9am. That way, if anything were to happen we would be able to adjust.

The funny thing is, this being my first time flying at all, much less flying internationally, the thing I was most nervous about was airport security. Actually, that's what I was the most nervous about for this whole trip. Yea, I don't know why either. In the end, or I guess really at the beginning, our flight was not moved, and we loaded onto the plane at our scheduled 2pm boarding time. Take-off was scheduled for 2:30. Once we were all on the plane the pilot came on the intercom and announced that due to weather conditions at JFK there was a ground lock. This ground lock meant that our take-off time was moved to 3:30 as we sat on the tarmac for an hour.

Another thing that I was worrying about was getting motion sick. Lately I haven't even been able to ride in the back seat of a car without feeling nauseous at some point, so a plane seems like it would be much worse. I was delighted to find that not only was I not motion sick, I could even read without a problem. Other than the one hour delay, the flight to JFK happened without any problems. We arrived in New York some time around 4:30. It took us a while to navigate the airport, but eventually all 17 of us made it to the Air France desk. There we were told that our boarding time was 7:30, although there was some problem with our connection in Paris to Valencia.

This is from the plane descending into Valencia, but I thought you might enjoy a picture.

Knowing that there would be more negotiating ahead of us, because it became clear that we were going to miss our connecting flight, the flight to Paris went fairly smoothly. It was a 6 hour flight, and while we left the airport around 8:30pm, we arrived in Paris at 9:40 or 10:00 am. Fortunately our luggage arrived with us, though we missed our connection flight to Valencia. The staff at the airport had to be working hard in order to get all 17 of us flight for the next day, so it's hard to be too bitter about the wait.

In the end we were all put on flights, the airline gave us lunch vouchers, and a stay at a hotel (with complimentary dinner). I'm willing to bet that once we got to the hotel and sorted out rooms, that everyone took a nap. At least, that's what I did. We met up for dinner at 7, and then a group was making plans to go into the city. Of course, we're in Paris, so I'm interested. The trip they were considering, a half-way guided tour with stops for pictures, was 50 euro a person. That's a lot. You all know how I've budgeted, and planned for this trip. I was trying to talk myself out of going. At the same time, I knew I would regret it if I missed this amazing opportunity. So I went. Myself, three other girls, and our driver (Errol) toured Paris, with all the lights on and people out and about. The rest of the group in other taxis behind us.

Let me just take a minute to say that not being able to have a real conversation with anyone in France (because I don't speak French) was one of the most frustrating things I have ever experienced. Definitely in the top 5. If I can encourage you to do anything, it would be to learn the language of the country you're visiting. At least to a conversational level. Yes, we weren't supposed to spend that much time in France, but I hope you can see what I'm getting at.

Now, I'm not going to tell you about racing around France taking pictures and not show you any. Here are what I consider to be the best four of the night:

The Eiffel Tower isn't as delicate as I had imagined. It's still breathtaking.

After we got back to the hotel at 1am, the rest of the traveling didn't seem as bad. Our group met in the lobby at 4am, went to the airport again, where we waited, then flew to Madrid. In Madrid we waited some more, and then flew to Valencia. Finally we got to Valencia at 4:00pm, then went through orientation, and got to go home with our host families. 

I know I sped through those last hours, but not a lot happened, and I'm honestly happily surprised if you've kept reading this far. Please leave any comments or questions below. Until next time.

One last note: I'm keeping a journal of everything that happens, so I can get as much feeling, and be as accurate as possible with these posts. That being said, there will most likely be a considerable time lapse between these events are taking place, and when I am able to sit down and write about them. Thanks for understanding.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


I am leaving tomorrow! While I can barely get this through my head, I suppose that means it's time for me to finally post about my packing experience.

First of all, I am attempting to take as little as possible, while still taking everything that I need. Right now the majority of the weight of my bag is taken up by toiletries. You know, the necessities, shampoo, conditioner. But then I also included things like, sunscreen, lotion, and a couple other hair products. And where would I be without my acne wash and cream? Up the creek, that's where. A majority of those things I was able to fit in the L.L.Bean toiletry bag that I've had for years. The rest I put in zip-lock bags so they wouldn't leak everywhere.

The other items in my check bag include a beach towel, sneakers, my yoga mat (yes, I am taking my yoga mat, and man does it take up some space), and then my clothes. Clothing for this trip includes:
  • about six dresses, 
  • two tank tops, 
  • one pair of non-workout shorts, 
  • one pair of jeans
  • two bathing suits
  • one pair of work-out shorts, 
  • yoga pants, 
  • two t-shirts (for exercise), 
  • underwear, etc.
  • and last but not least, pajamas
Normally I roll my clothes, even to put them in my drawers at home. In an effort to be as efficient as possible, and hopefully have a major reduction in wrinklage, I did a little research on different packing methods.

What I found could potentially be called the burrito method, and is similar to rolling. You start with all of your underwear, etc. in the middle, tightly wrapped in a t-shirt. Order the rest of your clothing from least-likely-to-wrinkle to most-likely-to-wrinkle, and then simply wrap the pieces one by one around this core. (Garments most-tailored/most-likely-to-wrinkle on the outside). My end product looked like this: 

Which is why I say it could be called the burrito method. This bundle is about a foot across, and a little over 6 or 7 inches tall. Since there is a chance that our luggage won't arrive at exactly the same time that we do, I have a similar, smaller bundle in my carry on with a couple days worth of clothes.

A carry on is for much more than clothes though, as I'm sure many of you know. It's where I have more valuable items, things I need to be easily accessible. Below you can see I have some electronics, my straightener (which I opted to take instead of a hair dryer), an umbrella, my bible and journal, and some reading materials provided by the program. Not shown, but included are a small make-up and jewelry bag, and some other electronics.

And how could I possibly make it through such a long flight process without some for-me books?

Even though it still hasn't hit me that I'm leaving, I think I'm ready to go. My mom is taking me to the airport early tomorrow morning, and I honestly don't think the reality of this trip will hit me until I've been in Valencia for three days.

¡Hasta pronto!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Getting My Funds in Order

In an effort to be as honest and helpful as possible, I am going to be extremely transparent when it comes to money, and my funding this trip abroad.

For those of you out there who are considering Study Abroad, but don't think you can afford it, I promise, if you start looking around you'll be surprised who all wants to help you.

Normally I am the type of person to look at every detail of a trip/experience/whatever, and then worry about every single one until I am so stressed out I can barely sleep. But worrying about gathering money for this trip hasn't really crossed my mind at all. I say "gathering" because that is how it feels. I seem to have found support in several different places, for which I am extremely grateful.

Now, don't think that because I wasn't stressing out about where my funds would come from that I wasn't doing anything. All of the money from my summer jobs for the past couple of years has been going in a savings account (kept separate from the checking account I regularly use) with the idea that it would all be for the study abroad trip that I got to take at some point. Being in college, there are other expenses that come up, books being a primary one, so occasionally I had to dip into my travel fund to cover miscellaneous expenses as well. Even with having to sometimes use this fund for school, I ended up being able to build up about $2500. Money from the part-time job I picked up last semester also went in this fund.

The program itself costs $4550, along with a plane ticket (that ended up being $2089.10) and other costs such as new luggage (mine didn't meet the size requirements for flight, since I've never flown before) as well as covering the excursion trips (to Barcelona and Granada), class supplies, and other every-day expenses like transportation and pocket money.

Obviously my $2500 wasn't going to cut it. So I applied for Study Abroad scholarships through NCSU. Being my impatient self, I was beginning to think that I hadn't received any help, until I checked my Study Abroad account one day and saw that I had received $2000 in scholarships! It came in the form of two separate scholarships, one for maintaining a blog (which I was planning to do any way), and another generous scholarship (the L. I. Felner) of $1000.

Again, for those of you out there who are considering Study Abroad, but don't think you can afford it, I promise, if you start looking around you'll be surprised who all wants to help you.

Along with scholarship money, I was given a generous gift of $2000 from my grandmother. While I know that not every has a family who can help them out in this way, I am grateful that mine did, and didn't want to leave them out.

That puts my funds at about $6500. Which is almost enough to cover the cost of the program and the ticket. However, knowing that there would be more miscellaneous costs, I kept looking. One of the first places I went was the Financial Aid office at NCSU (separate from the Study Abroad offices). My advisor informed me that because I turned down some of my loans for the spring semester, I could take them now, and put them towards use with my trip. Which I then did. Bringing my total up to about $8800. Which is more than enough to cover everything for the trip (as long as I don't go crazy).

I know that I'm throwing out these numbers like they're estimates, but the total is pretty close. I am currently in the process of planning my budget for the trip, so afterwards I will write a post about the details of my spending and paying for the trip.

I hope this was helpful/encouraging for you all reading. I leave in less than a month! so I'll be posting about packing sometime before I go.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Somehow, knowing that I'm going to spend four weeks in Spain this summer was simultaneously encouraging me to finish the semester strong, and to drop everything so that summer could come faster... which is both a positive and negative way to view the end of the school year.

With exams finally over I can begin to focus on this Valencia trip. I was waiting, because I knew that once I started working out details and planning, that's all that I would be able to focus on. And can I just say, the anticipation has been killing me! A couple weeks ago I was in the library trying to study for my economics final, when an email notification popped up on my screen announcing that our housing assignments had been finalized. It was all I could do to keep from jumping up and down in excitement, which of course would disturb everyone else diligently studying for finals.

Of course, as soon as I got the chance, I looked up the address on google maps and "walked" around a little bit using the street view tool. Now, Valencia is a metropolitan area, and my housing assignment is, of course, in an apartment. So that in itself is going to be an adjustment for me. All of my life I've lived in houses with large yards, and not really had neighbors to speak of. It will be exciting though, being surrounded by people, taking advantage of the time to improve my Spanish as much as possible.

Along with sort-of exploring the area, I have started to think about packing. First of all, I'm going to need a new suitcase. The bag that I have that I would normally pack in doesn't fit within the dimension specifics for flying. If you have any suggestions for a new bag I would love to hear them. Also, as far as wardrobe goes, I want to blend in as much as possible. Which means leaving things that are stereotypically "American" at home, such as t-shirts and jeans. Not only am I trying to get out of the American look, this will be my first time flying, as well as my first trip out of the country, so packing is probably going to take a while. Nervousness is definitely one of the feelings I've got right now. Reading other travel blogs for suggestions on packing and how to successfully pack what you need and only what you need has taken up a bit of my time. There are also some other miscellaneous things that I will need to pick up before I leave, like an outlet adapter, and possibly a voltage adapter as well.

As I pack I will be sure to take pictures, and share with everyone, hopefully to be helpful to you in the future if you do any traveling. An evaluation upon retuning will also be necessary, to let you know if I actually needed everything that I took, and if I wished that I had anything else.

My thoughts are all over the place, as you can tell. Right now all I know for sure is: I'm going, and I'm excited. Given that this post is mainly my thoughts and feelings, I don't have any pictures to share. Sorry about that. Thanks for reading this far, and I hope we take this adventure together.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Woohoo! Orientation!

"Woohoo Orientation!" Were you ever expecting to think that?, because I wasn't. But I was so excited to get started with preparing for this summer, I couldn't help it.

As with any school-organized, or large group event, orientation is necessary for the participants involved. The way my orientation is organized right now, it is split into three sessions. The first, general session was a few days ago in late March. The first Valencia specific session will be in early April, and the last a couple of weeks after that.

The first session was all about the basics. Anything that NCSU needed to say was said during that session. Everyone on any study abroad program was supposed to be there. We all checked in, and at check in we got a "Pre-departure Handbook". In it is all of the information, or at least directions as to how to find all of the information that we could possibly need while preparing to leave. A few of the bigger points that were covered during this orientation were safety, and coping with culture-shock, which will undoubtedly be a part of the trip. 

Culture shock is a very personal and individual experience, how quickly it sets in, how long it lasts, and the ways it can be dealt with, are all specific to you and the situation you are encountering. One thing that was strongly encouraged, and which I hope to be able to do, is to jump in to the local culture. Not to the point that you wear yourself out in the first few days, but going in with an open mind, allowing the newness to have an effect on you, and to not create a bubble of American culture around yourself. This American bubble is often negatively referred to as The Ugly American.

Picture credit to Rawhide Travel and Tours®

The persona of the "Ugly American" probably has some reference to the book/movie, but I think was mostly tied to the stereotypes that American tourists have brought upon themselves.

        -The Ugly American is the loudest person on the subway, or
          in the restaurant.
        -The Ugly American is the person who hasn't cared enough to
          pick up on the subtle social nuances of the culture they
          are currently a part of .
        -The Ugly American is the person who refuses to try and
          understand the people around them, but instead makes
          judgements about everything based on the ideals and
          perspectives that they learned at home.
        -The Ugly American is the person who has made no effort to
          learn even a smidgen of the local language, and instead
          treats people who are not able, or are just not willing,
          to speak English with them as stupid.
        -The Ugly American is rude, is obnoxious, and thinks too
          highly of himself.

Personally, I hate that this stereotype has been put in place, but as long as there are American tourists who behave this way, I don't see it going away any time soon.

Anyway, that was the biggest thing I took away from the first orientation. I can't wait for the second session, with just the Valencia people. That should be when I finally get to meet the other 28 or so of them.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My First Trip Abroad

Let me start this with a little bit of background information. As you can tell from the title, I have never been outside of the United States before. With-in the States I have traveled a bit, trips to Philadelphia, D.C. to the north, then more extensive traveling to the south, including Florida, Georgia, Alabama, even a day trip to New Orleans.

That being said, I have dreamed of traveling for as long as I can remember. I also talk about it a lot, even though at this point in my life I haven't gone very far. My parents are even expecting/planning on being able to visit me at my foreign house (at some point in the future). I think that everyone has those dreams that they have as kids. Their parents encourage it, usually just because they're glad that their kid has big dreams. Well, traveling the world was my dream, and I never stopped talking about it. The fact that this summer will be my first step toward what I consider to be my life's goal makes me a little giddy. Valencia, Spain will be my first trip.

Map courtesy of

I've decided to write about my trip on my personal blog, rather than starting a new one, as I did with my SOUL experience last summer. The difference being that SOUL was a job, and this is simply part of my life as a student. I also wanted those posts to be easily distinguishable from others, whereas I hope to continue documenting my travels here throughout my life.

Though my trip isn't until late June, I want to go ahead and start documenting the process. Beginning with examining my expectations. My hope is that I remember to come back to this list afterwards and relate my experiences back to it.

     1) My number one expectation is that this trip will help me to
        be much more confident in my Spanish speaking. I am
        currently pretty proficient at reading and writing, even
        listening. But when I go to speak, I am so scared of making
        mistakes that I just don't say anything.

     2) An expectation that I have of myself is that in this trip I
        am able to become more flexible. By that I mean better able
        to go with a change of plans, or to make plans on the fly.
        As far as organized people go, I am one of the more
        organized people that I know, however with organization
        brings a certain rigidity in the plans that I make. I'm
        hoping that with this trip I am able to have a plan, but be
        more willing to change with changing conditions and

     3) When I leave Spain I want to be able to cook a solid
        Spanish meal, hopefully a skill learned from my host-

     4) If you've read any of my other posts, you may know
        that I love photography. Throughout this trip, I want to
        focus some on my photography. I want to capture as much of
        the people, the culture, the way of life as accurately as I
        possibly can. I hope that my pictures will begin to reach
        another level as far as connecting the viewer to the
        subject of the photo.