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Gap Year Abroad

21 posts categorized "Lauren Bechtel"


:::My Last Adventure:::

I'm writing this entry on my iPod again, because I didn't want to being my laptop to Morocco... Yes, you read that right, Morocco!


{A Plaza in Chefchaouen}

It's my last weekend in Europe, and so I figured I would mix things up a little by going to Africa for a few days. Living in Andelucia means that I am perfectly situated to visit Northern Africa, however, the trip isn't an easy one.

First comes a 2.5 hour bus ride to Gibraltar, then a 1 hour ferry across the straight of Gibraltar to Ceuta, then a 20 minute bus ride to the border, then 20 minutes passing through customs, and then another 40minute bus ride because our hotel was in Tetouan. Rooming in the hotel was fun, but it's harder than you think to remember to NOT put your toothbrush in the water from the sink! (If you're not from Morocco, it's dangereous to drink the water).


In one weekend, we managed to see three different cities! Tetouan was my first glimpse into the life of the Moroccan. Even though Seville is only a few hours away from Morocco, it feels like a different world. The primary language in Morocco is Arabic, and second, French. Despite this, all the street vendors and tour guides knew multiple languages!

Another difference is that while Spain is mainly Catholic, the entire nation of Morocco is essentially Islamic. Religion influences nearly every aspect of their culture, from the color of the walls in Chef-Chaouin (blue represents the love of god, or the love for god), to the location of the public water fountains (potable water fountains are always right outside the Mosques, so the people can purify themselves before prayers). 


Morocco was an awesome experience, and I wish that I had more time to visit! Three days just isn't enough!

{My Traveling Group - I'm in the tan jacket on the bottom right :) }

FUTURE STUDY ABROADERS: If you are studying abroad in Spain, you should definitely make a trip to Morocco! If at all possible, try to go on a 4 or 5 day trip, because it takes 6 hours to get there, and one full day just isnt enough!



:::The Conch and the Pinxtos:::

Today Oihane and her family brought me to the gorgeous city of San Sebastian


Her father described the cities of the Basque Country to me as such: "Bilbao is capital of industry, Vitoria is the capital of politics, and San Sebastian is the capital of beauty"

I am inclined to agree.

From the towering spires of the Cathedral of San Sebastián to the gorgeous "conch" or shell shaped beach, this city is amazing. While walking around the city, my family kept laughing at me, because I was constantly gasping in delight. 






We spent a few hours just walking around and enjoying the views before we went to a few bars to eat Pinxtos for lunch. Let me explain a little bit about pinxtos. They are kind of similar to tapas, but while tapas are usually just a small portion of a food that you can order in larger amounts (or racion) a pinxto is a small delicacy usually served on a slice of bread with a toothpick holding it together. Pinxto is the Euskeran name for pincho (spanish for "spike" -ie, the toothpick) and it is pronounced "peen-cho." 

Imagine you are in the US and you want to eat lunch at... Friendly's, for example. Your situation would go kind of like this:
-You drive the restaurant, park your car and walk in.
-You are seated by the hostess and given your menus.
-You are greeted by your friendly (no pun intended) waitress, who then asks you what you want to drink
-You spend a few minutes looking at the menu and then...
-You order your food, usually one entree per person
-You receive your drinks, and wait awhile... and then
-You receive your (huge american sized) meal
-You eat!
-You order dessert, and then eat that too
-You ask for the check, pay and then leave. 

Now, imagine that you are eating lunch in San Sebastián. 
-You walk to the bar, because the best bars are on streets where cars cannot pass. 
-You walk in and hope that there is a table or counter free, because again, the best bars are usually full of people. 
-You order your drinks (anything from a beer to a glass of fresh-pressed orange juice)
-You claim a spot, and then make your way to the bar to observe the pinxtos.
-You take or ask for a plate, then fill it with whatever looks good (and EVERYTHING looks good!)
-You show your plate to the waiter behind the bar, and you pay right there. If your pinxto is better warm, you can ask the waiter to heat it up for you.
-You eat your pinxtos. 
-And then, for more variety, you leave the bar and repeat the whole process at another bar. 


This is another famous sight in San Sebastian - the "Turtle" Island, because it looks like a turtle when viewed from the air. 17-IMG_3168

Me (Lauren), Marie-Carmen, and Oihane in front of a large modern art statue on the coast.20-IMG_3172

Overall, I LOVED San Sebastian!

FUTURE STUDY ABROADERS: If San Sebastian isn't a part of your itenerary, find a way to visit it yourself! It is GORGEOUS and I wish I had more time to explore. 


::Another Adventure - In the Basque Country::

My family loves hosting exchange students, and in the summer of 2011 we hosted a girl my age from Vitoria-Gasteiz, (the second largest city in the Basque Country in the north of Spain - close to the French border) for one month. It was the beginning of a cool friendship. When Oihane found out I was going to study abroad in Spain for three months, she insisted that I come visit her and stay with her family... and so here I am :)

(A view of Vitoria from the window of a car) 

Remember my entry about the first time walking into an airport alone feeling like the first time driving alone? Well, that day was easy - because within a matter of twenty minutes I found the rest of the americans with whom I was traveling. My first REAL solo flight was from Sevilla to Bilbao, and oh my goodness, it was nerve-wracking. 

I took the autobus solo.
I went through security solo.
I waited in the terminal solo.
I got on the plane solo.
I flew solo.

But Oihane and her Papa met me in the airport in Bilbao, and I had never been happier to see a familiar face. But now that I've done this solo-flying thing once, I know that my return flight won't be half so scary. 

Also, I took this rainbow that we passed as a good omen for the rest of the trip :)


Vitoria-Gasteiz is quite a change from Sevilla. For one thing, it is located on the complete opposite side of the country. Vitoria is the second largest city in the "Basque Country" - and because it is in the "Pais Vasco" it also has it's own language - Euskara. This language is completely different than Spanish altogether. Look at this picture - it shows two signs, one with each language, and you will understand what I mean!


That's all for now, but I will try to update more often!

If you know that you want to study abroad, consider hosting an exchange student in your own home. Your family can host a student for a 2 weeks or 9 months. It is a GREAT opportunity to learn about other cultures, and to form relationships that will be incredibly rewarding. It is so awesome to see Oihane's world, as she saw my world back in the states. 

---I am so grateful to her and her lovely parents for welcoming me into their home and showing me their gorgeous homeland - I am so indebted to them!!!---


A GIRLS Guide to Sevilla {Part 1}

Part of the reason that I wanted to blog was so that I could help to prepare other students for the same kind of adventure… You know, like that nice big sister that tells you what to do on the first day of high school. 

Also… I'm a girl. Girls like to plan things. Maybe that’s a stereotype, but for me it’s a very true stereotype. So, here are the answers to every question a girl studying abroad in Sevilla might ask!

Hope this helps anyone who wants to come to Sevilla!

PANTS: In Sevilla, it is HOT. However, even though its pretty hot until mid October, You will stick out like a sore thumb (or, worse, an American) if you wear shorts. Young adults wear pants even when it’s hot. *If you want to buy pants here, be prepared to spend about 22-25 Euros. 
PAJAMAS: People do not wear loungewear in public. This means no PJ pants (que horror!) sweatpants, or yoga pants. Thanks to styles right now, you can get away with leggings if you have a long top as well. Spaniards (as a whole) dress nicer than Americans on the average day.
POPULAR STYLES: They will change! Always remember to stay true to yourself – and to what you enjoy wearing! However, just for your reference, right now (Fall 2012) the most popular items are boots (of all shapes and sizes), skinny jeans (all colors), and big sweaters. 
SHOES: Honestly, save yourself some space in your suitcase and ONLY pack shoes that you can walk a mile in. Literally. I AM SERIOUS. Walk a mile in your shoes! If you get blisters, don’t bring them. (There are a lot of shoe stores here – and you can find quite the variety for between 20-30 euros)  
HOUSE SHOES: You are required to wear shoes in the house all the time (my host mom tells me that I will get sick if I go barefoot…) So bring slippers from home or buy them here. No getting around it. 

SHAMPOO/CONDITIONER: If you use Pantene, Revlon, Tresseme, or Herbal Essence – no worries! You can find it here! If you use something else, either change or bring it with you. 
RAZORS: They are SUPER expensive here! So just pack some from home in your checked luggage and don’t worry about it!
FACEWASH: The only brand they have is Clean and Clear – and very limited varieties. If you need a certain brand, bring it with you. 
TOOTHPASTE: I can’t remember right now, but they only have EITHER Crest OR Colgate. I’ll check when I’m next in the grocery store. 

If you were wondering, YES, there are "regular" feminine hygiene products in Spain! However, the only options you have for Tampons/Pads are pretty much tampax and a Spanish brand, Evax. If you like your Playtex Sport tampons, for example, bring them from home because you won’t be able to get them here.
BRAS: European sizing is different (I don’t quite understand it). And my “larger” friends can’t seem to find bras that fit. So, if you’re larger than a C, take extra precautions to make sure you bring what you need from home!


::Home vs. Here::

I don't want to compare Spain with the United States... but let's be honest. After the "honeymoon" period of studying abroad (the first few weeks where absolutely everything is just soooooo awesome!!!!...) you start to miss the comforts of home. 

So here goes:
  • Coffee Creamer - I can't find this in the grocery store, and putting "leche desdenata" isn't much better than water (skim milk).
  • Clean or spacious bathrooms - All the buildings here are old, and the bathrooms are absolutely TEENY. If you have more than a foot between the toilet and the door, you're lucky. And as a general rule, they're not very clean. Not sure why.
  • Being barefoot - wall-to-wall carpeting? What's that? .... There are no rugs in my house, and my host mom insists that I will get sick if I go barefoot on the cold marble floors. So, slippers and socks all the time.
  • Yoga pants - I haven't seen a single spaniard on the street in sweatpants. Sigh. Oh well, I have college to look forward to! 
  • Peanut butter - I found ONE brand in ONE grocery store... and it's so expensive :( But there is SO much Nutella... so I'll survive until I get home :)
  • I like eating lunch at noon and dinner at 6. Even though I've been here a month and a half, I'm still not used to eating a huge meal at 2:30 and a little dinner at 9.
That said, I love it here. 
  • Sidewalks are wider than the streets - It's so much easier to walk or bike to your destination than to drive! 
  • Sevici - In Sevilla (and many other european cities) the bike exchange initiative took place several years ago. Right now, there are over 2,500 bikes available at over 200 locations all over the city. For €30 a year, you can bike pretty much anywhere, at any time, for free if it's under 30 minutes! THIS IS AWESOME. 
  • Heladerías (ice cream stores!!!) on every corner! - The ice cream/gelato here is fantastic. And with flavors like Venetian Cake (chocolate with vanilla cake and orange pieces) and Stracciatella (vanilla gelato with chocolate shavings), how can you resist?
  • The food. OH MY GOODNESS THE FOOD. Paella, Spanish Tortillas, Chocolate con Churros, to name a few. Everything is delicious! 
  • The history - "antiguidad" - In comparison to the Roman Ruins of Italica (around 3rd century), or even the Cathedral itself (15th century), the US is like a baby. 
... I'm sure that more will be added to the list later!
FUTURE EXCHANGE STUDENTS: Make sure that you read a few articles on homesickness, or read what your study abroad program has written for you about it - just to prepare yourself for the feelings that you will have. It definitely helps to know that pretty much everybody goes through the same cycle of feelings!


::My Highlight::

















::The Other Universal Language: Food::

CLIC (Centro de Lenguas e Intercambio Culturales) is a haven for international students. At one point in time, you can be sure that in CLICs three buildings, a student represents nearly every nationality on the planet.

I am in Aula 3, and my class (as of last week) consisted of Swede, two Koreans, and five Americans. In my five weeks of class, I have been in class with a Swiss, two Italians, a Hungarian, a Scot, a German, and a few other Americans. My friend Ellika (the Swede) had been with us for a month, but today was her last day, so we decided to celebrate by having our own international day.

We came to class and promptly went to the Corte Ingles (the local "everything" store - it's like a mix between a supermarket, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Macys) to buy our ingredients. Our food? Puppy Chow and Kimpab.

Quick Quiz: True/False: It is harder to find ingredients for Puppy Chow than for Kimpab.

For all you non-Koreans, Kimpab is essentially a korean style of sushi, without raw fish, made with seaweed, rice, carrots, cucumber, sesame oil, something that I didn't know the name of, eggs, cheese, tuna, ham, and something else that I didn't recognize. For all you other people (Americans: you should know this!) Puppy chow is a traditional Christmas (or any other time you crave it) snack/dessert, made from Chex Cereal, Peanut Butter, Chocolate, and Powdered Sugar.

Believe it or not... We could not find Chex, Crispix, or anything else that even resembled the little rice waffles. So we substituted bran flakes and some cereal like Mini Wheats. Spaniards (and Europeans in general) don't eat peanut butter (that's what Nutella is for!) so we found exactly one brand of peanut butter in the grocery store. Powdered sugar was another adventure - because the "Azucar Glass" was in a separate section from the regular "Azucar." And the chocolate? We bought a few bars of melting chocolate because chocolate chips don't exist here either.

So the answer to our little quiz? TRUE.

We went up to CLICs kitchen, my American friend Alex turned up the volume some tunes, and we all had a blast preparing our food together. This is one of the things I appreciate the most about my classes here in Spain - even though most of us speak different native languages, we can share and enjoy experiences together because we all speak spanish.

Next to Math, Food seems to be the next universal language. I am now a Kimpab convert, and our Korean friends snagged the Puppy Chow recipe that we converted into Spanish. International day? Success :)

FUTURE STUDY ABROAD STUDENTS: Before coming to Spain, I thought that it would be fun to make some traditional american food for my host family... but I hadn't realized how hard it would be to find the simple ingredients. Dont get me wrong! The grocery stores have nearly everything you want! But if you want to make chocolate chip cookies, bring chocolate chips from the United States. If you want to eat peanut butter, bring some with you. That might seem counter-intuitive, because both of those weigh down your suitcase - but when it's time to return home, you will be glad that you have the extra weight/space in your suitcase. ALSO: While we're on the subject of stuff from home: bring your own razors! They are INCREDIBLY expensive here!


::Tu Eres Como mi Nieta::

Homesickness is a bear. 

Or maybe, I am just

Homesick (for a) bear (hug). 
This past week was particularly hard. I've been in Spain for a little over a month now, and I honestly love it. Every day here is a new adventure, even when all I do is go to class and take a siesta during the afternoon... but even though I love Sevilla, I miss my family and friends from home. 

People in Spain greet each other with a kiss on each cheek. It's a very nice custom, I like how friendly the gesture is - even though I still think in my head "left-then-right" before I lean in. 

But when it comes down to it, two air kisses are nowhere near as comforting as a plain old american hug. The kind of hug from your best friends, where you can barely breathe from being squeezed so hard. 

I was feeling pretty down after dinner tonight when my Mama called me from the stairs. I went out to see what she needed, and she came up to the stairs to talk to me. She then explained, with a tear in her eye, that she realized that I had been here a month, and that she was very fond of me. She leaned in and hugged me! Ah! My first hug from my host mom! She ended our conversation by telling me, "tu eres como mi nieta" - or in other words, "you are like my granddaughter."


I think I'll go to bed feeling a little less homesick tonight. 


::Cadiz, Round 2!::

I love the beach. 

I also live in Lancaster, PA... the closest beach is 3 hours away. I'm going to university in upstate New York, I don't even want to think about how far away the beach is from there...

Since Cadiz is only an hour and a half away... I figured, why not? 13-IMG_2733

It was a great decision! The weather here in October is a teensy bit chilly for the beach, but it was great in the middle of the day. My friends and I got up early on a gorgeous saturday morning and made our way to the Bus Station on Prada San Sebastian - my first time buying a bus ticket! We climbed on the bus and watched the scenery pass us by as we traveled to the beach. The landscape here is VERY different from my home - everything here is very dry, with the occasional olive grove set amongst the hills. 11-IMG_2727

We arrived in Cadiz and made our way to the beach on the OTHER side of town (vs last weekend) and enjoyed the sunshine. However, the Atlantic Ocean is just as cold on this side as it is in the US! 

But it is even more breathtakingly beautiful :) I hope you enjoy the pictures in this post, 01-IMG_2702

If you are taking an independent bus trip, make sure that you go to the station a day or more BEFORE you want leave, so you know the hours and prices for the bus you want to take! 
Then, on the day that you are traveling, arrive at least 30 minutes prior in order to purchase your ticket; make sure to purchase BOTH ways at the same time - Ida y Vuelta! If you don't purchase tickets for both ways you might be out of luck - if you dont, the bus might be full for the way home later that day and you wont be able to return. IE, SUPER STRESSFUL. 

If you dont arrive early enough you may not be able to purchase a ticket in time to get on the bus. I think that you can buy your tickets a few days in advance, but I'm not entirely sure because I haven't done that yet. You may want to wait until the day you want to go to ensure that the weather is good to go.


::Sevilla by Night + Introspection::

Tonight the American girls in my CIEE program went out for dinner :) 

We're such a varied bunch! Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut... I think there are more hometown states, but I cant remember, oh well. 

We found a little moroccan restaurant by the Puerta de Jerez (a central part of the historic downtown) and took our food to sit by the river Guadalquivir... It is so beautiful at night. 


Watching the river always makes me feel introspective. 

When blogging, I am constantly faced with the feeling that what I have to say isn't interesting... or if it is interesting, then it isn't entertaining... Blogging is a lot harder than it seems. You have to have to honestly believe that what you are experiencing is worth sharing!

So, when the feelings of being boring strike, I remind myself that I am in Spain. Even if I had no other reason but to keep a record for myself later in life, blogging about my life here WILL be interesting! These moments that I am experiencing - I won't have them again. 

In class this week, my professer challenged me with the idea that: 

 If you forget your past, you forget your identity. 
I'm not entirely sure that I agree, but I do know that if I forget this experience... if I don't write down the memories that I have made... then I won't be able to look back and see my growth. 

Why travel? Why separate myself from my family and loved ones for so long? Why live in spain? Why learn another language? ....

The answer is always, in some form, to grow. 

So, that's what I'm doing. It might not always be interesting, but it's always happening. Thank you, to all my readers, for sharing in this experience with me. I hope this is a reminder to you to take the time and recognize the things in your own lives that are causing you to grow, right now. 

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