Saturday, September 26, 2009

Semester 1: Picking classes

Firstly, happy birthday Jacki!

Last Wednesday we each met with our director to have him "approve" our course selections for the semester. Since then, I have seen him two separate times, changing two of my class selections. Thus, I'm currently planning to take:


  • Fonética
  • Sintaxis comparada inglés/español
  • Literatura española I
  • Complutense
    • Religión y Sociedad
    The changes I made in the later half of this week resulted in 4 classes that will all transfer to Spanish credits at UW. I was originally taking a Reunidas class that would have transferred to Poli Sci 690, and an Anthro course that would hopefully have transferred to some type of Anthro credit, but that wasn't for sure.

    However, I currently have no backup for my Complutense course, which we're all required to have. There's a limit of 5 Americans in every Complutense course, so I need a second choice in case my class is full, or if something doesn't work out.

    I wanted to take something that I have background knowledge in... but that's not the case for History, Geography, Filology, Art history, etc. Hence, I'm struggling to find a second choice. But I'll pick one by Monday. And just hope that I get into my first choice...


    Regarding our "Curso Intensivo," our last day of classes were yesterday. All that's left now is our art exam on Tuesday, history and grammar exams on Wednesday, and turning in our ethnography papers on Wednesday as well. I'm very much looking forward to our 4 day break between exams and semester #1!
  • Sunday, September 20, 2009

    Noche en blanco

    Last night was Madrid's annual Noche en Blanco, a city-wide cultural event which took place from 9pm - 6.30 this morning. Many of the streets down town are closed for the night, since they become stuffed to the brim with people. Some of the events included: poetry, live music, bike tours, open museums, exhibitions, dancing, performances, etc.

    I headed out with some friends around 10pm, and couldn't believe how many people there were! And this was throughout the entire downtown area where events were taking place. Look at this map and see how spread out this event was - every blue dot was a different happening.

    The line for the Prado was ridiculously long, and I remembered our grammar professor had warned us about that. She said people will spend 2-3 hours waiting in line at the museums during noche en blanco, which really cuts down on your time to explore other parts of the city. So we didn't wait, which was perfectly fine with me.

    There were a couple of screens throughout the city projecting dance instructing movies. "Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho! Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho!" It was fun to watch everyone try the dance - I sneakily snapped some pictures of these kids:

    After being amazed at how many people were out last night, I was even more taken aback at how many people were squeezed onto the metro when we headed home. The metro stayed open until 3a last night, rather than its usual 1:30a. It was as if the train was a clown car - except nobody came out... yet more kept going in. We didn't fit on the first train at our stop, but decided to force ourselves on to the next one - no matter how tight it was.

    There's a 'noche en blanco' album up on my Shutterfly site with many more photos, so take a look!

    Also, click HERE to see a two-minute movie with footage from the night.

    Well, did my first load of laundry in the apartment this afternoon, and I think it's time for me to hang everything up outside. Hasta luego!

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Second night at the apartment

    If you haven't discovered them yet, pictures of the apartment are up (same site as the Segovia pictures, or use the "Pictures" site under the 'About Me' section on the sidebar -->)

    I moved in everything yesterday, hence spent my first night here last night. Gregorio called around 8p yesterday to tell me that Zuzana, my second roommate whom I hadn't met yet, would be returning from her 5-week vacation at 1.30 this morning. I didn't wake up when she came in last night, but it was nice to know ahead of time in case I had. Met her this morning - she's really nice.

    Again, I'm a bad judge at age, but I'd guess upper 20's? Also, I think she's from Slovakia? She pointed on a map, but it was a small map, and I didn't recognize the city she said she's from. I should clear these things up and find out for sure. She's lived in Madrid for two years, though, so she speaks castellano (Castilian) - which is just what I need to pick up. She is currently skyping with someone and speaking.... um whatever her language is - definitely not castellano!

    It's crazy to think that last week is our final week of classes for our "Curso Intensivo". Then the following week we have exams. Glad to be starting the semester soon, but I have lots to do before this course is done. For history, we have a three page paper due next Friday... which I haven't started on yet. We have very short, broad instructions for the paper. Write about one of the 12 topics (time periods) we've covered, and include your opinion. I don't like things left so open-ended, which is probably why I haven't started yet. Also, it's history.

    For Grammar, we have that six page ethnography due the day of our final (remember now, the pages are longer here - A4 paper!). Our outlines are due tomorrow, so I started some research tonight via the interwebs. After those two papers get written, then it's just a matter of learning Spain's history from 600.000 BC - present day for our history exam! Ugg. And at some point I need to learn and memorize everything we've covered thus far in our art class. Which will be harder, since we have no text or resources to refer back to. Just the lectures... which are hard to sit through, so my notes must surely have holes.

    Off to do some readings for history, and finish that outline!

    Monday, September 14, 2009

    First differences I noticed

    between Madrid and the US*:
    • There are no screens on any of the windows here. They apparently do not mind bugs flying in, or whatever else would like to venture through the openings.
    • No drinking fountains! You also have to pay for water at a majority of the restaurants, which I was quite bummed to find out when I was charged at a restaurant in Segovia.
    • Milk comes in "bricks" (rectangular boxes) and is not refrigerated until after it's opened and used.
    • You can order a beer at McDonald's
    • There aren't dryers here for doing laundry... everyone hangs it up on clotheslines to dry.
    • The sidewalks aren't made with cement slobs like ours - here they're all brick/stone, giving the city a more historic, towny feel.
    • No peanut butter here!
    • The climate is a lot drier in Madrid
    • Everyone smokes (I decided to write my 6 pg. ethnography for our grammar class on the differences between smoking in the US and Spain - I'm going to research some history, government involvement, health statistics, etc)
    • People bag their own food at grocery stores.
    • Light switches for the bathrooms are located just outside of the bathroom on a nearby wall. Learned this when I was searching and searching for the switch at our restaurant in Segovia. Though, the light switches to our private bathrooms in our dorm rooms were also outside of the bathroom... I just never really noticed the difference.
    • Speaking of bathrooms... let's talk about toilets! They use a lot less water, as there is only a little bit of water down in the bottom of the toilet to start with. To flush, there will either be a button to push, or a lever to pull up.
    • Grades are not private here like they are in the US. Grades are posted outside of classrooms, where students can check it to see their grade - as well as everyone else's.
    • There aren't classes on Wednesday. I don't know if this is the case for elementary/secondary schools and such, but it is of the university. And it's amazing! A week is SO do-able in two-day increments. Tuesdays feel like Fridays... Wednesdays like Sundays... Then when Thursday feels like a Monday again, you only have one day until Friday!
    • They're also big on recycling here, thumbs up. I just went to the grocery store, and my roommate handed me two plastic bags on my way out the door. I thought he was just reusing them to reuse them, which is great of course. When I got to the checkout line at this grocery store, I saw that the plastic bags were hanging up before the check out, because you have to buy the bags. I think they were three cents a piece. So I got one, because I ended up needing 3 bags. But, that's smart.
    • And finally, speaking of grocery stores... another thumbs up for Madrid is that the baskets at grocery stores have wheels and retractable handles, just like luggage w/ wheels. Very handy.
    *Some of these are probably repeats from earlier posts, but I wanted to compile them all to one location.

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    Segovia pics are up

    Segovia pictures are up finally! Click HERE to view them.

    Went to the bank yesterday and opened an account here. I haven't been up to anything too exciting, hence the lack of posts. Since classes started on Monday, I've been a bit more busy than last week - and following the same basic routine each day. If anything notable occurs, I'll be sure to let y'all know.

    Hasta luego!

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009

    My first...

    ... rain in Spain! Thundered about ten minutes ago while it was still completely sunny and warm. Now the rain has finally decided to fall - lightly and thinly. The sky's only about two shades dimmer; it sill looks pleasant out, and the rain smells delicious from my open window.

    Hmm, and it seems to be dying down now.

    Monday, September 7, 2009


    Every day I find myself converting:
    1. Time: But getting somewhat used to using all 24 hrs.
    2. Temperature: Have yet to grasp Celsius
    3. Euros: I use 1.5, because it's easiest to calculate, but this conversion is always joyless.

    Mi piso

    After lunch on Saturday, I called some more places... with no luck. Tried a new site and clicked on a link with one of the lower prices I'd seen - and all utilities included. I called the number from the posting and talked with Gregorio for a few minutes, asking more questions about the place.

    Partway through our conversation, I thought he told me that since he and the other roommate both work, they didn't want a student to live with them. I was almost ready to say gracias y adios, as many other calls had ended once the renter found out I was a student, but then it sounded like he asked if I wanted to come see the place. I decided why not, and set out to the metro.

    The apartment is 7-8 metro stops away from the university, but I don't mind that. It's also right next to one of the metro stops, so that will be convenient. There are two other people who live in the apartment, and both work. The girl wasn't there when I went to see the place, so I'll meet her on Friday when I go to pay the fianza (security deposit) and 1/2 September's rent.

    Gegorio works nights at the Ministry of Security (reminds me of HP.. ministry of magic) and is quite captivated by planes and jets. He was telling me about a second job on the side (it sounded like), but I didn't understand what he does - hah.

    My room has a nice-sized window (which or coordinator said to make sure you have a window in your bedroom here) right above a desk. Lots of the rooms I had seen online didn't have desks, so I was pleased with that. The bed is small, like all the rooms in Madrid's apartments, but Gregorio said if I wanted a bigger mattress, that he could get a bigger size. I said I was fine with it, but we'll see... There is this really neat shelve unit on the wall made of a bunch of squares - I'll have to put up pictures once I move in. And then there's an armoire with about two shelves on the bottom, and space to hang clothes on the top half.

    All washing machines seem to be in the kitchen, and nobody has driers in Spain. The washing machine here is brand new! It's digital and has a timer setting so that if you want to put in laundry but won't be able to take it out right away, you can set it to be done in 5 hours. Then your clothes can sit in there while you leave, and the washer will turn on whenever it's needed so that your clothes will be done in 5 hours! I thought that was nifty.

    So today my coordinator approved the address/apartment, so Wednesday I'm heading to the bank to open an account, and at the same time I'll take out money to pay Gregorio on Friday.

    Yesterday we had a group trip to Segovia. I'll try to put up those pictures soon! It had a nice, small-town feel, even though the population is 60,000. All of the roads/walkways were stone; I saw no blacktop all day, and no cement sidewalks. So that was a nice change from the city.

    I'm off to take a quick nap, then we have a bus tour of Madrid tonight. Then I will be homeworking it up for the rest of the night...

    Saturday, September 5, 2009


    So... as clear from my last post, I slept until 9.40a this morning and went to bed at 9.40p last night. Definitely have a cold or something. So... I started working on my composition due Monday. I wanted to finish it by noon, then find somewhere to print it. By noon I was only halfway done, as I am a very slow writer, so I decided to shower and go do something productive before lunch.

    I walked down to a papelería and picked up some supplies, and then to Cuatro Caminos for some more stuff:At the papelería I picked up a mini cuaderno to hold my apartment search info, a mini notebook for the purse, and some A4 paper.
    At the other shop, I picked up an umbrella, kleenex, and the folder-type thing Spaniards keep their A4 paper in.

    Story time - so at the other shop I wanted to get a water bottle and an umbrella. So I asked the guy if they had "una botella de agua". He seemed kind of confused, not sure why, then I switched to "una botella para agua" (a bottle for water rather than a bottle of water - poor choice of words the first time). Then he said they didn't have any, so I asked for my next item, an umbrella, which is "paraguas". The man was confused by this, and thought I was still asking for the bottle "para agua". I explained that I was looking for two items. First, una botella para agua, and secondly una paraguas. Then he said "paraguas?" and made hand motions as if he were holding an umbrella, and I said sí, sí. He laughed and shook his head while showing me where the umbrellas were, acting as if that was the only item I had been asking for, why didn't I just say so the first time. I thought the whole situation was laughable.

    And I'll tell about my apartment go-see the next time I have a chance to write, but know this: I found a place! My coordinator just has to approve it tomorrow...

    12 horas...

    I just slept for 12 hours! Wow.

    Friday, September 4, 2009

    @ arroba @

    Another orientation this morning (General Issues)... I think it was our last one. Looks like there are some great opportunities for volunteering/tutoring/teaching English at schools. Can't really look into those until I find an apartment though. And I'm sure classes will keep me busy until I figure out how to balance it all. After our orientation, we had our first grammar class. Grammar is from 11.30-1.30p. On Monday we'll have the full day of classes. (9a-11a we have art, then history)

    So our grade from the "Curso Intensivo" is 25% art, 25% history, 25% composition-conversation, and 25% grammar. I may have just repeated myself, I don't remember. For Monday, we need to write a short composition. I'm going to do that tomorrow, then search for a copy shop where I can print it.

    Spent three hours this afternoon/evening calling numbers from housing ads/ e-mailing ads online. I had hoped to line up places to go see tomorrow, since we have all day free - but no such luck. None.

    While walking back from the Complutense to our dorm earlier, I was picturing a phone conversation in my mind where I left my e-mail address on a message or something. Spelling it out was easy, but wasn't sure what to say for the @ sign. The word "at" is "a" in Spanish, but there would be no way to differentiate that from the letter "a". To satisfy my curiosity, I asked the man at the front desk of our dorm 'What do you call this symbol?' and drew it for him. He said it, but I misheard him and repeated it back incorrectly... twice, so finally he took my paper and wrote it out for me: ARROBA. Nice little factoid there.

    It's our first Friday night, and I think I'm heading to bed soon. I'm exhausted; too tired to wait up until 9.30 for dinner. Need to get up early tomorrow to write that paper, buy some stuff at a papelería, find a locutorio to print my paper, and apartment hunt! Group day-trip on Sunday to Segovia...

    Thursday, September 3, 2009

    productive day

    After breakfast, I walked to the Complutense for our placement exam at 9:30. When I was working on the last portion - where you had to write a letter - the woman giving the test said something in Spanish which I didn't catch, and then there was a rush of people going up to hand in their test. Thus, I thought she had told us time was up, and we had to hand in our test. So I quickly finished the sentence I was on and added a brief closing (one of the requirements) "Besos, Rebe" and handed it in without looking over anything.

    As I walked out of the room, I noticed there were at least two or three rows of people in the back of the room still working on their exams. Then I had a gut feeling that she probably didn't tell us our time was up; rather, if we were done, we could hand in the exam and leave. I checked the time when I got out of the room, and my gut was right. We still had plenty of time for the exam. Oops.

    Then was a super-long meeting about apartment hunting. The task didn't feel any less daunting after the meeting, though. Our coordinator said the first call to a landlord will be the worst. I should probably just get that over with tomorrow afternoon and start calling places - even if I'm not interested. It would be good practice, and then I'll probably be better on the phone with a place I actually want. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. After the meeting our results were posted from the exam...and someway, somehow, I placed into the "advanced" group of the two. So tomorrow I need to buy our course packet before class at 11:30a, but we have another meeting at 9:30a, so I think I'll just get to school early and buy it before our meeting.

    After lunch (potatoes, a soup similar to chicken noodle soup - minus the chicken, and other items I do not know the names of), fellow UW student Melody and I set out for the afternoon. First, she wanted to get her Abono (individual metro/bus pass). Amy, our coordinator, had the abonos made up for everyone else when we got here, but for what seemed to be a long, complicated, frustrating story, Melody's was not made. Abonos can be purchased at tobacco stores, which are pleantiful here. We walked around near our dorms and asked where one was, and the man told us - but said it wouldn't be open until 5. We hadn't realized that when they say things close down in the afternoon.... everything closes down. So she paid for a single metro ride and we went to Cuatro Caminos.

    We walked around, realizing it wasn't the smartest thing to go out shopping while all of the shops were closed. By 4:30, the Sony shop I had gone to yesterday finally reopened, and Melody and I each bought an ethernet cord. With this, we can have internet up in our rooms. This is something I wish they would have put on our "to-pack" list; it definitely deserves to be there more than "shower shoes" - which we don't even need.

    This was the same man who was working yesterday, but I asked him again about a converter for my computer. He tried to pull out the same computer adapter as yesterday but I told him no, and tried to re-explain myself. He told us that right around the corner - about 15 yard away, was another Sony store that would have what I was looking for. Sure enough, we found the other Sony store! This is how I described what I wanted: a plug for my electronic things from the US to work in Spain's plugs. He pulled out a tiny black piece with no numbers or labels on it (I was going to look for watt maximums). I asked if there were any limitations to what electronics could go in it. He said everything. I was skeptical and asked again, really, everything? Computers? Si, todos. Then I asked him how much it was. 1.50 EURO!!! So... moral of the story, wait to buy a converter in the place you are going, and Best Buy knows nothing about converters and ripped me off a total of $43.

    Then we hopped on a bus (our first bus ride) that circles Madrid. This way, we got to see lots of the different neighborhoods. We got off when we were 3/4 of the way around the circle and took the metro back. We got back around 8:45 -- it was a full day out and about! Then I went up to my room, tested the converter which works with everything! Have the internet up here, too! Which will be nice for the next two weeks until I'm out of here. We just had dinner. Tonight was the first dinner where they serve you. They won't serve your table until there are four seated, however. Salad, steak, and fries. Now I'm going to apartment hunt for a bit on the interwebs.

    pizza de jamon

    So, at the beginning of the walking tour yesterday morning I was quite disoriented, for our maps were of poor quality, and we left before I had figured out which way the map should have been oriented - and kept walking. It was confusing because we took a roundabout way to get to the Historia e Geografia building, so that we could see more of campus. We went in our building (Facultad de Geografia e Historia) where the WIP office is, and where our Reunidas courses will be held, as well as our September "Curso Intensivo". On the way back I had a better idea of where we were and where we had been, and how it fit with the map.

    After the walking tour, we had our second orientation: Academics. I'm not going to even start looking at classes until after I find an apartment. We need to be moved out by the 16, but we meet with the resident director to discuss class is on the 23. Hence, I'm waiting on the classes. That got done by lunch time. Lunch was eggs with mushrooms and something else, which I just kind of picked at a little. The eggs were watery and just had a gross taste to them. Luckily, there was also chicken, and they gave me a huge piece of it, so I scraped as much meat off of it as I could. I don't remember the other two food items, but I clearly didn't eat them.

    Next the Embassy came at 4 to talk with us briefly. We added their number into our cell phones. They basically told us to register with them online, and not to get arrested - but call them if we do. Also, don't lose our passports - but call them if we do. Those were the general themes.

    Then we had a group picture at 5:30, followed by individual ones for our school IDs. Then three others and I headed out to buy September's coupon for our abonos. The Abono Transportes is a personalized transportation pass that we can use on the metro and bus system in Madrid - which is convenient that it's used for both. We'll have to buy new passes each month, but since I'm not 21 yet, I get an "Abono Joven", which costs 29.50 EUR, while Abono Normales are 46 EUR.

    To buy one, I took 100 Euro out of an ATM at a horrible exchange rate and was charged 2.5% from the Caja Madrid (bank), plus 1% at Associated. But I needed cash, and we can't open our bank accounts here until next Wednesday (The bank closes at 2 on weekdays but we have class until 1:30, and the bank is closed on Saturdays until the end of September).

    With our passes, the four of us took the metro to Cuatro Caminos, an area north-east of the university. I feel very confident in using the metro now; it's easy to navigate. I bought some snacks at a supermercado, since I'm very much still struggling to make it through the 7.5 hr break between lunch and dinner. I bought Napolitanos, mini Biscottis, and Rosquillas de toledo (sugar covered doughnut type thing) - which looked delicious from the bag:

    We also unsuccessfully searched for a converter so I could use my computer and hair straightener. We stopped into a Sony store, but the guy thought I wanted the charger (adaptor) cord for my computer, which I already have. So we called it a day and came back around 8.

    Tuesday night's dinner was my favorite meal thus far. There was ham pizza, fries (I'm surprised that we keep getting fries - didn't realize that was common here), really yummy ham slices, and lots more, but I only took the aforementioned items.

    It's strange to go to bed right after you eat a full meal. I guess the rest of the city stays up later and goes out after dinner, but I'm so exhausted after a full day of activities that bed is my only option.

    P.S. I'm adding a few pictures of my dorm room to the previous post.

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    Waiting for dinner...

    The flight went well - It seemed to drag on forever though. Since this was my first international flight, and second time flying in general, I´m going to blabber on some more about it. We left around 4.40p, as scheduled, then were served dinner about an hour and a half into the flight. The flight attendants came around and asked ¿Què prefieres, pollo o -- but I didn´t even listen to the other option, as chicken is something I eat! I got water with my dinner, of course, but didn´t even think to ask for beer or wine, as the students to my left and right did.

    Then there were two terrible movies (Right up there with all the free OnDemands we watched this summer, Coleton), during which the lights were dimmed and I attempted to sleep. It´s hard to sleep sitting straight up, hence I was in a tired state and time seemed to slow down incredibly. Around 5am Spain time, the lights were turned back on. Then came breakfast - a packaged roll with ham in it, a blueberry muffin, some honeydew which I didn´t explore, and a kit-kat which was odd but appreciated.

    It was nice to take the group flight, because once we got to the airport (around 7am) I just followed everyone around. It was a huge airport, but nearly empty when we arrived. After we got our bags, we took an indoor train-thing to the exit. Our program director and student services coordinator had ¨WIP¨signs and met us out front. We loaded a coach bus and took a 20 minute bus ride to the dorms. We got to the dorms around 9am - we had spent a good amount of time walking through the airport and waiting for our luggage and such.

    The dorm is really nice! We have individual rooms with a bathroom, and the ¨key¨ to our room is a slide card like at hotels. I couldn´t figure out how to get the lights on though. Later I found out from others that you have to put your room card in a doc on the wall in order for the lights to work - I never would have figured that out on my own!

    Right when I got to my room I knew I would take a nap. Before we left for the airport, I had bought a cheap clock with alarm at Walgreens so I´d be able to wake up on time for things this week. So around 10 I went down for a nap and set the alarm for noon. That way I could shower and go to lunch at 2 (It´s served from 2-3) and continue on with my day. So I woke up... and it was 3.30p.

    The clock had stopped ticking at 11.20a, so the alarm clearly never went off. So I showered and first tried to find the computer room. I was expecting a room with one computer - as I had read in our pre-departure materials, so when I ran into a computer lab I didn´t think it was for us. There´s some type of chemistry conference going on here, too, so I thought this room was for that, since it had a label on the outside similar to the other conference room labels. So I walked around outside for a bit; didn´t run into anything too interesting. When I got back around 4.30, I ventured back to this computer lab and saw another student from the group in there - so I figured we could use it.

    Our first orientation was at 5.30 that evening, followed by a cell phone presentation at 7.15. I got a cell phone at the presentation, which is nice just for the alarm / knowing what time it is. Cell phones work differently here - there´s no such thing as free nights or weekends. You pay for every call you make. There´s a 16 cent connection fee plus 12 cents / minute for any line ( US or Spain) and 2 cents / minute if it´s to another phone in the network (aka to my fellow WIPers). To send a text is 12 cents - no connection fee. The strange thing is that all incoming anythings are free. Incoming calls from the US, Spain, wherever, and incoming texts - free. The woman who gave the presentation said that sometimes here, when people already have a pretty high phone bill for the month, they´ll call whomever they want to talk with, let it ring once, then hang up. Then the person will see they had a missed call and call them back - hence making it a free incoming call for the person with the high phone bill. This act has a name, but I don´t remember what it´s called.

    After everyone got done buying their phones it was around 9pm, so I had a half hour to wait until dinner would be served - so I started writing this post. Dinner was some type of vegetable soup - maybe asparagus? It was all blended, and actually didn´t taste bad. Then there was fish and potatoes or pork and fries. I didn´t realize that the potatoes with the fish were potatoes at first... so I got the pork and fries. After dinner I read our program manual up in my room until I went to bed around 11.30p.

    Got up this morning around 8.30, showered, and went down to breakfast at 9. Breakfast is self serve - there was a mini-loaf of bread that was too crunchy for its own good, with cheese and some type of meat. There was also cereal and milk, which I of course couldn´t eat. So I made half a sandwich with part of the loaf, then put strawberry jelly on the rest of the bread.
    There hasn´t been much Spanish spoken yet at all - since I´ve mainly been cooped up in the dorm with all the other WIPers. I´m anxious for classes to start, so I can get working on that.
    We´re meeting at 10 to go on a walking tour of campus, followed by an academic orientation, lunch at 2, another type of orientation, and group picture at 5.30 tonight. It´s quarter to 10 now, so I´m going to get ready to go. ¡Hasta luego!