2 AM President Trump announces he’s suspending all travel to the US from Europe for 30 days.
2:15 AM I call my parents and we decide that I’ll take the risk and stay in Spain.
7:30 AM I wake up and get ready for what I think will be a regular day in Coruña. I get dressed, eat breakfast with my host mom, and ride the bus to school.
10:00 AM As soon as I get out of class, my parents call me and say that I need to leave Coruña as soon as possible. In the last hour, the CDC has changed Spain’s warning level from a 2 to a 3, which means it’s now too dangerous for me to stay.
My mom tells me that she’s already booked me a flight out of Coruña, leaving at 5pm!
I rush home and realize that I have two hours to pack a year’s worth of belongings into a suitcase that can’t be more than 50 pounds (!!!) I throw my stuff together and eat one last lunch with my host family. Then, my host parents drive me to the airport and we say goodbye.
It was surreal how fast everything changed. While I’d known in the back of my mind that this was coming, I thought I’d have more time. The Spanish media hadn’t fixated on the Coronavirus like the American media had. We’d seen what had happened in China and watched as the global count crept up every day. But even as cases surged in Italy, somehow, life in Coruña went on like normal.
When I got back to the US, all I could think about was how many people I didn’t get to say goodbye to– how many “lasts” I didn’t get the chance to appreciate. The last tinto de verano at Central Park. The last winding, deadly bus ride to the top of UDC’s hilly campus. The last choir rehearsal. The last time Maeve and I were protectively referred to as “las americanas.” The last half hour mid-class break to tomar café. The last time Elena, Lucía, and I danced to “Five Little Monkeys.” The last spirited dinner with my host family.
I’ve gotten so many lessons out of this whirlwind of an experience, the most obvious one being how quickly things can change– the importance of appreciating every moment and not taking time for granted, because nothing is guaranteed. But I’ve also realized how quickly things can change you for the better. As I digest this unprecedented global reality, quarantined at home in NY, I’m so grateful to have had the chance to create a life for myself in Coruña. Going to Coruña was the best decision I’ve ever made, and it gave me more than I could ever express in a blog post.
Thank you for everything, Coruña. Te quiero. I will be back!
This semester has been very different from the first semester, because everything feels more familiar. There isn’t the constant uncertainty involved with settling in to a new city, getting to know our host families, and trying (and often failing) to learn the Coruña public bus system. While last semester felt like a very long vacation, this semester, I feel like I really live here.
But while having been here for six months has certainly helped me feel familiar with the city, it’s really the people that make Coruña “home.” It’s being regulars at our favorite restaurant, Osampaio, where the waiters give us the customary two kisses on the cheek every time we see them. It’s the fact that any time I leave my apartment, I run into someone I know– Whether it be my host cousin and host uncle, the two little girls I babysit and their parents, the trainer at the gym, or even my professor, yelling my name out of her car window and asking if I want a ride to class. It’s how I miss my host mom when I travel and how dinners with my host family always feel like the best way to end a long day.
After class, Maeve and I often go to “tomar algo” at one of our favorite places, and feel like true Spaniards while enjoying café or cañas on a restaurant patio. The culture in Coruña is so special because studying/working/being productive doesn’t come at the cost of appreciating the little things and living in the moment. There’s a much healthier balance here than what I’ve observed/experienced in the US, and it’s changed the way I think about a lot of things that I deemed most ‘important’ before coming to Spain.
This has been on my mind more than ever in the past few days. This week, we got an email from Study Abroad saying that if the Coronavirus outbreak continues to get worse here, we will be sent home to the US. There’s no way of knowing if/when this will happen because the situation is constantly changing, so for now, I’m taking it one day at a time and making sure to enjoy & be grateful for all of the people and moments that continue to make this little city so special.
(Updates to come.)
Below are some pics from everyday life in Coruña!!!
I haven’t written a blog post in a while- I have been traveling the past few weekends, and am finally sitting down to reflect on them!
In the middle of February, I met up with my parents and two of my brothers in Porto, Portugal for the weekend. Then, Maeve and I flew to Sevilla, where Maeve ran the marathon. This past weekend, I went to London, England with three of my friends from Holy Cross, Caroline, Jimmy, and Sean.
Ciao, I’m back in Coruña! Second semester doesn’t start until February, so I am technically still on winter break. January has been full of fiestas and viajes (vacations)!
I turned 21 two days after I returned to Coruña. For dinner, my host mom made my favorite Spanish meal (sunny-side up eggs with ham and potatoes) and we had a chocolate cake. My host family got me a beautiful necklace and a little bag that is perfect for travel-I was so touched by their generosity/thoughtfulness. Then, a bunch of the other Holy Cross kids and I went to O’Sampaio to celebrate.
My host cousin Julián celebrated his 1st birthday on Jan 14! We all went over to his family’s apartment to watch him blow out the candles. (His mom said, “This is probably the only time you’ll attend a Spanish first birthday party!”)
Most of the other HC students left Coruña this month and have since returned to campus for second semester. It was so sad to experience so many Coruña “lasts” with them and say goodbye after a such a special few months. (It’s so weird to think that when I return to HC senior year, there’ll be so many more familiar faces on campus!) Pablo, our program director, organized a Despedida (“farewell”) dinner at Maeve’s host mom’s café. Everyone came, including all of the host families!
My friend Caroline and I spent the last week in the South of France. We decided to not book any hostels/make any plans, so that we could make last minute decisions about where we wanted to go. We flew into Tolouse and spent a day and a half there, and then hopped on a train to Bordeaux. We went to the Tolouse Japanese gardens, the Capitole de Tolouse, a wine museum/tasting, the Museé des Beaux-Arts, and made many stops for coffee, wine, and chocolate crêpes along the way. Here are (just a few) pictures from the trip:
Second semester officially starts next week! I am so excited to start classes and get into a routine again. Updates to come!
And just like that, my first semester in Spain is over.
Unfortunately, my phone randomly stopped turning on about two weeks ago so I lost a lot of pictures from this month, but the holiday season is in full swing! The entire month of December has been filled with holiday related activities. In our Spanish class, we learned all about the EIGHT days of holiday fiestas in Spain (Dec 22, 24, 25, 28, 31, & Jan 1, 5, 6) and practiced some of the holiday traditions–for example, the New Year’s Eve tradition/superstition of eating a grape with each clock bell strike, leading up to midnight!
At the beginning of the month, MaryKate and I had our Christmas concert for the university choir. We’ve made so many friends of all ages through the choir and because MK is going back to Holy Cross next semester, everyone surprised her at the end of the concert by singing her a Gallego farewell song.
Later, my seven year old host cousin Nacho came over, and he, my host sister Teresa, and I decorated their Christmas tree and covered every corner of the apartment in Christmas lights. Nacho kept coming into my room, saying “Do you want me to decorate your room with this?”, and adding yet another ornament or Santa toy to the growing row on top of my dresser. 🙂
The city is all lit up for Christmas, so walking home at night now is somehow even more beautiful than usual. I don’t know where the time went, but I’ve had an amazing five months. At the beginning of this semester, there was so much unknown: I barely knew the other HC kids. I had no idea what to expect from studying at a Spanish university or living with a host family. I was frustrated by my inability to express myself/effectively communicate.
Being thrown into a foreign culture and language was daunting. But being stripped of so many of the “givens” of my life gave me the opportunity to start learning who I am without them. Coming out of first semester, I have so many great new friends from HC, a few Spanish friends, my special host parents and sisters who have made me feel so at home in Coruña, and a broader perspective on the world. I know it’s cliche, but being in Spain has reminded me of the things that are important to me and shown me that a lot of the other stuff is just background noise.
I’m so grateful that I have next semester here to continue growing and experiencing all of the fun, amazing things that Coruña and Spain have to offer. But, in the meantime, I’m about to board my flight home to the US. In a matter of hours, I’ll be at Iden Avenue’s annual Christmas party with my all of my family, neighbors, and friends– I’m more aware than ever that the world is both very big and very small.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks!! The second weekend of November, I visited Ballymahon, County Longford, Ireland. County Longford is a rural area in the very middle of the country–my dad likes to call it the “Nebraska of Ireland.” Even though it’s not as well known as counties like Dublin or Kerry, it’s my favorite part of the country, because it is breathtakingly beautiful and is home to all of my Irish family. I spent the summer in Ballymahon when I was 16 and I have such special memories of my time there, so being back four years later was surreal. My little cousins kept laughing at me because I took pictures of everything I saw.
(We spent a few hours at my cousin’s farm. He is in the process of converting it into a dairy farm, so there will be hundreds of cows on the property by January/February. I went to go see some of the cows, but I didn’t get to take any pictures because my phone died:(!!)
Thanksgiving Day- A Coruña, Spain
Pablo, our program director, organized an amazing Thanksgiving dinner for the Holy Cross students so that we could celebrate together, despite being so far from home. We went to the one American restaurant in Coruña, where we enjoyed an authentic Thanksgiving meal– turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pecan pie, and all.
A few days later, the mother of the girls I babysit for (Elena and Lucia’s mom!) texted me a link to an article from La Voz de Coruña. We had made the news!! “A group of about 20 American students gathered in a restaurant in Coruña to eat turkey and celebrate Thanksgiving, the most important day of the year in the US.” Here’s the article: https://www.lavozdegalicia.es/noticia/yes/2019/11/29/thanksgiving-day-coruna/00031575021531631470207.htm?fbclid=IwAR0sZZ4apGPjA2XGp77DJdeXaNzchWKI3WeuH-coOGe5f7aS0662XyfE5g8
I spent this past weekend in Rome, Italy. Two of my grandpa’s sisters moved to Rome in their twenties, so I now have a lot of family there. On Saturday, my cousins Vivian and Noah took me and my roommate to see the city’s most important monuments and eat some really good food.
We visited the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, The Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and many piazzas, markets, and restaurants along the way. (I kept accidentally saying the Spanish word “plaza” instead of “piazza”!)
My cousin Kama showed us a lot of monuments from the years Mussolini was in power. They are marble, regal looking imitations of Roman imperial architecture, and you can tell that they were used as propaganda. I found it a little creepy that the monuments still stand, but Kama said that they are important reminders of the country’s history.
On Saturday night, we had a great Thanksgiving dinner. The food was delicious and there were five different pies/cakes for dessert!! My cousins had their other side of the family over to celebrate, and it was really cool to spend time with so many new people for Thanksgiving.
I have 100000000001 things to be thankful for this year– especially such great, loving family all around the world, who make it easy to call a different continent home. This Thanksgiving was definitely one I’ll never forget!
I try to get a head start on the week by going to the gym in the morning. The gym is a 15 minute walk from my apartment, but you have to walk along the water to get there, so it’s worth it.
Later, I have one of the two Spanish classes that are just for Holy Cross students. Sometimes we ride the bus to school together, which is fun because the ride is extremely hilly (especially once you get on campus- it can feel pretty dangerous).
After class, I babysit two adorable little girls, Elena and Lucia. Their mom wants me to speak English with them, so I try to think of creative games to play that make it fun for them to practice the language. I occasionally speak Spanish with them, which is a lot less intimidating than speaking to Spanish adults, even though Lucia hysterically laughs whenever I make a mistake ;).
At at 10 or 10:30 PM, we eat dinner! Often my entire host family is at dinner, which is a lot of fun.
On Tuesday mornings, I have my History of Radio, Television, and Multimedia class. The content is interesting and I like the professor, but I am the only international student in my class, which has definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone!
Tuesday is the only day when I eat lunch with my host family, because I have class all of the other days. I usually eat with my host mom and one or two of my three host sisters. My host mom always makes comida muy rica!
After lunch, I give English classes to Blanca and Inés, who are 12 and 10 and really fun. I help them with their English homework and prepare lessons for them, usually involving American music, TV shows, and games.
Wednesday is my busiest school day: I have the practicum for Radio, Television, and Multimedia (We have to give presentations every week!) In the afternoon, I have the two Holy Cross Spanish classes. One is a culture class and the other helps us improve our grammar and writing and conversational skills.
On Wednesday nights, I have choir rehearsal! Even though it is technically the university choir, there are members of all ages and we sing a wide range of songs- in Spanish, English, German, Latin, and Galician/Gallego. Whenever we sing a song in English, Mary Kate (the other student from Holy Cross in the choir) and I have to read the lyrics out loud to help with pronunciation.
I usually start my Thursdays by going to a cafe- my favorite is a bakery called Pandelino, where you’ll always find other Holy Cross students. It has great food and GREAT music.
I have one of the Spanish classes and my Philosophy & Literature class. Learning philosophy in Spanish is challenging, but I like the professor a lot. After class, I tutor Blanca and Inés again.
We don’t have classes on Fridays, so it’s now the weekend!! I like to explore Coruña and visit new places–like Marineda City, a huge shopping mall (fourth largest in Europe!) where there a lot of stores, restaurants, and fun things to do.
We usually go out for a late dinner (11pm-midnight) and get a bunch of tapas for the table. Our favorite restaurant is still Osampaio. We’ve become friends with one of the waiters, Sisto, who always gives us free food/drinks.
After dinner, it’s off to the discotecas!! Happy weekend!!!
At the beginning of November, Alex, Kelly, MK, Maeve and I took a weekend trip to Oporto, Portugal. We were only there from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, but we had a lot of fun.
(Side note: Over the course of the weekend, we learned that knowing Spanish barely helps in Portugal. We would order taxis in Spanish because they could understand us, but they responded in Portuguese, and we were helpless.)
On Friday, we checked into our Airbnb, which was right on the water. By that time, it was already almost dark, but we went for a walk and stopped into a few artisan jewelry and clothing stores. It took us really long to find a place to eat dinner because it was a holiday.* After about a half hour of searching the entire vicinity, we finally found a tiny, quaint restaurant only feet from our Airbnb. We were a little uneasy at first, because the restaurant was empty and the waiters were realllyy excited to welcome us in (“5 people!!!”). Our apprehension disappeared quickly, though, because we had such an amazing dinner. We had white wine, pasta carbonara/pasta with bolognese (Maeve had great octopus), and we shared a chocolate cake for dessert.
The next morning, we went to a breakfast place on the water, where we enjoyed coffee and crepes. We then went to the Porto Marathon Expo (explanation to follow) and ate a very traditional Portuguese lunch- I ordered the Francesinha, a sandwich with thick bread, cured ham, and sausage covered with melted cheese and a thick tomato and beer sauce. It looked different than I had expected, but it was really good! And, of course, we had a bottle of the famous Port wine.
In the afternoon, we did a boat tour along the Douro River. It was windy and rainy, but it was cool to learn about the history of the river and its economic impact on the city. It was very pretty, despite the weather.
We just had to get McFlurries at Porto’s McDonald’s, which is supposed to be the most luxurious McDonald’s in the world. With its fancy chandeliers and stained glass windows, it definitely lived up to the hype.
Finally, we headed back to our Airbnb, where Maeve made us ABC pasta for dinner. We had a little too much fun spelling our names with the pasta and taking pictures–I think we spent more time laughing than eating or talking!
Sunday was a big day. Alex, Kelly and I “ran” the 6k, MK ran the 9k, and Maeve ran the marathon!!! I had never seen a marathon in person before, and it was so fun to watch the runners (who came from countries all over the world) and cheer them on.
Alex, Kelly and I had to take an earlier bus home than MK and Maeve. Luckily for us, the timing worked out and we were able to use the marathon app to track Maeve and figure out that she’d be running right past our Airbnb within minutes.
For me, seeing Maeve run was the best moment of the weekend. We started screaming as soon as we saw her, and even though she was on Mile 24, she had so much energy and even did a little dance as she ran by. Her energy was so contagious, and hours later, we were still talking about how special it was to watch.
*We got to Portugal on All Saints Day, which is why almost everything was closed. We also heard a lot of people speaking Spanish over the weekend. My host mom explained that holidays like All Saints Day are sometimes called “Puentes” (or bridges) because they bring people together.
At the beginning of October, the entire Holy Cross group flew to Andalusía, on the Southern coast of Spain, stopping in Sevilla and Granada.
While in Sevilla, we toured the Cathedral de Sevilla, the (alleged) site of Christopher Columbus’ tomb and a bell tower called the Giralda, at the top of which there is a view of the entire city. We spent time in the Plaza de España and the Alcazar, the royal palace built for King Peter of Castilla. We also went to a rooftop bar, saw a flamenco show, and spent a night at the International Fair, where there were huge tents serving food and drinks from many different countries (very overwhelming and fun!).
In Granada, we spent a lot of time roaming the street markets, where we were able to see the Moorish influence on the designs of the beautiful handmade colored lamps, scarves, and jewelry that were being sold in almost every store. We also did a 3 hour long walking tour of La Alhambra (all of the palaces, the gardens, and the fort) and the Generalife, the leisure patio to which the Nasrid rulers escaped when they wanted to get away from the palace. Our tour guide made sure that we noticed how different the Generalife is from the rest of La Alhambra–instead of the totally enclosed gardens surrounding the large ponds (the Moorish ideal garden) that characterize all of the other patios, the Generalife is more open and contains a single, much smaller fountain.
My favorite part of our trip to Granada was our tour of Sacromonte, Granada’s gypsy community. It is located in the very hilly countryside and it takes a decent amount of walking to find it. The gypsies are thought to have settled in Granada after the expulsion of the Moors by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. Gypsy families lived in caves, alongside the livestock that they used to make a living. There is still a sizable gypsy community there, and even though the gypsies don’t live extremely far from the center of the city, they have a way of life and sense of community that is very separate from Granada (our tour guide quipped that they also have an independent government system/follow their own set of laws). However, when I asked our tour guide if the gypsies dislike that tourists are constantly coming in and out of their barrio, he said that they don’t mind it because they make their money off of tourism (I guess there is a delicate balance between their independent lifestyle and their level of interaction with outsiders).
Our tour guide took us to a bar run by a man from the gypsy community, who has become our tour guide’s friend over the years. The bar is located inside of a cave, but the view from the patio was amazing.
There were SO many tourists in both cities, especially in Sevilla. Southern Spain is obviously a lot warmer than northern Spain, but I still find it interesting that historical, culturally distinct regions like Galicia don’t get more tourists each year. I think that a lot of tourists have a fixed, narrow idea of what Spain is, and places like Sevilla and Granada are the cities that best fit within that narrative.
I know that my rambling about the number of tourists in Spain is ironic. But traveling to these more touristy regions showed me how lucky I am to be studying in a region that, to me, feels like a hidden gem. Coruña has beautiful ocean views and is a busy and vivacious city where there is always something happening–but you never see tourists or hear English being spoken.
I am already more than half-way into first semester (time has flown by!!), and I feel so grateful for the authentic, fully immersive cultural learning experience I have had thus far.
I am able to authentically explore all that Coruña and Galician culture have to offer because I attend a Spanish university, have some Spanish friends, and live in the center of the city with my host parents and three host sisters. It’s not likely that I will ever have another opportunity to visit another country and be as immersed in a different language and culture as I am right now.
I love when experiences provide broader perspectives. 🙂
It should come as no surprise that Spanish food is very distinct from American food. Although Spainiards do eat a lot of carbohydrates and bready foods, they eat fewer processed foods and smaller portions. People usually eat a small breakfast when they wake up, consisting of a piece of toast, a breakfast biscuit, and a cup of coffee. The most important meal of the day is lunch, or “la comida,” which is usually meat/fish, bread, and vegetables. La comida takes place between 2pm and 3pm, and people usually come home from work and school to eat lunch with their families. Finally, Spanish people eat a much lighter dinner around 10pm, which is usually just soup or ham and eggs.
Another interesting thing about the food here is that if you go to a restaurant and order a beer or wine, you also get a tapa with the drink. The tapas are pretty big and can be a plate of pasta, meatballs, croquetas, or tortillas. That’s a drink and a whole lot of food for only about ∈2!!
It’s not just a stereotype–here in Spain, everyone greets each other with two kisses on either cheek. Both men and women partake in this salutary tradition, whether they are greeting old friends or people they’ve just met. One of my professors told us one of her most embarrassing stories: She was visiting a friend in the US, and when her friend introduced my professor to her husband, my professor went in to give him a kiss, and the husband, disgusted, pushed her away. My professor was mortified.
This custom definitely confused me at first, because I never knew who I should kiss and who I should not. Now, I just assume that I should greet everyone this way, so I am generally much better prepared to meet new people (I don’t yet initiate the kissing, though, just in case!)
Classes in Spain are very large lectures and tend to be very loud. For example, in my history class, students have full, loud conversations with each other while the professor lectures, and the professor seems to not notice. Initially, I thought that this was a phenomenon unique to the University of Coruña or to my classes. The other day, however, I was talking to an adult I know from the US, and she asked me what I thought of the “characteristically loud classrooms” in Spain. I find these classroom conversations very frustrating when I’m trying to understand what the professor is saying, but now that I know that they’re just another aspect of Spanish culture, maybe I’ll be less annoyed by them.
Here in Coruña, many people do not have cars. Instead of dealing with the frustration of driving on the city’s narrow streets and finding parking garages, many people opt to walk or use the city’s public bus system, Transvias. Transvias has more than 20 different bus lines, most of which run every 5-10 minutes. The bus will take you anywhere you need to go in the city, including the university, which is the final stop on the UDC line. It costs ∈1.20 per ride, but costs less if you have the Transvias bus card.
People in Spain are extremely well-dressed, and rarely ever leave their homes without a stylish and coordinated outfit. University students tend to wear jeans or dress pants, skirts, or dresses to class. Often, the most defining parts of their outfits are their shoes– people wear eccentric, statement shoes like combat boots or really high platform sneakers. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone at the university wearing leggings or athletic clothes. In addition, many people have gelled/otherwise styled hair and often have blonde or bright colored highlights. Many people also have lots of piercings.
Amancio Ortega, the founder of the clothing store Zara, is originally from Coruña, so the store is, understandably, a very big deal here. Coruña is home to Zara’s largest distribution center, which is responsible for shipping clothing products to more than 90 countries around the world. Ortega also owns other staple Coruña clothing brands like Oysho, Bershka, and Pull and Bear, all within feet of each other in the Plaza de Lugo, Coruña’s shopping strip. If you step into any one of these stores, you can immediately see where Coruñans get their sense of style.
Even though Coruña is the second most populated city in Galicia, the lifestyle here is very relaxed. In contrast to cities in the US, where people are constantly in a rush and eat meals quickly before they hurry back to work, people here enjoy the opportunity to “tomar algo” (enjoy a coffee, beer, wine, etc.–not the same as “salir,” which means “to go out” or “to party”). The slower pace of life contributes to the passionate, dynamic (and often loud) conversations that take place at any Spanish gathering.
Let me illustrate: The other day, during dinner, my host mother and two of my host sisters got into a heated argument over whether you can tell that someone in your class is younger than you just by hearing them speak. What started as a casual conversation quickly turned into a passionate debate, with my host mom and sisters yelling, speaking at lightning speed, and interrupting each other. Then, my third host sister got home, and she joined the debate, making the conversation even louder. This lasted for almost 45 minutes. If I had heard the conversation from another room, I would have thought that they were really fighting. I’ve come to learn that this is a normal part of the culture here; people are just passionate about their beliefs and enjoy each other’s company.
People here are very direct. In the US, people are so worried about being polite that they dance around saying what they mean. The Spanish people that I’ve interacted with are much less inhibited. People just come up to me and start talking. They ask where I’m from and what I’m doing in Spain and tell me “You speak Spanish well enough.” They aren’t afraid to tell you what they think. A few days ago, my host mom said, “I’m not saying you’re fat, but you need to weigh yourself,” referring to all of the bread in my new diet here. Another girl from Holy Cross’ host mom saw her nose piercing and remarked, “I like the other side of your face more.”
There are striking cultural differences between the US and Spain, but I think that Spanish people’s authenticity makes it a little bit easier to process the culture shock. They’re never pretending, so you know that what they say is genuine, and, most of the time, comes from a good place.