I’ve been busy with school and extracurricular activities since I last did a blog post, so I have fallen a little behind…A few weekends ago, I travelled to Dublin to visit my roommate, Caroline, who is studying at Trinity for the year.
It was a super short visit (1.5 days!), but it was a lot of fun. Caroline took me around the city and showed me her favorite places to eat, shop, and hang out with friends.
It was cool to see how different her study abroad experience has been than mine. She lives in a flat with two Irish flatmates in the center of the beautiful campus, but she also has the historical and lively city right outside the campus gates. (It was also weird to have to speak English all of the time!!)
I was so happy to see Caroline, and to have the chance to explore a new city!
I have officially been in Coruña for one month! I love it here. It has a population of about 250,000 people, and while it is always buzzing with activity, it definitely feels like a small city. It is very easily walkable, and I frequently run into people I know.
Because I’ve been here for a month, I figured I’d give a mini virtual tour:
People in Coruña speak both Spanish and Gallego, the official language of Galicia. Children learn Gallego in school and there is a public Gallego television channel, but, as my host mom explained to me, Spanish is the predominant language in Coruña. Now, Gallego is the more prevalent language only in rural towns outside of Coruña and among older generations. Apparently, the Gallego vs. Spanish debate is very contentious (both linguistically and historically) and has serious political implications– something I definitely want to learn more about!
Coruña is on the Northwest coast of Spain, and the city’s beaches are some of its main attractions. It was September when I arrived in Coruña, so my friends and I made sure to go to the beach a few times while the weather was still nice. The two main beaches, Riazor and Orzán, are a 10 minute walk from my apartment. Orzan’s currents are notoriously rough and unpredictable, so many people prefer to go to Riazor. Both beaches are beautiful, though, and a great way to relax and enjoy time with family/friends.
Coruña also has a very vibrant Old Town, with lots of shopping plazas, bars, and restaurants. My personal favorite places to eat are Mesón de Pulpo, which has the best octopus in the city, and O’Sampaio, where we Holy Cross students frequent on the weekends to enjoy octopus, huevos rotos con jamón, tortilla, and, of course, sangria.
The Plaza de Maria Pita is the most famous plaza in the city, containing many tapas bars and restaurant terraces, the palatial Town Hall/El Ayuntamiento (which is especially beautiful at night), and a statue of Maria Pita, la heroína coruñesa who defended the city against English attack in 1589.
Coruña is perhaps most well known for the Tower of Hercules, which is the oldest functioning lighthouse in the world, dating back to the 2nd century AD. Mythology holds that the sons of King Breogan, the founding father of the Galician Celtic nation, could see the Southern coast of Ireland from the top of the tower. They were so mystified by its beautiful shores that they sailed to Ireland and never returned to Galicia. Legend says that Breogan’s descendants are the ancestors of the current Irish people.
Coruña is home to the Universidade da Coruña, a large, public university with almost 24,000 students!! The campus is hilly and very spread out–we need to take a bus to get between different campus buildings! Students at UDC choose carreras (careers) upon their acceptance and take classes that follow a specific track determined by the university. Because they take classes in only one subject, students spend most of their time in the specific building that corresponds to their carrera.
Finally, Coruña has very vibrant and fun nightlife! Coruña has a bunch of clubs located along the port and they have beautiful terraces that overlook the water–the perfect place to talk to people and take a break from dancing! In typical Spanish fashion, people don’t leave for the clubs until around 1:00 or 1:30 am and they often stay out until long after the sun rises. One day, my friends and I were waiting at the bus stop to head to an early class when we saw a huge crowd of people walking home from the clubs, looking exhausted and with high heels in their hands!
I hope you enjoyed this (very brief) tour! Coruña is a beautiful city, and I am so glad I get to spend a year here!!
I have been in Coruña for about three weeks now, and I love it here! My host family is amazing, there is so much to do in the city, and university life has been very interesting.
I got an email saying that this week was “International Education Week” at Holy Cross, which was organized to help welcome international students and celebrate global diversity on campus.
It was so strange to be studying abroad halfway across the world and suddenly receive this notification from Holy Cross, where I definitely took easy communication for granted.
I didn’t realize how limited my Spanish vocabulary was until I tried making small talk with my classmates on the first day of school. I was trying hard to make good impressions, but I felt like all I was communicating was that I’m dull and dumb.
On Wednesday, I had to give a 20 minute presentation for my History of Radio, Television, and Multimedia class. I was especially self-conscious about my Spanish because I didn’t want my four group members to wish that “la americana” wasn’t in their group.
The presentation ended up being fine, and a few of my group members even complimented me for being so calm while presenting (I did not feel calm!!!!!).
I definitely underestimated how out of place I would feel as the only international student in most of my classes, but I’ve also been touched by the number of people who have come up to me and told me to let them know if I ever need help with anything.
It’s so funny how being pulled out of your “normal” and put into foreign contexts can help you better understand the experiences of people on your own campus. I never considered just how uncomfortable international students at Holy Cross may feel studying on a snowy hill west of Boston, and how brave they are for deciding to spend all four years (!!!) of college in a different country. I’m glad that Holy Cross dedicated a week to welcoming them onto campus, and I hope they’re beginning to settle into their new home and experiencing those little acts of kindness that can go a long way.
Last week we visited Olite, located about an hour south of Pamplona, where we did a wine tasting at the Ochoa Winery and toured the Palacio Real. The medieval town surrounding the palace was beautiful and quaint, and the palace itself was ginormous. We spent almost an hour walking through its sprawling halls, and enjoyed the gorgeous views of the town below from its many towers.
We also participated in our first Juevinxtos (Jueves=Thursday + vino=wine + pintxos) Thursday is the best going-out night in Pamplona, and in typical Spanish fashion, the clubs don’t get busy until 2 or 3 am, and people don’t return home until around 7 am! It was very cool to see the bars and the discotecas at their most vibrant states.
One day, instead of holding class, our professors took us to the city center for a pinxto tour. After watching a performance of “Flamenco on Fire” in front of the Ayuntamiento, we were tasked with going to different pinxto bars and interviewing as many waiters, bartenders, and customers as we could find about the historical and cultural significance of pintxos to Pamplona. Despite our good intentions, most people did not want to be recorded/have anything to do with us (oh well!) A few people were very friendly, though. One particularly spirited man, when asked about the difference between “pintxos” and “tapas,” very sternly said, “People eat tapas in Spain. This is not Spain.” He later told us that he was born and raised somewhere in the Basque Country—which is very close to Pamplona/Navarra and has its own, very distinct language— It’s funny to see that no matter what country you’re in, there are rivalries and even serious tensions between different regions (not just in America, haha!!)
Last Saturday we went to Zarautz, and we spent the entire day at the beach. The waves were the biggest and most intense waves I have ever experienced. Ironically, it was one of the few moments in the last few weeks that I was able to actually slow down and fully appreciate how lucky I am to have the opportunity to study abroad in Spain. There were six of us, and we were getting knocked down by every single wave and then hitting each other, kicking each other, and rolling on top of each other underwater. When we finally came up again, banged up and with salt water in our eyes, noses, and mouths, we had a split second to breathe and make sure everyone was okay before we were submerged again. It was terrifying and physically exhausting, but it was in those absurd, coming-up-for-air moments that I felt more present, even more connected to the people around me, and even more appreciative of all the little moments of joy Spain has offered us so far. It was exhilarating, and we stayed in the water for hours.
Pamplona has allowed me to adjust to living in Spain, get used to speaking Spanish 24/7, try new things, and meet so many amazing people. Muchas gracias por todo, Pamplona! Next stop, A Coruña!
I am writing from Pamplona, Spain, where we’ve been for a week. Our days have been packed with classes, fun cultural excursions, and lots of amazing food.
We are taking an extensive Spanish language and culture course at the Universidad de Navarra to prepare us to live in our host cities. The university is absolutely gorgeous, with a lot of trees, rolling hills, and beautiful architecture. The language barrier is difficult, but the class has definitely helped me work on my grammar, learn new vocabulary, and become more confident speaking Spanish with native speakers.
We have spent a lot of our time walking around and exploring the city. The Old City (or the “Casco Viejo”) is especially beautiful, and its cobblestone streets are always bustling with people. On one walking tour, we stopped for sangria and then drank it in the middle of the street (eating and drinking in the street is very common here because the bars are so small!) We’ve spent a lot of time shopping in the Old City and even took a Rumba Flamenco class!
On one of our first days in Pamplona, we had a tour of the Plaza de Toros de Pamplona, one of the main sites of the annual “running of the bulls.” The tradition began in the 14th century, when men would speed up the process of transporting bulls to the markets by using various fear tactics. This practice quickly evolved into a competition, as young men tried to race the bulls to their pens. We learned that the bulls are raised on farms in southern Spain and transported to Pamplona when they are about five years old. They are then forced to run the encierro and are killed (they usually are stabbed around 20 times before they die).The extreme physical and psychological abuse of the bulls obviously makes the event very controversial, and some of our tour guides even said that they are so against it that they refuse to attend.
We also visited San Sebastián, a seaport city located about 10 miles from the French border. It is the capital of the province of Guipúzcoa in the Basque country–all of the street signs are in both Spanish and Basque! We hiked to the top of a mountain trail called Sendero de San Teresa, from which we were able to see the entire city. We then ate tapas for lunch (or pintxos, as people in Basque country call them) and went for a refreshing swim in the ocean.
This weekend, we drove to Loyola, where we toured the Sanctuary of Loyola, or the birthplace of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus. We went to mass in the basilica and enjoyed the picturesque views of the Montserrat mountains (which brought back special memories for us Holy Cross students!)
We also went to Bilbao, which is about three hours north of Pamplona, and toured the Guggenheim.
It’s crazy that we’ve only been in Spain for a week–it already feels like we’ve been here for months! I’m very excited to continue to improve my Spanish before I move to Coruña and meet my host family. Every single person who we’ve met here has been so kind and encouraging when we speak Spanish, even when what we say makes no sense!
¡Hasta luego (or “sta-lo-go” as people say it here)!
¡Hola! My name is Kate McLaughlin. I am a History and Spanish double major from Pelham, New York.
Tonight I set out for A Coruña, Spain, where I’ll be spending the 2019-2020 academic year. When I applied to study abroad last fall, the idea of living in another country for a year felt so distant and abstract. Now, after a long summer of working and saving up for the trip, I can’t believe the time has finally come–and I’m both so terrified and so excited!!
I can’t help but think of how I felt the night before Freshman year move-in day at Holy Cross. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from the first few weeks of college, but I knew that they would be confusing and challenging.
Now, as I wait anxiously in the airport and prepare to board my flight, I once again have butterflies in my stomach. But after two years that have been so enriching and transformative–both academically and personally–I feel confident that I can face this next challenge and embrace the uncertainty of the next year.
I will be spending the first three weeks in Pamplona (a city about four hours north of Madrid), where I will be taking a language and culture course with all of the the other Holy Cross students studying in Spain. In early September, I will head to A Coruña, meet my host family, and start classes at the city’s university, Universidade da Coruña.
I hope to use this blog to keep my family and friends updated on my travels and to allow myself to write about and reflect on the amazing experiences I will have. I can’t wait to immerse myself in a new country and culture and am ready to open my mind and heart to all that this adventure will have to offer!