Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Trip to Italy

Recently I had the opportunity to visit a fellow American studying abroad in Pescara, Italy, a small city on the eastern coast. I flew in and out of Rome Ciampino Airport, and spent my last full day there in Rome before boarding the plane the following morning. Rome is an incredible city; I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who has the chance to visit. Even if you don't have the chance, make one--it's a city is unlike any other.


Photos from Pescara

The unmistakable Colosseum

The Pantheon

The Vatican from afar

Last but not least, the Trevi Fountain

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Apartments, SIM Cards, and Spanish Residency

After having lived in Spain for just about 8 months now I'm beginning to struggle with the idea of leaving and not coming back. Despite economic crisis and high unemployment (currently at 25% across the board and 59% in youth--meaning less than half of Spanish students currently enrolled in college will not get a job), the inevitable language barrier, and a general lack of urgency that seems to haunt the culture itself, I find I'm less than excited about returning home. Maybe it's just the thought of uprooting myself yet again, which, given the nature of the Suffolk Madrid program, I knew would be part of the bargain. But there's something about Madrid that I think I'm going to miss; maybe it's the juxtaposition of history and cosmopolitan ideals, or the down-to-earth grocery stores, or the laid-back lifestyle, or the weather, the nightlife, the language, the people, the streets. Somehow I feel as if I've only just gotten the hang of Madrid, and now I have to revert back to a way of living I'm not entirely I want to return to.

Personal problems aside, being enrolled in Suffolk Madrid has given me a bit of insight into the necessary procedures for residency here. In order to stay in Madrid past the expiry of a given visa, you must obtain a tarjeta de extranjera, or DNI, or the equivalent of the Green Card here in Spain. You have to present a number of documents to the Immigration Agency, including your passport, complete with a stamp indicating your date of entry, paperwork detailing that you have adequate funds to support yourself while in Spain, a certificate of empadromiento (which, from my understanding, more or less registers you in the Spanish immigration system via your address), and a few other items of note. Granted, the process is different depending on whether you're seeking residency as a student or as a potential employee, and it's in your best interest to have a solid understanding of Spanish in order to navigate various appointments, websites, and other bureaucratic measures. 

There's more to living in Spain, however, than simply having a residency card. Finding an apartment, getting a cell phone, and even finding a job are all challenges foreigners face upon emigrating to Spain. There are multiple websites that cater to those looking to rent apartments in Madrid, with rates as low as 200 or 250 euros per month (granted, such apartments are usually about an hour commute away from the city center). Obtaining a SIM card--or a phone itself, depending on whether or not your US phone is unlocked and/or internationally compatible--is as easy as walking into any cell carrier store and speaking with a representative. For native English speakers, there are a multitude of agencies that provide short-term TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) training programs; you can sign up online for month-long courses, and tuition fees range between 1000 and 1500 USD. Much like with the residency card, however, a strong foundation of the Spanish language is almost imperative for these goals, not to mention successful integration into Spanish society. If, after a semester or two abroad, the thought does strike you to pursue Spanish residency, the most important thing to focus on is the language--after that, provided you have the resources and the desire, everything else is a matter of navigating Spanish bureaucracy.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Balancing Travel with Academics

Regardless of whether you're a freshman or a senior, academics are a primary consideration when studying abroad. Considering I'm only a freshman, I can't compare the workload here to anywhere in the states; objectively speaking, however, it's doable. Naturally, classes vary in intensity depending on the level and the teacher, but the schedule here at SUMC allows for adequate time to finish your coursework and still enjoy Spain (not to mention the rest of Europe). 

That said it's important not to forget about school entirely. With discount airlines that offer cheap flights year round, it can be tempting to book a trip for every weekend of the semester. Those that do travel often put their trips off until the last few weeks of classes, leaving 10-page papers, 30 minute presentations, novels, and other projects off until the last minute. The story of procrastination is familiar to many, but foreign travel often complicates the equation. If you do book trips, it's best that they fall before the end of classes so you don't miss out on valuable study time, not to mention ensuring that you're actually in country for all of your finals. 

Traveling on discount airlines also requires a bit of preparation, both physically and mentally. Perhaps the most important thing to take into consideration is the baggage limit: luggage must be under a certain size and weight in order to fly. Unlike regular international flights, however, you can and will be denied the chance to board your flight if you fail to meet these requirements--that, or you'll be forced to wear every jacket, sweater, shoe, and other removable article of clothing you've packed on the flight with you. There are no in-flight meals, the bathrooms cost 25 cents, and the airline may tack on fees as it sees fit depending on whether or not you are within their guidelines for travel. In the end it's a matter of reading the fine print and, when in doubt, traveling light. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Madrid in a Nutshell

With Spring break happening all over the US, I've been lucky enough to have one of my best friends from home as a guest here in Madrid this past week. She'd wanted to come to Spain ever since high school; needless to say we could have stared at each other the entire week and she would have been happy. Of course we did much more than that; but with only six full days in country it was a matter of narrowing down the quintessential Madrid activities. Below is a list of what we did and, quite frankly, a list of things any traveler should aspire to do regardless of the duration of their stay.

In no particular order:

  • Visit Puerta del Sol
  • Explore El Buen Retiro Park, including the Crystal Palace, Rose Garden, and Rowboats
  • Visit the Royal Palace
  • Order a Chocolate Napolitana from La Mallorquina, a wildly popular pastry shop in Sol
  • Window and/or actual shopping on Gran Via
  • Visit Templo de Debod at sunset
  • Visit Plaza de España
  • Visit Plaza Mayor
  • Explore the Rastro flea market (Sundays only)
  • Order the Menu del Dia for lunch at any given Spanish restaurant
  • Sample traditional Spanish tapas
  • Visit the San Miguel Market
  • Walk Calle Cavabajas
  • Visit the Prado Museum
  • Catch a bus to the small city of Toledo and spend the day there
  • Walk Calle Serrano
  • Walk along the Rio Manzanares
  • Experience Madrid at night (ie after midnight)
  • Visit the Circle of Fine Arts Museum and have a drink on the terrace
The list is by no means comprehensive; there are countless other things to see and do in Madrid, but the above activities do, in my humble opinion, capture the essence of Madrid.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Spanish Holidays: Easter

Easter may not actually be here yet, but talk has already begun about the upcoming holiday week. Here in Madrid there are a number of religious processions, sort of like parades, that take place from the Sunday before Easter to the Sunday of. This entire week is known as the Semana Santa, or Holy Week. Shops and businesses don't close for the entire week, but they do observe a four-day weekend leading up to Easter (there are a number of other holidays that culminate in four-day weekends; the Spanish refer to these weekends as "puentes," or bridges). Aside from the processions, however, Easter isn't a particularly big deal in Spain, especially among those who are less than religious. Rarely will anyone wish you "Feliz Pascua," and while many families still gather for dinner, it's generally a very low-key event. Granted, the story may be different elsewhere in Spain; these are simply my observations from Madrid. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Housing Options in Madrid

As a student at SUMC, housing can make all the difference in your study abroad/freshman experience. As outlined in the information brochures, there are three types of housing here: host family, residence and apartment. Each option is unique to the SUMC campus (with the only exception being apartments, to some extent), which has no dorms or other designated residence area. Below is a brief list of the pros and cons of all three choices.

Host Family: As an incoming freshman at SUMC, host families are obligotory during your first semester here. The school has a network of families, most of which consist of older, single Spanish women whose children have moved out of the house; for this reason the majority of host families are located in the suburbs rather than the city center. Some speak English, but the idea is to learn the language and culture firsthand. Rules vary from household to household, but generally speaking you aren't allowed to use the kitchen or take food unless it's during mealtimes. As part of the half-board system you only receive two meals a day, typically breakfast and dinner. Host mothers will do your laundry, clean your room (sweep/dust/etc., not necessarily organize your things) and prepare your meals. However, the transition into a family that is not your own, in addition to the cultural differences, can sometimes generate friction between students and host families. If you're interested in improving your Spanish and learning more about the culture then this option is for you; however, of the three options, this one grants the least independence. 

Residence: Although I've never had the experience of living in a residence, one of my good friends was placed there last semester. Residencies are more or less the middle ground between host families and apartments; while you live exclusively with other students, the school employs maids to clean the apartment, do your laundry, shop for groceries and prepare one to two meals per day. Many of the residences are located closer to the center of the city. It's a good way to meet other students from the school, but you can be lodged with as many as eight other people; in that sense it's the most similar of the three to dorm life. 

Apartment: Typically reserved for study abroad students, but not off-limits to freshmen, the apartment offers the most freedom. In exchange for that freedom, however, you're responsible for your own laundry, cooking your own meals and/or eating out, and generally keeping the house clean. The school does employ a cleaning person to clean the apartment on a weekly basis, but he or she will not take care of the dishes or individual rooms. You aren't allowed to entertain guests past 11 pm and you're not allowed to drink alcohol within the apartment (although the same goes for host families and residences). Apartments are usually smaller than residences, and you typically live with four or five other people. 

Hopefully that provides some further insight into housing options here in Madrid. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Trip to Lisbon, Portugal

Of the many trips offered here at SUMC, few provide students with the opportunity to travel beyond Spain's borders; when I heard there would be a trip to Portugal in spring semester I immediately put my name in. I was lucky enough to be one of about 90 people who went on the trip this past weekend, and it was absolutely incredible. In addition to the city of Lisbon, we visited the suburb of Belém, nearby town of Sintra and the westernmost point of Europe, known as Cabo da Roca. The 8 hour bus ride from Madrid was certainly less than pleasant, but the regularity of the bus route leaves little excuse to miss this one-of-a-kind European city. Not only that, but they speak much better English in Lisbon than in most of Spain. Regardless of whether or not you make it Madrid, Lisbon and the surrounding area are a must-see.