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Home: Reverse Culture Shock

May 4, 2011

Its odd to be back at home, at yet it feels fine.  What I mean is that it feels good to be home, but just a little out of the ordinary.  I keep waiting to see my friends, to go out with them, or even just to hear Spanish.  It’s odd to come back to a place where life has moved on, but your life in this place has not.

It was quite an adventure to get home.  I took two large bags on a train from Barcelona to Paris.  I nearly missed the train because I went to the wrong train station, which was a bad start to my travels.  From there it continued to get worse.  I arrived in Paris and checked into a hotel, as the people I was supposed to stay with had a sick child.  By chance my friend who is studying abroad in Rome was also in Paris that weekend and so we went to see the Eiffel tower light up at 12pm.

I got a good nights rest and headed for the airport.  I arrived to find a very long line that seemed to have three stops on it.  First I was asked to go a customs lady who asked where I had been and what was in my bag.  I apparently answered everything up to par and so she let me through to the next lady.  This lady swiped my passport and printed my boarding passes.  Then I went to a third line to have my bags checked.

This is where my second problem occurred.  Apparently there is a weight limit for every bag and you cannot pay for more than that.  You first bag can be up to 23 kilos (about 50 pounds); your second bag is $50 and can be up to 32 kilos (70 pounds).  After that the airline will not take it.  My bag was 38 kilos.  I had to some how extract 6 kilos?!!! So I pulled my bag aside and started to see what can I take out, what can I throw away, and what can I carry.   I did this for about 15 minutes and finally got my bag down to 32 kilos.  Needless to say I had to throw out a sweater, a bag of couscous, and a towel, as well as add clothes to my carry on and I had to carry my favorite blanket.  Now I was a mess and very irritated.

The plane ride from Paris and Chicago wasn’t too bad, long but I managed to sleep for most of it.  I went through customs with ease and even had some time to spare before my next flight.  As we are supposed to start boarding an announcement is made that the plane has a mechanical problem and they are looking for a new one.  Of course, this would happen the one time I really want to get home.  So, I wait for the next announcement.  40 minutes later, 10 minutes after we were supposed to have left, an announcement is made that the plane will be delayed for three hours.  Now I had already checked for others flights and put myself of standby, but all I could do was wait.  I bought myself some trashy magazines to catch up on the gossip and waited for three hours.

As I landed in LAX Obama had just announced the death of Osama Bin Laden.  Imagine that, I arrive home from being abroad to find out that Osama Bin Laden is dead!  It was a bit too much for me to take in all at once.  My parents picked me up and went home and had a nice light late night dinner.

Being home is odd.  Everything I know is normal, yet for me everything is a little odd.  First of all to hear English all the time feels weird.  I keep thinking about why I can understand every one so clearly, and do they all know I can hear them?  The funniest thing I keep doing is I keep trying to flush the toilet from the top.  In Europe all the flushers are on the top and you either push or pull.  In my house the Kleenex boxes are kept on top of the toilet so I keep moving them looking for the flusher before I realize its on the side.

Also the variety and choices of everything here is rather overwhelming.  In my fridge alone I have 6 types of cheeses, 3 types of lettuce, 3 types of pasta, sauces, vegetables, and many other things.  We have brands I haven’t seen in months.  I can’t decide what I want to eat most of the time just because I want it all.  One thing I really missed in Spain was salad.  They had no legitimate salad the way we do salads in the US.

Reverse culture shock is very interesting and I will have to see in the following days how it develops.  It’s funny because I leave in a few days for Buenos Aires and will go through another jetlag and another culture shock before I can really settle back into America.


To Dress For Fashion or The Weather? The Question of The Century

April 26, 2011

In every country, every state, every city, and every neighborhood fashion is different.  The standards for what you wear are different, the seasonal dress is different, and when you change to dressing for the season is different.  I grew up in New York, so the season changes were always very obvious.  Winter came and everyone put on their big coats, spring came with light jackets, summer came and everyone wanted to wear as little as possible.  Then I moved to California, a place where seasons changes are much less obvious, and thus changing your outer wear for the season was much less necessary.  Barcelona weather is similar to California in that way.

When I arrived in Barcelona it was winter and everyone had on their big long coats and winter hats.  This seemed appropriate at times, but they looked as if they were dressed for winter snow in New York.  I thought maybe they are just cold people and so they wear a lot of winter gear.  But, the seasons began to change.  It warmed up in Barcelona and to me, the long heavy jacket was no longer necessary.  I could wear a light jacket or just a sweater and not be cold.  I noticed though, that nobody had changed their outer wear.

Then a few early summer days came to Barcelona and I was wearing dresses and sandals.  Now it was April and people seemed to have finally taken off their warm coats and put on a lighter coat, but still they were not what I considered dressed appropriately for the weather.  How were they not sweating with a coat, shoes, and a long sleeve shirt on?  All the Americans wore dresses similar to me, but the Spanish seemed content with what they were wearing.

I got on the Metro with my sandals on and noticed a lot of people staring at my feet.  I didn’t understand if my feet were that ugly, or I was missing something.  So, I asked my teacher. My teacher explained to me that the Spanish have more set times for when they change their outer wear.  For instance by the end of March it is appropriate to wear a light jacket and flats, but it is not appropriate to wear sandals yet.  Only in mid-May is appropriate to wear sandals and a dress.

This made no sense to me.  How could you dress according to a timetable, when the weather is always changing and especially now with global warming it is so unpredictable.  Barcelona had a week of 80 degrees, and no one seem to dress as it if it was that hot.

Needless to say, I have tried to wear my sandals unless it’s really necessary.  I personally think dressing to the weather makes more sense than dressing to a timetable, but to each their own.

Off-season or On-season, your still in Ibiza.

April 24, 2011

Ibiza is most well-known for its parties during the summer months, but before the season starts it is a very different place.  This year Ibiza’s season starts at the end of May when all the DJ’s come to live in Ibiza and all the hotels and apartments are filled with students and even adults.  The beaches will be full with tourists and everybody who lives on Ibiza will be making a lot of money.

But, during the off-season the place is abandoned.  I went to Ibiza in the end of April, a little less than a month before its start date and the place was not at all what I was expecting.  What I found out was that Ibiza almost literally shuts down during the winter and then reopens in the summer.  They don’t just reopen in the summer though; because it has been vacated for so many months they must renovate almost every single building and hotel.

When wandering the streets most grocery stores were open, as well as a few beach shops, but everything else was locked shut.  As for restaurants and bars, a few people had decided to come back early and start their businesses, but most were also closed.  This was somewhat surprising to me, how could a place make so much in the summer and then shut down in the winter?  As we wandered further from Old Town we found more and more hotels that were being redone.  New glass was being put in and cleaned, new mattresses were being brought in, and the main thing that was being done was everything was being repainted.

Ibiza was not too expensive during off-season.  Most meals were 10 euro, the grocery store was expensive, and any souvenir was over priced.  During the summer season every price is jacked up because the island is similar to an airport, you have nowhere else to go.  We paid 55 euro a night for a one-bedroom apartment, apparently that room can go up to 150 euro easily and everyone will still pay for it.

Club tickets are a whole other issue.  A world-known club, Pacha, has a location in Ibiza.  When I was there it was 30 euro with a free drink, during the summer the tickets go up to 100 euro and no free drink.  Not only are the cubs expensive, they sell out. You have to buy your club ticket before you go to the club!

As for the beaches, they were not very nice.  Since no one is there during the winter the trash and dried seaweed piles up on the beaches.  When we were there they had not yet cleaned the beaches so it was hard to find a nice place to sit, and the sand wasn’t very nice.  As you walk away from Old Town into the more touristy area with nicer hotels the beach does get nicer, but it is not pristine white beaches.

Ibiza fixes itself up very well for being so rundown during the year.  I would say if you really want to go and it’s not summer season go, but other wise definitely wait till everything is open.

Eat Meat, Eat Bread. You’re in Morocco!

April 18, 2011

Morocco is one of those places I have always dreamed of going, but I never thought I’d have the opportunity to actually go.  My study abroad program, CEA, offered a trip through Morocco Exchange for a three night, four-day, and right away I knew I had to go.  We would be doing two nights at a homestay outside Marrakech and then one night in Marrakech.  I knew this would be a trip of a lifetime.

I did not know too much about Morocco, and especially Marrakech, but I did have a few preconceived feelings and ideas about the Muslim people.  In America Muslims are portrayed as very religious people who are most likely terrorists.  As an American we also think of their culture as repressive and against feminism.  Part of the objective of the Morocco Exchange program is to change the way that Americans view the Muslim people.

We arrived in to Marrakech in the late afternoon and took a small van straight to Amizmiz, a town an hour outside of Marrakech, where we would be doing our home-stays.  We arrived at the house of our Moroccan tour guide’s to meet our homestay host that spoke English.

Immediately there was a large language barrier because the other members of the host families barely spoke English and some spoke no English.  This made social times even harder because either the English speaker was speaking to the guests and the family couldn’t understand or the English host was talking to his family in Arabic and the guests couldn’t understand.

The next thing we learned was how to eat in the typical Moroccan fashion: with no utensils, and a lot of bread.  The first dish was Tajine which is a typical Moroccan food served in a ceramic dish.  It consists of peas, potatoes, and chicken piled high in a pile and the juices all at the bottom.  One takes a piece of bread and uses it to soak up the juices and grab some meat and peas.  We were warned before hand that each person has an invisible triangle that you eat within, this way germs aren’t shared and everyone gets a good amount of food.  The hardest part of eating was remembering that we couldn’t use our left hands.  In Muslim culture your left is your dirty hand and so you do not use it to eat.

The next day we took a tour of the area.  This was amazing to see because the town is not very large, but it has everything needed. We got to visit a local ceramic maker, a black smith, and got to attend a Soccer Award Ceremony. We even got to see women hand making couscous.  This was a great experience because we got to ask them questions about what it was like when they were growing up and we found out that many things have changed.

Saturday morning we left for Marrakech.  The goodbye ceremony was not your typical American handshake and a pat on the back.  It took almost two hours to complete all of our good-byes.  The thing that will stick with me most from the experience in Amizmiz is how genuinely nice and giving these people are.  When leaving “I love you’s” were said, and invites to come back were given.  These people after having known us for less than 48 hours wanted us to stay with them forever.  It was so touching as I said goodbye to my host sister she said I love you and almost started crying as she told me she would miss me.  In America we never show emotion like this.  It was so beautiful to see a culture that truly wanted you to know how they felt.

Our next stop was Marrakech, which was the complete opposite of Amizmiz.  It was a bustling city with people and cars going in all directions, it was stressful just to cross the street.  Since Marrakech is a city the people were much more modern, and their ways of life and ideas on the world were much more modern as well.  The women didn’t have to wear head wraps and they could go to school and work.  The people though, were still just as generous.  Students took us to coffee and to go shopping.  They wanted to know all about America and our lives and it was amazing to learn how they felt about their situation.

As an American we look at the culture and compare it to ours, we see that the women have fewer rights than men, we see the men being controlling, and we see a culture of people who are unhappy.  None of this is true.  The women, although some may want to travel more, enjoy their life style because it is part of their religion and their belief.  The men may seem controlling but one will learn that inside the house is the woman’s domain.  These people are happy and generous and live very happy lives.  I would be interested in seeing if they are happier than Americans because Americans always are striving for more and consequently feel inadequate.  These people look at what they have as a blessing.

After going to Morocco I have changed my views on Muslims and their culture, and I have made a goal to change the way I think.  The Muslims, as any group of people, cannot be stereotyped into one thing.  They need to be understood as many different groups of people with many different beliefs and understanding of their religion.  They are not unhappy or repressed; they are free in so many ways.  I would like to change the way I judge people, what someone looks like on the outside is not even close to who they could be.  I also want to change the way I think about life.  If we all end up in the same place, in the ground, than I need to concentrate most on being happy because when I die I end up in the same place as both the rich and the poor.  My last goal is to change the way the world looks as Muslims.  Everyone told me Morocco is so unsafe, and yes parts of it may be, but if you come there with an open mind the people will welcome you because they know you want to learn.  I highly recommend traveling to Morocco. I already want to go back to see Casablanca and Rabat.

Berlin: Ages Twenty to Thirty Only Please

April 12, 2011

When I first began planning my trips throughout Europe, Berlin was not originally on my list.  Somehow somewhere along the line Berlin was added to my list and booked.  After having just been to Berlin last weekend it is officially in my top three favorite cities I have visited so far.  There is so much history in Germany and especially in Berlin.  It is a diverse city with good food, great people, and thousands of things to see and do.

Being a poor college student studying abroad my friends and I figured we would take the cheapest flight to Berlin, the one that left at 9:30pm and arrived to Berlin at 12:30am.  Not worth it, our flight was delayed and we did not even get to our hostel until 3am!

The first thing we decided to do was go on a walking tour.  I would highly recommend doing this for any city because then you can easily get your bearings and find out about the best museums, places to eat, and other sites to see.  The #1 rated tour in Berlin is the New Berlin tour, which is exactly what we decided to do.  We read that it was supposed to be a three and half hour tour (that would be the longest tour we had gone on so far).  After three and a half hours we were only half way down with the tour; the tour ended up taking almost six hours.  This was not at all a bad thing, I learned more in that 6 hours than any history class has come close to teaching me about Germany.

The most interesting story I learned was the story of how the Berlin wall came down. There was a meeting between the government officials of Germany about how to deal with the public wanting the Berlin Wall to come down.  The decision was to fool the public, a common technique in government.  They would put a press release stating that the Berlin Wall would be opened eventually under specific conditions.  The conditions stated were made so that almost no one could go through.  They were such things as must be a passport holder and must have 20,000 dollars in the bank.  Almost no one had a passport in East Berlin and having money in the bank, especially that much, was almost unheard of.

Well, the only man missing from the meeting that day was the man who would make the press release, Gunter Schabowski.  Shortly before the press release he was handed the minutes for the meeting he missed, he decided he did not have time to read them and just went to the press conference.  As he started to drone on about a lot of things nobody cared about a journalist raised his hand and asked what is happening with the Berlin Wall, when would be people able to start passing through the checkpoints?  Schabowski had no idea so he flipped through his notes and read that it would be opened to the public.  Now the newsroom went crazy over this news.  Schabowski neglected to state any of the regulations that were made in the meeting.  The next question asked was when would the wall be coming down.  Schabowski couldn’t find anything in his notes and instead of answering a week, a month, or a year, he said immediately.  The East Berliner’s ran to the nearest checkpoints and started to mob the entrances.  The guards had not heard the news yet but realized either way that they could not keep back this mob of people.  They let everyone through.

The falling of the Berlin Wall was a complete accident.

The rest of our days we did some more sightseeing as well as go to Mauerpark for their famous Sunday festival.  Mauerpark is a large park in the Mitte district of Berlin.  On Sunday’s there is a large flea market with food stands and the park turns into a large festival.  There is a large crowd around a karaoke machine; there are basketball games, people doing their own tricks and a lot of people lounging on the grass.  There were probably over 2000 people there.

Berlin is also well-known for its parties.  It has the #1 club in the world.  The city literally parties from Friday to Monday morning.  Some of the clubs are more exclusive than others, so if visiting I highly recommend you either have a German friend or make one.  It is hard to get in without knowing where they are or without speaking German.

This is was one of my favorite cities because it feels as if it was made for people twenty to thirty years old.  I felt that I didn’t even have enough time to do everything, although I got the essentials in.  I would love to back to Berlin in the summer when everyone is out and its warm!

Choose Your Podcast!

April 6, 2011

Podcasts can be about any subject.  In order to decide on what podcast you want to subscribe to I suggest you choose think about what interests you and what you like to listen to on the radio.  One of my favorite news stations is NPRIt is a have a very eclectic compilation throughout the day which makes it enjoyable to a wide range of people.  NPR has a number of different podcasts both on iTunes and on their website.

NPR is a publicly funded radio station that has award-winning programs in both news and music.  NPR started in the 1920´s when broadcasting first began.  In the 1940´s the Federal Communications commission (FCC) allotted the lower band of the FM stations for educational and non-commercial radio.  In 1970 NPR was incorporated into 90 news stations.  Then in 1980 NPR launched the first nationwide satellite delivered radio distribution network.  During the 1990´s and the Cold War NPR continued to expand.  Now in the 21st century NPR is the largest its been.  NPR´s mission is to create a more informed public and it has been doing so for years.

NPR has many well-known programs availble on podcast such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and This American Life. My favorite program is All Things Considered. This program started in 1971 and in the past four decades everything about the program has changed, including the equipment used to record it.  The program runs for two hours during the weekdays and a one hour evening program on the weekends.  On the weekdays the program is hosted by Robert Siegel, Michele Norris and Melissa Block whom put together the mix of interviews, commentaries, news, reviews, and a few uncommon features.  On the weekends the program is hosted by Guy Raz.

One of their most recent podcasts titled How To Create A Social Media Scrapbook.  This program introduced a new tool called Memolane, which allows social media users to create a graphic online album from Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and other social media outlets.  It is a great source to organize your history on your social media sites.

Below is the podcast from NPR: How To Create A Social Media Scrapbook

Milk Does NOT Always Have to be Refrigerated

March 31, 2011

I first have to say that I have never been a milk person, meaning I don´t like it plain and its main uses are for cereal and tea or coffee.  Besides that I think it has a weird flavor and I have never understood how kids drink it with dinner.  In the United States our milk is always refrigerated and generally tends to go bad in about a week.  We also have four main types of milk: whole, skim, two percent, and non fat.  In Barcelona there are only three types of milk: whole, skim, and non-fat.

As a person who doesn´t really like milk, arriving in Barcelona to find that the milk was not refrigerated was rather alarming.  In the supermarkets there are literally crates of milk next to the refrigerated section.  My first thought was how could this be?  In America if our milk is not refrigerated then the milk goes bad within hours.  My friend and I kept wandering through the supermarket and finally found a cold milk section.  I looked at the expiration date and it was in two weeks! This made me uneasy, I still could not understand how milk could stay good for so long!

So, I started my research.  I didn´t want to drink the milk until I knew why it could stay good for so long, as well as why it doesn´t have to be refrigerated.  In the United States there are two types of production; Grade A for consumption and Grade B for indirect consumption such as cheese making.  In the United States dairy farms are mainly local, while in the Southern Hemisphere dairy companies can be large nationwide or transnational companies.  The main difference between the American milk and milk in Barcelona is the level of pasteurization.

Pasteurization is the process that kills harmful microorganisms by heating the milk for a short period of time and then cooling it. A newer process called ultrapasteurization heats the milk to a higher temperature for a shorter amount of time.  This allows the milk to have a longer shelf life and allows the milk to be stored unrefrigerated because it is highly sterilized, but it affects its taste adversely.  The alternative to ultrapasteurization is microfiltration in which the milk is forced through a ceramic filtration system.  It has a longer shelf life, and doesn´t change the taste!

After I did my research I was still a bit uneasy about drinking this highly sterilized, ultrapastuerized milk, but I decided to try it.  I poured some into a bowl of cereal and chomped away.  It was not as bad as I expected! I now use the milk in my cereal and with tea and coffee.  I know that many other countries also have unrefrigerated milk, so if they do it just means its been ultrapastuerized and is very sterile, so DRINK AWAY!