I'm a business student from the University of South Carolina living abroad in Madrid

Thoughts.

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It’s a funny thing about coming home. Nothing changes, everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed is you.

Benjamin Button

The Reflection of Travel

I really have contemplated for weeks how I would ever be able to write my final post. Ideas come and go all the while small things I want to mention diminish into thin air before I get the chance to write them down. It’s so hard for me to be able to put all my thoughts into this one post, into a limited number of paragraphs, and a finite amount of words. How could a feeling so life-changing and significant be expressed properly in literary form? 

I’m not a writer. I don’t have advanced training in developing my thoughts and tossing around my ideas to form the most effective sentence every time I write, I just talk about how I feel. I use the words that come easiest for me, and I try to convey my thoughts to those who read my posts. I only advertised publicly that I even had a travel blog once, and after that I’ve left it up to nature for people who love to travel to find it. People ask me, “Who’s your audience? Why are you writing it?”

-“Myself” I tell them. I began this blog as a better way to communicate my realest thoughts and ideas so that one day, I can come back. When I am packed to the ceiling with work, or I have a test the next day, or even those times when I notice that life has me down - I will always be able to make my escape with the help of the stories I’ve shared on here. 

So what am I feeling a few days before I leave? I don’t want to go home. I live here. I’ve grown accustomed to the city of Madrid so much. And then I think to myself, “Well Michael, you’ve only lived there for four months, you’re still not a local.” How am I suppose to just call it quits now. Right when my Spanish is at its peak, right when I’m finally settling in. Everything has become so natural for me - just like they told me it would; a casual stroll past the royal palace, feeding peacocks that roam freely in the park, eating bocadillos almost every single day. Culture shock is a thing of the past, and a thing of my future. Crossing back over to the land of the familiar, returning to the real world when I venture home will surely feel like a punch in the face. 

Everyone always posts things on social networking sites reminiscing about their experiences studying abroad that go along the lines, “I’ve learned so much about myself, met so many fantastic people from around the world, and yada yada yada.” But the truth is that they are absolutely correct. Of course I met great people, some from the UK, Finland, Holland, Italy, Spain, France, and even the United States - although not everyone gets that opportunity, I still don’t feel that it’s unique to my own experience.

Have I learned a lot about myself? I feel I do that every year. With each passing year I can spot changes in my life that affect my external actions. I understand I change over the years, and study abroad has just allowed me to do that overseas rather than in Russell House. Sure, I’ve learned a great deal about myself, things that grind my gears, and also new passions I’ve found such as traveling alone, but I’ve learned more about other countries than I could ever hope to find in a history book. I’ve participated in the great debate regarding marmite, vegemite, or my suggestion- neither. I’ve gotten great lessons about the Basque country and its people, and I’ve gotten the lowdown on Finland’s #1 education system in the world. Seriously, I could tell you anything about it. 

So what has happened since studying abroad? How would I explain to somebody what studying abroad has done for me in terms of changing

Development. First-hand experience. Street smarts.

I was always the one in my family who everyone claimed to be book smart, all the while my brother and sister were those who constantly were commended for being naturally street smart. What does that even mean? 

The amount that I have actually learned through my experiences abroad is unlimited and unmeasurable. If I took a time traveling machine back to the week I first arrived in Spain, I would laugh at the mistakes and misconceptions, at the arrogance and ignorance, and at the nerves and unfamiliarity that consumed me. I’m more confident in myself now. I didn’t learn that I already was confident, but instead I developed this characteristic merely by being pushed out of plane into what I thought was an unforgiving city. I can pack a bag in under 15 minutes for an international flight, I can travel throughout Italy without worrying about how the train system works (always activate your tickets). I know the ins and outs of so many different processes that I can’t even think about. They say that you don’t know what you know, until you return home. Almost as if this entire four months has been a training process for life, when I return, I’ll put my skills to the test and hopefully come out on top.

I came from being a kid scared as hell, living in a hostel for the first five days in a different country, to a person who would do it all over again in a heartbeat. There isn’t really a way to express 100% wholeheartedly how I feel, unless you, yourself, have been in my shoes. Unless you, the reader, has risked everything, put the real world aside and climbed aboard a 747 jumbo jet to another unfamiliar place - whether that be in Europe, across your country, or even to the littlest village in the middle of Australia. These places will offer a great experience and the only advice I could offer is “go.” Live, experience and travel, because without these things, what would life be, if not a hamster wheel rotation in a stationary position for years and years to come? So thank you Spain for the wonderful and blessed opportunity you’ve given to me, thank you to the friends I’ve made over the years that are reading this post right now, and thank you to those who helped me learn along my way. This was the best experience of my life and I would be half the person I am now, had I never done it. 

When I first arrived at the Newark airport after a long 8-hour flight home, I was instantly greeted by the beautiful american diversity our country often boasts about. The line of American citizens was filled with people of clearly different backgrounds, heritages and cultures, yet they all had at least one thing in common - that is, being American. It was truly remarkable to me to notice for the first time just how much of a melting pot the United States of America really is. Then I think about my friends that I have made over the past few years, both from Spain and those from USC, and I realize how diverse their backgrounds and cultures are as well. I have friends from Saudi, China, Mexico, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Nigeria and more, and these people offer me a completely new perspective that I am forever grateful for. I feel as though this trip has just allowed me to see that in each and every one of them. 

It has been a little over two weeks since arriving back in the United States and I still yearn to use Spanish whenever I can. Similar to the first few weeks in Spain when my neck would sharply turn to the sound of an English-speaker, I seldom ignore the opportunity to practice my listening skills when I hear Spanish being spoken nearby, whether on television or in person. Although I haven’t been struck with a large amount of culture shock to date because I practically immediately packed my things and drove off to my college town, I do find myself thinking throughout the day about whether a store would be open for siesta, why it’s so hard to find tapas in Columbia, and understanding that not everyone wants to sit down with me to talk about the time I lived in Europe.

"This wine doesn’t even compare to the house wine I had with my friends in Tuscany."

Needless to say, it’ll take some time getting use to, and I can already see that I am, but I will forever hold a piece of me, a better portion of myself around- one that allows me to put myself in other’s shoes even more so than I usually do, one that allows me to problem solve without complete assistance from others, and one that helps me appreciate smaller things in life and differences among others. As of now, I can’t wait to see what the future holds and what other skills I find that I’ve learned from my study abroad experience. Hopefully my next adventure isn’t but just a small turn around the corner.  

For now, hasta luego a todos de mis amigos, y gracias por leyendo. 

MD

"And if you never stop when you wave goodbye, you just might find, if you give it time, you will wave hello again."~John Mayer

with a reflection soon to follow

with a reflection soon to follow

One of the best decisions I made came from a piece
of advice left to me by Spencer and Lauren.
“Get an intercambio!”
After my first trip to San Sebastián, I signed up for an intercambio de idiomas, and was put in contact with my new amigo Jose Ignacio, who wanted to learn English just as much as I wanted to learn Spanish. Over the past few months, we met together, ate together, and he showed me the city of Madrid. Just hanging out with him I have learned a countless number of small details related to different sites around the city, and can now offer a great helping hand to anyone who wants to know about the less-touristy but biggest bang-for-your-buck deals across the Madrid.
The more we hung out, the more we both learned about each other’s languages, but even more so about the differences between our cultures. My conversation skills have grown so much since meeting my new friend and its going to be sad saying goodbye, but I’m sure I always have somebody to contact when I return, and Jose knows he has the same when going to the USA.
See you soon tio!

One of the best decisions I made came from a piece

of advice left to me by Spencer and Lauren.

“Get an intercambio!”

After my first trip to San Sebastián, I signed up for an intercambio de idiomas, and was put in contact with my new amigo Jose Ignacio, who wanted to learn English just as much as I wanted to learn Spanish. Over the past few months, we met together, ate together, and he showed me the city of Madrid. Just hanging out with him I have learned a countless number of small details related to different sites around the city, and can now offer a great helping hand to anyone who wants to know about the less-touristy but biggest bang-for-your-buck deals across the Madrid.

The more we hung out, the more we both learned about each other’s languages, but even more so about the differences between our cultures. My conversation skills have grown so much since meeting my new friend and its going to be sad saying goodbye, but I’m sure I always have somebody to contact when I return, and Jose knows he has the same when going to the USA.

See you soon tio!

And here I go, just ballin’ out with my last week’s budget.

And here I go, just ballin’ out with my last week’s budget.

Banquet of Champions

Today we “graduated” in what felt like our university’s last opportunity to laugh at our blank stares and confusion while sitting in a half-empty auditorium (excuse me, half-full) through a series of mandatory commencement speeches (in Spanish) by supposed important university figureheads. This did, in fact, make it much easier to day dream for myself, but not before I got a general idea of what anyone was trying to say, of course.

People spoke, nobody really cried, and it passed very smoothly in a anticlimactic chain of events. Following our collection of our “diplomas” (many of which didn’t include the bearer’s name but rather some other random Erasmus student’s), we walked outside for some pictures and an array of finger-picking style hordouvres (a great way to get over any hangover or starvation one may have endured the night before). Tables were stacked high with typical Spanish foods like mini bocadillos, croquettas, and chorizo and I wasn’t going to waste any time, so I dug right in. A nice (forced, but nice) goodbye from this university was a great way to send off students to their respective separate corners of the world.

Here’s thanks, UFV. Thank you for your cafeteria, the choco-boms, the beautiful views of trees, the irreplaceable bacon con queso bocadillos, and the basketball court I never learned to rent a ball for. Thanks for the free shuttle bus rides, the lovely Spanish teacher I had (Maite), the hour commute to school, the less-than-convenient hours of the international office, and the friends I’ve made from around the world.

I really do appreciate it all. So let me show my thanks, UFV, by raising my plastic wine glass to you. Arriba, abajo, acentro, adentro.

Cheers and hasta luego,

Don MD

What’s So Great About Madrid

Originally, I fully intended on doing a blog entry solely using photos from Barcelona, in which the photos would clearly speak for themselves about the beauty and inexpressible greatness everyone claims this city to have; a picture is worth a thousand words, after all.

It’s the morning of my third day in Barcelona and I leave quite soon. Rather than wishing for another day to supplement my final study abroad traveling excursion, I want get back to the city I love; that is Madrid. Typically I wait to return so that I can properly reflect on my experience with a city or country, but I know my heart will feel unchanged in a mere 12 hours time. Now don’t get me wrong, this truly is a wonderful city with a tremendous amount of architectural masterpieces and sites to see, so if you’re a fan of Barcelona, I understand why, but respect my own thoughts regarding my experience.

First off, Barcelona doesn’t even feel that Spanish. My professor says the only things this city shares with the rest of Spain is La Liga fútbol, Catholicism, and El Corte Inglés. And for those thinking, “That’s because it’s Catalán,” let me just say, in my opinion, it doesn’t feel that either. During my stay I felt no more immersed in the local Catalán culture than a person walking through a Chinese buffet claiming they went to Beijing. Perhaps on the outskirts of the city, in the small suburbs and towns, this cultural presence is much stronger, and maybe one day I’ll be able to experience that for what it’s worth. 

The city shops are entitled with Spanish and Catalán phrases with some English subtitles. I talk Spanish to the shop keepers and they immediately either respond in English or not at all, which to me is rare for the generally polite and friendly people of Spain. I understand that this city is currently inhabited by massive amounts of international tourists, Americans who can’t find wifi, and French groups of ex-rugby players just trying to enjoy a night out; but these are things you have to expect, respect, and look past when choosing to live, or even work in a city like Barcelona. If somebody tries to follow customs, help a brotha out!

Barça is commonly known as a coastal city where younger people go to generally party their pants off (some take this quite literally) as if they were a group of drunk college kids at Panama City Beach, Florida. One thing that irks me is the fact that basically nobody comes here for solely because it’s Spanish, only to learn about Catalan culture, or the due to this city being a part of a very historic and influential community and country. No, they want to drink on the beach (Another mojito please!).

This fact is quite the opposite for Madrid. Madrid is equipped with its fine share of cultural activities, and discotecas, but because it is often overshadowed by its party-crazy, beach-boasting brother Barcelona, it’s commonly skipped out by tourists on the move. That is, unless they want to taste a bit more of what Spain is truly all about. In Madrid, people encourage you to speak their native language. Sometimes they talk in English, but often this is because they see English-speaking tourists as opportunities to practice a foreign language. The people are generally friendly, and if you put in effort, they work with you in order to convey and communicate thoughts or ideas despite being lost in translation.

When I was on my way to Barça, I was expecting to be challenged regarding my favorite Spanish city. Would I actually like it more than Madrid?

"Probably," I thought, “It’s on the water and has a beach.”

Growing up on the coast of South Carolina, water is a way to my heart, and Barcelona was sure to steal it in a matter of seconds. I was definitely shocked to find out how wrong I was. I really enjoyed Barcelona much more than other destinations such as Valencia and Milan, and I had a good time during my stay, but I just wanted to harp on how surprised I was during the trip.

The city was beautiful and coastal of course, I loved the marina, the market, and walking through historic Park Güell along with la Sagrada Familia over the past few days. I guess in reflection, the most disappointing part was how touristy everything was - to the point where there was almost no authenticity. The city seemed to have evolved to accommodate tourists from around the globe, but for me, it unfortunately did just the opposite. In the end, I know I made the right choice regarding where to invest my time- and now it’s clear to me just exactly what’s so great about Madrid. 

Here are some highlights of my trip to Barcelona, a city where it’s impossible to not get great photos. 

This is the first act of my first flamenco show here at Taberna de Mister Pinkleton, equipped with a glass of sangria and tapas, of course.

Unfortunately the videos I made don’t do the night justice, but I was ultimately called up on stage by the flamenco lady that kept yelling “ole!” for a quick flamenco lesson with my roommate Mercedes.

It was definitely a great night to say the least and an awesome experience to help sum up my last few weeks in this ciudad!