Shannon Cain '13

I’ve been home for almost two weeks now and it’s still hard to believe that my study abroad experience has concluded. It was very hard saying goodbye to my friends and host family; many tears were shed, but I was also happy to see everyone from home. It is certainly an adjustment to be back in the United States and I know it will take some time feeling comfortable here. The fact that it was so difficult leaving really goes to show what a great experience I have had during this past year. I can honestly say that I’ve changed so much as a person and I really got a lot out of this experience. It’s hard to believe that a year ago, I was contemplating whether I’d actually be able to be away from home for an entire year. If I had had the opportunity a year ago, I probably would have only chosen to go abroad for a semester. However, I now understand why most study abroad programs at Holy Cross are a full year. After my time here, I feel like even that wasn’t enough time and I could see myself spending coming back to Spain.

The experience certainly had its high and low points, but overall it was an amazing year. The challenges that I’ve had have really allowed me to grow and push myself in new ways. For example, the classes there really made me appreciate my Holy Cross education because even though I took them seriously and put in the work that I needed to, the structure of the university classes is very different. Not only was the structure and organization of the classes different but also the attitudes of the students came as a shock to me. In my opinion, I felt like there were a number of students did who not their classes very seriously and were not motivated to get the best grade they could; rather, many people are more than happy with a passing grade. This really made me value the education I receive at Holy Cross and has made me aware of some of the differences in the culture and academic institutions.

To anyone who will be going abroad in the future, I cannot stress the importance of trying new things and not being afraid to challenge yourself. Meet new people, share your experiences, and do everything you can to immerse yourself in the culture around you. It will be difficult and have its set of challenges, but it’s definitely worth it. The most important thing is to enjoy every moment of it! Everyone gets something different out of a year abroad and it is dependent on how willing you are to open yourself up to others. While this was difficult for me, challenging myself  has allowed me to learn a lot about myself, has given me more of a global perspective, and has allowed me to have the best year of my life in León, Spain. I really improved my Spanish, learned a lot about Spanish culture, learned to travel on my own, and made lasting friendships there.

While it was hard saying goodbye, it made it a little easier knowing that it was more of a “hasta luego”, because I will definitely be returning to Spain in the future and seeing my friends soon.  In fact, my two best friends from León will be visiting the US in September and I couldn’t be happier!

Finally, a big thanks to everyone who has been reading my blog and living vicariously through my adventures! I am glad that I was able to share my experiences with all of you!

¡Chao!

I am currently sitting here in my room, finally finished with all my exams and papers, thinking about the amazing year that I’ve had and questioning myself how it’s possible that I only have 4 days left here in León. Even though two of the other HC students have already left, it’s still hard to believe that this experience is coming to a close. I thought it would be appropriate to compile a list of my favorite things about León, and Spain in general. So, here goes:

My friends and host mom- The thing that I will definitely miss most about my year abroad will definitely be the people that I have met here. I consider myself so lucky to have gotten so close with my group of friends and I am absolutely certain that we will be keeping in touch and seeing each other in the future. Not only have I been able to become close with some people from León, but I’ve also gotten to know a lot of different international students in my time here. I’m also really going to miss my host madre, she’s provided me with a home away from home and made this experience so much easier for me. My experience here would be nowhere nearly as great without the people that I have met here!

The culture/way of life- In general, people here are more laid back and take time to enjoy themselves instead of getting caught up with work. Spaniards definitely know how relax and enjoy themselves and never seem to be in a hurry. While the whole not being in a hurry thing can be somewhat frustrating at times, it’s really nice to see people who are not constantly stressed out about work, and instead take the time to enjoy themselves.

Tapas (and Spanish food in general)-This is definitely one of the things I will miss most about Spain. I’ve absolutely loved going to tapas with friends and I have established my absolute favorite places to go. Not only are the tapas delicious, but it’s also a great way to spend time with friends. It’s a great environment seeing people of all ages in the bars, enjoying each other’s company. You go from place to place trying out the typical tapas of each bar, which are free when you buy a drink. (5 euro per person for dinner and drinks really isn’t a bad deal if you ask me!). As for the food, I have already prepared a bunch of my favorite Spanish recipes that I will be making in the US. Even though I once considered myself a picky eater, I find myself eating a little bit of everything now!

Being able to travel to a new country on the weekend- It’s been absolutely amazing how much I have been able to travel in the past year. I have seen 10 different countries with friends and have also had the opportunity to travel all throughout Spain with other international students thanks to the university trips. I had no idea that I would be able to do so much travelling in the past year; it’s been incredible and has really made me more independent and responsible. I now feel pretty comfortable in an airport, navigating any map, or tackling public transportation!

The Cathedral-I will definitely miss walking by the amazing Cathedral of León on a daily basis. There’s so much history behind it and it dates back to the 13th century. Seeing it illuminated at night is absolutely breathtaking and there’s certainly nothing like it back in the US!

Walking everywhere- For the most part, people walk from place to place within the city. León is so small that it is pretty easy to walk from one side of the city to another. Many people here don’t even have their own cars or drivers’ licenses. Not only is it a healthier approach, but you also get to see the beauty of the city and the rich history everywhere as you walk from place to place.

The Nightlife- Spain is known for its nightlife culture and it’s something I will definitely miss. For example, the espichas, or parties at the university that occur on Thursdays are something very unique to León. Students start to gather outside the university buildings in the afternoon and in the evening, they migrate to a huge tent with music on campus. I also can’t go without mentioning the Barrio Húmedo, where the streets are filled with people until the early hours of the morning. There are tons of different types of bars and surely there’s a place for everyone. There’s absolutely nothing like topping off a night of going out like having churros and chocolate at 6am!

Last weekend, I traveled to London with one of my friends for my last trip of the year. This was definitely bittersweet because now I have an entire month left to enjoy León, study for exams, and write my final papers. While I was in London, I participated in a race called the Tough Mudder. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the race, it consists of 12 miles and 25 military-style obstacles such as mud, fire, water, electricity, 8 feet walls, etc. Basically, you’ve gotta be crazy to sign up for it. Naturally, when I saw the opportunity to do so in the fall, I decided that I was going to start training for it and it would be a good excuse to go to London. Not to mention, it was something that I had been meaning to cross off my bucket list! I completed the entire race as well as all of the obstacles and had such an amazing time! It was definitely difficult but it was so much fun and there was a great sense of camaraderie among all of the participants. Everyone helped each other out and I met a few people along the way and ran the race with them.

I also had a couple of days to explore the city of London, which I really enjoyed. It was refreshing to hear a little bit of English since I am constantly speaking Spanish here in León. I really enjoyed the city, although the only drawback was how expensive everything was.  As a study abroad student on a budget, my friend and I decided to save some money and buy food for sandwiches instead of constantly eating out. We saw the main sights in London, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, platform 9 and three quarters (for all you harry potter fans out there!), Harrods, etc. I also celebrated by friend Mary’s 21st birthday with her in London which was really exciting and it was so much fun to be able to meet up there!

This was such a great last trip of the year and now I am looking to make the most of the little time that I have left here in León. I’m so happy that I’ve been lucky to have traveled so much this year. In total, I have traveled to 10 different countries, have gotten the chance to explore different regions in Spain, and have also really gotten to know the city of León. Going into this experience, I had absolutely no idea that I would actually be able to travel so much throughout Europe. Now that I m back in León, I will be very busy with final papers, presentations, and exams as well as attempting to make the most of the time that I have left!

First of all, I guess it has to be mentioned that I officially have less than a month left here until I go home. I seriously cannot believe that the time went by so fast and I really don’t feel like I’m ready to go home yet. While I certainly miss being with my friends and family, I become very comfortable here! Recently, I have been very busy in terms of travelling and I went to Berlin and London the past two weekends.

I traveled to Berlin with Brooke, who is also studying in León, and even though we only had a short weekend there, we definitely made the most of it. I really enjoyed seeing Berlin, mostly because of the history in the city. I was fascinated by seeing the different monuments, the Brandenburg gate, the Reichstag, the Berlin wall, checkpoint Charlie, and some of the different museums there. Some of the most impressive sights included the Berlin wall memorial, the Topographies of terror exhibit, the Holocaust memorial, and the Jewish Museum. I was intrigued seeing parts of the Berlin wall and hearing more details of how the city was divided because it was something that happened so recently. I couldn’t imagine living in that city and seeing that wall every day. The Holocaust memorial and the Topographies of Terror exhibit offered information about the crimes and atrocities that were committed during Hitler´s regime in Germany. It was definitely very sad to hear about how many people suffered during that time but very interesting at the same time. I also really enjoyed visiting the Jewish Museum in Berlin because it described the entire history and culture of Jewish people in Germany up until the present day and did not only focus on the Holocaust era, although there was a section dedicated to all of those who lost their lives during that time.

We did a lot of walking throughout Berlin and we were really able to see a large part of the city which was great. We also tried plenty of the local food, including bratwurst and curry-wurst, as well as sampled some German beer. This city was different from many of the places that I had visited this year because there were quite as many older buildings because many of them were destroyed or damaged during World War II. It was pretty surreal to walk through the streets and think about how much damage was done to the city from the war.

We did a few walking tours throughout the city thanks to the TripAdvisor City Guides application that I had downloaded on my Ipod touch and it really made a difference in the weekend. I highly recommend downloading this application  when visiting a city because they have free walking tours with history about the city, attractions, and restaurants. It was really useful and helped us get the most out of my short weekend in Berlin!

Hello!

I would like to update you on some of the things that I’ve been up to recently here. My family visited me in Spain for 8 days and I had an incredible time with them. First, I met them in Madrid and we spent a few days there exploring the city. I am glad that I had already been to Madrid before because I already had a sense of where all of the sights are and how to navigate the city. My family decided to rent a car for the week, which turned out to be interesting to say the least, but despite some extremely narrow roads, treacherous highways through the mountains, and the busy streets of the city, we managed to make it alright without any major problems.

From Madrid we all went to León. My family had the chance to see the city I call home, meet my host mom, get to know my friends, and experience the Spanish culture here. It was great for them to be here and we had an awesome time together.  It was so nice to have them here. We also decided to take a day trip to a pueblo (village) that was close by. We went to a village called Santiago de Peñalba, a small town amidst the mountains. Little did we know that this would involve narrow windy roads on the side of the mountains without guardrails, and my father driving the rental car. My mother was holding on for dear life and I think it was the longest hour ride of my life. However, the sights were beautiful and we arrived at the village safely. The village consists of quaint buildings, a 10th century roman church, some beautiful mountains. It was a really cool experience because only a handful of families live there year round and there weren’t any other tourists in the town. We had the chance to hike a little bit around the mountains and we even walked to a cave nearby in one of the mountains.

While my family was in Spain, we also spent one day in Gijón, a city on the northern coast of Spain, which is only about an hour and a half from here. It’s a very pretty city with a really nice beach and even though the weather wasn’t too great while we were there, we managed to have a great time there. Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better week with my family. I am so happy that they were able to come visit me and see where I have been living for the past year.

After Easter here in Spain, we had a week and a half of vacation from classes, so I decided to travel to the Netherlands and Belgium with a friend from HC who studies in Ireland. It was certainly an adventure and each city that we visited was unique in its own way.

We started out our trip in Amsterdam, a beautiful city made up of canals, where there are more bicycles than people! We toured the Anne Frank House, which was very sad and surreal. After learning about the history of Anne Frank in school, it was very strange to be in the same room where she and her family hid for 2 years to escape capture by the Nazis. It was very moving, and I was especially struck by hearing the church bells right outside of the window because those were the same bells that she heard and wrote about in her diary. We also visited the Van Gogh museum, strolled through the park, and walked along the endless canals. One of my favorite things that I did in Amsterdam was definitely a bicycle tour of the city; I recommend it for anyone who travels there!  It lasted about two hours, we were able to see the entire city and learn about the history and culture at the same time. It was a very fun and relaxing way to see Amsterdam. While the city has a reputation of “sex and drugs”, the city has a rich culture and it is certainly much more than that!

After spending a few days in Amsterdam, we took a train to Brussels- well actually we ended up taking three different trains due to some issues, but don’t worry, I’ll explain. We bought our train tickets a few days in advance, went to the train station early in the morning, and hopped on a train to Brussels. Little did we know that we accidentally got onto the high-speed first class train that we shouldn’t have been on.  By the time we realized that, however, the train was already moving. After about an hour, the train stopped, and I decided to ask the conductor if I was on the right train. Of course the answer was no, so we needed to get off the train and find the right one. So there we were, in a random train station in the Netherlands, with no clue how we would get to Brussels. We eventually managed to find the correct train, waited a half an hour, and got on. We were sitting on the train, extremely content to finally be on our way to Brussels, when all of a sudden, the conductor makes an announcement over the loudspeaker. Apparently there was a security issue on the train and everyone would need to get off and wait an hour for the next train to come. After three trains, we finally made it to Belgium, relieved to say the least. Just in the nick of time, I found wifi in the Brussels train station and successfully enrolled for classes my senior year on my ipod. Im still in shock that somehow that worked out!

Anyways, I really enjoyed Brussels and Bruges, and they were both completely different cities. While Brussels was much more modern, Bruges was extremely calm and peaceful, and I felt as if I had went back in time strolling through the canals and cobblestone streets. One of my highlights of Belgium was the  self-guided chocolate tour that we did, aka we walked into every chocolate shop that we saw, ate free samples, or bought a piece of chocolate. I can’t even tell you how much chocolate I consumed in just a couple days. I have to admit, it was definitely the best chocolate of my life! We also ate plenty of Belgian waffles and Fries; needless to say we definitely experienced the typical food of the country! It was amazing that in only 6 days, we managed to see two different countries and three different cities that were each very unique. I couldn’t have asked for a better week!

Hi Everyone!

First of all, sorry that I haven’t updated this blog in a while, the month of April has been extremely busy for me here between Semana Santa (Holy Week), vacations from class, and my family visiting me here in León.

I would like to start by talking about the tradition of Semana Santa in León because I had never seen anything like it before. Cities in Spain celebrate Easter with numerous processions through the streets consisting of extravagant floats, people dressed up in robes, carrying candles or crosses, and traditional music. These processions start the Friday before Holy Week and last until Easter Sunday, with numerous processions each day of the week. They were certainly impressive and because the floats that are used were carried on the shoulders of up to 40 men, and they would sway back and forth with the sound of the music through the crowded streets. Many people in the city, including children, walked in these processions wearing the traditional robes with long pointed hoods that completely cover the face. (As a warning, although the robes with the hoods are strikingly similar to the Ku Klux Klan, there is absolutely no connection there. Many people had warned me of that beforehand, but it was still very strange to see the way the people were dressed).  These processions are very solemn events and are traditions that have occurred for hundreds of years here in Spain.

Although the city of Sevilla is best-known for the processions of Semana Santa, León also happens to be pretty well known and the streets filled up with tourists who came to see the processions. That week actually made me relieved that I don’t study in a city where there is a ton of tourism because I absolutely love the feeling of this small city where I really feel at home.

Another tradition of Semana Santa in León is the Limonada. Although it literally means “lemonade”, its a type of Sangria that you can only find during Semana Santa. It consists of wine, sugar, lemons, and other fruits and each of the bars has their own version of Limonada. However, it can be somewhat dangerous because it is extremely sweet and you normally can’t taste that alcohol in it!

Overall, this was a great week to experience some of the local traditions and the culture here in León, and it was definitely very different than anything that I had seen before. If you’re interested in some more information about the traditions of Semana Santa in León, check out this link!

Hi All!

This past weekend I travelled to Marrakech, Morocco with four other friends and had an absolutely amazing time. Morocco was totally different from every other place that I have visited this year and it was very interesting to see a completely different way of life.

When I had told people here that I was going to Morocco, I was slightly nervous by the responses that I received, mainly, be extremely careful because I will stick out like a sore thumb among the locals. While I laughed off this response, I was definitely nervous going into the weekend. However, we made sure that we were aware of our surroundings and were very careful.

The moment we arrived in the city center was slightly chaotic. Our taxi driver, who claimed to know how to get to our hostel, dropped us off on a random street and we were forced to figure out where to go on our own. This proved to be quite difficult without a map so we decided to ask a local. A young boy decided that he would direct us to our hostel, asking for money in the end, but eventually we made it there. Once at the hostel, we all felt a lot better and more comfortable because the staff there was very welcoming and helpful. Our hostel offered us free breakfast every morning, one free dinner of homemade couscous on Friday night, and plenty of mint tea that was brewed freshly. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to stay!

The culture was very interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed just walking around and observing the people there. The city center was filled with souvenir shops, cafes with rooftop terraces looking over the square, orange juice stands (that cost less than 50 cents!), street performers (including snake charmers, not kidding!), and food stands. There were always tons of people walking around. We did our fair share of shopping because there were tons of leather products, pottery, clothing, jewelry, spices, etc. A word of advice, you must know how to bargain if you would like to buy anything there and you must never pay more than half of what the vendors claim to be the “first price”. We were all so surprised by how cheap everything in the city was; therefore we managed to do plenty of shopping!

While in Morocco, we also went to a royal palace, a former school, and a couple of museums in the city. The architecture with the incredible amount of detail was beautiful and it was very similar to what I had seen in the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, due to the Muslim influence in southern Spain. We also had the chance to ride camels one afternoon right outside of the city, which was a pretty cool experience. How many people get to say that they rode camels in Africa??

One thing that I will never forget is the wide-range of smells in the city, spanning from delightful to not-so-delightful.  Walking through the city in any given moment, the smells would range from sweet pastries that were freshly made, rich spices and herbs, and traditional food, to pollution, animals, such as donkeys and horses that filled the streets, and leather products that were found throughout the city.

Overall, this was a very eye-opening experience because I was able to see a country with a very distinct culture and a different standard of living that I had seen in my travels so far this year. There were definitely some times when I felt uncomfortable because I was not accustomed to the way of life there, but I never felt truly unsafe, and I think that you really learn a lot from these types of experiences. If I hadn’t spent this year abroad, I probably would not have travelled to Morocco, so I am glad that I had the opportunity to do so because it was a very interesting experience.  By the end of the weekend, I was ready to get back to León, where I didn’t have to worry about what I ate, drank, and how I dressed, but I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend!

First of all, I’d like to give a shout out to everyone back at Holy Cross that celebrated St. Patrick’s day yesterday. It’s one of the best days on campus, and even though I would have loved to be there for it, I had a great time celebrating with some Irish friends who study in León and we watched the Ireland-England rugby match which was a lot of fun.

Believe it or not, I’m about halfway through my second semester here in León. It’s extremely hard for me to think about this because I’m having such a great experience here and even though I do miss family and friends from home, I’m definitely not ready to go home yet. I have been busy planning out trips for the rest of this semester and my weekends are quickly filling up (I’m heading to Morocco next weekend!). Even though I’ll be travelling a lot this semester, I also really want to spend a lot of time in León to be with my friends here.  I am also really looking forward to my family coming to visit me in just over a month!

Last weekend, I had the chance to spend a couple of days in Madrid and I loved the city. Until now, I hadn’t gotten to spend much time there, other than when I was going to the airport to catch a flight. I really enjoyed the city and even though I only had 2 days to spend there, I was able to see a lot of things including the Royal Palace, The Cathedral, El Parque del Retiro, La Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, and the Prado Museum. It was really easy navigating the city because everything was pretty close together and we were able to walk all throughout the city. A highlight of the weekend was definitely going to see the Prado museum because it was huge and there were so many different paintings, including a lot by Francisco de Goya, a Spanish artist who I had studied in my Montserrat class during my freshman year at Holy Cross. I had done a project on one of his paintings for that class, and it was pretty cool to see it firsthand.

Recently, I have been keeping busy with some schoolwork and my ICIP project. For those of you that know about the ICIP, Independent Cultural Immersion Project, it is a project that is required by Holy Cross when you study abroad and it is a chance to learn about an aspect of the culture that interests you specifically. It can vary from an internship, volunteering, or pursuing a hobby. It’s very diverse and each person gets something different out of it. For me, I have decided to focus on Spanish food because it is something that really interests me and I love to cook.  I had originally hoped to find some type of cooking class so that I could learn how to make different dishes; however, I wasn’t able to do so. Instead, I have been compiling some of my favorite Spanish recipes and I have decided to write about the characteristics of Spanish cuisine.  I would love to go home knowing how to cook some great Spanish recipes because the food is amazing here!

I’ve gotta get back to doing some more work but I will update the blog soon with some more of my travels!

¡Hasta Pronto!

Hola Todos!

I have just begun my classes for this semester and have received my final grades from last semester. I passed all of my classes, and for the most part I´m happy with my grades even though I didn’t do as well as I would have liked to in my Latin American Fiction class. I knew going into the class that it would be tough, and at this point, I am happy to have new classes and to be starting a new semester! My new classes consist of History of Spain since 1939, Sociocultural Anthropology, and Spanish Renaissance Literature along with the HC grammar and composition class. So far, I’m interested in my classes this semester and my professors seem nice.

Last week, my friends and I celebrated my 21st birthday here in León and it was a lot of fun. Even though celebrating my birthday here was slightly less climactic than it would have been at home since turning 21 is not nearly as important here in Spain, my friends and I managed to have a great time going out together. My host madre also prepared a special dinner for me and let me invite a couple friends over the house to celebrate. It made my night and it made being away from home on my birthday a lot easier.  I’m so thankful for everything that she does for me and I’m very happy with my living situation here. I really couldn’t ask for anything more!

I just recently returned from a 5 day trip to Portugal that was offered through the university and had a great time. We spent time in Lisbon, Fatima, and Oporto and celebrated Carnaval while we were in Lisbon. Portugal was beautiful and the trip definitely exceeded my expectations. Everyone dressed up in costumes and went out for Carnaval, and it was basically like celebrating Halloween twice a year; needless to say it was a lot of fun. While I really enjoyed spending time in Lisbon and Fatima was very interesting because it is one of the most religious cities, the city of Oporto was definitely my favorite. We took a tour by night as well as spent a couple days walking around the city. Oporto is absolutely beautiful; it’s built on a hill overlooking the river, and consists of red rooftops and cobblestone streets.  A lot of the older buildings consist of azulejos, blue and white ceramic tiles that are typical of Portuguese architecture. Oporto is famous for its production of Port wine, and there are numerous wine cellars on the other side of the river. I had the chance to take a tour of one of the cellars, which was very interesting and included a tasting of a couple of port wines. Also, for all of you Harry Potter fans out there, JK Rowling lived in Portugal while writing the series and we got to see the bookstore where she did a lot of her work!

I also need to spend some time bragging about the amazing Portuguese food that I had! Some of the traditional food consists of bacalhau-cod fish, pastel de nata- a type of egg tart pastry, and francesinha- a sandwich loaded with steak, bacon, and sausage, topped with cheese and a type of sauce, covered in a fried egg. The food was delicious, even though I felt my arteries clogging up as I was eating that sandwich!

Overall, the trip to Portugal was a lot of fun and we certainly kept busy the entire time by touring the cities, seeing the beach, the aquarium, a casino, an ancient palace and castle, touring a wine cellar, and much more!

Here are some pictures from my trip, enjoy!

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Shannon Cain '13

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