Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Spring 2020 blog contest: Deirdre Heavey (First-Place Winner)

I woke up on Friday, March 13, in sunny Barcelona, Spain, to a notification that the Spanish Prime Minister had declared a state of emergency. The country would be going into lockdown at midnight, meaning no one in Spain would be allowed to leave their homes for any nonessential reason.

That morning, my housemates and I sat around the table on our balcony as we debated whether or not we should book flights back to our home countries. We cried and we laughed as we questioned how we were going to leave the beautifully blissful city of Barcelona. For the last time, we sat around the table and enjoyed the presence of people who we probably would never see again despite living under the same roof for months.

Later that evening, my three best friends that I had met in Barcelona came over for dinner. We prepared dinner together, making use of the food I had stockpiled earlier in the week when I thought there was nothing that could make me leave Barcelona. We sat around the table on my balcony, listening to Frank Sinatra, passing around patatas bravas, and sharing our highs and lows of the past few months we shared together in Barcelona. My flight was booked for the following day. We watched Call Me By Your Name, because it was on Spanish Netflix, and all cried when it was time to say goodbye.

Around the table of my balcony in Barcelona on what became my last day in Spain, I shared moments of authenticity with those who had become my family in just a few short months. Each of us had come to Barcelona in search of something unique, and each would inevitably leave for the same unavoidable reason.

Just a month ago, my community was large and expanding each day. I was making new friends from around the world as I laughed and learned in kinship with international students. Today, my community often feels small and limited as I approach my fourth week of quarantine in my hometown of San Francisco, California.

Earlier today, I was hiking my favorite trail near my house, Mount Davidson. I was playing “No Woman” by Whitney out loud on my phone when someone passed me saying, “Hey! That’s a great song.” Then, I didn’t feel so alone.

As our world collectively grieves from COVID-19, I have found solace recalling my final moments in Spain. While I was upset to leave the beautiful people and places that became my home, I am comforted by the little moments I share with strangers amidst the madness. I am grounded in the positivity shared between strangers as well as the authenticity shared with loved ones. Let’s show up for one another during this time by reminiscing with friends about better days and never forgetting to manifest happiness for the future.

Author: Deirdre Heavey
Program: Exchange at the Universitat Abat Oliba CEU in Barcelona, Spain, Spring 2020 semester

Spring 2020 blog contest: Schuyler Alpaugh (Runner-Up)

If You Are ‘Going Bananas’ Because of Coronavirus, Make Banana Bread 

In the time since I’ve been home from my semester abroad, social distancing protocol has made for a lot of free time – which means that I’ve been doing A LOT of baking. As a fun way to pass the time, I’ve been learning how to make cookies, muffins, cakes….and my personal favorite, banana bread, all from scratch.

Now you are probably wondering why I am talking about baking in a blog that is meant to tell the story of my experience with COVID-19 and my semester abroad in Spain – and in literal terms, there is not a lot in common. The connection is more metaphorical. To best understand just how I ended up watching the second Lego Movie with subtitles and playing a “Doodle Jump” tournament on my Kindle Fire with the students sitting next to me on the flight home, you have to know how to make metaphorical banana bread out of life.

To best explain, I have to start with the baking secret that I just learned a few weeks ago, which is that overripe bananas are the best for baking because they are the sweetest. I am talking about the brown-spotted, mushy bananas that have been sitting on everyone’s countertop for way too long. It's the kind of banana that I avoid at all costs.

That being said, the first time I attempted to bake banana bread not too long ago, I opted to use the bananas that looked like they came straight out of a magazine photo. Unfortunately, yet not all that surprising, this meant that my first banana bread was terrible. It wasn’t nearly as sweet as I thought it would be, and it was way too dry.

In desperate need of guidance after my first failure, I looked to the online experts of “The Food Network'' and realized just what I was missing. As it turns out, the perfect ingredients are not always the best ingredients.

Now if you have read this much of my long winded analogy, you’ll understand that getting sent home two months early from my semester abroad in Spain was the equivalent of life handing me the UGLIEST bananas it could find. By themselves, they would have been impossible to eat. But when I used them to make banana bread, which in this case was a memorable trip home, they were perfect.

With less than 48 hours notice, I went through three airports, two flights, and over 24 hours of travel to get home. Part of this trek home included a five hour layover in London with dozens of other young American students, all sharing the same frustration that their semesters were cut short.

But with the help of these same students and my airplane-seat neighbors, I did not leave this amazing experience on a low note. Instead of letting the circumstances surrounding the pandemic ruin our trip, we chose to make some metaphorical banana bread in the form of comical trivia competitions and video game tournaments. Our anything but serious, yet incredibly memorable narration of a children’s movie was exactly how we made the most of the less than ideal situation surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.

Author: Schuyler Alpaugh
Program: Manhattan College in Madrid, Spring 2020 semester

Spring 2020 blog contest: Tabitha Yuqui, Madrid (Runner-Up)

Ever since I came to Manhattan I knew that I wanted to study abroad for a semester. I carefully planned my courses so that during my second year I would be able to go abroad for a full semester. No one knew what was going to happen and, even though my journey ended almost 2 months early, I left Madrid having experienced a lot.

On Tuesday March 10th we were told to come into our classroom for a meeting. At this point our University in Madrid planned on closing for 2 weeks and we all felt what was coming. As our amazing program directors Rocio and Ricardo came into the room, we could see the looks on their faces and we immediately knew. It was time for us to go home. All 17 of us from Manhattan were heartbroken. This was a dream for us and the fact that we were going to go home early was devastating. We all went back to our residence hall still in shock but starting to pack. The next day, Rocio and Ricardo coordinated with our Residence hall to have a “going away party”. The staff from Funway, our professor, and program directors were all there and even though we were all sad it was more of a celebration. Even though our time in Madrid was cut short, we all sat there reminiscing about the good times in Madrid. We had amazing tapas made for us and a cake made for us. We took one last group photo with everyone and just like that our time in Madrid was over.

Author: Tabitha Yuqui
Program: Manhattan College in Madrid, Spring 2020 semester

Friday, April 10, 2020

India 2020: Three Cities, Two Students, and One Homestay

I remember coming down the stairs of Miguel Hall and seeing a flyer at the bottom of the staircase announcing a study abroad program in India. I immediately snapped a picture and marked the dates on my calendar. After submitting the paperwork, and waiting for the next steps, I received an email stating that only myself and one other student had signed up. I felt disheartened that the program would be unable to run. Luckily, the study abroad office and our professor worked diligently to make the program run, and it would be a personalized once in a lifetime experience. We would be home staying with our professor and her family. A feeling of adventure and anticipation bubbled up inside of my chest! Before I knew it my visa application was submitted and I was boarding an Emirates plane for a 24-hour journey to New Delhi.

When we arrived, it was only me, another student, and our professor embarking on a fifteen-day journey through New Delhi, Agra, and Hyderabad. We landed late at night and met with our driver and our professor's father, and the journey began. We mostly split our time between New Delhi, and Hyderabad with a one-day excursion to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

Every day was a new adventure, and you could never anticipate what the day or the city would hold. My senses were on fire. There was the unfamiliar sound of a variety of languages and dialects interacting on the streets, an explosion of new tastes from the masala, roti, and my favorite paneer, and a variety of colors littered the streets from all of the sarees. No day was the same, and while in the North in Delhi, it was the coldest it had been in 100 years with dense fog coating everything in the city and not letting up for days. As we traveled to Agra, we left at 4am and drove for four hours through the more rural parts, seeing a quiet part of the country. The Taj Mahal was as beautiful and breathtaking as one would imagine, a true landmark that embodied the definition of undying love. The marble was cool to the touch and adorned with the most intricate spectacular jewels and designs. Halfway into the journey, we embarked on a domestic flight to the south to Hyderabad, where our professor and her family is from.

This city was much less congested than what we had experienced in Delhi and much warmer! We stayed in the family home where we were able to live and interact with our host family, eating meals, taking a yoga class, and doing cultural and religious excursions all together. This was my favorite part of the experience because we got to develop a routine and truly immerse ourselves within the neighborhood and family. Along with all of this, we were having class and being able to tie the things that we were learning and experiencing together. I was able to ask questions that enhanced my understanding of India as well as the material we were learning in our class sessions.

The day that we left, I remember feeling immense sadness for this place that had become a temporary home to us. I learned a lot about India, and its rich culture and history. My favorite thing that I learned was about the multitude of religions that coexist on the subcontinent. Additionally, I also experienced and gained a deeper appreciation for human connection and love. I feel a deep sense of appreciation to my professor and her family for opening up their homes, treating us like family, and working to show us the magic of India. These fifteen days will forever be ingrained in my college experiences as well as my heart. I hope to return soon to continue to explore the vast beauty of India!

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Blissful Barcelona

Ah, Barcelona...

From bustling beaches to historical sites, modern art museums, never-ending tapas, young international students, and Catalonian natives alike, there is never a dull moment in Barcelona. The city provides an opportunity for inspiration and creativity on each corner. Street performers serenading tourists, local grocers meeting me halfway with my broken Spanish, working alongside native Barcelonian students in classes, discussing international politics with new friends from around the world, getting lost around the city in search of every Gaudi location, taking a mid-week run to Parc Guell to enjoy the views, Barcelona is bliss.

I begin each day with morning yoga on the roof of my house where the sun beams down between the shadow of the clothesline. I listen to my new favorite Spanish songs as I cook breakfast, from the freshest produce this California girl has ever seen, alongside one of my housemates, Byron, from Chilé. I have 9 housemates from around the world–each in Barcelona for their own academic or professional experience. I eat my breakfast on my front porch as I peruse the news, sip my morning coffee, write in my journal, and read from the book I picked up in Paris two weeks ago. Barcelona is bliss.

As a college student in New York City, I have grown accustomed to burn-out culture. Everything in my life in New York fits into a perfect, color-coordinated box in my moleskin planner. My study abroad experience has allowed me to process the fast-paced environment I have called home for the past two-and-half years. While I set out to seize each day and make the most of my environment here, Barcelona has also proven to be the perfect place to just relax and evaluate my past, plan for my future, and to appreciate my present situation. In Barcelona, I am learning to let love into my life and to be thankful for the life that I live. 

This weekend, I am heading to Madrid with three friends I met at the Universait Abat Oliba CEU here in Barcelona. I am eager and excited to see how Madrid compares to Barcelona as well as experience its uniqueness. So far, I have visited Girona, Montserrat, Besalu, Figueres, and Sitges outside of Barcelona. Each city has been magical. While I love traveling to new places and experiencing new ways of life, it has been refreshing to return to my Barcelona bliss after a weekend adventure. 

A glimpse into my journal :)

A photo of me, living my best life, at the Bunkers @ El Carmel for the sunset this past weekend. 

Saturday, February 22, 2020

MADRID 2020: "De Madrid al cielo."

From Madrid To Heaven
"De Madrid al cielo."

February 22, 2020. 
Madrid, España. 

There is nothing like walking through the streets of Madrid. Music and laughter are always present within the crowds. Every corner of every street has a story anxiously waiting to be told... the streets have become my muse. And walking or sitting in a plaza while reading, drawing, or simply watching the people pass by while eating "tapas" has become my favorite hobby. And I wouldn't change it for anything in the world. 

It is safe to say that, so far, everything feels simply perfect here in Madrid. The people are kind and friendly, the university is professional and safe, the food is exquisite, and the city manages to give me something to write about or something to hold dear in my memory every single day. 

Last Monday, after I went to my 8:30 class, I decided to take a walk through El Viejo Madrid to discover the history of the city a bit more. As I got out of the Metro Station and started walking, I stumbled upon an old woman sitting on the corner of the street selling handmade jewelry. She looked at me as she was finishing what appeared to be one of her longest necklaces as if she knew that I was going to pass by, and she gave me a smile. 

- This one is for you- she said in Spanish while extending her arm up and handing me one of her golden necklaces that had a brown beautiful marble stone tangled within a golden wire. As if she knew my first language is Spanish and that I was planning on buying a necklace. Her face looked tired, but that did not take away the honest and beautiful smile she had on her face. I asked her how much it was. 

- Fire euros- she replied-, but I will give you another one for free simply because it is Monday.

I had no idea what made the woman think that I deserved two of her necklaces, but I decided to simply agree, sit down, and talk to her while she finished doing her job. We talked about the city and I told her about my fascination with it. I told her that I am a student and writer from Puerto Rico and that my wish is to fly to the heavens and travel the entire planet. And as I saw her finish the necklaces and handed her the five euro bill, she handed me both necklaces with the same tired, but happy and caring smile, and she told me something that I will forever hold dear: 

- "De Madrid al cielo, cari. De Madrid al cielo...". 

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Madrid: Our first days!

Hi everyone! My name is Kevin, and this is the story of how my life has been since making it to Madrid. To start, I’d be remiss to not say how nervous I was leading up to this trip. I had traveled before with my family, but this study abroad was truly the first time I would be traveling to a different country completely on my own. I didn’t know how I’d adapt to a new culture, being so far removed from the comfort I had allowed myself to accustom myself to. Safe to say, however, that these last few weeks have been some of the greatest of my life.

We first touched-down in Madrid in early January. While some may assume that because Spain is in winter-time like back at home in New York, that the weather would be freezing, but to my amazement, it has been like living in a summer break movie over here. After first arriving in the early hours, and a much needed nap, I and a couple of friends decided to explore all what Madrid had to offer.

Being in a new country, everything can be extremely overwhelming. What do we see? How do we get around? All of these questions filled my mind, but was quickly put to rest by a wonderful lady Rocio. Rocio is our program director while we’re here, and she also doubles up as our parental figure while ours are home. She showed us around the university we’d be studying at, which, by the way, is incredibly large, and also got us our metro-cards that we could use to explore all of Madrid. After our walking tour, a couple of us within the group went to go visit Buen Retiro Parque, which lies in the south of Madrid. At this park, we were able to witness the liveliness Madrid had to offer. Performance artist showing of their incredible skills to crowds of tens to hundreds of people, vendors selling a variety of snacks. After grabbing some food, we continued our walk to the center of the park. Here in the center, there is a service in which you can rent a boat for an hour. We jumped at the idea, and took to the water, soaking in the warmth from the sun. 

Here below is the Royal Palace of Madrid. I got the chance of checking it during our “Old Madrid” walking tour. Sadly we didn't catch any royals this day, but hey there’s always next time 

Along with this, we got the opportunity to stop inside a cathedral during a service. The art was impeccable, and the environment was overall very welcoming.
The following weekend, a couple of friends and I decided to head to the Prado museum. Here below are just some of the snapshots I was able to grab.   

Last weekend, my friend Gabby and I decided to head to the flea market, held every Sunday, in Tiros de Molina. The market was teeming with life, music filled the air, and there was something for every person. From tapestries, to leather jackets, to cool antiques; it was a center of everything and anything you could want.

This is only the beginning. I cannot wait to continue to see what is up next for me while here in Madrid. In the upcoming weeks, I’m planning on traveling to London, Stuttgart, and Paris. So until next time, stay tuned!