Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Adjustment process

Living in a new country is always a learning experience. The first few weeks especially.

Especially when an ATM eats your bank card and you need a new one from halfway around the world and the parcel service is a royal pain in the butt. My mother paid a lot of money to get it to me the next day. First they say my address doesn't exist. I googled my address and it comes up. I email them. No answer. Then they say I have to go to a tiny town with no public transport to go pick it up. I have no idea how to get to a town outside of Rotterdam with no public transport so I go ask the Exchange Student Office about it. They tell me that it's better if they send my package to the office so they give me the address. I get an email from the company that they can't help me. I email my mom the office's address and she emails me back later saying they need a phone number too. And all of this madness is happening in two time zones happening 9 hours apart. Hopefully it will come to a happy ending before I run out of money.

Other than that, I've been having a lot of fun here. I like my classes and the people in my program. I haven't seen much of the city yet but I have a great schedule so I have time. I have no morning classes and four day weekends since my classes are Tuesday-Thursday.

Oh, ok-one not so positive thing was having to go with another American girl to the emergency room because she had burned herself. We waited for hours before they'd see her and then told her to just keep doing what she's been doing.

But other than that it's been pretty fun. I live right on campus so that's very convenient.

Today we've had crazy weather. Thunder and lightning this morning, and then intermittent sun, rain, snow and hail. At the moment I have sun but I don't count on it lasting. The wind is very strong and very, very cold so I'm not entirely sure I want to go out tonight.

Still getting used to living here but I'm sure that I'll love it here :)

Thursday, January 31, 2013

You can take the girl out of Spain but...

You can't take Spain out of the girl. It's just impossible.

Last night was El Clasico, the largest sports rivalry game in all the world, Real Madrid v. FC Barcelona. And where was I? In a sports bar full of Catalans, with other exchange students of course.

There were equal amounts of supporters for both teams. If you've read my blog before, I've made no secret of being a huge Barça fan. A Korean friend asked why I supported Barça. I told him there was a simple and a complicated reason. He wanted to know both. Simple: all my friends have always been Barça fans. Complicated reason: I'm Basque and my fellow Basques would never forgive me for supporting Real Madrid. As a Basque person, you have to support your local team first and then Barcelona because the Catalans feel the same about Spain as we do. Real Madrid was once the dictator Francisco Franco's team and for Basques it still has the stigma of being associated with the man who tried to wipe out our culture and language. Basques are incredibly proud of their heritage so anything associated with Franco is considered taboo.

My Korean friend was quite fascinated with the politics behind it. He understands perfectly. He says in Korea, you have to hate the Japanese for very similar reasons. He also told me there is one Korean, Park, who plays in La Liga for Celta de Vigo. It's very cool for me just how international football (soccer for you Americans) is.

It's sad to me as a global citizen that the US doesn't have an international soccer presence, at least on the men's side. Our women's soccer is quite good, but our men's soccer is nonexistent. It's a pity. I feel America is missing out on the most international sport there is.

Oh, and the match ended in a tie. Just as well, as there was a lot of good natured teasing going on before and during the game. Much more peaceful without a victor, even if I wish my team had won.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A cultural look at partying

Just about everyone I've met abroad has asked me if Americans really do party like they do in the movies. Well, yes and no. Yes parties are often held in private homes. Are they all that crazy? Well, no not all.

Last night I got into interesting discussions about parties and clubs in different parts of the world. I was chatting with two South Koreans, an Italian, and Austrian and a Spaniard in another exchange student's apartment. The two South Koreans told us that they never did anything like this back home. They told us that everyone goes clubbing in their first year of university but stops after that because it gets very boring. The Italian and Spanish girls said that they start very late (but the Spaniards later) and go to bars and then clubs. The Austrian girl said that they go to pubs and that most Austrians drink schnapps.

After hanging out in the apartment, we went to a club in the center where a party had been arranged for us. It was a lot of fun but I had class the next day so I left around 3:30 in the morning. Not very early by the standards of someone who lived in Spain but I wanted to be sane for my class the next day. A Finnish guy who lives in the same building as me offered to walk me home because he was very tired. Our friends gave him a hard time because he doesn't start class until next week so he didn't have an excuse to go home early. He promised us that by the time we finish our semester, he will be able to party all night like the rest of us.

A bit later on the walk home, he told me in Finland they don't party all night because drunk guys who pass out in the street in the middle of the night freeze to death. Oh. That makes sense. Very few places in Spain where it's that cold.

Every culture has drinking and going out with friends, but how they go about doing it is very different. Who knew that this would be such a cultural rich point?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

They never said study abroad would be easy

In fact, they said it would be incredibly difficult.

So after my initial adventure, I've been continually plagued by the worst jet lag of my life.

It gets better. The ATM took my bank card because it got stuck in the slot and I couldn't get it out. The machine just told me to contact my bank. Well, my bank is in the US, or at best, in Amsterdam.

So now I have 70€ to last me until I get my new card.

It's definitely an interesting start to living in a new country.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Red light, green light?

I am having the worst jet lag of my life.

I've been here four days so far and my sleep and eating schedule is horribly confused. I've been trying to right it by going to bed early and eating at proper meal times but that's not helping. I'm staying off caffeine and downing the vitamin C but nothing's working so far.

I made it to my 9am orientation meeting, but I slept through my first alarm. I never sleep through my alarms. Tomorrow I don't have class until 2:45 so hopefully I wake up earlier enough to do something before class.

I need to go buy an umbrella because its supposed to rain for the next few days. Somehow I forgot to pack one.

Since I've been soo jet lagged, I haven't seen a lot of the city. Yesterday I went to the center for the first time. To get there you have to walk through the "Chinatown" which is really Asiatown. There's a lot of Thai and Indonesian, not terribly surprising considering in the latter case as Indonesia was a colonial possession of the Netherlands.

My friends and I went to a coffee shop (a normal one, not a special Dutch one) and got delicious hot chocolates. They also pointed out the sports bar in which the Catalan boys watch the FC Barcelona games in. There was one on last night and Messi scored 4 goals in their 5-1 victory over Osasuna. Needless to say, that put them in high spirits.

Ok, so they say curiosity killed the cat but I can't help it sometimes. Walking back with my friends from the sports bar, we passed the red light district. Most of my friends have been here all year but our Greek friend and I are new arrivals. One of the boys asked the two of us if we wanted to just go see. We did. I certainly wouldn't go by myself or with just my female friends but with two male friends and a large group of friends waiting for us early on a Sunday night, I didn't mind going to go see.

It wasn't what I was expecting at all. Pictures aren't allowed by the way. The men who were there didn't look particularly seedy. I did notice that we were the only group there. Everyone else was alone, and well male obviously. The women weren't what I expected either. Most looked like they had had too much work done and came out looking plasticky. There were some older women too. Also, being Den Haag, there was no nudity, full or partial. Scanty clothing yes, but everything was covered. I'm told that Amsterdam is much much worse because it's much more famous. Here there aren't many tourists so it isn't as seedy. Funny how that works.

Being that we are all studying Econ, business or politics, we debated the merits and drawbacks of legal prositution. I'm yet to form a concrete opinion of my own yet but it is interesting to see the perspectives of other cultures.

Alright, that was an odd blog post I admit: jet lag and legal prositution. I need to get over the jet lag so I can have more interesting things to write about next time.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Ok, it's been a very long time since I've written a post. I was doing a Spanish language blog for class and I just got too busy to do this one. So I'll wrap up Spain, touch on San Francisco and introduce The Netherlands. Here goes:

Spain was the greatest four months of my life and I didn't want to leave that wonderful country. I made so many connections, both friends and family, that I will always consider San Sebastian a home. My heart remains in San Francisco but I have a home in San Sebastian too. My host mother tells me I will always have a place with her. She is one of the most kind and caring individuals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. My host sister says they aren't hosting anyone this semester so my room is just waiting for me to come back. I am definitely going to.

Overall, Spain impressed me. Despite horrible economic troubles, the country is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. It is hard to describe everything I saw. I stood by the dictator, Francisco Franco's tomb, I visited  the throne room in which Christopher Columbus met with the Catholic monarchs to ask for funding to discover what would turn out to be the Americas, I saw his grave in Sevilla, I went to spectacular cathedrals and incredible soccer stadiums and I had the most amazing food. The lifestyle is quite amazing there.

I must confess I squandered my winter break at home wishing I was in Spain. After the holidays past, all I could think of was how I was no longer in Spain. My city is beautiful and thankfully there are Spanish products available there. I tried to recreate some of the dishes I had eaten there. I am a good cook, but nothing tastes quite the same as it did there.There is just something magical about not having to wait for the products to travel halfway around the world to get to you.

Before long, it came time for me to return to Europe, to the much colder Netherlands to study law and Europe in The Hague. I write this now from my new apartment but it was quite the adventure getting here.

I'm not afraid of traveling by myself, which is a good thing. When I went to Spain, I was in a large chaperoned group from the time I got to the airport until we arrived in San Sebastian. My host parents even picked me up so I really didn't have to do anything alone. This time was the opposite. My parents dropped me off at the airport and my adventure began.

It started off well. I flew on a German airline direct to Frankfurt and was quite amused to discover that they assumed I was German. Every flight attendant started off speaking to me in German, which I don't speak beyond "Guten tag" "wilkommen" "bitte" "danke" and "auf wiedersehen". I had to show one flight attendant my American passport for them to believe me. All of this amused my seat mate who was a German woman who lived in Palo Alto but was going home to see her mother. We had a very pleasant flight until all the babies on board started crying. There was a little open area behind our seats so the mothers of crying babies all decided that was a good place to take them. I was not very pleased.

I was also amused that my seat mate complimented me on how European I was. I had European table manners and she was quite amused I watched "The Adventures of Asterix" which was only available in French or German. I watched it in French but still. She also told me I dressed like a European rather than an American. My cross cultural professor told me that one coping strategy for going somewhere different is going native. Perhaps I have. Living like a European feels more natural to me than the American lifestyle.

I watched three movies before I realized that I should sleep. We flew through the night so when we arrived it would be half way through the next day. I probably got four hours that were often interrupted by babies crying. We arrived in Frankfurt early but our gate was still occupied and then they had to deice something so we sat for 45 minutes just waiting. I made it to my gate 5 minutes before boarding my connection to Amsterdam. I made friends with a very confused Danish lady who couldn't believe I wasn't also Danish. I guess whatever I look like, it isn't American. And also Basque-Flipino-Swedish isn't usually the first thing people would guess.

That flight was mercifully short. It wasn't full so I had a whole row to myself. I got off the plane quickly and got my luggage quickly but that was the end of my good luck. I went to go buy my train ticket to Den Haag but several stations popped up. I had to go run across the station to find somewhere with internet for me to look up the train station. Then I found the right station but the machine wouldn't accept my cards. So then I had to go all the way around to find the ticket office where I could buy my ticket in cash. It took me a while to get to the right track and figure out which train I wanted. I waited for 15 minutes because I had missed my train while trying to figure out the rail system.  

I got on the correct train but the stops aren't labeled. You have to listen to the train conductor, who only speaks in Dutch. My stop was Den Haag HS. I kept listening for it. I never heard it because HS stands for something in Dutch that I wasn't listening for. I ended up in Rotterdam before I realized I missed it. The station in Rotterdam is very large so it took me a little bit to figure out how to go back. I got on a train going to my stop but a few stops later the train police came by. They were less than pleased with me being so far from the stops on my train ticket. They told me it was an 8000 Euro fine and/or deportation. I told them that I was a very lost American and I was just trying to get to my school before it closed. They told me that next time I should ask permission from the train manager before getting on to avoid this in the future. Or better yet, just not get lost in the first place. So this time I made it to my proper station but this was not the end.

I was very confused because my school is directly across the street from the station and it's a unique, oval shaped building. I got out of the station with all my luggage in the snow and I couldn't see it.After wandering around for several minutes, I decided to ask someone. Thankfully the Dutch people are very nice. I asked an older gentleman where the university was and he told me I had come out the wrong side of the station and there was a tunnel just on the other side to get to where I needed. He walked me over to the tunnel and wished me luck. I never would have found that on my own. After that it got better.

I made it to the office on the 4th floor (and a helpful young man pointed out the elevators to me since by this point I was seriously struggling with my luggage). I made it to the office, the ladies there told me to hurry to the housing office because it close in 8 minutes and I didn't want to be homeless for the night. I made it just in time, got my keys and stuff. Retrieved my luggage from the office. The ladies gave me the orientation schedule for Monday and a stroopwaffle.

I thankfully live in the same building as the housing office so I didn't have to find that. It took me a little bit to find my apartment but when I did I was very glad. Turns out my roommate is from just outside Barcelona and just about all of our floor is Catalans. It's like living in Spain again. I'm delighted. I'm also very very glad I have a high level of Spanish or else I would be very left out. But since I do, I can enjoy being with so many people from Spain. They are all very happy that I went to Barcelona and liked it. The boys are also amazed that this American girl knows all about their futbol team.

I've also met all kinds of people. I know there are four other Americans in my program plus some others with other programs but I am yet to meet them. I've also met a girl from Indonesia, several Greeks and a Finnish guy who was quite amused I was brave enough to try his Finnish candy. He said it was a favorite of his to give to foreigners. It tasted like salty anise. He told me that was exactly what it was. Now I'm the California girl who asks like a Spaniard but can survive scary Finnish candy. I hope that's a good thing.

So now I'm getting used to being here. I still need to do more shopping and explore of course but first I have to get over my jet lag. I have to get up at 8 am tomorrow and I haven't managed to get up earlier than 2pm yet. I think I'm just going to make dinner and go to bed tonight.

That reminds me: this morning (ok, afternoon) I woke up, showered and made myself a simple breakfast of yogurt with dried fruits and nuts and a piece of toast. Nothing unusual about that in California. Very exotic around here. My roomie and two of our friends who had come over were very wowed. Sometimes I forget that culture shock goes both ways.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stop Los Desahusios

The title is a slogan associated with the strike that just happened. Stop is in English because stop signs are in English by the way. Desahusios is the Spanish word for evictions resulting from the bank repossessing a house. For some reason I can't think if there's an English word that's the equivalent. It's the hot topic in Spain right now. We have an old law that states that if someone can't pay a loan, they lose their property and then still have to pay the bank. Many of the people think that this is inhumane. There's a very sad story that was on the news lately about a woman who lost her house even though she had a good job because she co-signed her brother's loan. He couldn't pay the loan so they both lost their homes, and the sister never told her husband that she co-signed. So when the police came to evict her, well, it didn't end well. Her story has become a bit of a wake up call for the injustice of this law. Even the police unions went on strike, because they don't want to enforce this horrendous law. Things are truly dire in España. There are far too many stories like the one above. And there is no end in sight.

The other slogan is "They have left us without a future." The massive brain drain of highly skilled workers, especially nurses, and students, is quite disheartening. In the school I taught in, I felt the despair the worst. Some of students seemed to project the attitude that since there won't be jobs for them when they get out, so they don't see the point in studying. But they aren't the only ones who feel that way. It's like that at my university too. And my city is relatively wealthy. Our economy is booming in comparison. Being the student of economics that I am, I was looking at figures. The most recent figures I could find on my city were 7,4% unemployment. Healthy is around 2-4%. As a whole, Spain's unemployment is a devastating 25,8% and rising. That certainly paints a bleak economic picture.

Soon I'll write another blog about the Eurozone crisis as a whole. Living here I've learned a lot. The dynamics of the crisis are far more complicated than I could have ever known just by reading about it half the world away.