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.