A Travellerspoint blog

About that time I went to Salobreña...

And realized that oceans are, you know, dangerous. Current Anxiety Rating: 2

sunny 88 °F

On Saturday morning, for better or worse, we woke up at around 8, so we could get ready and eat breakfast before we caught our city bus that would take us to the bus station. I hadn't gotten to sleep until almost 2 the night before, so 8 am felt a wee bit early. But I shook it off and got my butt in gear.

The bus stop was easy enough to find, just a few streets down from my homestay. It was just a matter of getting on the right bus. We asked around for some advice and managed to get ourselves on the right one. It took about 20 minutes to get to the bus station and then we met up with our two other friends who were coming to Salobreña as well.

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As I said before, there is a lot to be said for busy-ness as a solution to anxiety, at least for me. While we were getting up, making breakfast, trying to catch our first bus, etc. that morning I didn't feel anxious at all because I was on the move from one thing to the next. I just didn't have time to think about the fact that I used to get really nervous, and sometimes still do, when I was in enclosed spaces with a lot of people or "stuck" somewhere for many hours at a time without my own means of transportation. It's all sort of a claustrophobia thing. I don't like being stuck places without a way to get out if I need to. It used to be a lot more of an issue, and I was worried it would flare up while in Spain when I went on trips like this. but so far I have been quite lucky and nothing has been as bad as that first day.

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The bus ride to the beach from the bus station went by super fast, though I had my doubts at first. As soon as we pulled away from the bus station, with every seat filled, a man behind us (who was possibly still drunk from the night before) started singing in a warbly high voice. After about a minute, an older gentlemen started trying to coerce the singing fellow to go to sleep, or at least I think that was what it was. I can't be sure because I think he was speaking Catalan, a dialect from a different region of Spain. Anyway, it must have worked or the guy just passed out of his own accord because after about ten minutes the singing, thankfully, stopped.

After we were dropped off at the bus stop, we managed to find the beach without any issue, again we just asked when we went into a store to make sure we were heading that way. By that time there was also a steady trickle of people in beach attire walking in one direction, so we just followed the general herd. The walk only took about 15 minutes and it was a straight shot. We just kept going on the same street until we ran into water.

Which looked a little something like this!
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At the beach we decided to rent two chairs. There were 4 of us and it only cost us about 10 euro for two chairs and umbrella. We got situated and sun screened and then Jenni and I headed down to the surf. There was a decent breeze, so it was relatively comfortable, but that also meant that the waves were sizable. We took a few obligatory pictures of ourselves basking in the sun with the waves around our ankles before we actually really jumped in and when we did, damn was I in for a surprise.

When Jenni and I went back, we wadded in slowly, trying not to lose too much ground to the waves, and failing miserably. We braved one big wave well as well as a few small ones. I briefly turned around to say something to Jenni and when I looked back an enormous wave was bearing down on us.

Before I could do anything, it walloped both of us and I went down so fast I barely knew what was happening. Everything felt like it was everywhere and I felt myself smack into the rocks on my bottom with my face. (They were small rocks, but still, not the most comfortable moment of my life) I got to the top just in time to get walloped by another wave. For the first two, I was pretty relaxed, like "Okay, my bad ocean, I misjudge you; you are scary. Respect." And just kind of waited to fight my way to the top, but by the third or forth one, you could say I was a little panicked.

Jenni and I just sort of scrambled up the beach getting knocked back down every time we tried to wabble into a standing position. I am sure we looked like a mess. My hair was everywhere and my swimsuit was 10 kinds of in the wrong place but 1) it is europe so I am pretty sure no one really bats an eye at that sort of thing and 2) I was more worried about the whole drowning thing.

Luckily for us, we were unscathed and you know, alive. But we decided to give it a rest for a bit before we went anywhere near the water again. In the meantime, we all decided to eat lunch and we sat around for a bit talking. Jenni and I finally went back out but we decided to just sit where the waves came in rather than go all the way in again. That was lovely, and there was no real chance of drowning, though it did seem as though the waves made an honest effort at certain points.

We spent around 6 hours in total at the beach before we started walking back to make sure we could find the bus in time. We were successful, and Jenni and I even managed to get back to our home stay in a timely manner to our house, despite the fact that our bus was a half hour late getting back to the station and the fact that Jenni and I managed to take the city bus two stops too far. But overall, it was a fantastic day! And I managed to only get severely sunburned on one side of my left leg! If that is not a success, I don't know what is!

Thank you for keeping up with my adventures and reading my blog! Keep your eyes peeled for more posts!

Afectuosamente,

Alison

Thank you to the Helen Barr Rudin Grant for making this blog and my adventures abroad possible*

Posted by TrixiStella 09:12 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

Things that Makes Spain/ Granada Different From the US

Current Anxiety Rating: 2

sunny 93 °F

Hola readers!

Now that I have been here over a week I feel qualified-ish to come up with a short list of things that definitely set Spain apart from the United States. In case you are interest in that sort of thing. I am obviously using Granada in particular as my frame of reference, but most of these things apply to what I experienced during my short time in Madrid and Toledo as well.

1. Let's start off with something obvious: Practically everything, with the exception of restaurants and larger businesses, closes between about 2 and 6 during the day. Now I am not going to complain because that means I get to take a nap every day after lunch but still, it does mean if you have morning classes until lunch you have to use the window between 6 and dinner (usually 9 pm) to get anything done.

2. Another obvious one: Meals are completely different. Breakfast is more or less at normal time (9am) but lunch usually doesn't start around 2pm when siesta starts. Dinner then often doesn't start until 9 or later. This makes for one hungry Alison. And a hungry Alison is a grumpy Alison. But lucky for me...

3. They sell fruit and bread for practically nothing. Like I can pick up two small rolls for 0.45 euros or like 4 pieces of fruit for 0.70 euros right on my way to school in the morning!

4. Careful, because you may be fed until you actually explode. These Spanish mamas mean business. Just when you think you have everything on the table they come out with another course, and they may be disappointed or displeased of you don't manage to eat it all.

5. Speaking of food related things: Practically everyone is skinny, and when I say everyone, I mean everyone, young people, little kids, middle aged people, and old people. I think this is because...

6. Everyone walks everywhere. Since I have arrived in Spain I have walked anywhere from 2.5 miles (absolute minimum) to 8+ miles a day. This is how they manage to eat so much bread. I understand now.

7. Although otherwise they seem really health conscious, tons of people smoke. People smoke in the street. People smoke in the house. People smoke while walking around with their new babies.

8. Also, driving is completely different. Therefore, being a pedestrian is completely different. I have been standing, waiting to cross the street, and had buses blow by me so close that I could feel them. Cars are no exception. People drive down these tiny little streets that are mostly just sidewalks with road signs and it is a wonder more people aren't run over every year. I definitely need to learn the verb for "to be run over" because it could become useful.

9. Another thing about being a pedestrian: people here have very different notions about pedestrian courtesy. People stop right in the middle of the sidewalk, so suddenly that you want to tell them their break lights are out. People sort of just weave around each other and sometimes they don't even do that. Often they just walk straight at you like it is a game of chicken and the first person to change their course loses (I always lose). People run into you without so much as a "Pardóname." People just have smaller personal bubbles.

10. Additionally, here it is way more common to stare down a passerby as you walk down the street, eat dinner, whatever. And when you make eye contact with people, there is no smiling or nodding politely. Nope, they just keep staring.

11. As I mentioned in a previous post, everyone goes out at night regardless of what day of the week it is. You are likely to see as many people out on a Wednesday as you would in the US on a Friday. And it isn't just young people out until the wee hours of the morning, it's kids and older people, too.

12. Also, all of these people are impeccably dressed and styled regardless of the time of day. No gym shorts here!

13. Also, they accomplish this look with much less shower-time. Because water is expensive in the region I am in, it is common to take 5 minute showers. 10 minutes absolute max. There is no standing under the water and pondering life here unless you can do it incredibly fast and while shampooing. And I don't have that kind of multitasking skill yet.

14. It is normal to see a tons of people wearing long pants or jeans on a 90 degree days. (This confounds me)

15. Despite the heat, many houses don't have air conditioning. Many have fans, but the central air we are used to in the states isn't so popular.

16. Also it is not unusual to see people walking around with bottles of water as long as their forearm. I am now one of those people. It is over 90 degrees so I just accept it.

17. PDA is a thing. I walked through a park the other day and it was just strewn with couples in various stages of making out/ cudding/ etc. It was also 90ish degrees so I was vaguely impressed. And that's just one example.

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I think that is all for now. Again, these are just a few of the thing I have noticed so far and I am sure there will be more, so I may update this list later!

Again thanks for reading and keep your eye on my blog for more updates!

Afectuosamente,

Alison

Thank you to the Helen Barr Rudin Grant for making this blog and my adventures abroad possible*

Posted by TrixiStella 04:28 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Granada: Day 2...And the rest of the week in hyperspeed!

Current Anxiety Rating: 2 (It's a lazy Sunday so there's not much to get too nervous about)

sunny 91 °F

Hi there!

When I set out to write this post I kept running into a problem. Because of my lack of wifi from last Sunday until last Friday, I have a backlog of adventures to describe here. That puts me in a bit of a pickle as far as brevity is concerned so rather than give you a play by play of every minute of every day, I am going to give you the highlights! Weee!

Monday:

On Monday morning, we not only took our placement exam and had an academic meeting but we also braved a tour of the city in 90+ degree weather, and ended the evening by watching a flamenco performance. So, yes, a pretty darn busy first day. I was surprised at how relaxed I was on Monday morning before test because usually just before a test is a prime time for flares of anxiety (as evidence by every AP test and ACT I have ever taken), but for whatever reason, they didn't appear, at least for a while. The placement test was composed of three parts: writing, multiple choice, and an interview. The first two weren't bad, but I started to feel some rumblings of anxiety as we inched toward the end of the multiple choice section. After that section, we all had to wait in the hallway to be called in, one at a time, for our interview with our prospective professors.

My previous luck didn't hold, and I ended up being called third to last out of the 30 or so people in our class. Doesn't sound that bad, right? But each interview took anywhere from 2 to 6 minutes, and the order in which we were called was completely random, so every time one of the interviewers would polk their head out of the room to call another name, my stomach clutch with nerves. Also hunger, because by that point it was about 11:30 or 12 and I hadn't eaten anything since my two pieces of toast at breakfast which was at 8:15. Generally hunger and anxiety are a very bad combo for me, so I wasn't feeling too hot. Even though I had a snack in my bag, I kept telling myself I would just wait until after my name was called and I interviewed to eat because the last thing I wanted was to take a huge bite of my apple only to have them call my name and for me to respond "Hhowa sowh Alisohn" through a mouth of food.

I finally made my way in, and it wasn't even all that bad. (That's the way these things usually go) They just asked me a few questions about myself and where I was from, why I wanted to be there, etc. in Spanish. After that, I made my way with the rest of the students to study abroad academic meeting, I would describe it to you but it was utterly unexciting.

After that, my roommate and I walked home for lunch and managed to get lost. Almost impressive considering the vast majority of our walk was a straight shot. But all of the stores were similar and as I realized later, the lay of the land at night and in the morning is completely different from that during Siesta time when we headed back. Many of the stories were closed and had metal grates pulled down over their displays so we couldn't even use those for landmarks. After walking for about fifteen minutes and a bit of panicking on my part, Jenni and I decided that we were completely going in the wrong direction and we decided to turn back. It turned out the main road forks off in two and we were supposed to stick with the other fork. We managed to make our way back in time for lunch a bit after another 30+ minutes of walking.

As you can imagine, our siesta after lunch was thoroughly enjoyable after that morning. At 6 pm, we headed out again to tour the city on foot with the rest of our group. It was incredibly beautiful but incredibly hot. I think it was still around 90 degrees when we started walking around and didn't start cooling off until after 9pm.

After our two hour tour, we all briefly had a picnic dinner before heading in the direction of a flamenco club/studio/dinner-place/resturant/cave? near the Alhambra. As I mentioned briefly just now, the whole flamenco place was carved into the hill, and it had air conditioning, so we were all enthused. The performance was amazing. There was a singer, a guitarist, two female dancers, and one male dancer. The only blip that I must mention is that for some reason, the male performer's face while he danced sent me into fits of (concealed) laughter whenever I looked at him. His eyes were wide and crazy and his mouth was all scrunched up like he had to really go to the bathroom, and he kept gripping his jacket away from himself like he was going to rip it off. If I had to describe his performance overall, it reminded me of a temper tantrum because, although I know he was obviously talented and there is a lot of artistry in what he did, to me it just looked like he was angrily flailing around. It was the face that did it. To avoid being the obnoxious, culturally-unaware American, I made a concentrated effort to stare stalwartly at his feet. That was for the most part successful and I made it through the whole thing without making a fool of myself.

After the performance, we went to a famous heladería in Granada called "Los Italianos." Evidently it is one of the oldest in the area and Michelle Obama even when there for some ice cream when she was in Spain. Naturally, I had to suppress the urge to say "I have what Michelle's had." In the end, I just ended up getting chocolate in a cone. It was delicious! After that we parted ways with the rest of our group, and Jenni and I headed home.

Tuesday:

Tuesday was the first day of school, so I was a bit terrified. I had found out the previous day I had tested into the level I wanted and would most likely be able to get into the program I wanted (Hispanic Studies) come the time actual classes start in October. To clarify, the class I am taking is an intensive language month class, not normal university classes. We have class for four hours a day from Monday through Friday until October, when we switch over to normal university classes at the University of Granada, Centro de Lenguas Modernas. During the intensive language month, we spend three hours with one professor who teaches vocabulary and grammar, and the last hour with another professor who teaches just grammar. I have class until 1 and then the rest of my day is free!

The only down side to this is that four hours in a foreign language can be a bit overwhelming and if we aren't doing something, all of us students have a tendency to get a severe case of the yawns, no matter how hard we try not to. Also, although Jenni and I placed into the same level, we were in different classes, so I didn't really know if I would know anyone. I was a little bit nervous but my first professor put me at ease. She definitely reminded me of my professors back at home and we spent most of the class just getting to know everyone else.

The second professor though...she seems nice enough and had good banter with the students, but if the first professor teaches at 25 mph, our second professor teaches at 90. After some brief introductions, we started talking about grammar, and she immediately threw out some of the things we had spent 5 years learning. I think language is sort of like math that way. Maybe they teach it to you one way so everyone understands initially, but then after a while they finally tell you, "You know that thing we told you before? It was only mostly true because we didn't want to make it too complicated; here is what the rule really is." And our heads all explode. Suffice to say our minds exploded a little by the end of class, and she was only actually teaching grammar for like 30 minutes. So I am a little terrified of her. She also has this way of asking if you know something where she will make a statement really fast and then say "Si o no?" (Yes or no) or "Si o Si?" if she thinks we are being slow. I don't know about everyone else but my brain was not moving as fast as hers, so we all just end up going, "Siiiiiii?" Even after three days of class with her, I am still definitely intimated, but I think with time it won't be so bad.

After our first classes class we just returned home, ate lunch, did our homework, and relaxed for the rest of the day until dinner. After dinner, Jenni and I went out and explored a bit around town.

Basically the rest of the week was sort of rinse and repeat.

Every night we go out and explore one street or another for a ways and then turn around and go home. It seemed a little scary the first few times because I didn't want to get lost, but there are tons of people out at 9 or 10 or 11 walking around, eating, and talking on weeknights. That has been one of my favorite parts. Just picking a road and meandering around, getting my bearings. It's sort of funny because after the walking tour on Monday, I sort of felt like i knew the general location of certain things but after going exploring a bit more, I have come to realize, oh yeah that place is totally not where I thought it was. So I let to think I am acquiring a slight sense of direction for Granada perhaps.

Friday:

Friday was a bit different because we were out and about more. After our classes, we skyped with our Spanish professor from home who after a flood of emails from all her anxious students about courses and credit transfers decided it would be easier to just talk to us all at once. After that meeting, we went home for a bit but later returned to the study abroad office so we could organize our trip to the beach that we had planned for Saturday. One of the directors there informed us, though, that we wouldn't be able to just by tickets direct online because our credit cards were American and the bus site rejects most of those for whatever reason. She told us we would probably have to book bus seats through a travel agency. So thus began our adventure to find a travel agent. We meandered around looking for a while and then we just started randomly asking people who looked like they wouldn't steal us or injure us gravely. This was quite successful in that we not only found a travel agent but we were also neither stolen nor gravely injured, so ya!

When we got there, we were informed by the travel agent that we couldn't buy a ticket for our friend who wasn't there because we needed her passport number. So we decided to just putz around until she was done with class in hopes she would get our texts and send us her information before the travel agency closed. Lucky for us, it worked out! We got in right under the wire and bought our tickets to Salobreña! It was excited but also vaguely terrifying to buy the tickets because it meant we were officially going. We were gonna have an adventure but we were also going somewhere that was over a hour away and required taking two buses and walking around to find said beach in a completely unfamiliar city. I would be nervous doing all that even if I have lived somewhere for a while, and here we were doing after only having been there a week. So I had some mixed feelings about it. But I squashed that down deep and concentrated on the more pressing anxiety about going out that evening.

Originally, my roommate and I and three other people from the program had planned to go out that evening, have some tapas, and go to a club possibly, but that didn't end up panning out completely. We all met up that evening around 10pm at Plaza de Isabela La Católica and decided to just wander around because Spanish night life doesn't liven up until 1am at the absolute earliest. We walked over to a gelato place for a little after dinner and pre-tapas snack. We sat for a while eating our gelato before we decided to wander around the other side of the street and see what we could see. We ended up Plaza Real which was about 10 minutes away and we hung out there for an hour or so talking about our home universities.

After a while we decided it was finally time for tapas and we went out in search of a good place. We ended up exploring an area I hadn't to been before but it was beautiful in that classic European way. You know, like small street/alleyways with the amazing architecture of the buildings towering over us, beautifully lit. There were restaurants, and people all around talking and laughing and having drinks and dinner. We wandered farther down the street until we finally just picked someplace at random. We all sat down and got drinks and before we knew it they presented us with out tapas: crayfish tapas with everything still attached. I mean, they were still looking at me. Of course in the spirit of being adventurous, I dove and ripped off its little head and arms and legs and skin with a little squeamishness (sorry little crawfish) and had a bite. They were definitely good, really buttery and garlicky but too much work for me to have a ton so I just had a few.

We sat and talked for a bit while we finished our drinks and around 12:30ish we headed down the street toward a club that someone's host sister had told us about. Lucky for me and my sleepiness and my nerves, evidently 12:30 is not a hopping time for Spanish clubs. Once we saw that it looked like practically no one was inside we decided to go home for the night and try another time. I got home, talked on skype for awhile, and was out until the morning!

I am going to truncate this here, but I will talk about my exciting Saturday at the beach in the next post! Weee! Thanks for reading!

Afectuosamente,

Alison

Thank you to the Helen Barr Rudin Grant for making this blog and my adventures abroad possible*

Posted by TrixiStella 03:17 Archived in Spain Tagged first week Comments (0)

Don't worry! I'm still alive

Current Anxiety Rating: 3

sunny 93 °F

Hola everyone,

Sorry I haven't posted in a bit. My home stay has had some issues with Wifi the past week or so since I arrived, so I haven't been able to access the internet besides on my phone which isn't exactly conducive to a blog post.

Since my last post, I have arrived in Granada (on Sunday the 31st), gotten situated in my home stay and started class! It was a busy first few days! Luckily, though, things have started to slow down considerably. We have class in the morning from 9 am to 1 pm and then we return home for lunch around 2pm. We usually finish up lunch around 3 usually, and then we all, me, my roommate Jenni, and our host mom all go back to our respect rooms and just relax for three or four hours. I usually alternate between reading, journalling, and napping. It is super relaxing and as I mentioned on Facebook, I could definitely get used to the Spanish way of life.

But let's back up just a touch to how I got here!

We left from Toledo on Sunday around 11am and we bused for a few hours toward Granada before stopping off for lunch. After about an hour long break, we all piled back on the bus for another two hours or so before we finally arrived at the Granada bus station. Everyone was excited and super nervous to finally meet our host parents. The directors definitely played this up and made a big show of saying how they would make us all stay on the bus and call our names one by one to meet our families. Again, lucky for me, my roommate and I were called first to meet our host mom. I wasn't sure which one she was at first. I had seen one picture of her on the study abroad site, but I don't think she knew what we would look like. There was a crowd of families spread loosely around the doors of the bus and no one had approached us at first. One of the women looked familiar, so I walked up and said hi and asked if she was looking for us.

By then, it was all adrenalin and I was just hoping that I wouldn't say anything offensive. Of course, I started off by referring her to with the tú form which is the informal way you refer to friends, not the respectful way you refer to new host moms. Oops. She didn't seem to perturbed by it; but I have tried to use the correct form from then on.

We collect our things and then started the walk out our house. We weaved around a bit trying to catch the shade were we could because it was upwards of around 90 degrees and with a backpack purse and luggage in tow we were toasty to say the least. It wasn't a long walk and there was even an elevator when we got there. Simple pleasures.

Our host mom led us in and had us drop our stuff in our room that Jenni and I would share. She then sat us down briefly and explained emphatically that she was a very good cook and we were lucky to have her for this reason. Marion (that is her name) is good natured and helpful but boy does she take her cooking seriously. And even though she assured us that we should just tell her if we don't like something she makes, I am still vaguely terrified to do so.

After those brief house rules, she said that she was exhausted from her trip to the the beach that morning and was going to take a nap for a few hours, leaving Jenni and I to put away our things and relax. She explained that she would fill us in on all the other important things later. So, we settled in and got to unpacking. And if there is one thing that I do get a strange amount of enjoyment from, it is unpacking and organizing. It was also nice to finally not live out of a suit case after traveling four three days between two hotels. With everything hung up and packed away, I could breathe a little easier.

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And so I don't have to paint you a verbal picture, here are two pictures of the room. One from my bed and another from the other side of the room.

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There is plenty of space for our clothing and electronics and what have you, and we have little shelves by our bed, too. By far the weirdest thing are the metal blinds that we lower during the day to keep the sun out and the house cool because we don't have air conditioning. While they are practical and I am thankful that they keep the house cool, I sometimes feel like I am seeking refuge from some sort of alien invasion, but I digress.
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The rest of the first day was very relaxed (as is the Spanish way, I am starting to gather) and we just waited for dinner time to come around. After dinner our señora walked us to Plaza de Isabella la Católica where we would be meeting our group before our placement test the next day. The plaza as well as the surrounding area was packed, even though it was Sunday and around 9 pm. There were tons of people out walking, shopping, and eating dinner, and everyone was incredibly fashionable.

Our señora took good care of us and repeated told us about all of the turns and street names to make sure we wouldn't get lost when we had to walk there and back alone the next day (She was unsuccessful but that is a story for another post).

We returned to our homestay and really just relaxed some more for the rest of the day in preparation for the action pack Monday we had waiting for us.

I suppose I have sufficiently blabbed enough for one post. If you want to hear about my first full day in Granada check out the next post!

Afectuosamente,

Alison

Thank you to the Helen Barr Rudin Grant for making this blog and my adventures abroad possible*

Posted by TrixiStella 07:42 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

The Flight & My Madrid Whirl-Wind Tour

Anxiety Rating: Fluctuating between a 1 and a 8 over the last two days

sunny 91 °F

Hello dear readers!

I have not only made it to Madrid, but I successfully spent 48 hours here! Let me give you a little play by play and catch you up on the things that you have missed:

Part 1: The Flight and Arrival

I arrived at the airport on time, and by on time I do mean three hours early, at which time I quickly realized that I didn't know which ticket counter I had to check my bag at, which was an awesome start. The company that I booked my ticket through and the company that was servicing the flight were different hence my confusion. And after inquiring about it, to my dismay, I realized the queue with the enormous crowded line was indeed where I was supposed to be. As soon as my mom and I crowded into the line, I could feel my blood pressure rising. It was too crowded, too loud. I was surrounded, and the fact that I was leaving was suddenly all too real. I was hit with this horribly judgmental and condescending, "What in the world do you think you are doing? Why in the world are you doing this to yourself?" feeling. My eyes darted around, unable to focus, and I stripped off my scarf in attempt to rid myself of some of the heat that had flooded my body. I also hadn't eaten lunch yet, and at 1:30, my hunger pangs were starting to transform into what felt like a powerful nausea. While we slowly inched forward through the maze, I explained to my mom how I was feeling, hoping talking about it would calm me down somewhat. But at that point I was a little far gone for her gentle reasoning. Luckily for me, though, we began moving swiftly through the line, and as soon as I had my bag checked, my discomfort eased.*

  • Note: That's the way it often goes for me. The anxiety starts suddenly, persists for a period of time (which depends on a variety of factors like what it is that is stressing me out, if I can leave and gather myself, if I have someone to talk to, etc.) and often leaves just as suddenly. Other times as you will see later, I get so wound up, it is more like a slow fall after the crescendo.

From there, I waited for my travel companions to check their bags before saying my goodbyes and moving on to security. Saying goodbye to my mom caused an uncomfortable dropping sensation in my stomach. All of the denial I had built up was coming down in sudden terrifying jolts. My bag was checked and I was staying goodbye. I could not longer avoid it. After a series of hugs, I managed to extricate myself and get in line. Luckily again for me, I was randomly assigned to the express version of security and whisked through without ever having to take off so much as my shoes. My travel companions were sorted in the express line as well and we were able to continue onward to find our gate all together. We did without much trouble, and I managed to get some food in me to soothe my stomach, but then the waiting began once again.

Waiting is definitely one of my triggers. In the busy, think-on-your feet moments, I am usually fine because I am so forcibly in the moment that my anxiety is shifted to the back burner, but as soon as I slow down enough, all my fears start flooding back, sometimes at double time, and its like I am paralyzed. It is like your world closes in around you, so that all you can see and think and feel is that anxiety and its bodily manifestations: flushes of heat and cold, nausea, rapid heartbeat, cycling thoughts (and no that's not thoughts about bicycling but rather when whatever I think about cycles back to my anxiety and I cycle down and down and down because by focusing on my anxiety and fearing it, I feed it). With this in mind, you can probably imagine why places like airports are difficult in particular. There's a line for security; there is a line to check baggage; there's a line to use the bathroom; there is a line to buy a five dollar bagel! And when you are done waiting for all that, you have to wait for your flight.

Interestingly enough, I was fine when I got on the plane. We had t.v.'s in all of our seats and I had an isle seat to calm any rogue claustrophobia. Before getting on the plane, I made a list of all of the various encouragements people had given me, so I could read them if I got too panicky. I had bought myself some extra snacks in the event that there weren't enough meals on the plane and I had all the entertainment on backpack could hold. And everything was fine. Flight went smoothly; I didn't sleep as much as I wanted to (read: at all) but I was relatively comfortable and entertained. The flight was probably the least anxious part of the whole ordeal.

When we finally got there after 8 hours in the air, everything was a mad dash. No waiting involved, so my anxiety stayed quiet. My group got off the plane and quickly went up 5 escalators, (well, as quickly as a large mass of people can go up 5 escalators), went through Customs (basically they just stamped our passport, no questions, no nothing, easy peesy), and piled onto the underground tram, along with everyone else. The tram took us to the main building where we would retrieve our suitcases. Everybody got their luggage and we boarded another bus to take us over to Terminal 1 where we would meet our program director and be transported to the hotel.

Part 2: El Hotel

We arrived at our hotel, got a bit settled, and we decided to grab lunch. A group of us wandered around the neighborhood for a bit before we finally settled on a place to eat that would satisfy everyone. Madrid is beautiful in a New York city way, lots of little shops and restaurants crowded together, people walking everywhere, while a combination of buses, cars, mopeds, and motorcycles clog the streets. After lunch we meandered back to the hotel, exhaustion and heat finally getting the best of us. When I got back I tried to set up my internet, with less than successful results, my iMessage wasn't working, I didn't have a phone, my internet was cutting out. Not good.

So I gave up and finally gave in to the pull of sleep. I woke up suddenly about an hour later with a sick feeling in my stomach, and my mind just started turning. I kept thinking about how I couldn't get on iMessage, how I had made this big commitment that was going to last four months and I was just at the start of it, how I wouldn't see my family or friends or boyfriend for four more months, how I was alone and trapped in this big city. It hit me like a ton of bricks as I was laying there, and before I knew it, I was in a full blown, category 8 (out of a possible 10) panic attack. Nausea flooded me, and I was suddenly cold, even under all my blankets. I got up to refill my water bottle and wandered aimlessly around the room a bit, lost in my anxiety. I couldn't think about anything other then the things I was feeling and how much they scared me. Any time I thought about trying to do something to distract myself (watch a movie, read a book, write, etc), all my mind could think about was how much more freaked out I would get if it wouldn't work. In a last ditch effort, after about 30+ minutes of sitting up, laying down, walking, rocking and just generally trying to shake off the feeling that I was trapped in my body, I was able to get online and send panicked email to my mom, explaining what was happening. Luckily for me, she had the day off and messaged back right away with some words of advice. While we emailed back and forth, I also googled "Anxiety and Travel" to see if I could find any coping strategies that would pull me out of my funk.

Only when my mom and I started talking did I finally start the slow process of winding down. I was even able to skype with her a little bit and that helped the process along immensely as well. Talking to her, I felt less alone, scared, and isolated. Everything felt less pressurized. I was able to get on the internet and connect with someone I was used to seeing or talking to a ton, someone familiar and comforting. That made the next few months in general seem less foreign and stressful. I saw that my panicked mind had been wrong. I wouldn't have to go though everything all alone. I still have my family, boyfriend, and friends to help me along when I do need it. That's not to say I would or will be in constant contact; I just simply won't be flying blind, cut off from my support network, for the next four months with really only myself to rely on.

After talking to my mom, things calmed down somewhat. All study abroad students on our program met for a brief meeting with the study abroad director where we got some common sense advice and were given our cell phones. Then we were tossed out into bustling Madrid to find dinner on our own. My exhausted roommate and I ended ducking out right across the street for something quick and easy, and after we ate we returned to our room to relax and go to bed before day two.

I definitely chalk up my stress during the first 48 hours of the trip to lack of sleep, dehydration, and overstimulation. The past two days, including my second day in Madrid and a day in Toledo, were no less hectic, but I have managed to get my footing, or at least I would like to think so. My stress level has gone down for the time being, though I am sure it will spike back up just in time for me to meet my host mother and in time for me to take my placement exam on Monday. Although, I do feel much better prepared to handle it with the first few days under my belt and with reliable connections to my support system back home firmly established.

Thank you for reading my long-winded account of my turbulent, first 48 hours as a world traveler, and check back soon for more updates!

Afectuosamente,

Alison

Thank you to the Helen Barr Rudin Grant for making this blog and my adventures abroad possible*

Posted by TrixiStella 15:19 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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