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Gap Year Abroad

10 posts from March 2013


Semana Santa's Worst Enemy

If only the rain in Spain fell mostly on the plane. It has been raining so much these past few months I can’t remember a week that has gone by and it hasn’t rained at least one day.

With all of the Semana Santa activities going on, I’m hating the rain even more. Since the pasos are so antique, some are from the 16th century, the hermandades don’t won’t them going out if it rains. Yesterday not even one paso went out, although it only drizzled a bit in the afternoon. However, many of the pasos that were supposed to go out yesterday were the oldest, so my host mom said they were very hesitant to let them go out.

Some pasos haven’t been out in three or four years because according to all of the Spaniards, it always rains on Semana Santa.

So far, the three pasos that were supposed to leave today haven’t. Hopefully a few do though, because they are so beautiful and really impressive to see.

One of the funniest things to see though is the Spaniards who run from one street to another trying to se every procession. Many people listen to the radio while they are out walking so they are always informed as to where each paso is and if it is going to come out or not.


Semana Santa Preview

Every year a huge event happens in Sevilla. It lasts for eight days and attracts tourist from all over. It’s called Semana Santa (Holy Week). 

Starting on Palm Sunday, there are processions everyday. Each processions has two ipasos(images), one of Christ and one of the Virgen. They processions also have nazarenos, penitents, costaleros, and a band. Although Semana Santa is celebrated in many parts of Andalucia, it is most famous in Sevilla. The pasos are also the most beautiful, because the costaleros are hidden underneath the structure. It’s super impressive to see. Usually around 30-60 men are needed to carry a paso, and they may have to carry it for up to twelve hours around the streets of Sevilla.

I’ll be posting a few blogs about this, but to get started I’ll give you a brief vocab lesson so you know what I’m talking about in my upcoming blogs.


Capillita- someone who is really really really into Semana Santa

Cirio- giant candles the nazarenos carry

Costalero-men who carry the pasos

Procesión- a parade which has two pasos and many nazarenos, and also a band

La Madrugá- Holy Thursday to Good Friday full moon three favorite images come out

Nazareno-people who accompany the pasos

Mantilla- black veil woman wear in their hair on Holu Thursday

Penitente- people who walk behind the pasos and carry wooden crosses, many times they walk barefoot

Paso- wooden structure adorned with gold or silver with an image of Jesus or the Virgin

Here is a video of a procession, as well as a bit more information about Semana Santa in Sevilla.



More of the mar bella

On Saturday morning we were able to sleep in, which was really nice because I can’t remember the last time I was able to do that. For breakfast, we had more Pennsylvania Dutch food. Sra. made us corn fritters. I had never had this either, but they are basically pancakes, except they are made with corn. 

Sweet Corn Fritters 014

Unfortunately it was raining and rather cold out, so we took the car and drove around to several beaches. First we stopped at Cala de Mijas. Although it was rainy, we still went for a nice walk on the beach and admired the view.


After that we visited Fuengirola, which is a much larger beach. We had planned on taking a hike up to the mountains, but since it was raining we decided to go to the mall. Since we had brought picnic food for the hike, we had a little picnic in the mall, and then we looked around for a bit.

After we arrived back at the apartment, Sra. showed us how to get to the Dunas de Artola, which is a National Monument. We walked though the forest for a bit and then we arrived to the dunes. We were greeted by a beautiful view. We wanted to watch the sun set, but it was a bit too cloudy. So we simply climbed out on some rocks and peered across the ocean and attempted to see Morocco through the fog.


For diner that night we had something I would have never thought I would like, not would I have expected to try it for the first time in Spain. We had bratwurst with sauerkraut. The sauerkraut was a bit sweet since our teacher added apples, and the meat wasn’t terrible either. I can’t say it was one of my favorite things I’ve ever eaten, but I didn’t hate it.

After a nice relaxing dinner, and drinking some delicious tea, we decided to have a movie night. First, we watched Midnight in Paris. If you have not seen this movie, I highly recommend it. It has to do with Paris in the 20s and features a bunch of famous artists from that time. We weren’t content with just watching one movie, so we popped some popcorn and began watching Frida, which is about the life of Frida Kahlo. It was really interesting since I barely knew anything about her.

On Sunday we had a delicious Andalusian breakfast. Toast with olive oil and tomatoes. We also had breakfast with our teacher’s grandkids. Two of the most adorable little girls I have ever seen. The whole reason my teacher retired in Marbella was so she could be close to her grandchildren, who are practically her neighbors. They are three and five years old and they can speak both English and Spanish. The three year old is named Kaiya and the five year old is named Chloe.

Our teacher told us a very moving story about Chloe. When she was around three years old she contracted a virus. After that she could no longer walk, and then she couldn’t sit up, and soon she was even having trouble swallowing. Sra. was skyping with one of her friends from Lancaster, who just happens to be a doctor and he saw Chloe. He decided to come and visit her and see what he could do.

His advice was to change her diet. Chloe now has to eat red meat four times a day, and she can only eat organic food. After being in a wheelchair for almost two years, she has just started walking again and is doing so much better. My favorite thing about traveling is meeting people and hearing their stories. Everyone has stories to tell and we learn so much when we share them with others.

After breakfast we went to the beach where Antonio Banderas’s house is. We couldn’t really see much, an account of the giant wall surrounding his house, but we did eat some cactus(yes you can eat cactus) that was hanging over the side of his fence.


Since our bus was scheduled to leave at four, next we had to go get lunch if we wanted to make it on time. Our teacher to us to a wonderful Argentinian restaurant. I don’t really like meat, but everyone else ordered some so I had a bit, and I must say it was absolutely delicious. We also had empanadas, which is probably the one food I miss from Chile.

For some reason, when Hannah bought her ticket to Marbella, the lady she bought it from said she needed to buy her return ticket in Marbella. Unfortunately when we got to the station we discovered that the bus going to Sevilla was full. There were a few brief seconds of panic, but we figured it out in the end and we arrived home around 8:30. It was a pretty quite weekend, but it was nice. And after being away the past weekend as well, it was really nice to be back in Sevilla.


Una Vista del Mar Bella

If you ever get the chance to travel, make sure you take advantage of your connections.

 While I was home over Christmas break, Hannah and I visited some teachers at the High School and we talked about our experience in Chile. While we were there we saw Sr. Mast, our eighth grade Spanish teacher. He told us that Sra. Rios, our seventh grade Spanish teacher, had retired in Spain. Hannah gave him her email address and he told us he would inform Sra. Rios we were going to Spain.

 We sort of forgot about this encounter until Hannah received an email from Sra. In February inviting Hannah, Helena, and I to come visit her. It turns out she retired in Marbella, a beach town in the province of  Malaga. It’s actually a pretty well know place. Many older people from Germany, France, and other parts of Europe live there in the winter when they are retired. We heard many different languages being spoken while we were there.

Since we wanted to take full advantage of this opportunity we took a bus Friday morning and arrived about three hours later. Sra. was waiting for us at the airport. After saying our hellos she took us to the main square.


Since she used to be a teacher and she is very interested in history, she kept telling us all about Marbella and its history. It was actually super interesting, even though I don’t quite remember everything she told us. Apparently Marbella was doing really well in the late 60s and early 70s, but there was so much corruption and it wasn’t until the late 80s when many Russians started arriving and cleaned it up a bit.

After walking around the old town and hearing about all of the history of Marbella we were treated to lunch. Since Sra. had an appointment at apple to learn how to work her new Ipad, we walked down to the beach and took a siesta.


After a wonderful, yet a bit chilly nap, Sra. took us to the grocery store to get some snacks. We weren’t exactly sure if she would be cooking for us or not. We bought some snacks and hummus, cucumbers and cheese for sandwiches. Sra. had told us to get some food so we could have what we wanted in the house. She ended up cooking all of our meals for us, which was really nice. We had sort of expected her to, since food is a huge part of hospitality in Spain. You never want your guest to feel hungry because you want him or her to be as comfortable as possible. This was also true in Chile and all of us gap kids experienced it with our host families, they offer you so much food you don’t know what to do with it all.

The apartment Sra. lives in is right near the beach. After getting the groceries we walked down to the beach. The stars were beautiful and off in the distance we could see even see Morocco. I’ll actually be visiting Morocco in about a month, but I’ll be blogging more about that later.

We had a very typical Spanish dinner.Gambas. Gambas are shrimp, but I guarantee you, not the types of shrimp you are used to eating. First you have to take off the head, with its eyes and everything. And then if you want you can suck out juice from the brains, which is actually fairly tasty. And my teacher also showed us how to cook the gambas so I can make it when I go home.


We also had red beet eggs for dinner. This is a typical Pennsylvania Dutch dish, yet I have never had it. It consists of a hard-boiled egg soaked in red beat juice for…well I’m not really sure how long. I think it depends, but it was decent. I mean it basically tasted like a hard-boiled egg with a little bit of extra flavor. After dinner and drinking some delicious tea, we were ready for bed. It was nice to get to bed before midnight for once.



Journey to a Land of Sun: A Scotsmen and blood

Saturday morning Helena joined Hope and they went to the science museum since Hope hadn’t been feeling well on Friday, while Hannah and I went on the free walking tour offered by the hostel.

The tour was very interesting, as was our tour guide. I can’t remember his name, as it was very Scottish, but he told us to call him curly, due to his curly blond hair.

He had come to Valencia because he wanted to needed a job and he had wanted to come to a place that was sunny, since he doesn’t get much sun in Scotland.

He informed us at the beginning of the tour that he lived off of the tips he received on the tour since the actual tour was free. He was very knowledgeable of the city, even if he did keep telling us how hung-over he was. After the tour was over he lead us to the main square for the fireworks display. 

You may be wondering why people would set off fireworks in the middle of the day. Well, it is all part of Fallas. This festival only takes place in Valencia and starts March 1st and ends the 21st, although the main parts of the festival are only the last weekend. During that weekend the population of Valencia triples since so many tourist want to be a part of the festival.

The reason the fireworks go off during the day is because they are judged by sound and not by looks. The people who set off the fireworks are consiered artist and eveyday a different artists competes to see who can make the best sounding fireworks. The judges listen for consistensy and the level of noise. These fireworks sound exactly like bombs. Honestly, it’s a bit scarry. The winner of the competition gets to set off his fireworks display on the last night of the festival.

After becoming fainly death from the fireworks, Hannah and I slowly made our way to the Central Market. I say slowly since we were going the opposite direction of everyone else.

Even though the market was neat, I wasn’t too impressed since it was very similar to Central Market in Lancaster. Everyone had told us we had to see the market, and I guess if you have never seen anything like it, it would be pretty neat. One of the great things about traveling is that you really learn to appreciate all of the things you have and stop taking them for granted. So next time I’m in Central Market in downtown Lancaster I’ll remember to be extra thankful.

After that we headed back to the hostel to make lunch and some sandwiches for later.

Helena met up with us and we all headed to a bullfight. I’m still not sure how I feel about bullfight’s. I’ve talked about it a to in my classes, and it is a big part of the culture of Andalucía, but it was much more brutal than I expected. And it was also very very bloody. But I think the worst part was that sometimes the bull would start crying because it was in so much pain.

The bullfight we went to wasn’t with professional matadores, it was with people who were still learning, so they made many mistakes and several people were almost trampled by the bulls. It did make it more exciting, but it was very scary to watch.

During the bullfight we met a girl who was staying from our hostel who was from Thailand, but her English was so good we all thought she was American. She was really nice though and she is actually coming to Sevilla this week since she’s traveling around Spain for a while so you might hear for her again. But as we were talking some men who were sitting a few seats down from us came over and offered us some bread and meat. They had a giant bag full of bread, and seeing as were poor students, we gladly accepted this free food.

So it was an interesting experience and although I’m glad I saw at least one bullfight, it is definitely not an experience I ever feel the need to repeat.

After the bullfight we headed to the beach and met up with Hope. We walked around a but and then we tried to find a place with some good paella. We stopped at the restaurant where Erneat Heminway always ate, but we had asked a waiter what he recomended and he said a smaller restaurant with great servicie and a friendly atmosphere, sicne the paella would be good at any restaurant. We decided to pass on Hemingway’s favorite place and head to a restaurant with a homier feeling.

We were not disappointed in our choice. Between the four of us we shared a Valencian Paella and one with mariscos. They were both absolutely delicious. We even got some free appetizers and warm gazpacho as well. And of course Helena and I split some chocolate cake, which was a perfect way to end the meal.

The four of us took a nice stroll along the beach and sat down in a lifeguard boat for a while and chatted about some great childhood memories.

All in all it was a pretty great way to end the weekend.

On Sunday we didn’t have very much time, but we did manage to climb the bell tower of the cathedral, as well as check out the old silk factory, and we even got some free Starbucks :) thanks to a man who was handing out coupons. After that it was time to head back home.

It’s great being able to travel so much, but it’s always nice having a place to come home to. Just like when I would come home from a trip in Chile, when I arrived in Sevilla I truly felt as if I was coming home.


Journey to a Land of Sun: Fish Edition

Hannah and I had planned to go to the aquarium Friday morning. The goal was to get there as soon as it opened, which was at 10. So naturally we arrived around 11. We had made sandwiches before leaving the hostel and we also stopped at this awesome park we had found along the way. 


The park is called Gulliver’s and it is a giant pirate. His coattails serve as giant slides and the ropes that anchor him to the ground were pretty fun to climb on. We got a bit sidetracked there, and once we got to the City of the Arts and Sciences it took us a while to find the aquarium since it really is like a mini city.

The City of the Arts and Sciences has an aquarium(it is the largest aquarium in Europe), a science museum, a planetarium, and an IMAX.

All of the buildings were designed by Santiago Calatrava, and it is said if your city does not have a building my him, then it isn’t really a city at all. The buildings are all quite modern and I felt a bit like I has stepped into the future.


We spent practically all day at the aquarium. Supposedly I have been to the Baltimore Aquarium before, but I have no memory of it, so this was my first official visit to an aquarium and it did not disappoint. I was able to see sharks, beluga whales, penguins, spider crabs, a sea dragon, and even a dolphin show.  What I liked most about the aquarium was that it was just very calming.


After the aquarium we headed to the science museum. This was super cool as well. There was a section all about comic book heroes, which I assumed would be very boring. But it was actually quite interesting. It talked about the evolution of comic books and how comic books change as what was happening in society changed.

There was also this revolving chair that we got to ride, but my favorite was this machine that changed the way your voice sounded. Hannah and I could not stop laughing.

I really wished we could have had more time at the museum, but it closed at 7 so we were forced to leave. Right outside the doors there was a woman selling Horchata (Orxata in Valencian). This is a typical drink from Valencia and it is composed of tigernuts. In Valencia is it served with a pastry, but I can’t remember the name of it. I wasn’t really a fan of this drink, but seeing as it’s so popular in Valencia I’m glad I tried it.

By this time the sun was setting and we had a beautiful view of all of the buildings lit up against the evening sky. After taking several photos we began the walk back to the hostel.


Once there we headed to the grocery store to prepare our dinner. We attempted to make pasta with mushroom and a white wine sauce, but it didn’t really turn out too well, but hey, it was inexpensive and we had fun making it. 




Journey to a Land of Sun

This past weekend I was able to escape the endless rain we have been having in Sevilla(it finally ended today!) and enjoy the sunshine a bit since I traveled to Valencia. 

I went with two other girls who I had been in school with throughout elementary school, and we met up with another girl who also went to school with us since she was in Spain on spring break with her college.

We left Thursday morning and arrived safely after surviving the Ryanair flight. When we arrived at the airport in Valencia, we noticed the signs were in Spanish, English, and another language as well. It was Valencian. I had totally forgotten that Valencia had it’s own language. It seems every place a travel in Spain has it’s own dialect.

The hostel we were staying at had emailed us directions, and I printed them out, but they were directions to the wrong hostel. That hostel was being renovated, but there was a map on the door directing us to the actual hostel where we would be staying. After walking around for a while we realized the hostel had placed the map upside down.

We eventually found the hostel. I was actually quite unimpressed with this hostel. It was the first European hostel I had stayed in. Well for starters, of course it was more expensive than a hostel in South America, we also had to pay for internet. And we still did get a free breakfast, but after we were finished eating we had to clean our dishes, which I thought was a bit strange. I also didn’t like the staff. When we entered the hostel for the first time none of them said hi to us, and they didn’t explain or give us suggestions on any activities we could do.

Later on, we discovered than one of the girls who worked there was actually from Slovakia and had only arrived to Spain one week ago. She was here to practice her Spanish, but she insisted on speaking English with us since she is much better at it. She was actually nice, I mean at least she tried. I can’t really speak for the others.

After settling in we went to a beautiful park near our house to picnic. There used to be a river in place of this park, but the river was rerouted to go around the city several decades ago.


We attempted to explore the city a bit, except there was a slight drizzle, and we had trouble reading the map. When we did find the center most places were closed since it was siesta time. So we entered one of the first cafes we saw and had some delicious tea and then headed back to the hostel.

As we were walking around we heard what sounded like bombs and gunshots. We were a bit freaked out by this because we had no idea what was going on. It wasn’t until Saturday we discovered that this was part of Fallas, a festival that takes place in Valencia during the first three weeks in March.

We met up with our friend later that evening for dinner. A few of her friends accompanied us. We had planned on eating paella, but then we decided to wait till Saturday night for that. I wasn’t too impressed with the restaurant, but we had a good time regardless.


The Beautiful Game

Speaking more than one language really helps you communicate when you travel, but there are other ways to communicate with people. For example, everyone understands the meaning of a smile, and most of the world understands the language of soccer(or futbol as basically everyone else calls it).

 Last Monday CIEE took all of the Gap kids to a soccer game against Sevilla and Celta de Vigo. Celta is a team from the north of Spain, and they are not very good so we won. There are actually two soccer teams in Sevilla. One is obviously Sevilla, and the other is Real Betis. My host family is a big fan of Sevilla, so I always cheer for them. My host mom’s father watches every single game. My host sister’s boyfriend is also a huge fan of Sevilla. But many of the girls in Sevilla love to watch soccer as well, although it is not very common for girls to play soccer.


 There was some sort of special promotion last Monday, and it was “American night”. We got free banners when we entered the stadium and there was even a bit of American football at half time.

 Overall, it was loads of fun. It’s crazy how into the games some people get, and this wasn’t even a big rivalry or anything.

After the game a number of us headed to Ruby Tuesday’s since we got each gotten a card for free nachos. They were awesome and we still had some card left over so we can go back for more.

 I’m sure I’ll see plenty more soccer games-at least on T.V. since my family is such a fan, but maybe I’ll make it to one more game in the stadium before I leave.




Change of View

This morning I awoke to the sounds of rain, yet again. I pulled back my orange curtains to peer outside. All I could see was the building across the way and the gas station on the corner. After being away this weekend, it was so nice to be back home, and living in a house where I felt comfortable.

Living in a foreign country is much harder than I imagined, yet certain things can make the transition easier. One of those things is your host family. If you have a great host family, it is much easier to adjust. Think about it. You are in a foreign place, with foreign people, foreign food, a foreign language that you may not even be able to speak very well, and foreign customs.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the best luck with host families. And I think it really is luck. Many families fill out applications and you could get placed with any one of them. In Chile I was placed with an elderly couple. While they had three children, none of them lived at home. One of the daughters came home every weekend, but she was hardly ever in the house. Although the couple was very nice, we never talked during meals because the T.V. was always on. After eating dinner around 8(which was really early for Chilean standards) they would retire to their room to watch more T.V. I wanted to interact more with my host family. I needed a family that was active and more chaotic then family I was currently with.

 After I switched to a family with a fifteen year old daughter, an eleven-year-old son, and a twenty-year-old son (although he didn’t live in the house) my life in Chile became much easier. I could come home and talk about my day, or current events, or the history of Chile with my family. Since my real family was roughly 5,000 miles away, my host family really was my family.

When I first arrived to Spain, I really liked my host family. My most loved to have a great time, and she was always singing and dancing around the house. My host sister seemed really cool too, although when I arrived she was in the middle of exams so she barely left her room. I mean it, she was constantly studying. During the beginning of my stay, I talked to my host mom more because she was home much more often. I exchanged sentences with my host sister over lunch and dinner, but not much more than that since she was always studying…and fighting with my host mom. They constantly fought about every little thing. Also, they were rarely home. For the past two weeks before I left I ate dinner by myself.

So since once again, I wasn’t having very much interaction with my host family, and I barely ever had the chance to practice Spanish, I decided to switch.

Unlike in Chile, I was actually able to visit my host family before I moved. Nancy gave me two families to visit, but the one I chose consists of a mother and a daughter, much like my current host family. When I went to visit them we just had such a great conversation. They were very nice and welcoming, and I really think I will have much more of an opportunity to practice Spanish with them than I did in my old house.

Although I have only been with them for a little over a week, I’m already so much happier. They are just such lovely people. Both of their names are Estrella, and my host mom’s mother is also named Estrella. I’m looking forward to getting to know them better.

 here is a funny blog I found talking about some of the trials of studying abroad 


Teacher's Don't Always Know Best

Although Clic is a very beautiful school, as far as my experience goes, it really has nothing else to offer.


When we first arrived at Clic, everyone was made to take an entrance test. It wasn’t very thorough at all, considering it was only one page. It was also all grammar, and no conversation. This struck me as odd since the second half of the class is supposed to be dedicated to conversation.

 When I arrived to my very first class, I quickly realized I was in the wrong level. I had been placed in the level A2, which is two levels below the level I had been at in Chile. Hannah, who had also been in the level B2 in Chile, had also been placed in my class. After the first class I talked to my teacher about moving up. She agreed I had a higher level than the other kids in my class, but that I would have to talk to the director.

So I talked to the director, Isabel, and she said it all depended on whether there was room in another class. She also said that we couldn’t move until next week, because for some reason they just can’t move people during the middle of the week.

The next week we did change classes, but we had to wait until the second half. For the first few days the class was fine. Then, several new people joined our class and are pace decreased. I had two different teachers for this particular class. My grammar teacher was tolerable; she was just rather boring. My conversation teacher, however, felt the need to yell everything she said. Most of her classes weren’t even true conversation classes, they were just more grammar. And whenever we tried to have an actual conversation class, it was only ever a select few of the class actually participating since some of the students struggled to from coherent sentences.

I survived the first week, but on Monday the following week I talked to my grammar teacher about moving up. She told me she thought I was at the right level. OK fine, grammatically maybe, but certainly not in the conversation class. Hannah then talked to our conversation teacher about moving up and she was told no as well. When we asked if we could have a different grammar class than conversation class we were also told no. We were just getting m=way too many no’s. Especially considering this isn’t a public school where we should have to “work the system”. We are paying, not us exactly cause we have scholarships, but money is being given to Clic so we can learn, yet we are not learning.

Although taking a gap year has been much harder than I imagined, I can’t be more thankful for this opportunity. In fact, I think it should be required for everyone to take a gap year. There is no need to rush to college; after going to school for twelve years, everyone deserves a break. And not to mention time to decide what to do with the rest of your life, especially considering the price of college. It is better to take one year off, than spend an extra year or two in school because you couldn’t decide on a major.

Here is an article about taking a gap year, if you are thinking about it this may help you

Gap Bloggers

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