I left for my European adventure on May 22nd 2018. I plan to be honest about my experiences so I will start that right from the top. I was terrified to leave. I left my family at the airport with tears in my eyes because of the overwhelming emotions I was feeling about being away from family and home for the more than twice as long as I ever had before. I felt strongly that this was something that was going to change my life and I was just hoping at that point that it would be for the better.
The flight over was really long and I did not sleep much on the plane. I went from Knoxville to D.C. D.C. to New York and then I had a 6 hour layover in Amsterdam. I was very torn on whether or not to leave the airport in Amsterdam. I was really tiered and scared and that I wouldn't make it back in time for my flight to Valencia. Ultimately I decide to leave and even though I only got to eat in a little cafe and walk around see a few sights before I went back I am so glad I did. Amsterdam was beautiful so I glad I got to see the city. But more even more than that it was the first time I proved to myself that I could do this trip. That I could go out into a city and have an adventure on my own and live to tell the tale.
Finally after many many hours I finally arrived in Valencia. My luggage was not at the right baggage claim and I did not know where exactly I needed to go so I was again overwhelmed. But finally I made it to my home stay. I met my host mom (who I quickly realized spoke only Spanish) and my roommate (who also seemed quite overwhelmed). I literally only had time to set my luggage down and use the bathroom before it was time to go out and meet the other interns from our program. That night I was so jet lagged that I don't remember much but I do remember that we were offered sangria or beer which may have been one of my first culture shock experiences in Spain, that our director used me as an example for how to hold your purse to not get pick pocketed and I that I tired gazpacho (cold tomato based soup) without being told what it was or that it was going to be cold which was also quite a shock. Finally after what seemed like forever we were allowed to leave and go sleep in our new home.
First week in Spain
I slept in a little bit the next day but was also feeling much better and ready to go explore the city. My roommate and I went on the first of our many shopping trips (which was also the first of many times I got lost). After that we to the beach which at the time was actually a bit chilly. That afternoon I got I my first taste of European ice cream and it was absolutely wonderful. The almost constant availability of amazing ice cream will be one of the things I am really going to miss back home.
That night we meet up with some other interns and I had my first Agua de Valencia (typical drink of Valencia similar to a mimosa but very good because of the fresh Valencian orange juice) and my first Paella (traditional dish of Valencia made in a large pan with meats vegetables and rice). Both tasted good but over priced because we did not know the best places to go yet. I also really saw the city at night for the first time which was neat. Over the next few days before I started my internship my roommate and I explored the city and ate more food and took lots of pictures. This time is strange for me to think of now because at time I still felt like I was tourist on vacation.
We also started learning many of the unwritten rules of our host mom who was the only one in the house and was really old enough to be our grandmother. We had our first of many arguments with her which were usually were about not eating her food, showering at the wrong times/ in the wrong ways or our clothes and suitcases. I will go ahead and say now that personally my experience with living at a home stay was very mixed. I did save money having meals provided and I did have many times where I learned from my host mom and from the other girls who came and went from our house that were from other European countries. That being said between the fact our host mom was used to having younger girls and therefore was quite overbearing, the cultural differences and language barrier I had many days that I wished I had chosen to live in an apartment rather than a home stay. Of course, everyone has a different experience but for me personally if I could go back and do it again I would have at least switched to a different home stay where the host parents were willing and able to talk with me in English at least if a serious problem came up because being in that house was quite difficult for me and only got slightly better as the trip went on.
After those several days of exploring the city like a tourist and learning about where we would be living that next Monday I finally started my first internship at Fundacion Alanna. This organization works to help women especially those that have been victims of domestic abuse. They help them find jobs, get food and clothing, and escape the domestic abuse situations. The first day I was there they were having a little party in the middle of the day which I thought was crazy but I soon found out happened pretty regularly. It was my experience that people in Spain were generally much more laid back and not as concerned with efficiency in the work place as people are in America. While I was there I made friends with some of the Spanish interns as well as an intern from Vietnam and the other American intern. All of the women that I meet that ran the foundation or were interns were absolutely wonderful I feel like I learned so much from all of them they even took me out for a fun celebration night. That being said the work that I myself was actually able to do was very limited. I was able to teach some of the women English and help with the children sometimes but other than that most of the work required fluent Spanish. So while I was so happy to get to spend sometime there and lean about what they do, because there was such a big miscommunication about my there level of English and my level of Spanish, I requested to be moved to another internship where I could do more productive work.
Adventures in Valencia
One of my favorite things I got to do during my free time I Valencia was go outside of the city and pick oranges from an orange grove and see how they make Paella. It was really neat to get out of from all the big building and see a little bit of nature and how they use that in traditional Spanish cooking. This was also when I first really got to know my friend Anna that would turn out to be great friend and traveling companion.
London and Dublin
Although during the summer tourist season its not as easy or as cheap as some made it sound, it still is reality easy to travel from one European country to another. So my friend Anna and I went to London and Dublin for a weekend. We late one Thursday night and arrived in London just in time to see the city and night while we walked to our hostel. That was also my first experience staying a hostel which I would say went as well as could be expected. The next day we got bright and early to make sure we made the most of the little time we had in London. We took a “tour for muggles” and saw all of the harry potter sites within in the city which I absolutely loved. We also got to see the London eye, big ben (which was unfortunately under construction), and Buckingham palace. We also got stuck on the tube for about a half hour due to a fire which was scary. We left the city for the airport and after a long wait in the airport due to a delayed flight we made it into Dublin.
In Dublin we stayed at an adorable bed and breakfast owed by a precious older couple who even hand made us breakfast themselves in the morning. Then we went back into the city and met up with my friend Lisa who studied abroad in Maryville this past year. It was so great to explore Dublin and catch with her. It was especially interesting because she was able to tell us some of the history of the city as we walked around. We also got to see some beautiful cliffs and eat traditional Irish chowder and food from a pub in the temple bar area both of which were very yummy. That night her family let us stay with them and it was so fun to get to meet her family that I had heard so much about. The next day we visited an old prison that was full of history and also got to see a historic castle. Lisa took us back to the airport and it was quite hard to say good bye knowing that I don’t know when we will see each other again but it was certainly a wonderful trip that I am so glad to have experienced.
The next weekend we went to the City of arts and sciences. It was designed by a famous architect that has done work in several Spanish cities. We saw an Imax movie about American national parks and then got to visit the aquarium which was really interesting and beautiful. That night we did a roof top tapas and wine tasting which was delicious. We also got to see the sun set from the roof top which was really beautiful. The next day we also saw the historic silk exchange and the cathedral of Valencia.
I also had the opportunity to visit a town called Cuenca. It was much smaller town and definitely had a different feel than Valencia. We saw a beautiful cathedral and the hanging house on the side of the cliffs and had also had lovely view of the mountains from the top of the city. One our way home our train got stuck for about an hour and we met some students from Texas who were studying aboard in Cuenca and ended up meeting up with them the next day for the festival of San Juan. The festival of San Juan is a bit like a new year’s celebration but it happens in the middle of the year. There are bond fires on the beach and fireworks and there are traditions such a burning lists of things you don’t want in the new year in the bonfires and jumping over 12 waves in the ocean that are supposed to symbolize a new beginning. We celebrated on the beach with what felt like most of Valencia and I am really glad to that experience a traditional holiday while I was here.
The fair, the zoo and the World Cup
The next weekend I went to the fair with some friends. It was really fun. There was lots of food and their carnival rides were even more unstable looking than the ones in the states but that didn’t stop me from riding one. I also went to the zoo. It was really interesting to see because it was different from American zoos in a few ways. You were able to get a lot closer to the animals and there were some animals there I had never even heard of. I also watched the last World Cup game that Spain was in. It was a really intense atmosphere everyone was kind of on edge especially towards the end. It made me think a lot about sports why they are or aren’t important. It was really neat to experience some of the fun things to do here that locals also like do.
As mentioned above I did not have enough work to do at my first internship. I was supposed to stay there the whole time but I talked with the internship coordinator and we decided it would be best for me to switch internships. For my second internship I ended up at small counseling office run by a husband and wife. The specialize in using virtual reality as a treatment for older adults to help attention and memory and are also looking at using it as treatment for anxiety. For this internship we read a lot of research on this subject as well as practiced Spanish and English by making, editing and presenting bilingual PowerPoints on the this subject. We were also able to try out the the VR system including games, visiting other countries, and riding roller coasters. This was especially fun for me because I had never done it before. I worked with two other American interns both of whom were really nice and I believe also new to VR. There was still somewhat of a lack there of really productive work we could do on some days but all in all I’m really glad that I was also able to spend some time at this internship as well.
Prague and Vienna
The day of the forth of July I ate dinner in a Taco Bell because it was the most American restaurant on my way to the airport. It was hard not celebrating with family and friends the way I am used to but it was totally worth it to be able to go to Prague. I met my roommate from last year at the airport very late when I finally got in after a delayed flight. Her parents were so nice to let me stay with them. For the next two days we meet up with Ian and we got explore the city. I saw the historical churches and a castle and got to try traditional check food at a place called the fat kuala ( in check but that’s what it translated to) and a traditional check dessert called a turdlo which was also delicious it was such a lovely city that was so full of history.I also got to go to Vienna while I was there. I took a train and it was quite a log trip to do in one day but I’m glad I did it. I got to visit the Sigmund Freud museum and as a psychology nerd I absolutely loved it. The final day of that trip we went to the international church that Sarah’s family goes to and it was great to get to meet some of her friends and teachers from before I knew her. Saying good bye was hard especially knowing that was my last trip country that would really get to visit on the trip but it was a really great experience to get to experience a beautiful city with friends
Barcelona and Peniscola
For my final trip before flying home I went with several of the other interns on a weekend trip to Barcelona and Peniscola. In Barcelona we saw park Guel, the Sagrada Familia and the Cathedral of Barcelona. We learned about the history of the city from its beginnings as a roman city all the way to some of the current political issues. We got to shop at their main shopping districts and see the port as well. On our way back to Valencia we also stopped in the small town of Peniscola. We climbed up to a historic castle with beautiful view and took lots of pictures. We also got see an bird rescue habitat and eat some tapas. It was a beautiful city but it was also very hot that day which made it a little harder to enjoy.
Final days in Spain and return
My last week in Spain was bitter sweet as I prepared to go home I was very excited to see my family and return to my home culture but was really hard to say good bye to many people particularly the lovely couple who were my bosses at my second internship who sent me off with a hand decorated mug and a delicious piece of carrot cake and an invitation to come back anytime. It was also a bit sad since the timing was a little weird and I had two internship so I didn’t get to say a proper good bye to some of the people I had met earlier on but that’s just the way it worked out. I moved out my home stay a day early to be closer to the airport and began my journey home at 3:30 am. After having numerous luggage problems, trekking through foreign airports, having interesting conversation with strangers on the planes and staying up for over 24 hours I finally made it home and got to see my family. This trip was wonderful, challenging and most definitely life changing. I am so glad I got to have this opportunity and I sincerely hope you have enjoyed reading about it.