Nora Marino ’12

I apologize for the delay of this entry. Not only have I been nonstop working and seeing friends since my return, but I am also having a very hard time admitting that my study abroad experience is over, caput, terminated, done-zo. However, when I think of it from a different perspective, I realize that my study abroad experience isn´t over, and will never be completely over. I know my interactions and adventures in La Coruña will continue to change me for a lifetime. So here goes my last blog entry (gasp), its a bit incoherent but its just a wee bit hard to sum up 9 months in a few paragraphs!!

If you look at my very first post, before I left for Spain, you can pretty much tell that I was beyond freaked out and honestly didn´t know if I would even survive the year. Thankfully, after the close of the my study abroad experince, I can now confidently say that none of those fears actually occurred. My passport never left my trusty purse, my Spanish improved dramatically and I passed all my classes! I will be honest and say that it wasn´t easy. There were definitely points of doubt, frustration and loneliness. However with amazing and unconditional love and support from family and friends as well as a great sense of self, I overcame those dark moments and learned to immerse myself in the Spanish culture, and fully enjoy my year. So for those studying abroad in the future; it ain´t easy, but it will be one of the most amazing experiences in your life.    

Before my year abroad, I heard countless words of advice from, ¨don´t walk down that sketchy alley¨ to ¨try the sangria!¨ All of which were important, but one stood out from the rest, and I tried to follow it throughout the year. Last August, when I was extremely nervous for my year in Spain, I received an email from a past Crusader Coruñesa with an advice I want to share with you. ¨ Don´t compare your experience to anyone else´s. What may work for them may not work for you.  Make your year abroad your own experience. If you don´t you will regret it.¨ The opportunity to live and study in a different country only really comes once a in a lifetime, so use it well!

You can learn a lot about cultures, languages, political systems and different ways of life from sitting in a lecture hall or a college seminar. However I can guarantee you won´t actually fully understand or feel immersed in another society until you study, live and immerse yourself in that culture. So I challenge you, if you even have a spark of excitement or a  glimpse of a possible life off this continent, I dare you to just go.  I promise you, you won´t regret it.

As I was leaving Coruña to come home two weeks ago, my host mom drove me to the airport at the wee hour of 5 AM. We sat in the café and had a large cup of coffee and my favorite Spanish pastry. As my flight was called to board I began to tear up, but was soon calmed by her reaction. She told me that I could always come back to visit and that I will always have a home and family in A Coruña. As I fought back tears, I instantly promised her that I would visit in the hopefully near future.

Finally, a huge and heartfelt thanks to everyone who has read my blog this past year. I hope that the entries have been at least somewhat interesting and entertaining! Assuming there is someone reading… :)

¡Hasta Luego!

This past week has been a true whirlwind of emotions and activities. It all started Sunday as it was our final and goodbye group dinner. The 6 of us, our wonderful host families, our academic coordinator Felix, our housing director Pablo and our cultural advisor Arianna, met at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the Coruña harbour. We had great tapas (the Spanish empanada was delicious!), took numerous photos and reminisced about the past 9 months abroad. We were all shocked that this year has come to a close, as it seems like just yesterday we arrived in Coruña by train, nervous beyond belief as to what lay ahead of us. But we all agreed that those nerves were completely unnecessary, as all six of us had a fantastic year abroad.

On Monday I had my last English class with Pablo. I have been teaching this nine year old boy since late September, and I was quite sad to say goodbye. His English improved greatly over the course of the year and it made me realize how hard it is to teach a language. So, thanks to all my past Spanish teachers, I now realize how truly challenging your job can be! Also on Monday I had my last class in teaching Spanish to the Senegalese immigrants. I starting this activity in October for my required ICIP (Independent Immersion Cultural Project) but as the year went on I fell in love with the activity and developed strong bonds with both the fellow Spanish teachers and the Senegalese immigrants. The last day was a party, complete with Bisap (a Senegalese tea), chocolate cake and a Senegalese dance party. I am officially an expert in the art of Senegalese dance…kinda.

Then today, at 7:00 PM Coruña time, I completed my junior year! Woo! After struggling through a three week study/exam period, I was beyond excited to turn in my last exam. However, as soon as I finished jumping up in down in celebration (literally) I realized that this meant the near end of my study abroad experience, and my time in La Coruña. On my way home, nearly everything I did was thought of as my last. My last time seeing the University, my last time riding the bus, my last time saying goodbye to Kelsey after art class and my last time coming home after a class.  Thankfully, I still have one more full day in Coruña and intend to walk by nearly every point in the city that has made my year extraordinary and extremely memorable.  While this post has been somewhat dramatic and nostalgic (sorry!), I will post again from home with a complete reflection of my time abroad.  Everyone´s final posts for the study abroad blogs (look at Amanda M´s) are always very good, reflective and often tear jerking, so I am quite nervous to make a final post…and also to admit to the fact that my study abroad experience is basically over!

And as another last…this is the last time I will blog from this side of the Atlantic! (gasp!)  

 ¡Hasta Luego!

Trying to dance…

The whole group

English classes with Pablo!

My Spanish mom and I!

The whole group, families and all!

The 6 of us Crusader Coruñesas!

I can´t believe that I forgot to blog about a certain event that took place about 2 weeks ago. Arianna, our culture coordinator and past Crusader Coruñesa, planned a wonderful excursion for us Holy Cross kids to a wine vineyard in Galicia. We woke up at around 7 am (thankfully the vineyard tour was not until 4 pm) and hopped on a train to Pontevedra, Galicia. After exploring Pontevedra for a while we caught a bus to a small fishing village about 1 hour away. This was an absolutely gorgeous town, consisting of rivers, foot bridges, vast ocean scenery, a gorgeous hotel, and a beautiful church constructed solely of shells! After a very traditional Galician style lunch of shellfish and pork, we boarded another bus that drove us to another small town. In this town we had a private tour of a vineyard, which ships wine all over the world, including the United States! I am not a huge wine fan but their specialty of albarino wine was sure delicious! Since I really hadn´t seen the Galician countryside (unless you count the monsoon Kelsey and I hiked through earlier this year) I didn´t realize how beautiful the Galician countryside is; with the soft green rolling hills, red roofed houses and mist rising against the sun, it is an image I will never forget!

 I received one grade from my education class….and I passed! I still have 3 more exams and I am hoping that I will receive a passing grade for those as well. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Dato Divertido: As I am in the middle of exam season in Spain, I am noticing some differences between their system and the system in the United States. In Spain for the majority of the classes (thankfully none of mine) the final counts between 70%-100% of the final grade! So basically one day, after a semester of hard work, will determine your grade. Whereas in the United States (at least at HC), the final usually doesn´t count for more than 50% of your grade. Another difference is the time period in which the finals take place. In Spain the final period lasts 3 weeks whereas at Holy Cross we have about 1 week. So I am finding it quite challenging to stay focused for this long!

P.S. The Spanish protests that I wrote about in an earlier blog are still occurring throughout Spain. Apparently the election is what sparked these protesters, but what they are really fighting for is a more democratic/transparent government and improvement in the economy. I posted some pictures below of the protests in Coruña.

Alright, back to studying!

Galician countryside

Shell Church by the Seashore (now say that 10 times really quickly…)

Protesters

They sleep there too!

I have officially completed two of my classes (out of 4) and have 3 more exams standing between me and summer vacation….and being able to use the phrase, ¨I´m a senior at Holy Cross.¨ Scary? No. Terrifying? Yes! If you have been keeping up with my entries, you know that I have absolutely loved this year and have had amazing experiences that I will never forget. However, that doesn´t mean that I am not wicked (Massachusetts lingo) excited to return to Holy Cross, dive into interesting classes, rejoin a few clubs and make new memories with friends.  Before going abroad I was considering staying at HC during junior year as I was afraid I would lose contact with the school and not have the same opportunities as those who stayed. But the prospect of learning a new culture, language, traveling all over Europe and taking advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity won over in the end, and I do not regret it for a second. However, despite my fears, I was still able to keep in contact with friends from HC, obtain leadership positions in clubs and get a summer internship. Securing a summer internship was more challenging for those abroad in comparison with those who stayed on campus as our academic year usually ends a few weeks after HC´s, but it is possible! So basically don´t let the fear of losing touch with HC or being denied internships or leadership opportunities prevent you from going abroad! If you have a spark of desire to go abroad, go for it!

Here is to an amazing last 2 weeks in Coruña!

¡Hasta luego!

P.S. Congrats class of 2011 on graduation!!

Hello everyone! Glad we all survived the end of the world that was supposed to occur yesterday, May 21st. Well if you have been paying any attention to the news, then you know that Spain is a top news story. Sunday (May 22) is the local and municipal elections and the majority of Spain is not content with the government currently in power. In order to show their discontent, people are protesting in record breaking numbers in Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona and several small cities across the country, even La Coruña! I was walking by Calle Real (where the protests are taking place) yesterday and in addition to the large amount of posters and banners, there were at least one hundred people huddled under tents, chanting or observing. The protests are showing the public´s outrage and discontent with the economy, 21% unemployment rate, corruption and lack of transparency of the government. I am not a complete expert in Spanish politics, but this is the gist I get from the news articles and talking with Spaniards. It is fascinating to be in Spain when these protests are occurring, and it will be interesting to see the results of the elections that will be announced tonight or tomorrow. I´ll keep you updated!

Even though Bruges and Amsterdam have endless canals, the two cities are completely different. We arrived in Amsterdam around 9 pm on Sunday, just in time for thousands of excited, happy Amsterdam soccer fans to pour into the train station. We walked off the train into a sea of red jerseys, flags and cheering Dutch fans. It was quite a site. I was tempted to remind them who beat them in the World Cup (cough Spain) but I didn´t want to get beat up so I decided to keep my mouth shut. Anyways, after making it to our hostel we climbed into bed and decided to wake up early to explore the city. We woke up, stepped outside and found ourselves standing in spitting rain that to our disappointment lasted basically the whole weekend. But of course that didn´t deter us from having fun! We started the day by visiting the Anne Frank house, which while very sad, was also extremely interesting. After reading the book several times during middle and high school, I found it completely fascinating to be standing in the same room, the same kitchen and climbing the same steep stairs as Anne Frank. However, I kept reminding myself that she is just 1 of 1000s of children who lost their lives during the horrible events of the Holocaust and was one of many who were forced into hiding when the Nazis took control of several countries. Later that day we followed the endless canals, wondered around parks and discovered the awesomeness of the free samples in the many cheese shops spread throughout Amsterdam. My two favorite were pesto cheese and cumin cheese, I am still mystified as to how they made these amazing cheeses! To end our day, we took a 1 hour canal cruise that brought us to some of the most famous sites in Amsterdam and explained some of the city´s history.

The next day, Amanda and I went on a fantastic walking tour. These tours are technically free, although the tour guide asks for tips at the end. For anyone coming to Europe, I would highly recommend this as the tour guides are energetic and take you everywhere in the city. I went on these walking tours in Barcelona, Madrid and Amsterdam and all were wonderful and beyond informative.  The main theme that the tour guide wanted to express to us was the high tolerance and acceptance that Amsterdammers have for people of all different cultures, religions, sexual orientations, languages and ethnicities. Even during the Nazi occupation, many Amsterdammers revolted and fought against the Nazi regime, despite known punishments they might receive. Today, Amsterdam is an extremely diverse city, and for the majority of the time, people from all walks of life get along with each other. As a Peace and Conflict studies concentrator I found this very interesting and hopeful. After the great walking tour, Amanda and I went to the Heineken Museum where we were able to learn about the brewing process and have a few sips of the famous Heineken beer! Many think of Amsterdam as a place that only consists of sex and drugs, but in reality it has much more to offer. While passing through the red light district and smelling the aroma after walking by a ¨coffee shop¨ was very strange and thought provoking for me, I soon realized that Amsterdam has an extensive culture and history beyond the stereotypical ¨sex and drugs¨. The Anne Frank house, beautiful canals, countless museums, international gastronomy and the simple entertainment of people watching are just a few things that Amsterdam was to offer. After my time in Amsterdam concluded, we were quite sad as Amanda and I realized this was our last trip during on study abroad experience. While I have done extremely well in my European travels and have absolutely loved exploring new cultures and tasting new cuisines, there are still dozens of cities I have yet to visit…but I guess I will just have to return. Only of course after refilling my bank account…especially after this year!

Winding canals, beautiful flowers, colorful houses, mounds of waffles, elegant swans and endless chocolate. Where can you find all of these things? Hint: the answer is not Disneyworld…but rather Bruges, Belgium.  While it may contain a similar sense of magic and wonder that Disneyworld provokes, Bruges also has a very extensive and rich history, culture and cuisine. Last Saturday I hopped on a plane and found myself four short hours later in the Amsterdam airport, greeted by Amanda (the England one) and after a quick catch up conversation, we hopped on a train headed towards Bruges.   Ten minutes into the train ride we were informed that we were on the wrong train, and after getting kicked off the train (I felt like such a rebel), paying 16 euros and waiting another 2 hours for the next train…we made it to Bruges. So tip for future study abroaders…or travellers in general….double check that you are on the right train before you board. But hey, at least we didn´t end up in Poland, although that would make for a very exciting blog!

  Once we arrived in Bruges we walked around, ate a full dinner and explored the beautiful city at dusk. Bruges is a fairly touristy city (especially during the day) so I felt quite lucky to have the opportunity to explore the city at night and it felt as though Amanda and I were the only tourists in town! The next day, we woke up early and ventured into the center to have a wonderful breakfast of pancakes! Yum!  We then walked up and down this one street several times, going into all the different chocolate stores where we would be treated to free samples or truffles for 50 cents each. After we lost count of how many chocolate we had ingested we decided that we reached our limit. Next we went on a lovely boat ride through the canals, which was a great way to see the city. After eating legitimately tons of chocolate and sitting on a boat for 30 minutes, we decided to climb the clock tower, which included several hundreds of narrow, scary steps. After panting and practically falling down the steep passageways, we made it to the top and the views were stunning. After walking through ¨chocolate row¨ and eating a waffle and fries, we walked back to the train station and caught a train (thankfully the correct one) back to Amsterdam.   Bruges was a wonderful and gorgeous city, and I would highly recommend it to anyone! It relaxed me entirely and truly appears as though it is out of a fairytale.

Stay tuned as I am about to post all about my adventures in Amsterdam!

Sorry 90% of this post is about food… :)

Imagine this. I am sitting in my room in Coruña about to eat dinner at 9:30 pm. My host mom (70 years old) is making my dinner and listening to a very important fútbol (soccer) game. All of the sudden I hear a holler of pure joy from the kitchen and loud cheers from the café across the street.  I run to the kitchen to see what is up, ¨Deportivo scored!¨ my host mom replies…of course in Spainish. We later sit down to dinner, along with my 90 year old host aunt and listen intently to the broadcasted game. The reporter speaks about a mile a minute, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute… and then a long awaited announcement, ¨DEPOR WINS!¨   We then erupt into cheers along with the rest of Coruña. Now as I am sitting here typing this about 30 minutes later, there are still cars racing past my street with people shouting ¨Depor, Depor, Depor!¨ and honking their horns encouraging people to cheer loud and proud! Classic soccerfanatic night in Spain? Yes.

So why was this such an important game? Well even though the two games that I have attended this year resulted in a tie and a win (I must be a good luck charm!) the rest of depor´s record does not follow this pattern, and unfortunately mostly consists of losses. Unfortunately, they are being threatened to fall to the ¨second league¨ from the ¨first league¨ in which they compete in now with Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia (basically all the big/world famous teams). However, since they won this game and if they win two more coming up, they have a chance to remain in the first league! So let´s all pray and hope that Coruña wins again and again! GO DEPORTIVO!!!

¡Hasta luego!

Hello! So after coming back from my adventures in Andalucia, I realized how LITTLE time I have left in Coruña. As of tomorrow, I have exactly one month before I board a plane back to the States (gasp!) and after 8 months of living in Spain, I know that month will go by in a blink of an eye. But I promised myself I wouldn´t get all dramatic and nostalgic until my last few blogs.

Last Friday Elena, Kristen, Kelsey and I went to the new mall in Coruña called Marineda City. Want to hear an impressive fact? This is the BIGGEST mall in Spain and the third largest in Europe! So if you are ever a contestant on ¨Who Wants to be a Millionaire¨ and the question of the largest mall in Spain comes up, you can thank me and send me a portion of the winnings! So while this mall was really massive, fun to walk around and allowed me to collect 2 more scarfs and a cute pair of sunglasses…it is very controversial amoung residents. Some believe that it is a great addition, as it is a nice place to shop, opens new jobs in this economy and brings more tourism to Coruña. However, other Coruña residents are against the new shiny mall, and I can completely understand their reasoning. In downtown Coruña (about a 7 minute walk from my apartment) there is a beautiful street of shops, restaurants and cafés. This area is always packed to the gills with shoppers or people out for a late afternoon walk. It is one of my favorite places in Coruña, simply because of the energetic and teeming atmosphere. Many fear that some of these shops will move to Marineda city and close their original shop on Calle Real. It would be very tragic if this occurred as this street would significantly lose its character and be in danger of becoming a ¨dead zone¨.  After living in Coruña for a year, it has become my new home and seeing the possibility of my favorite street disappear really saddens me. However, I can only hope that Calle Real keeps its popularity and is not dramatically affected by the new mall. As I don´t want to even think about how that would change Coruña!

That’s all for now folks! Congrats to all at HC for completing classes! Good luck on finals!

¡Hasta Luego!

Hello my friends!

 From Wednesday to Sunday I along with the other HC kids and our housing director, Pablo, travelled to Andalucía. This trip was prepaid and pre-organized by Holy Cross, so I was excited when I realized that all I needed to pay for was souvenirs and a few snacks…another plus for Coruña! We first flew to Granada, a beautiful city located on the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula. In Granada, we had fantastic weather and spent our 1.5 days walking non-stop. One of my favorite parts of Granada was the old city, which consisted of steep hills covered in whitewashed houses overlooking the Alhambra (more on that later) and the snow peaked mountains of the Sierra Nevada. I mean what more could you ask for? My second favorite part was the Alhambra which is an old, but still absolutely amazing, Moorish Palace. Hundreds of years ago, much of Spain (especially the southern half), was greatly populated by Moors, primarily from Morocco and other Northern African countries. Therefore, there is great Moorish and Arabic presence in the architecture, food, dance and other cultural aspects that are extremely prevalent throughout Andalucía, especially Granada. Walking around the streets of Granada and sipping delicious mint tea in the small cafés reminded me greatly of my adventure to Marrakesh, Morocco earlier this year.

After a wonderful two days in Granada, we hopped on a bus and drove the 3 hours to Sevilla, another popular and historic city in Spain. While we were huddled under umbrellas for the vast majority of the time in this lovely city, we still had a great time. We toured the cathedral, panted to the top of the bell tower (and took too many pictures), toured the impressive Alcázar palace and attended a bull fighting event. The last activity (bull fighting) was quite an experience. (Beware of a somewhat graphic description below…) I have long been aware that Spanish Bull Fighting has great cultural significance and is very important in Spanish history, but it is honestly one of the most brutal things I have ever witnessed. In the course of 2 hours I saw 6 bulls wounded and killed, and for a person who has full blown conversations with my 6 month old lab over Skype, I was horrified. Bull fighting is an extremely controversial topic in Spain. Many people are completely against bull fighting and think it should be outlawed due to obvious animal rights issues, while others believe it is a part of the rich Spanish culture and a form of art and bravery. In fact in the province of Cataluña (where Barcelona is located), bull fighting is now illegal.  I am very interested to see if and how bull fighting changes in the coming years given the controversy of the activity.

As you may know, a few days ago a bomb exploded in Marrakesh, Morocco and killed over a dozen people; my thoughts and prayers go out to all affected in anyway. This greatly struck and saddened me as I had travelled there earlier this year, and spent several hours in the plaza where the attack occurred. However, during my time in Morocco I never felt unsafe, and was constantly surrounded by warm and friendly people. If I have caught you at the right time, and you are dreaming up trips to plan during your year abroad, don´t be afraid to visit a developing country such as Morocco. Something like this can truly happen anywhere and it is not a reason to live your life in fear. So just be smart and aware of your surroundings and you will have a fantastic and enriching experience wherever you go!

That’s all for now folks!