Life Updates

Hello, dear readers! Since one of you has been eagerly clamoring for another riveting chapter of Joe Schmo’s study abroad blog, I figured I would oblige. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I figure my average readership is somewhere around 5 per post, so I can’t really afford to lose any of y’all.

Our IES trip to Morocco is right around the corner. My group leaves on Friday, and I’m quite excited about it. My primary goal this week has been to stay healthy, particularly since my roommate came down with a nasty headache, dizziness, and a high fever on Monday night. Naturally, I was very concerned about his health – flu-like symptoms are always the worst. However, I have to admit that my preoccupation was partially selfish; I didn’t fancy waking up to the sound and smell of vomit permeating our extremely small bedroom. I was also fervently hoping that I wouldn’t get sick myself right on the eve of Morocco.

If I have to be sick in Morocco, I definitely want it to be on my own terms – ideally after gorging on exotic street food. I hear the crumbed liver, steamed sheep head, and stuffed camel spleen are particularly delightful. Spanish food is also on the mild side, so I’m excited about consuming some truly picante comida, even if it results in significant gastrointestinal distress. I certainly hope I don’t end up with traveler’s diarrhea, but if that eventuality does occur, it would definitely provide lots of colorful content for a future blog post. And more importantly, expanding my culinary horizons is a very intriguing and exciting proposition.

As usual, linguistic challenges have continued, but my interactions with Spaniards are generally much more positive than negative. However, there have been a couple of unfortunate recent interactions. One came while I was at an ATM and a Spaniard came up to me and fired off an extremely rapid question regarding whether or not he needed to physically enter the bank in order to complete his particular transaction; when I told him I didn’t know, he promptly burst out laughing, presumably at my accent. So that was truly marvelous. The other unfortunate interaction came the other morning when I was attempting to exchange pleasantries with a close friend of our host family. After the initial greeting, he said a Spanish expression that roughly translates to “It’s nice to see you”. However, I didn’t quite understand the expression and couldn’t manage to formulate an appropriate reply, so I resorted to the classic “nod and smile” approach, probably a major social faux pas. Hopefully no offense was taken.

Thankfully, positive interactions have also abounded, including frequent conversations with the retired cardiologist at our local gym. Each time we talk, he makes sure to ask me how things are in my “tierra” – in my case, California. In recent days, this has led to discussions of the horrible wildfires there, a subject of considerable concern to us both. However, our conversations have also included discussions of other topics, some rather unexpected. The other day my cardiologist friend decided to earnestly recount a lengthy and bizarre anecdote about a man who lost both of his testicles in separate, exercise-related incidents. I’m still not quite sure what the moral of the story was – perhaps to avoid exercising excessively? I honestly have no idea. Anyway, the details of each incident were stomach-churning, so I will exclude them from this prestigious, college-sanctioned publication. You’re welcome.

We finally visited the Alhambra today in Islamic Art & Architecture. It was gorgeous – pictures don’t do it justice.

Assorted Historical Musings

Hola from Spain! I realized this week after taking a slew of midterm exams that I’m approximately halfway through my program in Granada. It’s definitely a bittersweet feeling. Studying abroad is truly something of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and there are many things about this experience that I’ll really miss when I return to the states. I’ve certainly fallen in love with this city, and the friends I’ve made here – both Spaniards and Americans – will absolutely be missed.

However, there are still quite a few exciting things on the horizon while I’m abroad. In a couple weeks I’ll be going to Morocco with my program, an experience that will likely be a major highlight of my time here. We will apparently be living in homestays for the 4 days we’re there, something that might pose a bit of a challenge considering the fact that I don’t speak a word of Arabic or French. I’ll also be doing some post-program traveling in Spain with my brother, parents, and best friend from back home. I’ve been regularly jotting down the names of excellent restaurants, cafés, and notable city sites within Granada and am very much looking forward to sharing them with my visitors.

As a foreigner and history nerd, it’s been incredibly fascinating to see how Spain deals with its rich and complicated historical past. Several days ago, Francisco Franco’s remains were exhumed from his pharaonic Valley of the Fallen mausoleum and relocated to his family’s plot in a private cemetery. Franco, the brutal Spanish dictator who ruled from 1939 until his death in 1975, had constructed the Valley of the Fallen basilica and memorial site in order to commemorate his victory in the Spanish Civil War. Franco used the labor of about 20,000 political prisoners in order to build the massive monument; the monument was a bit of a personal vanity project. His exhumation from the site was thus a necessary acknowledgement of the fact that a democratic country should not honor a brutal, murderous, and fascist leader by allowing him to reside for posterity in a government-owned national monument.

Spain’s consideration of its colonial history is also very interesting to me. As far as I can tell, Christopher Columbus is more or less celebrated and venerated here; one of the largest and most prominent streets in Granada is named after him, and there’s a sizable statue of Columbus and Queen Isabel I of Castile in a centrally located city square. Several classmates of mine who are people of color understandably voiced their discomfort with Columbus’s ubiquitous presence around the city. Columbus’s arrival in the New World kicked off a series of horrors for the indigenous populations of Latin America and the Caribbean: slavery, forcible conversion to Christianity, brutal punishments for disobedience (including the cutting off of hands), and diseases that would ravage populations; it definitely seems like it might be time for Spain to think critically about Columbus’s legacy in the way that the US has been starting to do. I’m certainly not saying that his name needs to be scrubbed from the history books, but I do think that unquestioning idolatry and glorification is somewhat inappropriate where Columbus is concerned.

Thanks for reading my historical musings – hopefully they made some degree of sense. I’ll definitely have more nonsensical historical thoughts for you all in future posts – the lovely topic of the Spanish Inquisition may come up at some point!

View from Plaza Nueva – pretty stunning recent sunset.

Academics, Politics, and Food

¡Hola! I realized I haven’t yet had the chance to write about academics abroad and political questions I’ve fielded from Spaniards while here. I’ll be attempting to tackle both of those topics in this post. And naturally, I’m also planning on blathering on about this week’s culinary highlight and talking a bit more about food culture here.

I think it’s important to dispel a common misconception regarding academics abroad: studying in a foreign country is not akin to a semester-long vacation, nor is it an academic cakewalk. Of course, some of my American compatriots see things a bit differently; there are always those who see their time abroad as a perfect chance to constantly get drunk and jet off to Paris, London, Ibiza, etc. every weekend. But if one is trying to be somewhat successful academically, the jet-setting, dance club-frequenting lifestyle is generally not the way to go (shocking, I know).

I will say, though, that the academic workload here is definitely less than what I’m used to at Whitman. I have 5 classes here and consistently have a bit of work for each of them. But the workload really is quite manageable, and professors here are very accessible if one is attempting to seek extra help outside of class. I also have significantly fewer hellishly long essays than I do at college, which makes for a rather lovely change.

However, there are certainly academic challenges here, including the fact that 4 of my 5 classes are in Spanish. This can make life difficult at times, especially when attempting to comprehend obscure Spanish terminology in my Islamic Art and Architecture class that I don’t even understand in English. And occasionally, one of my professors will also engage in the abhorrent practice of cold-calling students. This is always particularly special when my attention has wandered a bit, forcing me to jolt to attention when a professor looks intently in my direction and inquires if “Yack” would like to respond to their question.

Being an American in Spain also entails regularly fielding questions and comments about dear old President Trump. These are probably the situations in which I feel the language barrier most acutely. I would love to be able to have in-depth discussions regarding the US political situation with Spaniards, but unfortunately any conversations about general Trumpian wackiness require a grasp of the Spanish language and Spanish political vocabulary beyond that which I presently have. For now, I have to content myself with simply labeling him an “idiota” and noting that he’s flagrantly abusing the power of his elected office. That much, at least, I can manage.

In other news, Cedric and I enjoyed the breakfast of champions yesterday morning. Josefina treated us to churros con chocolate at a revered local establishment, Café Fútbol. Knowing that our appetites our considerable (to say the least), she generously purchased 4 orders for the 2 of us. It was not a breakfast for the faint of heart. The towering mound of churros emerged piping hot, golden, and a tiny bit greasy from the deep fryer; we seized ahold of each one with a napkin and gave them each a good dunking in our personal mug of rich, molten chocolate. Freakishly delicious.

It almost goes without saying that food is an incredibly important part of Spanish culture. Josefina is good friends with another IES host mom and, although Josefina doesn’t know the names of the IES students in the other homestay, she knows all about their eating habits, including the fact that one of the other students is a rather picky eater – he apparently doesn’t eat either seafood or salads (truly appalling). And when Josefina visited her mom the other weekend, she told us that her mom made sure to ask if we were eating well. Josefina promptly reassured her mom that we were doing quite well from a culinary standpoint; I would have to wholeheartedly agree.

 

Granada is gorgeous.

Sunrise hike!

Homesickness & Food

Hello all! This week I wanted to write a bit more about food (of course) and also talk a little about homesickness abroad. I hope it’s somewhat interesting and enlightening for you all – no promises, though.

This week’s culinary highlight was a superb rice, squid ink, and seafood dish courtesy of Josefina. Lunches here typically happen around 2:30; when Cedric and I arrived back from class around 2, we immediately noticed a delightfully pungent seafood smell emanating from the kitchen and knew we were in for a treat. The dish was quite lovely and very rich; if I remember correctly, the seafood interspersed within the rice included shrimp, octopus, and mussels. I wolfed down my heaping first plate and immediately grabbed seconds; Cedric followed suit. After Cedric had grabbed his second helping, Josefina walked over to the pot and noticed that there was still a bit of food left. She immediately returned to the table, raised her eyebrows at me, and, in a commanding tone of voice, informed me that there was more. Naturally, I immediately scurried over to do my sacred culinary duty – I scraped the pot clean.

Unfortunately, this magnificent feast happened to coincide with my weekly tennis practice, a rather regrettable coincidence. My bulging belly certainly did me no favors on the tennis court and made the prospect of tracking down far-flung tennis balls distinctly unappealing. We also ran some sprints after practice and I was most grateful that my massive meal didn’t end up making a second appearance.

In case you’re reading this blog as a prospective study abroad student, I also want to touch on a topic that I think is important in relation to studying in a foreign country: homesickness. Am I homesick? Absolutely. Has that sentiment impeded my ability to thrive here and enjoy much of what this city (and country) has to offer? Absolutely not. Of course, there are good days and bad days here; there are days when attempting to communicate in a foreign language with professors and my homestay family feels like an insurmountable barrier. But there are also days filled with unexpected language breakthroughs and enjoyable moments – for me, one of those moments was an extended conversation with an elderly Spanish gentleman at my gym who told me about his career as a cardiologist, his battle with cancer, and his family. We also talked about our shared love of California – Sequoia National Park and the Golden Gate Bridge are special places for both of us.

In a weird sense, I actually feel lucky to be homesick. My immediate and extended family includes some uncommonly amazing people who I feel lucky to have in my life. I also have an incredible and close-knit group of friends, both in Pasadena and Walla Walla, and I really miss seeing them every day. They’re all pretty great and if I didn’t miss them, something would probably be wrong with me. On that cheery note, adios!

 

This is the cathedral/mosque of Córdoba – we visited it yesterday. It’s architecturally stunning; essentially, the Christians decided to assert their religious dominance by constructing a massive church in the middle of a mosque. But instead of demolishing the mosque (which would have been typical), they retained much of it and plopped their cathedral in the middle of it. In this photo the lower part (striped arches) were formerly part of the mosque. The rest of the photo (windows, ceiling, etc.) is of the Christian changes made to the mosque in order to fashion it into a cathedral.

This stunningly beautiful picture is from a hike I did this morning in our local Sierra Nevada mountains. I had to wake up at the crack of dawn in order to be back home in time for lunch, but it was very much worth it. I do love my solitary nature walks!

 

 

Fleming on Food

Hello, everyone! Thanks for keeping up with my adventures. Hopefully you’re here of your own free will and not because my parents gently forced you to read my blog… but either way it’s much appreciated! As promised, this post will deal with a topic near and dear to my heart: food!

Food has always been a beloved and enjoyable part of my life. Various relatives – including my dear parental units – are extremely proficient in the art of cooking and throughout my life I’ve been the fortunate beneficiary of their prodigious culinary skill. And my brother is also a passionate eater and cook – I’m fairly positive he remembers just about every single meal he has ever eaten. Watching him eat and hearing him reminisce about past meals is always highly enjoyable.

Living the greater part of my life in Los Angeles has also provided exposure to a wide variety of dishes from different countries, including the Philippines, Japan, Korea, and Mexico (to name just a few). Essentially, I’ve been quite spoiled where food is concerned.

Thankfully, the food in Spain has not disappointed. Dishes here generally are relatively simple and consistently incorporate high-quality, fresh ingredients. Indeed, the classic Andalusian breakfast is “tostada con tomate,” lovingly prepared for us (myself and my roommate, Cedric) most mornings by Josefina, our host mom. This breakfast classic only requires 4 ingredients: French bread (toasted, of course), fresh tomatoes, salt, and olive oil (liberally drizzled on top).

Despite eating this dish with incredible frequency, I have yet to get sick of it and highly doubt that I ever will. Today I even sought out an additional tostada after my morning Spanish class; this one was topped not just with tomato but also with superb Spanish jamón. I washed it down with a delightfully strong “café con leche” (akin to an American cappuccino). In Spain, this mid-morning meal is termed a “segundo desayuno” (second breakfast), an ingenious concept that I had previously thought only existed within the pages of my beloved Lord of the Rings books.

In Granada, the big meal of the day is lunch, not dinner. In our house, this meal is taken very seriously; on the rare occasions when I’m too full to get a second helping of the main dish, Josefina appears incredulous and makes sure to ask me if I’m doing ok. During a recent lunch, I was served an absolutely gargantuan plate of pasta; Josefina immediately noticed that I was taking longer than usual to work my way through it and jokingly remarked that I was engaged in a “battle with my plate”. One of my classmates recently observed that each lunch here is like Thanksgiving dinner back home – and honestly, he’s not far off. After such meals, a post-lunch siesta becomes rather irresistible.

If I had to pick 3 culinary highlights thus far, it would be the following: Tortilla Española, paella, and shawarma. Tortilla Española, as prepared by Josefina, bears no resemblance to Mexican tortillas. It’s absolutely scrumptious and is a bit like a quiche without pie crust; potatoes and onions are fried to golden perfection, enrobed in eggs, and then baked for awhile. Truly magical.

Our paella was similarly delectable. Josefina was a bit nervous before serving it to us – the dish enjoys an exalted place in Spanish culture and she seemed concerned that her version wouldn’t be up to scratch. But she truly needn’t have worried – both Cedric and I were completely blown away. The seafood was fresh and flavorful, the broth soupy and rich, and the rice was, quite simply, perfect.

The shawarma here holds a very special place in my heart. At Marchica Shawarma, located a mere 4ish blocks from our house, one can buy a “Shawarma normal de pollo, con todo, picante” for 3 euros. The restaurant is tiny and oppressively hot – chicken and beef slowly turn on a rotating vertical spit, and the griddle is constantly being used to toast the shawarmas, durums, and various other dishes before they’re served. I believe there’s usually corn, lettuce, olives, tomatoes, and onions accompanying the chicken in each shawarma wrap, but honestly I never know exactly what I’m eating – all I know is that it’s consistently incredible and the Middle Eastern sauces and spices are divine.

Hopefully you didn’t read this on an empty stomach! And don’t think I’m done talking about food – I’ve barely scratched the surface.

¡Hasta pronto!

Tostada con tomate – and a nice cup of joe.

Olive oil here comes not in modest glass bottles but in hulking, voluminous containers.

Josefina’s tortilla Española! Quite simply a work of art.

Early Impressions

¡Hola a todos! Welcome to my blog. Because of my lack of technological savvy, this blog will not be particularly aesthetically pleasing; however, I’m planning to fully compensate for this absence with sparkling anecdotes and riveting content.

My semester abroad got off to a marvelous start when the man in the adjacent LAX airport bathroom stall began vomiting spectacularly. Since I had just consumed a large and greasy pre-flight meal consisting of a burger and fries, this was a fairly undesirable experience and not the way in which I had hoped to kick off my semester abroad. Thankfully, I refrained from following suit and made it through the 12 hour flight to Madrid (and the subsequent 50 min flight to Málaga) largely unscathed, although very exhausted.

We spent our first night and most of our first full day in Málaga, a lovely coastal city in very southern Spain. Although we did a little bit of initial sightseeing after arriving on the evening of September 2nd, our time in Málaga mostly involved participating in various orientation modules intended to prepare us for life in a foreign country.

In one of those sessions, the IES Granada program director, Javier, told us that meeting Spaniards for the first time is very different than initial greetings between Americans. Instead of a stiff handshake and minimal physical contact, Spaniards typically greet one another with hugs and a kiss on each cheek. Indeed, when my roommate and I met Josefina, our host mother, she immediately gave us big hugs and loudly proclaimed that we were both “guapo” (handsome). Josefina’s reaction was indicative of a key difference between Spain and the US – being honest and blunt here is normal and encouraged, even in regard to physical appearances.

Javier also warned us that sometimes the Spanish host families are exceedingly blunt in regard to the Spanish-speaking ability (or lack thereof) of the IES students that live with them. Apparently certain families immediately tell their IES students that their Spanish is awful; instead of being intended as an insult, however, these unflattering proclamations are simply an honest assessment of the student’s current level and are not intended to express dislike for a student. Fortunately, Josefina was very nice and complimentary regarding my personal level of Spanish, even though it’s honestly rather mediocre.

Generally, the Spanish host families, including my own, take great pride in helping students improve in Spanish and are very forgiving when linguistic mistakes are made. For me personally, my homestay has been a truly wonderful part of my Granada experience thus far; Josefina and her family have been unfailingly welcoming and kind. And the food here has been incredible! During my next post I’m planning to devote some serious time to discussing the food scene here in Granada – the topic definitely merits a lengthy discussion.

Until next time!

This is my orientation Spanish class at an Alhambra viewpoint. The view was quite stunning!

During orientation we also took a day trip down to Cabo de Gata – we spent the day hiking and visited several different beaches along the way.