Life, Thoughts, travel

First 24 hours in Spain!

I have been in Spain now for over 24 hours, and what a crazy trip so far!

I left on Friday, March 1st at 12:00pm from Portland, Oregon. My flight was on Alaskan Airlines and was 2 hours to Los Angeles, where I had a layover until I boarded at 7:30pm. I booked my flight from LA to Madrid using Norwegian Air, which is a great airline that connects the US to a lot of European countries for relatively cheap (it was ~$400 for a one way trip).

While waiting to board I had met a few girls that had studied abroad in Spain for a semester, and they reassured me a lot with their experiences. They said that Spain is very safe and I had nothing to worry about, and the only thing that happened to them was that they got their phones stolen at a club (which, they admitted, was probably their fault anyway because they were really drunk while they were there).

My flight from LA to Madrid was about 11 hours long, so I killed the time by watching Crazy Rich Asians and going to sleep. Crazy Rich Asians was an alright movie. I had put off watching it for so long because I thought it would be a sell-out with zero substance in plot, and I was unfortunately right for the most part. I cried with happiness seeing so many fellow Asians cast and starring in the movie, but I was unimpressed by the plot and substance. I felt that it was just another Cinderella story with little character development and predictable scenes. Anyways – back to the trip!

I landed in Madrid at 3:30pm local time. I went through customs with my passport, which was relatively easy as I had my student visa approved and ready to go. Then I went to baggage claim, where I got my bags and followed two other American ladies through another door that led to the arrivals entrance. I realized after I passed through the door that I did to not declare anything in my luggage, and was stopped by an immigration officer who asked me where I was coming from. After telling him I was coming from LA, he let me through. So I’m not entirely sure if I should have gone through the other door to declare the contents of my luggage, or if I was okay by following the other American ladies through the arrivals door. Either way, I made it through with no problems. I met with two members of my host family, Jose Carlos (father) and Maria Angeles (mother) on the other side. They greeted me with open arms and the traditional kiss-kiss-on-the-cheek greeting that they give to women.

The city that I am staying in, Badajoz, is 3 hours west of Madrid. After loading up the car, we made our way to a diner/truck stop on the way to Badajoz and got lunch. I don’t remember the names of the dishes that we ate, but we had potatoes, beef, and cod with tomatoes. It was delicious! During the remainder of the 3 hour drive we talked about various things in English, from the family to what my hobbies were to the history of Spain. Finally we made it to Jose Carlos’ house to unpack and eat dinner before the next part of my night – The Carnival.

Apparently in Spain there are a lot of different festivals that happen, and the Carnival is a festival in Badajoz that happens on the first week of March. They prepared a costume for me beforehand – I was to dress up as the local Spanish police with their eldest son, Jose Carlos Jr. (also known as “Joseka”). The Carnival had lots of different people dressed up in various costumes, from political figures to crossdressers to pop culture references. We left around 10:45pm to go to the downtown area where the Carnival was taking place. Joseka bought rum and coke for us to enjoy at the festival, because drinking on the street in festivals is common and celebrated. We got dropped off right outside the Carnival entrance, where we waited for Joseka to meet up with his brother Alejandro, dressed in a bathrobe, to give him another rum and coke. We then saw their sisters, Irene and Maria, who were dressed up as two devils. Joseka and I walked around until we found his friends, who were dressed up in suits, oreo costumes, and a witch costume. I realized after meeting up with all these various people that I will need to learn Spanish quickly, as the majority of the conversations were spoken in Spanish (with a little English thrown in here and there to include me in the conversation).

The night went very well! Joseka’s friends drank a lot and danced and sang various Spanish songs, and they showed me a good time. The Spanish party hard – I saw many people get very drunk and accidentally break bottles of alcohol. They also party late into the night – Joseka brought me home “early” around 2am, but he went back out to party with his friends until 5 am. When Joseka told his parents he got back at 5am the next day, they responded by saying “Oh, that’s not too early or too late”!

This morning was very pleasant as well. Jose Carlo’s mother gave me a tour of Jose Carlos’ house in Spanish, where I saw the 7 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, kitchen, washing room, exercise room, backyard with two dogs, and pool. I can safely say that I’ll be living a pretty good life while staying and studying in Spain! We had breakfast around 11am, where they served the traditional dish “Migas”, a peasant dish made of bread and various proteins and vegetables. Once we finished breakfast we went to the nearby countryside to visit their 6 horses. Jose Carlos, Joseka, and Alejandro all ride horses competitively and have won various awards and ribbons. After visiting the boys and the horses, we went to Maria Angeles’ townhouse nearby to pick up food.IMG_5684.JPGIMG_5702.JPG

Maria Angeles and Jose Carlos are each other’s second marriages, with children from different spouses. They are a combined household, which is similar to mine at home. Maria Angeles and her daughter Irene live in a townhouse for 4 days out of the week (Mon-Thu). I will be staying with them in this townhouse as well Mon-Thu, and will stay at Jose Carlos’ house during the weekends. This townhouse is relatively close to the other house, about 5 min driving distance and 15-20 min walking distance. Maria Angeles told me that she had moved into Jose Carlos’ house for 5 years before, but after a while she realized she needed her own space and moved back into her old townhouse. Moving from house to house will be no problem for me, as I am used to this kind of arrangement. Since I grew up between four different households at any given time, I’m familiar with packing things for trips back and forth.

We grabbed the food from the townhouse and made our way back to Jose Carlos’ house, where we had lunch. Jose Carlos made a kind of paella with octopus for lunch, which was served with wine, roast beef, and roast chicken. Our meal ended with ice cream and a shot of liquor to “digest the meat”. I’m starting to think that drinking is a lot more common throughout the day than in the United States! Now it is time for the siesta, which I have used to write this diary entry. At around 5:30pm local time we will walk around the city, stop by the river and then make our way back home.

So far Spain and my host family have been wonderful and hospitable! There is definitely a language barrier, but nothing I am unfamiliar with. When I visited the Philippines with my mom, my relatives over there had the same amount of exposure to English as my friends and host family I’ve met here. I can understand what they are saying even though their English is not perfect, and we are able to communicate and hold conversations. I am very happy with everything that has happened so far, and am excited to continue my travels and experiences here! Adios, until next time!

Life, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Au Pair Visa – Preparations for Spain

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Over the past month or so I’ve been talking to family in Spain who wants me to be an au pair for them. I have been gathering paperwork in order to submit them to the Spanish Consulate on January 7th in San Francisco. This week I leave to submit the paperwork and then I have to wait a month to see whether or not it gets approved. After I find out if I get the visa in February, I make plans to leave the country by the beginning of March.

The family I have been talking to is really cool. Out of all the families I had talked to, this one seemed like the most appealing and understanding. I have been talking to the mother of the family mostly, M. Angeles, and she seems very kind. She has been helping me through this process the whole time. She even paid for the tuition for me to attend a Spanish University online in Madrid while I’m staying there. The children are all above the age of 13, which was ideal for me. The other families I had talked to had children that were around the ages of 2-8, which would have been difficult. I like that the children are older because they understand and speak more English, which is good since the only language I’ll be able to communicate with them while I’m there in is English. I also don’t have to actually watch and take care of them, I’m just another member of the family. I wanted to be able to focus on actually getting to know the family, the country, the culture, and the language, so being free from the responsibility of childcare was ideal for me.

I am both excited and nervous about the prospect of being in a Spanish-speaking country. I’m not the best at communicating in English, and my Spanish is really poor. I took Spanish for two years in high school and French for a year in college, but I don’t remember everything from the lessons. People have been telling me the best way to learn a language is to be immersed in it and the culture, so I guess this is the best way for me to learn. I also will be attending a Spanish University online, taking Spanish classes for 20 hours a week, so I’ll be learning the language both formally and informally throughout my stay there.

I have some fears about traveling with my mental health. My mental health has been up and down over the years, and although I have been pretty stable with my new medication, I still have worries that I’ll have another manic episode overseas. This is my greatest fear, because if I have an episode overseas in a country that doesn’t speak my language, I will be in very different and stressful circumstances than my last episode. ┬áMy family and I are hoping everything will turn out okay and that I’m healthy enough to travel. I wanted to do this opportunity because I don’t want to constantly be afraid of my mental illness, having it stop me from doing the things I want. I don’t want to be thinking throughout my life, “What if I had done this?” I want to be living in the moment and embracing what life has to offer despite what I’m suffering through.

All in all, I am excited for this trip. I think it will be a great opportunity for me to learn as much as I can in a new country with exciting people and experiences. I have always wanted to travel and explore the world, and this might be the first of many opportunities in the future.