Lebanon Valley College Study Abroad

Homesick

       
  Now I know what you’re thinking; she’s homesick?! It has only been 4 weeks! The answer is no, I am not homesick for home but rather for places I’ve never been and that I desire to see. This past month has changed my outlook on the world and has sparked a new kind of desire in me; the desire to experience as many different cultures and meet as many people as possibly. Perhaps Michael Palin’s quote will better explain my thoughts..
“Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know I will be happily infected until the end of my life”
This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel to Rome, visit a beach in Italy, and see some amazing historic sights. Rome was an experience that I truly am unable to put into words; from the Colosseum, to the Trevi Foutain, to St. Peters Basilica, the food, the gelato, and the quaint restaurant, Rome has so much to offer. What an incredible city! If it wasn’t a busy week filled with finals I would definitely post a blog about the experience but feel free to ask me about it; i’ll probably talk your ear off!
Although cliche; I am not returning to the states the same person I left. I have left my heart in so many places. Often when I talked to people at home they say “nothing has changed here, same old same old, you’re the one across the world.” I have thought about that for awhile now and I counter it by saying you don’t have to travel across the world to try new things. You can do something new everyday no matter where you are at. For instance, I can’t have the same experiences my sister is having in PA, every place offers a new challenge or opportunity to grow that can’t be offered anywhere else. BUT if you have the chance to experience a new place, DO IT. It is amazing to go to a place where no one knows your name and you get to start completely new and build new roots. But don’t listen to what I say, go see and experience it for yourself! Even if you don’t have the chance such as studying abroad available in your school like I did, find a way, make an opportunity! Often people I talk to say they don’t have money, but by the time they have money you wont have time, and when you have time and money you’ll be “too old” (although you are never too old to travel). Just make it happen, I promise the money and time you spend traveling will make your life richer. Jobs may fill your pockets, but adventure fills your soul. As my grandfather always says “you can’t take your money to the grave with you”.
“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; its lethal.”
I often referred to this website during my study abroad experience. If you need advice or want to be inspired to travel this blog offers tips on everything on how to save, where to start and what to do! Check it out, and if you click away because you don’t have time to check it out, ask yourself if not now when will you?      http://www.nomadicmatt.com/getting-started-new/
Although I must come back, I realize that its not the same thing as never leaving. I may be done with school, but this exit is an entry to traveling the next week with two of my friends. Finally, I would like to thank LVC for the opportunity to go abroad and Jill Russel for helping me find a way.
I asked each of the 10 students if they had something to say about the trip and here is what they said..
Studying abroad was something I knew I wanted to do when I started college, but I could’ve never imagined the experience being as incredible as it was. I learned so much inside the classroom and out, met so many people, and visited more countries in four weeks that I previously had my entire life. I won’t be the same returning to LVC–I have so much more perspective on the world, and I have 9 great new friends who I share so many incredible memories with.- Devon Malloy

Wow! Hard to find words for what just happened.. was a once of a life time experience that was surreal. I visited five different countries in just four weeks and had the time of my life. One thing that that is compelling to me is how unique everyone’s story is. It just goes to show that everyone truly had the ability to make this study abroad experience whatever they wanted it to be! Till next time Europe.. budapest… mic drop.–Blake Lutz

I transferred into LVC this spring semester and never in a million years would I have seen myself traveling the world with an amazing group of people from Lebanon Valley and Xavier. These memories and friendships I have made will last a lifetime and I wouldn’t change it for the world. To people that are questioning if they ever want to study abroad- DO IT. You’ll never regret it. Even though you go outside your comfort zone, its a truly amazing experience. I traveled to Budapest Hungary, Brussels Belgium, Amsterdam Netherlands, Munich Germany, London England, and Dublin Ireland. I truly wish I could stay here a whole semester, because a month isn’t enough. I wasn’t really friends with the people from LVC before the trip but I guarantee that I will be as close returning as I am now. I didn’t know what to expect meeting the Xavier kids but after spending a month with them I felt like I have known them my whole life. Booking flights, hotels, hostels, trains, buses, taxes, made me a lot more confident not only traveling but in myself as young man. Lastly, to our Professor Will Delavan and Jill Russel, thank you for the opportunity. I guarantee that you have sparked a journey of traveling that I will carry on the rest of my life. Sincerely, Nicholas A. Tucker.
Even though you have the amazing opportunity to visit lots of countries while studying abroad, don’t forget to take in the many wonders that Maastricht has to offer. It is truly an incredible city that I’ve been lucky enough to call my home for the past month, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.
–Jillian McCue
Make your dreams happen. I have been privileged enough to go on this journey and I have made amazing friends along the way. I was was able to accomplish and go after my dreams. I have finally made a trip to Italy and now I will never be the same. Explore the world, try new things, and get involved in new cultures. Take new leaps and bounds because I know I will never forget it. Explore the world and be open to new things.–Marla Scacchitti
This trip has been an amazing experience and has taught me so many things about myself. Being able to navigate foreign places and immersing myself in other cultures has allowed me to grow as an individual. It has improved my confidence more than I could ever imagine. Having the opportunity to take in all the beauty that this wonderful part of the world has to offer has been amazing. I am so happy that I decided to come on this trip, it has been such a great experience. To the LVC and Xavier students, thank you for making this trip a wonderful one filled with memories I’ll never forget. The friendships that I’ve made here will be for a lifetime as we have grown so close over a short time. To Will and Jill, thank you so much for this opportunity. It was more rewarding than I ever thought it would be. To all future MU students. Enjoy the time you have here, it is a beautiful part of the world and your time here will be gone sooner than you think.— Brandon McMinn
After hearing stories of my friends and their study abroad adventures, I decided to look into a European vacation myself. I was lucky enough to have family that were more than willing to help me accomplish my dream of studying abroad. During my time here I have gained knowledge than I can explain. I have also gained friends that I know I will continue to hang out with and make memories with. I am forever thankful for LVC giving me this amazing opportunity. Thanks to the students, LVC and Xavier, that make this trip more than I could hope for.–Gianna Rossillo

Get a bike and most certainly travel every weekend but don’t forget to appreciate the town of Maastricht and walk through the streets if you have time, yes walk don’t bike. My problem which I just realized now after selling my bike and having to walk was that I viewed Maastricht as more of a place where I had my bed and had to take classes rather than yet another beautiful and special city of its own to explore and you can’t take this in as well rushing around on the back of a bike. So my greatest advice would be to purchase a bike as soon as possible, as this will help you be able to wake up for class 15 minutes before and be on time as well as make it super easy to get to the train station but for a leisurely stroll around the city, walk. It won’t hurt you being that you won’t eat the healthiest and it lets you take in the culture a lot more. Don’t be afraid to get lost, that’s what a gps and data plans are for. Also if you end up finding your way with a little help from others and mostly on your own, it is pretty damn satisfying. Branch out and make friends with not only LVC kids you didn’t know but all of the people you encounter here. Do new things and travel to crazy places because at the end of the day you will not regret anything except maybe dropping too much money on a late Friday or Saturday night. All in all this will rank at the top of experiences you’ve had up to this point in your life so appreciate every second of it. You will build life long relationships with people you never thought you would. A month may seem long but it truly flies by. Thank you to everyone who helped me along the way and gave me this amazing opportunity. Jill, professor Delavan, fellow LVC students, and Xavier students you have made this something I will never forget.— Evan Lysczek

I would tell every student to step out of their comfort zone and study abroad if they are given the chance. I’ve had the opportunity to make many new friends, lifelong memories, and explore the world. It’s truly an experience you’ll never forget. -Aaron Alexander

 

11 Seasons of Shonda Rhimes’s Grey’s Anatomy Didn’t Prepare Me for My First Two Days of Shadowing

June 6th: After a quick breakfast at the café next to the hotel (which was provided by the Atlantis Project Program), our Site Coordinators took us to the bus stop that we took to the hospital.  We were given bus passes to take us to and from the hospital, and we were shown which bus to take and where to get off.  The bus ride was short, and after a group photo of the group in our lab coats in from of the hospital, we entered and met the chief of education of the hospital in Ourense who made it possible for us to shadow doctors.  After a quick orientation, we were off for our first day of shadowing.  Another fellow and myself were the first to be dropped off in Urology, and we were quickly taken to get changed into scrubs because we were about to see a surgery!  I was beyond excited because I’ve never had the opportunity to see a real surgery before, and I even got to stand right there in the operating room, only a couple feet from the patient!

Excited to be in scrubs and about to witness my first surgery!

Excited to be in scrubs and about to witness my first surgery!

This patient had an advanced type of bladder cancer, so the surgery was to remove the bladder and prostate, reroute the ureter (carries urine from kidney to bladder) to the ileum (portion of small intestine), and attach an ostomy bag (external bag that collects urine-basically acts as a new bladder).  It was amazing to see how the two surgeons worked together so well as a team, at times with their heads resting against each other’s during the surgery.  I will admit at one point the surgery did freak me out a little; about an hour in while the surgeons were going through the connective tissue to get to the bladder, I all of a sudden realized that the body on the table was a real, live person and I’m a real, live person and that could be happening to me.  That idea did not sit well for me, and I excused myself for a couple minutes to sit down and have some water (it was not uncommon for people to walk in and out of the OR), but then I returned, eager as ever to see what the surgeons were doing.

The surgeons were very nice and at times let us take a closer look and pointed out specific anatomical structures.  This surgery took about three and a half hours, after which the surgeons got about a forty-five minute break while the OR was being cleaned and prepped for the next surgery.  Unfortunately, I could not stay to watch the second surgery because all the fellows needed to meet at the front of the hospital by two o’clock so the Site Coordinators could show us the bus stop to get back to the hotel.  That evening we had a group dinner at a restaurant where I tried croquetas (which is kinda like a fried mushroom and potato appetizer) and all the fellows talked about their day in the hospital.  All in all, great first day of shadowing.  It really amazes me everything that goes into a surgery and what the surgeons can do to physically take out something that would have killed that patient in the near future.  Also, I really enjoyed wearing the scrubs and it’s something I hope to be doing a lot more in the future!

June 7th: As if I didn’t get lucky enough seeing a surgery yesterday, I got to see two today!  The first one was a prostatectomy which started out laparoscopically; however, after about an hour and a half the surgeons switched to an open surgery due to the specific situation with this patient.  One thing I thought was beyond amazing is how the surgeons used these tools as extensions of their hand to try to correct a problem while only making several small incisions.  I also really enjoyed watching what they were doing right on the screen because it was much easier to see than having to stand a couple feet away from the patient.  The reason that the surgeons had to switch to an open surgery was because this patient had an abnormal anatomy which made the prostate difficult to distinguish, and there was not a lot of space in that area, and the surgeons did not want to risk cutting the rectum which would have caused a larger issue.  I really admired how the doctors adapted and dealt with a situation of anatomy that really isn’t “textbook”.  While the OR was being cleaned and prepped, I got to talk to the doctor I was shadowing for a few minutes.  I found out that she had just finished her five year residency about a year ago.  In Spain, medical school is different; that is, students enter a six year medical school after high school, and then continue on to residencies that differ based on specialty.  So, the third year medical student who was also with the doctor I was shadowing was actually about the same age I was which I thought was strange.  I found out that the doctor I shadow also meets with non-surgical urology patients, but she prefers days filled with surgeries.  After that, I got to witness an endoscopic procedure to remove bladder cancer.  I had never really read about this procedure, but my goodness props to the patient (who was awake, but given an epidural, for the procedure).  An endoscope was inserted through the patient’s urethra and the surgeon removes the tumor and it is flushed out with a large amount of fluid which drains from the urethra into a bag that is suctioned into containers.  I’ve never seen anything like it before and was very happy that I stuck around later than I needed to so I could see this surgery.  After I left the hospital and got back to the square where my hotel was, it was already about 3:30 in the afternoon, so most shops were closed (siesta time), but luckily I found a small pizza place so I could have something to eat and not have to wait for dinner.  For dinner I went to this restaurant that sold pinchos which are like small sandwiches and had the most delicious little sandwich- “pincho de lobo con azúra” (is what I think it was called) the lomo part was a type of meat which a girl from Mexico in my group said is from a certain part of the cow (of which I do not remember) and azúra is a type of cheese (which I very much enjoyed).  Would definitely recommend!  After dinner I enjoyed a post-dinner sangria with some of the girls at a nice little place.  One thing I like about ordering drinks here is that the servers keep bringing you little snacks like chips, gummies, olives, etc. and it’s for free!  After that my friend and I took a walk around Ourense and over a bride to another the other side of the city.bridge and river

From a Big Fish in a Pond to a Small Fish in an Ocean

Friday June 3rd:  I arrived at the Madrid airport in the morning with two other Atlantis Project fellows that I (thankfully) met before getting on the plane in Philadelphia.  After grabbing my luggage and getting through customs, which went so much smoother than I thought it would, I was greeted by an Atlantis Project Coordinator who was gathering students that were arriving at the Madrid airport around that time.

Walking through Madrid Airport!

Walking through Madrid Airport!

From there, we were taken by bus to the hotel that we’d be staying in for orientation weekend.  We had the afternoon to walk around the nearby mall and get food.  Surprisingly, the mall was very similar to an American mall and even had a large number of American stores.  Today reminded me a little of the first day of college; fellows were from all over the United States and Puerto Rico, so very few people knew each other before coming to Madrid and everyone was trying to make friends for the weekend and the rest of their fellowship.  However, one thing very different from making friends during orientation weekend at school is there was a much wider variety of people from a variety of places, as opposed the large central Pennsylvania and surround area population of LVC students.  Most of the fellows come from very large schools that they don’t consider to be “that big” (I couldn’t believe someone thought a student body of 20,000 was average). Luckily, my new friends and I weren’t so horribly jet lagged that we made it through the whole day without sleeping, but going to bed later that night did feel amazing.

Quick picture with some fellows during a walk in the park near our hotel!

Quick picture with some fellows during a walk in the park near our hotel!

Saturday June 4th: Today was orientation day and all the students (approximately 75, I’m not sure of the exact number) sat in a meeting room in the hotel in which we listened to speakers reiterate the purpose of the Atlantis Project (which is to allow students to have shadowing opportunities they might not get in the U.S. – for those of you who don’t know, getting a doctor to shadow can be like pulling teeth if you don’t have a connection with one – and to allow students to see how a different country’s health care system operates), go over important cultural differences to be aware of, talk about some economical differences between the United States’ health care system and Spain’s health care system, and a current medical student gave advice for getting in to medical school.  One thing I found interesting was the difference in health care systems.  Spain’s health care system is a largely public system which is paid for by taxes.  The amount people pay for taxes varies based on income and other related things, and health care is regulated by the central government, sets policies for all areas, and regional government, sets policies for that specific area.  There was then discussion on which health care system is better? United States or Spain?  While the United States has a more expensive health care system, Americans have a lower life expectancy but they do have a higher health condition than Spaniards.  We ended the day with a bus trip to Madrid which we were allowed to go off on our own.  One of my favorite places I went to was Plaza Mayor where a group of us got tapas of tortillas and shrimp with sangria, all very delicious!

Plaza Mayor, Madrid

Plaza Mayor, Madrid

Sangria (to share)!

Sangria (to share)!

Tortilla

Tortilla

From taking Spanish before, I did forget that tortillas aren’t chips like we call them in English, but a combination of eggs, potatoes, and cheese.  After exploring the city for a while, my friends and I got a taxi ride back to the hotel to go to bed.

Sunday June 5th: Early in the morning, I got on a bus with fourteen other fellows to head to Ourense, Spain, a city above and close to the boarder of Portugal.  The bus ride took about 6 hours, but I did get to see the beautiful landscape of Spain.  Compared to Pennsylvania, it’s much hillier, and as you’re driving you see a lot of hills, grass, and open land and every now and again clusters of buildings.  When we finally arrived, we talked about what things would be like in the hospital and how our orientation would go tomorrow.

Ourense, Spain!

Ourense, Spain!

The day before we got our assignments for which specialties we’d be shadowing.  The first week I’m with urology, the second I’m in pediatrics, and the third I’m with hematology.  I’m very excited to meet the new doctors and see different specialties.  After meeting with our Site Coordinators, we were free to walk the city of Ourense, which is smaller and much less crowded and busy than Madrid.  I had a delicious (and cheap) meal of breaded chicken, rice, and salad, and I’m finally starting to get used to the Spanish eating times of a lunch around 2 and dinner around 8.  One thing I’m not used to is going to bed at the same time, because of eating dinner later and it being light out so much later here.  But, tomorrow is an early day at the hospital with much to learn so a good night sleep is more than necessary!

When In Doubt, Travel!

Orientation

On Wednesday, 18.05.2016, we got our first official look at where we will be studying the next 4 weeks, Maastricht University itself. We were all introduced to the director of the Center for European Studies (CES) and he explained some background information of the Netherlands, as well as the rules and expectations. One quote we all have been fascinated with in our first week in Europe is, “For classroomAmericans 100 years is old for Europeans 100 miles is far”. The director informed us that Europeans never travel hour and a half in one day and back, if it were him he would stay over wherever he was traveling to. He also informed us they’re two gym options: the MAC gym (not associated with the Mid Atlantic Conference 😉 ) or the university gym-both are pretty expensive for just a month. I ran to the MAC and the guy told me the only option I have it 70 euros for two months. We all introduced ourselves to the Xavier students as well.  Then we had breakfast with pastries and coffee for free (which was very
nice), more presentations about our courses and then free lunch in the cafeteria. The meal consisted of meatballs, mashed potatoes and chicken (kind of looked like dog food). The food was not very good, but it was free so I can’t complain! trainThen, we split up into two groups and had a practical tour of the city. The next day we started our Intercultural Communication class with our Professor from Belgium, Sophie Limbos. We all have a combined class with Xavier students in the morning 10:00-12:00, lunch until 12:45, then we are divided into two classes: one is from 12:45-14:45 and the other is from 15:00-18:00. The objective of this course is to understand differences in communication processes among cultures, become self-aware of our own culture and others and know thegelato dynamics between interactions among the two. So far class has been very intriguing and I am excited to learn what the course has to offer! She also told us its n
ot uncommon for kids to know 3+ languages, and Belgium is 800 euro for college regardless of major!castle The rest of the evening we booked flights and more travel itinerary for the next couple weekends. 

Thursday, we had Professor Delavan’s class for the first time. This class is 9:00-12:00 and 13:00-16:00 and just has LVC students in it. It’s a great opportunity for the 10 of us
and Professor Delavan to get to know each other. This course is focused on a complete overview of Europe’s business landscape, and examining the regions diverse economies and government policies. After class, Devon, Nick, Blake, Evan, and I pretty much sprinted to the train station to catch a bus at 16:30. The rest of the group (Gianna, Aaron, Jillian, and Brandon) were going to Amsterdam to stay overnight and then fly to London in the morning! Our group embarked on a journey to Brussels, Belgium for the weekend. Upon arrival we went right to our first hostel experience. It was pretty nice I thought; we had a window that led to a rooftop that was fun to sit outside of. However we didn’t stay long, we put our belongings in a locker, locked it and left to explore the city.

Here’s a few things to know about Brussels:

  • Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium, but also the seat of the European Union, and is consequently known as the ‘capital of Europe’.
  • Tax free shopping
  • Has one of Europe’s most beautiful squares, La Grande-Place. (I didn’t have as good of a picture so here’s one from google to get an idea of how incredible it truly is).
  • Actors Audrey Hepburn and Jean-Claude Van Damme were both born in Brussels
  • Home of the famous statue of Manneken-Pis Surreal sculptures<br/>Manneken Pis is Brussels’ most famous and humorous statue. The statue is often dressed in costumes to mark an anniversary, national day or local event; his wardrobe consists of several hundred costumes, many of which are shown inside Le Musée de la Ville de Bruxelles – the city museum
  • No set language; people speak French, Dutch, and German.

We traveled to a new country in two hours and I can’t even drive to the beach in 2 hours when I’m home, let alone get out of Pennsylvania . That is why Europe is more diverse: you hit more countries than the US can, which is why Devon and I were able to travel from Germany to Belgium to the Netherlands all in one day (I’ll explain a little later). A great visual example is that Texas covers a majority of Europe, showing that the US is quite larger than Europe.brussels

Upon arrival we immediately realized that the security in Brussels is heightened due do the recent terrorist attacks. We saw multiple armed guards walking around and standing at major buildings. I think we navigated city pretty well, and were expecting more language barrier, but since Devon took German and I had Spanish at LVC, we were impressively picking up a lot.  I got to talk to some native French people and I was surprised by how much I remember from 8th and 9th grade. We were noticing a lot of differences between Belgium and the Netherlands just from the few hours we spent in Brussels.

We saw Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula which was absolutely beautiful, and monument Aux Heros De La Guerre. Then found a place to get a classic Belgium waffle for dinner, which was everything I expected a Belgium waffle to be. Next stop was Delirium Cafe. It’s a famous bar known for its long beer list, standing at 2,004 different brands cafeand recorded in the The Guinness Book of Records. It offers beers from over 60 countries, including various Belgian beers. waffle2The social aspect of drinking is quite different here, and people drink openly in the street because its legal. Besides seeing a Belgium bar, we noticed other cultural differences here; people smoke frequently, drive wildly, and travel by metro prominently. 

After a busy evening of exploring the city and purchasing Belgium chocolate for souvenirs we headed back to the hostel outside the city. The locks Evan and Blake had on their stuff got stolen, but fortunately nothing was stolen! Nick talked to the guy, Victor, at the front desk about it and he was very nice and friendly but couldn’t do much about it. Although nothing physically was stolen, our sense of security was taken. Blake, Nick, and Evan were leaving for a flight at 4am to Budapest and Devon and I were planning on staying in the hostel until returning to Maastricht Sunday. After realizing the locks were taken Devon and I quickly changed our minds and booked a bus to Dusseldorf Germany instead so we wouldn’t stay in the hostel alone. 

Early Friday  morning Devon and I talked to the lady at the front desk about getting a  refund for our next two nights we booked because we didn’t feel secure in the hostel. She was not very understanding and only gave us Saturday night’s stay back. Cutting our losses, we headed to the train station to catch our bus and explore Germany.

On the 3 hour bus ride we met a lady from California who lives in Brussels now and loved Devon’s back pack . Typically if I meet someone from the states I ask them if they know were Hershey is and 7/10 people have said yes “its a chocolate place”. They usually know where Philly is too, but when I ask if they know Knoebels, they rarely do.

After wandering around the city we realized dogs are allowed in stores, shopping in Europe is cheaper than America (at least where we went), and Diversity in Düsseldorf is greater than in Maastricht and is somewhat comparable to Philadelphia. Everyone was very helpful and friendly although the people we talked to might not have known English well,they didn’t get frustrated with our questions (especially ordering out to eat).
booook

We then traveled to the Goethe-Museum, which is a grand 18th-century house with a collection of artifacts relating to Goethe’s life & work. While there we met an older guy and he gave us his daughters disco card to go to and said if we ever need anything while we’re in Germany to let him know. He was from California originally, and moved to Germany with his girlfriend, and has 4museum kids. He asked us if we were in Germany for
Japan Day on Saturday. He informed us that it is a German-Japanese festival celebrated every year
in May or June in Düsseldorf. Unfortunately we were planning on going back to Brussels to catch a cheaper bus to go home to Maastricht so we couldn’t go, but it was neat to see everyone dress up in preparation for the festival. While continuing our exploration of the city we noticed people walk really close to you and we are already paranoid so it’s hard to be comfortable with that, We still get weird stares so apparently we don’t look European yet.. Although we did get asked for directions from a lady, but another guy we talked to said he spotted us as Americans a mile away haha.

Exhausted from traveling we checked into a hotel (since the last hostel was still
fresh in our mind). One interesting thing was that I had to use my passport for booking the hotel.  The following morning we had free breakfast in the hotel and had to get Spaghettieis before we left for Belgium. Spaghettieis is a German ice cream dish made to look like a plate of spaghetti. Vanilla ice cream is extruded through a modified Spätzle press to make it look like spaghetti. 

Our second visit to Brussels was a better experience than when we left. We toured parademore of the city and got to experience the Zinneke Parade! Its held every two years so we felt honored to get to experience it. Basically (from our pamphlet we parade 2were given) it’s a contemporary, urban, creative, artistic parade. Different inhabitants, associations, school, and artists all come from different
neighborhoods of Brussels and beyond to present themselves as an expression and experiment in making a city through diversity. It was quite a site to see! After shopping in some local stores (where I of course purchased a soccer ball) we listened to the Jazz festival that was going on in the La-Grand Place.

After another long day of touring we headed back to Maastricht Saturday night instead of Sunday night like originally planned. On the bus we met Cecile, who said she was going from France (where she studies) to Maastricht to surprise her boyfriend and offered to show me around when I go to Paris in 3 weeks. Sunday we rested from our travels, did homework for the upcoming school week, did laundry, and went grocery shopping. 

Just for fun:

  • You have to pay for public bathrooms.
  • Maastricht has around 22,000,000 bikes, and stealing bikes is considered a sport.
  • Dutch people are tall
  • Learning to look at life’s interruptions as blessing in disguise; if the locks weren’t stolen in Belgium Devon and I wouldn’t have gotten to experience Germany.
  • I sleep less here than in America.
  • Jillian and I vow to try all the different coffee types here since we are coffee fanatics. Coffee here is smaller in size and less sweet; so we get to appreciate the taste.
  • It is very easy to become dehydrated while traveling since water isn’t cheap and you sort of forget that you haven’t had any when walking around.
  • I wear a GPS watch that tracks my steps and I have about 15 miles tracked each day (with running). If you told me I would walk this much in America I would think you’re crazy, but here it’s normal.
  • Cursing seems to be a universal language, as well as smiling.
  • Although trivial: Devon and I were disappointed that we didn’t get our passport stamped since we entered Belgium and Germany by bus instead of plane.
  • After a week in a new place I learned my sense of directions is still lacking. I didn’t get lost on my run by myself today but I got lost returning from the grocery store 10 minutes away; baby steps I suppose!
  • I saw a group of students playing SPUD by the guesthouse. SPUD was a childhood game I used to play and I wanted to join but the language barrier wasn’t ideal.

Dutch words

  1. kaas – cheese
  2. cashewnoten – cashews (because Gianna is allergic)
  3. geen doorgang – no entry
  4. Duwen- push
  5. Trekken- pull

 German words

  1. Sprechen Sie Englisch? – Do you speak English?
  2. Danke- thank you
  3. Wie viel- how much?
  4. Hallo- hello!
  5. Tschuss- bye!

(Thankfully Devon knew German so I didn’t have to try to pronounce words, I opted to learn simple phrases as you can tell)

French words

  1. Toliet s’il vous plait – toliet please
  2. comme ci, comme ca- so so
  3. comment tu t’appelles- what’s your name?
  4. je m’appelle- My name is
  5. Merci beaucoup- thank you very much

Overall, after traveling away from the Netherlands for a weekend, Maastricht surprisingly is feeling more and more like home after returning. I am excited for a full week of classes this week and the opportunity to learn something new each day! Thanks for reading and have a wonderful week!

Au Revoir,

Teanna

“A moment like this”

I didn’t know what to expect going abroad for my first time, but I knew whatever I was going to experience, it would be incredible. Everyone told me that I would have the time of my life and so far I haven’t been disappointed in the slightest. The plane length was intimating, but manageable. 10 of us, 5 girls 5 boys, embarked on a plane from Philly to Amsterdam to study abroad at Maastricht University with our business and economics Professor Delavan. We were fed dinner on the plane which floored me that I was able to get beer, and white or red wine. However, since I am under 21 I didn’t feel comfortable having that liberty quite yet. Instead, I got a Diet Coke and it said “a moment like this” on the can. I thought, “how perfect is this moment right now”; on my way to a foreign country, sitting in between two people from different countries than my own, ready for any challenge that may come.

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For Students

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Spanish and I have maintained a strict love-hate relationship for the past six years; unfortunately, our constant bickering and habitual arguments have left little room for love.

As a begrudging, mediocre Spanish student, I have always taken the time to focus on how the language has always been a second choice, a pathway that I have either stumbled upon or has been chosen for me. This dissatisfaction has always translated into a respectful but subtle disdain for the country and its language: scoffing at the nation in an ever-present series of history classes while frowning at its irregular verbs and inconvenient gramatical structure. My initial forays into its study were marred by disappointment and dissatisfaction, something I held tight to and never let go.

Our relationship is one of complacency and convenience; divorce is expensive, and moving into separate rooms is much easier than the arduous task of moving into separate apartments. It is not exciting, but it is comfortable and secure. Any and all passion remains reserved for my first love, German.

As an elementary school student, an accidental series of events resulted in my family hosting a high-school German exchange student in our home for a year. His stories about his country and anecdotes in German left me intrigued and eager to study the language.

As a middle school student, an unfortunate combination of scheduling conflicts removed the opportunity to study German and left me trapped between French, Spanish, and Latin. Two years of disagreeable French lessons and a consideration of Latin as a dead language eliminated those options and left me with Spanish. Spanish, the language that everyone and their brother was taking; therefore, not different or exciting enough and leaving my anti-social-self immediately repulsed. I entered my first class with crossed arms and a closed mind and refused to study any of the material placed in front of me. The next three years passed in the same way, and the more I understood about the culture the more I disliked its loud and boisterous nature.

As a high school student inspired by the importance of my GPA in the fourth year, I attempted to take the final course seriously–efforts that ended disastrously and left me even more disillusioned and dead set against the language than when I started. European and world history courses swept the culturally-rich country off to the side in favor of its stronger, more militaristic neighbors and stuck to portraying Spain as a passive participant in world affairs. Suspicions “confirmed,” I too swept the nation off to the side and felt glad to be rid of it for the final part of my high school career.

A trip to Germany to visit our exchange student and his family solidified my mental dichotomy: German was the language that I wanted to study, while Spanish was the language that I had been forced to study. While many find it off-putting, the abrupt tones of brisk German hold a calming rhythm, pleasant to my ears. The Spanish dialect, whose rolling, lyrical timbre many find soothing, sounded abrasive–a serrated serenade of sordid disquietude. The more reserved German culture and its traditional stoicism provided a welcome change from the discomforting openness and emotionalism of Spanish society.   The Nordic nation simply felt right, and I enjoyed every moment of a month that was over much too soon.

As a freshman student in college I was finally given the opportunity to take German classes for the next two years, which further confirmed my unfounded prejudices. Commensurate to an afterthought I had added a Spanish course to my schedule, an act of drudgery born of habit and the dormant fear of loosing my lackluster abilities. I dreaded every arduous moment spent studying Spanish, memorizing an endless litany of vocabulary words and irregular verb tenses, and used my simultaneous German courses as an enjoyable distraction from the toil. Each matriculated phrase marked a small victory and proud celebration.

The final fight was an impassioned brawl exemplary of the end of any heated romance as sensibility overcame the sensuous: I would study abroad in Valladolid, Spain for the spring 2016 academic semester.

***

Contrary to copious student testimonies, studying abroad has not changed my life. With less than two weeks in the semester, it is safe to say that this will not change and I will not return to the United States with a newfound sense of independence and individualism. I do not feel more prepared or enlightened about my future as a first-semester senior, and I have not gained a fresh outlook on my calling in life. My internal purpose has not been rejuvenated nor reinvigorated. Study abroad can do all of these things, and for many students, it has and will continue to do so.

While study abroad has not changed my life, in four short months it has reversed six years of resentment and cynicism. It has shown me the beauty of the Spanish language and the rich meanings of its words that could never be fully divined or appreciated from within the confines of a textbook. Lifeless on the page, their heated cadences spring forth in cascading crescendos and diminuendos from those around you. Once barren, the words now mean something: bocadillos hold the memory of afternoon excursions and cenas the memories of laughter and togetherness. Mi vida is a simple, expository statement until it is used by a husband in reference to his wife or a mother to her children.

Though arguably factual, to spurn the role of Spain throughout history as a secondary, supporting nation is to ignore the resilient strength of its people and their capacity for pained endurance. They are tenacious and proud of their capacity for perseverance, and in the face of past and future hardships, will continue to persist. Though worn to the bone with economic turmoil and political corruption, the Spanish spirit progresses.

Its festivals must be experienced in person, as pictures and eloquent descriptions cannot do justice to the feeling of pure excitement and absolute energy. They cannot match the exuberance of the crowds and their insatiable appetite for celebration. As the United States clings to the last cultural vestiges of its holidays, Spain remains a steadfast observer of its heritage.

***

Three out of my four courses for next semester will be Spanish courses, and I could not be happier about it. If I had remained the torpid and obstinate student and stayed in the classroom, I never would have had the privilege of understanding the crucial aspects of the language and cultural I had been mentally maltreating for so many years. Spanish, nor any language, is not stagnant, and to take a stationary approach to its study is to barely scratch the surface of its essence and do it a grand injustice.

Language and international studies students: you are required to go, and so you will go, but keep an open mind when you do. For the rest of you? Given the chance, go. Skeptical? So was I, so go buy your suitcase and start packing.

Au revoir, Paris

Two weeks ago, Rachel, Alisha, and I headed for Paris after classes on Thursday. Even though I had already visited the city on a trip with my high school a few years ago, I was excited for a weekend there. I guess I should begin by saying, this weekend wasn’t what I expected. With high expectations, we arrived in Paris late Thursday evening around 11:30pm. We were instantly faced with a steep language barrier. Far from the city center, and unsure where exactly to go, we headed outside the ORLY airport to find a taxi to take us to our hotel. Luckily, I knew the metro stop near our hotel and somehow our taxi driver understood where we wanted to go. We arrived quickly at our hotel, checked in, and climbed over 6 flights of stairs to our room (the elevator did not appear trustworthy). We threw our things down, desperate for supper and headed to McDonalds around the corner (the only place open at this time around our hotel). We each ordered and paid. When I looked at the change I had received, I realized I was missing a few Euros. I asked the cashier for the rest of my change and he refused to give it to me. As I tried to explain, he just gave me a blank unwavering stare. Although he knew English, he refused to use it and in turn got a few extra Euros from me. Frustrated and losing my patience, I walked away and knew from that point this was not going to be the trip I had imagined.

After our greasy dinner, we headed back to the hotel and found ourselves in a long conversation with the man working at reception. At first, it was really nice talking to him, getting suggestions about the city and learning a bit about French culture. However, about an hour into the conversation, things started to get weird. Although generous and meaning no harm, (well, at least I think so) he offered us a “rare”  Egyptian alcoholic beverage. We politely turned him down unsure of what was really in the drinks. Then, somehow,  mysteriously female porn came on the TV in the lounge (of course the reception guy had no idea how…) and we all knew it was time to go to bed. We quickly escaped, got showers in our moldy bathroom and tried to remain optimistic for our first full day in Paris the following day.

Friday was a new day! We slept in, organized our maps, and headed on the metro to our first sightseeing stop, Père Lachaise Cemetary. The largest of Paris’s cemeteries, here lay many famous philosophers, writers, and artists. We checked out the map and searched for all the tombs we hoped to see: Comte, Pissarro, Gay Lussac, and Seurat. We began walking, excited to find a grave we recognized until we realized how difficult of a task this really was. Not realizing the cemetery was 110 acres, we blindly searched for these tombs.

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After about an hour of wandering (which isn’t so bad) we finally found the burial spot of Oscar Wilde. Feeling accomplished after finding one recognizable name, we decided to cut our losses and hop back on the metro to République, a famous square.

 

After the Paris Terrorist Attacks, République held the largest demonstration of people in modern French history with over 1.6 million people in attendance. Here, people came together to express solidarity and rally against the attacks.

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After quietly admiring the statue, the memorials, and the artwork, we wandered around République and the surrounding streets to find a good place for lunch. We wandered into a quaint French café and relaxed over a good lunch as we planned where we would go next. We hopped back on the Metro (I think we spent half of the entire day just on there) to Montmartre, a famous neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris City center. We began at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, an iconic and beautiful church on top of a large hill.

IMG_5863We ascended until we finally reached the top and got a great view of the city skyline. We took enough pictures and followed the crowd inside to admire the massive basilica. We fought the crowds and finally made our way back down the steps as we headed to Moulin Rouge, the most famous cabaret in the world (also home to the can-can dance). We wandered around until we spotted the infamous giant red windmill and the long street of sex shops. Feeling adventurous we bravely made our way down the street, glancing curiously in shops here and there. Then, of course, we got nervous when a few guys standing outside on the shops, tried to pick us up. We quickly crossed the street only to find another guy making odd noises at us. It was settled, it was time to head elsewhere.

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Back on the metro to the Arc de Triomph- the highlight of our day! Realizing we would rather climb the Arc than the Eiffel, we got in line until finally it was our turn to head to the top! Here, we got another bird’s eye view of the city and our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower!

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Next, we walked down Champs-Élysses, the most famous shopping street in Paris before hopping back on the metro (yes, once again) to the Luxembourg garden, a nice park where we took a rest before heading for dinner. We found pizza for dinner, conveniently located next to a highly rated crêperie. Of course, we got delicious dessert crêpes (banana and Nutella) and made our way back to the hotel for the night.

Exhausted from our first day in Paris, we woke up late once again and began our day with lunch: an ice cream cone from a small place called Berthillon. We savored our delicious cones as we walked to Notre Dame, the most famous church in Paris and also one of the best examples of the French Gothic architectural style. We got into line and waited our turn to enter the home of Quasi Moto (somehow Rachel didn’t realize this church was the setting for Walt Disney’s movie, The HunchBack of Notre Dame).

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Much more beautiful than the cartoon, we spent awhile admiring this impressive church. Next, we continued to walk along the Seine until we were approaching the Louvre.

We came around the corner off one of the many bridges crossing the wide river, when we spotted a few women holding clipboards and asking for donations. While Rachel and I avoided the ladies, Alisha walked right through them with one woman naturally coming right up to her side, asking for a donation. As Rachel and I looked back to see if Alisha was coming or not we saw a second woman approach her on the other side. Then, suddenly, for no obvious reason to us, they backed off. Alisha continued walking to where Rachel and I stood, waiting for her. Instantly, Alisha said frantically searching her purse, “I don’t have my phone. They took my phone.” In a bit of a panic I asked her if she was sure they could’ve taken it. She said yes and hurried back to confront one of the women. I watched from a few yards away as the woman laughed in Alisha’s face but then finally revealed under her clipboard Alisha’s phone. We were lucky Alisha realized and lucky the woman was willing to give it back to her. We heard that pickpockets were bad in Paris, but, of course, we didn’t think it would happen to us, especially with how careful we always are with our purses, money, and phones.

Once we had all calmed down a bit, we made our way to the Louvre, took some cliché tourist pictures and got in line where we waited about 45 minutes to enter. It was our own fault we didn’t purchase tickets ahead of time, but we were unsure of our plans and didn’t know if we wanted to enter or not. We spent over 3 hours in the Louvre (glad we had decided to enter), wandering and admiring so many famous artworks, like the Mona Lisa, La Liberté, and the Venus de Milo. We walked through  the Egyptian art section studying a mummy and the rooms full of sarcophaguses. We saw Napoleon’s apartments and some amazing marble sculptures. Only seeing a small portion of the Louvre, we were starving and unfortunately it was closing time.

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We found a normal looking restaurant nearby where we decided to get dinner. We couldn’t believe how expensive this place was, 5 euros for a bottle of Coke! We let feeling guilty for spending so much on such an average meal. However, after looking around, we realized all the restaurants around were that expensive. Even McDonald’s was expensive, over 3 euros for a McFlurry!

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Moving on, we made our way to the Eiffel Tower. As we walked, it started to rain, we just couldn’t win. Regardless, we were determined to see the Eiffel Tower and the beautiful light show. Ok, I will admit, seeing this did make our day a bit better. After walking around the Eiffel and souvenir shopping we made our way back to our hotel, since it was getting late and we had to get up early for our morning flight.

 

We got up early, giving ourselves ample time to reach the airport. We planned to take the tram to the airport, the cheapest method. We reached the tram station. It wasn’t running today. Ok, plan B: metro and bus. We walked down into the metro stop and studied the map. Thankfully, a kind man approached us and explained the best way to get to the airport, was it possible that our luck was finally changing?

Well, the minute we walked into the airport we knew that couldn’t be true. Our flight was delayed an indeterminate amount time, so all we could do is wait at our gate for our signal to board. After over an hour delay we finally boarded, nervous because we knew we would really be in a time crunch to catch our train from Madrid back to Valladolid. Naturally, we got held up in the airport and ended up missing our train by 15 minutes. We headed to the service desk and were politely told we would have to buy new tickets since our delay had nothing to due with the train company. 30 euros later, we were finally on a train back to Valladolid, quite happy to be heading home after such bad luck all weekend.

Although we faced some obstacles in Paris, ultimately it has made me a smarter traveller, even if it did cost me a lot of money to learn this. I can say while I won’t be heading back to Paris anytime soon, it is a place worth visiting at least once in a lifetime!

Au revoir!

McKenna

 

Bopping Around Barcelona

Eager for a long weekend trip, two weeks ago Abby, Alisha, and I headed to the eastern coast of Spain to visit Spain’s economic powerhouse and second largest city: Barcelona. We arrived late Thursday afternoon, checked into our hostel, and immediately headed to Montjuïc, unwilling to waste any sunshine. Montjuïc is Barcelona’s largest public park with numerous scenic hiking trails and lookouts over the vast city.

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There is an impressive 16th century castle at the peak of Montjuïc, and more famously the olympic stadium from the 1992 Summer Olympics lies in the confines of this expansive park. As it turns out, the Olympic Games held here completely redefined the city of Barcelona.

IMG_5276The 1992 Summer Games transformed this once industrial city into a tourist hotspot, revving up the economy and making it the richest region in Spain today. Egyptian sand was pumped onto the coastlines and palm trees were shipped from California to attract tourists and create some of the most famous beaches in Spain.

After all our walking, we made our way to an Italian restaurant for dinner where we treated ourselves to a bottle of wine and some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten (please note: I haven’t been to Italy yet). Exhausted from our hiking and travel, we headed to bed.

To begin our sightseeing Friday, we booked another Sandeman free walking tour. In two and a half hours we made our way through the city and learned about the interesting figures that helped shape the city into what it is today. Of course, we learned about Barcelona’s persistent resistance during the Spanish Civil War and through the decades of Franquismo. During Franco’s dictatorship from 1939 to 1975, citizens of Barcelona, and all of Cataluña (the province Barcelona is located in), were prohibited to speak their regional language. Censorship was a part of daily life across all forms of media and women lost many of the rights they held previously. Despite such cultural and political repression nationwide, Barcelona has blossomed into a culturally rich destination.

After our tour, we headed straight for the beach. Although a beautifully sunny day, the Mediterranean breeze was chilly, so we opted out of sun bathing and decided a walk along the beach would be better. Emptying our shoes of sand, we then headed to Parc de la Ciutadella, another of the city’s famous parks, known for its beautiful fountain. On such a nice day the park was packed, so we saw the sights and next headed to see Barcelona’s Arc de Triomph and grab lunch.

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After a relaxing lunch, we walked to Plaza de Cataluyna, one of the most famous squares in the city. We walked around and looked in the shops until it was time to head to the Barcelona Cathedral, which is free to enter after 5:45 pm.

IMG_5394We admired the Gothic architecture and saw the tomb of Saint Eulalia, a patron saint of the city and a martyr. It is said that when the Romans came to Barcelona centuries ago, they put Eulalia in a public square naked in order to punish her. Miraculously, snow fell despite the warm climate and covered her body. Angry that their first punishment failed, the Romans placed her in a barrel with knives in it and sent her rolling down a hill. They repeated this punishment over and over again, and each time she emerged unscratched.

After the cathedral, we headed to another beautiful church called Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar and stumbled upon the Born Cultural Center, which houses archeological remains of the first market that stood there during the 1700’s. Exhausted and getting hungry, we made our way back to our hostel to find a dinner place and hit the sack before another action-packed day in Barcelona.

We began our Saturday ready to get rowdy with Gaudí, considering we planned an entire day just to see this famous artist’s works around the city. We hopped on the Metro to begin our day at the infamous minor basilica, La Sagrada Familia. Designed by Antoni Gaudí in 1882, this massive and amazing edifice is still under construction today. Although not expected to be completed until 2026, La Sagrada Familia is nonetheless a breathtaking structure both inside and out. I can honestly say it is the most beautiful and peaceful place I have ever encountered.

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Adorned with vibrant stained glass windows, the white stone is transformed into a rainbow.  The architecture is nearly  indescribable, the perfect combination of structure and fluidity (please note: I know practically nothing about architecture). The detail put into this single architectural masterpiece is astounding; every where I looked I was able to something new, something I hadn’t noticed before. Gaudí was no doubt a genius, and although we didn’t want to leave such a beautiful place, we knew we needed to get moving in order to see the rest of his works spread out across the city.

Continuing our day dedicated to Gaudí, we next walked to La Pedrera and Casa Battló, relatively close to La Sagrada Familia considering the massive size of Barcelona.

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Unable to enter either building due to our strict time schedule, we headed to Parc Güell located on the outskirts of the city atop a huge hill (maybe even a mountain). Constructed between 1900 and 1914, Parc Güell is a massive garden complex which was once home to Gaudí. We climbed stairs upon stairs (thank goodness there were some outdoor escalators too) until finally we reached the summit. Admiring the views of the city, we explored the park until we finally found what we had come to see: the incredible stone columns, the colorful mosaic art, and the houses all constructed by Gaudí.

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Unfortunately, we arrived about two and a half hours before we could enter to explore the section that contained the impressive lookout and mosaic art (tickets we sold out). So, we took cover from the rain wherever we could and impatiently walked around the park as we waited. We finally entered in a massive wave of sightseers. It was worth the wait! Stricken with hunger and exhaustion, we made our way back to our hostel to find dinner and call it a night, since we had to get up early Sunday morning to catch our flight back to Valladolid. Barcelona was truly a unique and beautiful city. With its impressive architecture, sunny beaches, and unique history and culture, I understand why so many venture to Barcelona each year: just to capture a glimpse of what living in Spain is all about.

Adéu,

McKenna

Las Fallas: A Celebration Like None Other

On March 19th, the city of Valencia burns.

The fires overshadow the buildings with flames felt from blocks away, roaring monstrosities that light the city streets and burn a purifying blaze, destroying the negative memories of the past in the form of carefully constructed artistic monuments, called fallas, and their ninots. The satirical ninot figures and their staging takes an entire neighborhood’s funds and several artisans a year to build and are gone in mere minutes, destroyed by the fireworks lit around their base. Liberated, the city celebrates their massacre, dancing in the ruins and drinking to their destruction. As further pyrotechnics illuminate the sky, smaller versions of the fireworks spark in the streets, flying from every hand in all directions, regardless of the passing crowds and parked cars. In the manic spirit of the festival, they bounce off the sides of buildings within the confines of the narrow streets.
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Before the city burns, it must explode.

Five days before the burning, each day dawns at 8 a.m. with an outbreak of traditional music from parading bands and explosions thrown by the following crowd. The sounds of La Despertá do not stop until the grey hours of the morning, and begin again with each new day. The closer the explosions, the sharper their crisp pops—the farther, the deeper the rumbling booms that echo off the buildings, reverberating in overwhelming waves beyond the initial point of impact into the neighboring barrios of the city. Regardless of proximity to the city center it is unescapable: this unpredictable series of sounds, with mere seconds of rest followed by minutes of uproarious noise. That brief pause is just enough time to wait for peace with baited breath before cringing at the next rapport, a stinging assault that vanquishes any hope of returning to sleep. Falling asleep after exhausting days of walking the city and dodging the explosions underfoot is easy, but staying asleep once the morning begins is almost impossible.

For Valencians, this is a beautifully cacophonous symphony of staccato tones and rolling bass notes, a perfect orchestral arrangement designed by the collective minds of the millions of participating citizens. Every faller chooses his own melody, joyously providing time and talent to christen the day’s celebration, with each note a launched noisemaker or propelled firecracker. Their instruments are the festival’s constant companion throughout the week, a rotation of musicians that never stop and never tire.

La Mascletá is their crowning performance, conducted by the city’s pyrotechnical masters in a four day battle for the honor of hosting the fifth and final municipal exposition in the city center. Hours before the millions begin to gather, forming an immobile mass that dwarfs Times Square on New Year’s Eve by over a million. Revelers, pressed elbow to elbow, occupy the minutes leading up to the afternoon event with cheap beer and good friends in an atmosphere of eager anticipation. The crowd stretches for blocks, but even those at the farthest points easily hear and see the effects of the detonation enclosed in the center of the masses.

Strung between the gated fences that form the central cage hang thousands of firecrackers whose ignition cloaks the crowd in smoke and a deafening roar of noise, shaking the body to the soul. The assault comes in waves; the pure force of the final rapport transcending the realm of sound to become a physical being, assailing the spectators from all directions. Everything is sound—staggering, paralyzing sound.

The vibrations fade into muted cheering, inaudible at full volume through the veneer of sound that coats the ears. The city is shrouded in a haze; gleaming buildings once unmistakable in the brilliant midday sun have vanished under the smothering, post-production pollution. The last few flakes of ash fall gently on motionless bystanders, still unable to move. Regardless of their restlessness, it is only after the eventual dissipation of the observers at the undulating edges of the beast that the center can begin to shift. The merriment moves to the city’s outdoor terraces and they quickly fill—at just before three in the afternoon, it is the perfect time to relax for a lunch of the Mediterranean region’s famous paella and sangria before the night’s festivities.
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Once Las Fallas is over, the city has celebrated with heart and soul.

The attitude of revelry pervades all aspects of each day; however, it holds a varying significance for the distinctive groups of participants. For visitors, these days are an explosion of visual and auditory stimulation unlike any other. Each new day is yet another opportunity to bask in the joy of living and in life.

For many native Valencians, the days serve as a reaffirmation of the province’s culture. Throughout the celebration, impromptu processions parade the streets, comprised of each district’s falleras and falleros in traditional dress as well as volunteer instrumentalists blaring long-established marches on historic instruments. On the designated days all make the journey to the Plaza de la Virgin and place an offering bouquet of flowers to Our Lady of the Forsaken, the Patron Saint of Valencia.

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Having fulfilled the requirements of their positions, the members of the suburban fallas committees breathe a sigh of relief and proceed to cheer and snap pictures of their loved ones, friends, and acquaintances from the sidewalks as they journey to the Plaza. Committee members are the unsung heroes of the event, responsible for the preparation of their constituency for the annual event. All organizational decisions come from this body, which in turn reports to the democratically-selected, citywide fallas council. For months its members work to perform a vast number of tasks, including choosing the artists for their community and pardoning the most popular ninot, which is determined with a popular vote by the public.

As hordes of individuals stream by eager to begin the night’s celebration, Valencia’s families come together and block off the streets and alleyways to erect massive tents and organize the necessary number of tables and chairs for the local parties. Children dart in and out of open doorways, cheering and chasing one another with their seemingly-endless supply of poppers, as adults converse over cervezas and steaming pans of paella big enough to feed twenty. Music blends with laughter as they prepare to gather around the nearby fallas and join together to watch the city burn.

M. Gorman

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