The Spanish American Culture War

The Spanish American Culture War

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Yes, Spain and the United States are somewhat different. OK, a lot different. Hopefully by the end of this post you will be able to decide for yourself which place would be the ideal place to live! Both places are unique in their own ways and there definitely are some culture clashes … just ask my host mom. I quickly found out certain things are much different here in Alicante, but I’ve been able to adapt to most of them. My list seems to be ever growing for this battle between cultures and if you would like any further clarification or more detailed stories, don’t hesitate to ask. Here we go …

1. The first difference and foremost difference I was aware of upon arriving on Calle de Foglietti in Alicante with my host family was the re-recognition of pronunciation, more specifically between the letter “z” and “s.” Authentic spaniards virtually have no ability to pronounce the letter “z” with a definite buzz, like the sound a bee makes. Therefore, my host mom and sister seemed like they were on a Saturday Night Live skit for the first month, and they covered up little chuckles after telling “Sak” that dinner was ready. Fortunately, many people in Spain are bilingual and can get a normal sounding “Zak” out, just not my family yet … I’m trying.

2. Secondly, for everyone who absolutely loves to nap, Spain is the place to be. Siestas are integrated into daily life to the point where many city stores close and then again reopen around 5 p.m. Wondering why no one is out and about in a metropolitan area in the middle of the day? Oh yeah, siesta. My host mom and sister always come home in the middle of the day to eat and then relax/sleep for a little while. I have never been a big napper, but hopefully this grows on me (see point #4).

3. Lunch and dinner are eaten extremely late in Spain. The typical lunch time is right around 2-3 p.m. and dinner floats around 9 p.m. This was one of the hardest things to get used to abroad because I am used to eating lunch at noon or 1 p.m. and dinner around 6 p.m. I am not sure exactly why they eat so late — it just is what it is!

4. Next, if you thought staying out real late on the weekends was around 4 in the morning … guess again. In Spain, nightlife is one of the highlights of things to do. Bars and restaurants are open earlier on in the night but discotecas or clubs do not even open until 3 a.m. So right when you are thinking about calling it quits for the night in the states, places are just opening in Spain. It is typical for people to get home around 7 a.m. more or less. My host sister’s boyfriend was saying how when he was younger, he hardly slept every weekend and was just out hanging out with friends. This is a hard thing to adapt to for sure, and probably the main explanation for siestas!

5. Fashionistas. In Spain everyone you see is very well dressed, and there is a pretty good fashion statement. People like to dress in neutral colors and look good before they go for a stroll around town. Also, people usually only wear tennis shoes when they are going for a run, to workout or do something outside.

6. In España, conservation is a very important topic, which has drawn interest to me since I am enthusiastic about environmental topics. The main reason for this is because electricity and water are very expensive resources and utilities. I reckon water is highly priced because southern Spain is a very dry region, and desalination from the sea is to my understanding has a rather steep price. Moral of the story is to keep lights off when you’re not using them and take quick showers (like 5 minutes max!). Also, many Spaniards do not have dryers because it racks up the bill, and it’s more common to air dry everything outside or in the bathroom. I am lucky that my host mom has one, but we don’t use it much. If you are someone who likes the feeling of ‘shrinking’ back into your jeans, I advise you to buy them a tad small in the first place here.

7. Similar to conservation is the idea of public transportation and walkable cities. This is somewhat new to me since I haven’t lived in the heart of a city before, but Alicante has everything in close proximity. You can find a Farmacía, market, café, restaurant, bank and cell phone store on pretty much every block. Many people ride buses and the train to school and work as well. The price of gas is rather high, and people in Spain drive recklessly so I wouldn’t want a car here anyways!

8. Trying to quit smoking? Don’t come to Spain or Europe for that matter. Almost everyone smokes here, so it would be that much harder to burn out that habit! Also, the drinking age is 18, but people don’t abuse it as much as I feel college students in the states do. It is rather common to just have one beer with lunch or dinner in Spain or some Sangria.

9. Olive oil is a huge industry, so it’s heavily used. Spain provides about 25% of the world’s olive oil and 50% of Europe’s. In my cooking class, Antonio (the chef instructor) comes around to our respective stations and I usually predict his words …”más aciete, más aciete” or add more olive oil! One common brunch snack or lunch entrée is toasted bread with olive oil and shaved tomato on the top.

10. Further in the food category is related to what all of us college kids survive on, coffee. The size of coffee is completely opposite of your average Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, but rather very small cups and almost shot size. This is because there is a lot of espresso and the coffee is much stronger here. Another thing that doesn’t exist is ice coffee and refrigerated milk at the supermarket. Mercadona or the market stores have cartons of milk just sitting at luke-warm temperature on the shelves! I have yet to see chocolate milk too (besides Nesquick).

11. JamónJamón. Jamón. More jamón. Let me just say that right now in my kitchen my host mom has the whole thigh of a pig, hoof included, just sitting under towels ready for some jamón to be shaved off and eaten. Ham is very popular especially on bocadillos (sandwiches) in Spain, but also on chips. Of course there are jamón flavored Ruffles!

12. Tapas are also a big difference, and most comparable to appetizers in the states. When at a restaurant or bar you can order a beer/drink and pay a little extra for a small plate of food, but if you’re lucky it will be gratis or free. Some popular tapas are potatoes with meat, ham and mantiditos (little sandwiches), and the best I have had to date were in Granada! Going from bar to bar can definitely be a substitute for dinner on some nights.

13. The concept of tipping when eating out is much different. In the states waiters, make a very low wage and bank on getting awesome tips, making service and the quality of it very important. In Spain, waiters make a higher-based salary, which makes for not the greatest service, and for this, a very little to no tip is usually left at the end of the meal. My one friend left about a 20% tip out to eat once and the waitress came running out to tell her she left money on the table!

14. Sundays in both the states and Spain are a day to relax, go to church, be with family and maybe go out to eat. The only difference in Spain is that literally nothing is open in the whole city besides some restaurants. Unless it is a really nice day, Alicante on Sundays feels like a ghost town!

15. Next, whereas it is common to invite company over to your house for some movies, a poker night or to just hangout in the states, people in Spain do not socialize in the house. The only people who really visit my apartment are my host sister’s boyfriend, and socializing normally takes place at local cafés, plazas or out on the town.

16. Lastly, since fast food is popular in the states, I thought I would mention that Alicante has McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Subway! I can’t tell you how they taste differently because I am making a pact with myself to eat no fast food while I’m here. However, one thing I could say is that the bigger chains have more elaborate design to them, have very large eating spaces and seem to be a hangout spot for younger kids!

Phew, you made it through the Sweet 16. Now is your chance to leave comments about what place you think would be better to live!

Hasta luegoo,
Sak (man am I really embracing this name, which could be a bad thing…)

Ale Ale Jandro, Ali Ali Cante

Ale Ale Jandro, Ali Ali Cante

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The time has come! I have finally settled into the new place I will call home for the semester. After another long night in Madrid and one more endless bus ride, our USAC group pulled up to la Plaza de Luceros only to meet our landlords and new host families. I told myself that I would study all my Spanish notes from previous years before I left, but that never happened. I resorted to deciphering lyrics by Michel Teló, Belanova, Fonseca and Juanes. This was my only practice of Spanish before I met my host family.

So after every study abroad student’s luggage was pulled off of the bus, I was the very last student to meet my new fam. I exchanged “besos” with Pilar and Sandra, a custom in Spain when meeting or greeting someone. They helped carry some of my luggage to the apartment, and I tried to start and grasp my surroundings because on my first day back from class I was nearly lost! I definitely am happy with my family and it helps to have two people in the household, especially when I can’t fully understand something they both are able to explain it to me. Pilar works for a little gift, wedding and homemaker shop in downtown Alicante, and Sandra works as a dentist’s assistant nearby. Part of my new little family is three English Cocker Spaniels – Carla, Lola and Luna.

I take the train to class everyday, which is a lot faster than the bus line and it’s a five-minute walk from my apartment. At the Universidad de Alicante, I am taking composition, conversation and Spanish for business classes as well as Spanish cuisine, dancing and sailing. The university is much bigger than Mount Union, and approximately around 25,000 students. It also was previously an airbase but has updated with modern architecture and features many palm, orange and pomegranate trees. I can’t wait until it gets a little warmer here!

The thing Alicante is most known for is the Castillo de Santa Barbara, one of the largest medieval fortresses in all of Europe. The castle covers the complete summit of the Benacantil Mountain and was originally built by the Moors in the 10th century, influenced much by the nearby continent of Africa. The castle received its name from the conquest of King Alfonse the Wise that took place on December 4, 1248 – Saint Barbara’s day. The castle seems to be the highlight and main point of interest in Alicante, with great 360-degree views! There is also La Explanada, a hallmark and symbol of tourism in the city of Alicante. The mosaic tiles stretch for many blocks aside the Mediterranean port and are home to many street vendors and crowds. Fútbol is one of the biggest things in Spain and Alicante has a team called Hércules CF. The team is in the Segunda Division but hope to return to La Liga after this season, where well known teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona play. I was fortunate to experience my first professional soccer match between Hércules and SD Huesca, where Samuel and Tote netted a goal a piece to give the home team a victory.

One last highlight of Alicante would have to be my favorite restaurant thus far: Cervecería 100 Montaditos. This chain serves many drinks, salads and appetizers, but is know for its 100 different types of bocadillos (smaller sandwiches). Although I absolutely love the home cooked meals from Pilar, Wednesday nights are certainly ones I look forward to since everything on the menu is only 1 euro. Yes, everything! My friends and I definitely took advantage of this deal, and plan to almost every Wednesday. We ate a lot of tasty food for only about 6 euro ($8). As you can see, Alicante is already treating me well, and like the Olsen Twins, Spain is acting like my Holiday in the Sun.

Video Scholarship Contest – Vote for Me!

Video Scholarship Contest – Vote for Me!

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I recently applied for the Grand Trunk Study Abroad Scholarship for my spring semester in Alicante, Spain and need your help! Students were asked to submit a video and explain how he or she has a unique and inspired passion for travel, a desire to experience new places with an open mind, to see the delicate interconnections between humankind and nature and have a deep understanding of intercultural relations.

Like Grand Trunk, I share an incredible passion for the outdoors and am adamant about protecting our wild and natural places here on this earth. This reason, along with many other similarities between my lifestyle and values, is why I feel I can add value to the brand as a Grand Trunk Ambassador. Ultimately, I love encountering new experiences, and I define these experiences as travels that stay with you for the rest of your life. I believe travel can add value to our lives like nothing else. Travel teaches compassion, humility and a desire to realize the interconnectedness of our experiences here on this planet. For me, what I enjoy most, is sharing these connections through the images produced from my journeys and documenting their stories on my blog.

Vote at http://studyabroad.grandtrunkgoods.com/project/zak-suhar-the-ultimate-traveler/

There will be a public voting period from December 1 – December 31 to narrow down entries to only six. Then, from January 1 – January 3, Grand Trunk employees and sponsors will determine a total of three winners. There are scholarship rewards for three students along with an awesome prize pack! I really hope you can help me in the voting period by posting my video to Facebook, tweeting and emailing friends who would be willing to support me. Each person can vote up to five times a day throughout the whole month of December, and I hope you can remember to vote as much as possible! You can watch my video at the link above, then select “vote for this video” and login through Facebook to submit your votes.

Thank you for all your support, and I cannot wait to share incredible experiences with you!

“Travel often, getting lost will help you find yourself.”

Study Abroad, Travel Often – Getting Lost Will Help You Find Yourself

Study Abroad, Travel Often – Getting Lost Will Help You Find Yourself

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A study abroad experience is truly an adventure, one where you are exposed to an unknown area but where you can ultimately find yourself. The decision of going abroad is a challenge, but being immersed in a totally different culture is something I could not pass up. Mark Twain said it best. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” I hope to not only discover and learn many new things about a foreign place, but also to discover new things about myself and what my true purpose really is. This, along with many other reasons, are why I want to study abroad in Alicante, Spain.

Taking the opportunity to study overseas will definitely help me broaden my horizons. I anticipate meeting many new people and creating relationships that will last for a long time. I also want to explore a language and culture that I have been studying ever since middle school. You can only learn so much by practicing speaking and reading about cultural activities. Being able to put all these things into an actual experience will be second to none. Going abroad will also challenge me to travel on a budget and be able to effectively live on my own. I hope to become even more independent as my spring semester progresses in Spain.

Alicante is a Mediterranean port city in the southeastern part of Spain, which has a sunny climate, beautiful beaches, tall mountains and a rich culture and nightlife. I plan on swimming, surfing, sailing and enjoying the four-mile-long beach of San Juan, which is considered one of the finest in all of Spain. One thing I cannot wait to experience are the many festivals that will be going on in Spain such as Carnaval in Barcelona, Fallas de San Jose in Valencia, La Feria de Abril in Sevilla and Cruces de Mayo in Grenada. This is the one thing I look forward to the most … experiencing the richness and taste of real Spanish culture.

Overall, I have been waiting for a study abroad experience for some time, and I cannot wait to fly into Spain. There are many things I will learn from the experience, and hope to grow personally. I also look forward to taking interesting courses that can apply right to my major. I do not want to be disappointed in the things that I have not done, so it is time to explore. My brother recently shared with me an article with the 50 most inspiring travel quotes of all time. Here are some of my favorite quotes, and I can’t believe that in about only one month I will be in the air flying to Spain!

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” -Lao Tzu

‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” -St. Augustine

“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

“Less is more: the art of voluntary poverty – an anthology of ancient and modern voices in praise of simplicity. This adventure is truly an exercise in simplifying modern life.”

“I don’t worry so much about the destination, I prefer to enjoy the journey and see what we discover together along the way.”

“Travel is the only investment with guaranteed returns. Count on it.”

“He went into the wilderness not primarily to ponder nature or the world at large but, rather, to explore the inner country of his own soul.”

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” -Mark Jenkins

¡Voy a España! 5 Study Abroad Tips

¡Voy a España! 5 Study Abroad Tips

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It was truly a weird, different and complex feeling I had when I booked my flight to Spain the other day, but nonetheless very exciting. During the spring semester of 2012, I will be traveling to Alicante, Spain to study at the University of Alicante. Alicante is a Mediterranean port city in the southeastern part of Spain, which has a sunny climate, beautiful beaches, tall mountains and rich culture and nightlife. I plan on swimming, surfing, sailing and enjoying the four-mile-long beach of San Juan, which is considered one of the finest in all of Spain.

Taking this opportunity to study overseas will definitely help me broaden my horizons. I anticipate meeting many new people and creating relationships that will last for a long time. I also want to explore a language and culture that I have been studying since middle school. You can only learn so much by practicing speaking and reading about cultural activities. Being able to put all these things into an actual experience will be second to none. Going abroad also will challenge me to travel on a budget and be able to effectively live on my own. I hope to become even more independent as my spring semester progresses in Spain.

Deciding to apply to this program directly reflects and relates to my academic program at Mount Union. I am pursuing majors in business management and Spanish and a minor in environmental science. Almost all of the classes I will be taking in Alicante will transfer to Mount Union and be credited towards my Spanish major. I also hope to take some cultural emersion courses that may be able to cover some of my general education requirements.

The application process was quite a long one, and I am still working on getting all my materials in. Since this can get very stressful I provided 5 essential tips for helping you study abroad.

1. Choose a program that offers what you want. Mount Union partners with USAC, which has many great things to offer, however there are other programs as well. Things to keep in mind are homestays, excursions, field studies, job opportunities, costs and if credits can transfer!

2. Read through everything! It is important to read over all the documents that are sent to you from cover to cover. You don’t want to miss important information and any materials that should have been submitted. Also, make sure your passport is up to date. Mine was not and this really complicated the process!

3. Create lists and be organized. It is very easy to get lost in all the documents you need to turn in. Create a checklist, and make sure you are up to speed with forms and deadlines.

4. Patience is a virtue. Once you apply for the study abroad program, you have to see if you get in. Once you apply for visas and a passport if you don’t already have one, you have to wait. Be aware that all the paperwork for studying abroad takes time, but should all work out in the end.

5. Be open to change. I cannot wait to experience something new, but in an entirely different culture. Take risks, do the unordinary, discover new things.

Here is some other food for thought I would like to share. I don’t worry so much about the destination, I prefer to enjoy the journey and see what we discover together along the way. Also, I figure you can either lead a path of mediocrity and let life decide your path or you can open yourself up to the world and see what happens. I feel that those who take the risk get more out of life. Man, I can’t wait to start exploring Spain, but also to explore the inner country of my own soul.