the home stretch

the portada and ubiquitous lanterns of feria.

Well. Long time no see.

After my last post ten million years ago, I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking I’d completely given up on blogging this experience because I’m so miserable. Not the case. What really happened was I decided to give myself some time to process this experience (the good and the bad) without the added pressure of analyzing it for anyone who might care to read. A good choice, as it turns out. The last few months have been amazing. Not perfect, because that’s unrealistic in any situation, but I finally feel like I belong here.

I’ve spent this time becoming truly close to my friends here (both Spanish and foreign) and doing what I can to soak up the last of my time. It’s weird to realize just how little of that I have left – just the other night, my friend Juan asked me when I was going home.

“June twenty-second,” I answered, “so not for a while.”

“Isn’t that, like, two months from now?”

Um. Yes. Yes, it is.

It took Juan saying that number for me to really get it: this is going to end. I’m going to go home and chow down at Irving Street Kitchen with my mom, hang out with my sister at the barn, beg my dad to run to the store for more Diet Coke. I’m going to drive down to Eugene and see everyone at Triple Rise, move in with my new roommates, take classes. In English. I can’t even imagine.

So I’m choosing not to. This week was Feria, the event I’ve most been looking forward to my whole time here in Sevilla. I could try to explain it to you in words, throw in a few inadequate still images in a feeble attempt to illustrate the atmosphere, but I decided I’d try something a little different: I made a movie! The camerawork isn’t the best – no tripod + endless booze and dancing = shaky hands. But I can’t help but smile while I watch it. Special thanks to Naomi, Alvaro, Marisa, Jose, Clara, Maria, Erika, and Greer for appearing – you look faaaabulous. And to the rest of you, I hope you like it!

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the truth about study abroad

I’ve been in Spain for nearly six months now. I’ve seen a lot of great things, traveled to a ton of cool places, and met many new friends. I party my ass off, take long walks, and study hard when the moment requires. I’ve immersed myself in this society as much as I can and I’m wildly, perfectly happy here – or at least, that’s what you’d think if you read my blog or stalked my Facebook. But here’s the truth: what I tell you about my time abroad is only a small portion. I leave out the frustrating phone conversations with my horseback riding trainer, who was supposed to pick me up at 4:30 but didn’t and then called me twelve times while I was on the metro and couldn’t understand whether he wanted me to wait at the station or walk to the barn. I don’t mention the insatiable craving I feel for a goddamn Subway sandwich, followed by the even worse guilt over my inherent and unshakeable Americanness. I keep mum about the nagging feeling that I’m not truly taking advantage of my time here that I get when I stay in and watch movies on a Friday night. And then worse, the inadequacy I feel over the fact that I’ve been here so long and still haven’t made a truly close Spanish friend. I look at some of the other girls who’ve been here since September and they have Spanish boyfriends, for God’s sake, and even though I don’t really want a relationship, I feel somehow less-than.

When you see the life I put out on the Internet, you’re really only seeing the best ten percent of what I do here. You don’t see all the boring days where I don’t do much more than go to class and do homework after, or the petty squabble I have with a friend, or the nights I go out for a beer or two then turn in early. And you definitely don’t see the moments when I break down and just want to go home.

Which, in case you hadn’t guessed, is right now.

In a lot of ways, I think that’s dishonest of me. While I was getting everything together to come out here, all I heard about studying abroad was how awesome it was going to be. Every person I talked to (including the woman working the phones at Chase who made sure my debit card wouldn’t get flagged while I was abroad) gushed over my trip. Past study abroaders fed me story after story of endless fun. And at first, Sevilla was like that. I devoured this city.

But at a certain point, this stopped being a vacation for me. I thought I could outrun my social anxiety and introversion, but of course that’s impossible. I had this image of myself as Sevillana Katy, some sort of study abroad alter ego. And that Katy was fun and adventurous, organized and driven but always up for a spontaneous night out. She would strike up conversations with everyone and snap street photos without fear. But that person doesn’t really exist – at the end of the day, I still start to sweat when I ask someone if I can take their photo. I still long for quiet nights in with a terrible movie and too much Diet Coke. I still come off as stand-offish, or worse, boring, to new acquaintances thanks to my debilitating shyness in groups. None of that went away simply because I ran off to Spain.

It’s funny, this has been one of the hardest things to write and put out there. I want everyone back home to believe I’m having this unreal time. When people, even some of my closest friends, ask how I’m doing I invariably answer “incredible” or “amazing” or some other superlative. “I may never come home,” I say. I’ve been feeding the stereotype that it’s all good times, all the time. It feels wrong. So here you go, readers: study abroad is not always fun. It’s real life. Ups and downs happen, and I think on a more extreme scale than back home. So if you’re planning to go abroad anytime soon, try not to idealize it too much before you leave. Because sooner or later you’re going to have a terrible day – there’s no need to make it worse by feeling bad about feeling bad.

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mix master

jardin des tuileries, paris.

Confession: I did not just encounter this girl on the street. This is Julia, a study abroad student in Paris and an old friend of my friend Naomi. She hung out with us for a couple of the days we were in town, and for one of them she was rocking a seriously sick outfit.

Another confession: that compliment sort of applies to me as well.

See, three out of the seven items you can see in this photo are mine. Julia borrowed my pants, belt, and hat as well as Naomi’s tank top for a little sightseeing trek. (A perk of traveling with girls around your size – triple the wardrobe options!) I love seeing how differently two people can wear the same clothes. When I rock these burgundy jeans, I go for nerdy prep – button downs, v-neck sweaters, navy blazers. Naomi’s style tends towards effortless, 90’s-inspired layers. But even though she put most of the outfit together with our clothes, Julia is all rock star in this photo. Her punky boots and the hardware on her bag add just the right amount of edge, and I’m seriously jealous of how hard she’s rocking that hat. I wore it out the next day on our bagel run and when I sat down in the deli, I realized I was dressed exactly like the Hasidic man chowing down at the table next to me.

Embarrassing.

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at any age

4th arrondissement, paris.

In case you hadn’t heard, I made it to France for the first time a few weeks ago. I went originally with the idea of model-stalking during Haute Couture Week, but it turns out it’s kinda hard to make yourself spend five days sulking outside fashion shows when you’ve never seen Paris before. Lucky for me, good style is fairly easy to stumble upon in the City of Lights, even in the dead of winter. This woman caught my eye during a pilgrimage for bagels in the 4th arrondissement. From far away, I thought she was an Agyness Deyn-esque hipster type, but as I approached her I realized she was no 20-something – and I love that. In Portland, I rarely see women over 30 take fashion risks like this. Paris is full of the young and beautiful, but I felt like it was this woman who embodied the city’s style.

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nochevieja

cava and sweet treats from the parador de san francisco in granada.

Every once in a while, I look around at my life and I wonder if this is all real. Is this actually happening to me? Right now, on the first day of 2012, I can’t believe that I’ve been this lucky. This is a post I wrote on December 31 while drinking a cafe con leche at one of my favorite bars, essentially waiting for the year to end. I’ve chosen to add in a few images of my Christmas break traveling with my family.

my mom, sister, and i wandering the alhambra on christmas day.

It’s the last few hours of maybe the most transitional and eventful year of my life to date and I’m more in limbo now than I’ve ever been. The majority of the students in my program, many of them good friends, have returned to the States for good. Christmas has come and gone and with it, my mom and sister, who I probably won’t be seeing until I get back home. I’ve packed up my room in Asa’s house and will only be going back to pick everything up on my way to my new apartment. I’m only ten hours away from 2012, but I’m completely at a loss to picture what this next year will look like. It’s almost as daunting as stepping onto that first leg of my flight to Sevilla almost four months ago.

shoppers in madrid admire the turrón (nougat) offerings.

With all this change coming in the next month, I’ve been thinking a lot about resolutions. I make a lot of them, and not just around New Year’s. As evidenced by my (rather extensive) list of goals I wrote for my year abroad, I tend to think ahead. And right now, I’m feeling the need to spend a little time thinking about what I want from this experience. After all, even though I’ve finished up the first half of my schoolwork, I still have at least six months of time left here, and I want to make sure I’m really taking advantage of this incredible opportunity.

poinsettias and christmas lights in the mercado de san miguel, madrid.

See how I did on my goals from 2011 as well as my new goals for 2012, after the jump.

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la sevillana

alfonso xii

 

More than any other photo I’ve taken in the last three months, this one represents the modern Spanish woman to me. I mean, check this girl out. Bold red lipstick, both sexily feminine and unabashedly powerful at the same time. A borrowed-from-the-boys tweed coat accented with edgy leather sleeves that still manages to show off her waist. Tailored shorts. Chunky, heeled oxfords (sorry you can’t see them…I really have to learn to keep my hair tied back so I can see what’s going on in my viewfinder!). I mean, she’s wearing a sheer, snakeskin-patterned blouse buttoned all the way up for goodness’ sake!

What I see in the classic but sexy style of Spanish women is a serious self-awareness. These ladies aren’t ashamed to be ladies. They know the power of their sexuality, but they also know it doesn’t need to be exaggerated. Just like this woman, they can be completely covered up – honestly, there’s not a shred of skin showing from neck to toes – and yet still be absolutely sure that they look sexy. I love that. What I see in America is either an over-emphasis of femininity – low-cut tops, slits up to here, bows, frills, sparkles, etc. – or a complete rejection of anything that can be interpreted as sexy (I’m looking at you, Mom Jeans). I think we can really learn from the balance this woman exemplifies – sartorially, and in life as well.

Or, you know, just marvel at her awesome style.

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how to take it with you: packing for study abroad

Dear future study abroaders,

If you are anything like me, you are probably panicking right now. After all, you’re leaving for a whole semester in less than a month – how the hell do you pack for something like that? I made list upon list from May up until the day before I caught my plane, and as previously discussed, I still failed miserably.

So here’s my (incomplete) guide to building a study abroad wardrobe. It’s not everything you need by any means, nor is it everything you want. But it’s a start. Pick and choose from each category, prune where you want, and add in what you’ll die without. Just try not to go overboard – those baggage fees are no joke.

To see all my tips, read on!

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la vida extremeña

the alleys of caceres's jewish quarter.

I’m starting to realize how much I like traveling alone. I don’t have to worry if I’m boring my travel companions. I can eat when and what I want. And if I get lost, I can wander at leisure until I eventually find my way back to a place I recognize. I think that’s the best part of traveling – turning up a street just because you like the look of the cobblestones, or ducking into a cafe solely based on the cute sign. A few weeks ago, I was sent to Extremadura for an interview and got the chance to do just that. I was headed to an isolated farm in the middle of nowhere and ended up spending the night in the small city of Caceres, which I had never heard of before I bought my bus ticket.

When I pulled into the city that Friday night, Caceres looked like any modern town in Spain – blockish apartment complexes, department stores, freeways. I was glad I would be leaving at 7 the next morning. But when I went hunting for a bocadillo at dinnertime, I found this.

the plaza mayor of caceres. a lovely place to stop for a coffee and people watch!

Turns out, Caceres’s medieval walled city is a UNESCO heritage site – just like Toledo. I immediately extended my stay a night so I could explore all day Sunday. All thanks to a lucky right turn as I stepped out the front door of my hotel.

To be honest, Caceres can be seen in a day. But i liked having time to turn up random streets as I felt like it. I didn’t even have a map – I had no idea what the important sights even were, let alone how to find them. And that was nice. So if you have a day or two, check out Caceres. Or any little town on your way to the next must-see city (I’m looking at you three, Madrid, Barcelona, and Granada!). You just might be surprised.

bougainvillea in the casco antiguo.

If you go…

Stay: Hotel los Naranjos. Clean and cheap, los Naranjos has a great staff. They’ll even be nice to you when you wake them out of a deep sleep at 5 am when you hit the doorbell accidentally on your way out. Not that I’ve done that. It’s located just outside the Casco Antiguo, and about a 5-10 minute bus ride from the main bus station.

Eat: At any of the little carnicerias lining the streets. You can order a sandwich made fresh with the best jamon iberico in the country and delicious sheep’s milk cheese for under 3 euros.

See: The whole old city. Climb the wall (free on Sundays!), walk through the cobbled streets, and stop when you feel like it. It’s worth it, I promise.

caceres seen through the arrow slits in the citadel walls.

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thankful

the feast!

So Thanksgiving happened, and it was a grand success – or at least good enough to eat the leftovers in two days. It was quiet and cozy, just like it always is at home. We had just four people around the little dining room table – Asa, Elisabeth, my friend Michelle, and myself of course – which is just how I like it. I didn’t even mess up the turkey roulades, though there was a brief panic moment when I opened the package from the butcher to find an in-tact chest cavity (complete with aorta!) instead of the neat, boneless breasts I’d been expecting. Luckily, Fali (what a name for a butcher!) is a lovely man and was perfectly willing to chop it up for me when I went back to see what could be done. And even though I accidentally got fava beans instead of green beans, and I ran out of time before I could do the gravy, and a million other little things, by the time we were all sitting together it just didn’t matter.

I have to say, I was initially expecting some serious homesickness on the day. In the week leading up to our Friday night feast, I was aching to get back to Portland, if just for the holiday meal. I went through most of last week in a bit of a daze. See, I may joke a lot about my love of Thanksgiving stemming from my inner fat kid, but if I’m honest (and a little sappy) it’s more the family time I’m in to. The dinner is great, sure, but I wouldn’t mind giving all the food away in exchange for wine-soaked bickering with my mom over dirty dishes, a knowing smile and roll of the eyes from my dad when I ask him to run to the store for the fifth time, and my sister sneaking a taste of the desserts when she thinks I’m not looking. That’s Thanksgiving to me – loud, bustling, dirty, imperfect Thanksgiving, and I didn’t think any imitation I could slap together here would stand up to the real thing.

Of course, my holiday wasn’t anything like my family’s version. That experience is unique to that specific group of people. I couldn’t recreate it in any other setting. But what I got was just as good. I don’t think I realized before we all sat down to the huge meal I’d made on my own, in my host mother’s kitchen, just how much this place feels like home. Asa and Elisabeth are my family now. This third-floor walk-up apartment on the river is where I live. I haven’t lost my roots back in Oregon, but after almost three months in Sevilla I feel like I belong here. And that’s never been clearer to me than when I was shoveling my second helping of stuffing into my mouth. It was the most American meal I’ve had in months, but it was my meal, made in my adopted home in my adopted city. I’ll never be all Spanish – you can’t change where you’re from – but this place is part of my DNA now.

A while ago, Asa, Elisabeth, and I were browsing the fish selection at a market on Calle Feria. Asa asked one of the vendors about his salmon, and the woman behind her in line began giving her all sorts of suggestions. “In Spain, we traditionally like to grill them a la plancha,” the woman said, somewhat bossily. “If you want to experience real Spanish culture, that’s how you should cook  them.” Of course, Asa didn’t need this woman to tell her that – she’s lived in Spain since she was nine years old. But later, as we sat down to salmoneta filets for lunch, Asa just shrugged it off, smiling.

“You can’t get rid of who you are,” she said. “I’m Swedish. I was raised in a Swedish household. No matter how long I live here, people will be able to look at me and know I’m not Spanish. But who says that’s a bad thing? We all have our roots.”

That’s how I feel about my life here in Sevilla. I will never fool these people into thinking I’m a native. Even if I live here for forty more years, I’ll still have a faint accent. I’ll still love stuffing and pumpkin pie and wearing hoodies when it’s cold out. But I can make myself a part of the landscape here. And on this Monday evening, just a few days after Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the opportunity.

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tradition eats turkey on thanksgiving

bon appetit 1999, from tomfolio.com

My family is definitely non-traditional. In my lifetime, we have lived in four houses in three states, all in completely different areas of the country. My father has been a doctor, a lawyer, and some sort of business consultant (sorry Dad, I really have no idea what you call it) – and that’s just in my lifetime. My mom is a lady badass in the traditionally male-dominated field of medicine. My 13-year-old sister is into photography and writing fan fiction about talking cats (or something). We’re just too busy for big holiday traditions. To be honest, we sort of just shrug off Christmas most of the time. We don’t have a secret fruitcake recipe, passed down from generation to generation. We don’t do big family holiday get-togethers with kids’ tables and white elephant gifts. We don’t do blazing fires and chestnuts and caroling and hot cocoa. Sometimes Addie and I make weird gingerbread houses – Christmas in the Ninth Ward is a memorable example – but usually we just hang up a couple of dusty stockings and wrap presents in Wheat Thins boxes.

But what we lack in Christmas spirit, we make up for in Thanksgiving obsession.

I don’t think anybody in the world loves Thanksgiving as much as I do. I’m not sure how we as a family got so into it, but I know it has something to do with my mom, a Bon Appetit subscription, and her college roommates. Still, it’s grown to epic proportions in recent years as my interest in cooking has taken hold. This is a take-no-prisoners, no-dish-left-behind sort of deal. One year, when the last Thursday in November turned out to be the coldest, rainiest, windiest day yet, my mom spent 10 hours on our deck, smoking the turkey on a charcoal grill. We ate around 11 that year, but it was the best turkey EVER.

So this is serious. Planning begins the moment we wake up from our Halloween candy-induced sugar comas. We pull out every November issue of Bon Appetit since 1987 and lay them out on the floor, flipping through page after page of potatoes, stuffings, and pies until a menu takes form. We don’t mess around either – there might only be five of us around the table come dinner time, but there’s at least ten dishes in front of us. And an extra batch of stuffing in the freezer for later. It’s one of my favorite nights of the year.

And as that night is rapidly approaching, I’m finding myself a smidge homesick. I’ve been abroad for Thanksgiving before, but last time I was on a beach in Uruguay, eating barbecue with no idea what day it was. South American summer tends to make you forget it’s late fall back home. But here, the weather won’t let me forget that I ought to be thinking about whether to brine or dry rub my bird this year.

Luckily, my host family is as interested in having a taste (or twelve) of this amazing American feast as I am in cooking it. This Friday night, I’ll be serving up Thanksgiving Lite for a group of Swedes and Spaniards. It’ll be my first time cooking Thanksgiving alone, but I’m confident I can do it. To see my menu, read on!

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