A Tale of Two Dinner Tables

Before I get started on the wonderful dinner party I attended, I want to give a quick recap of what’s happened here in the past few days.

On Friday, I was able to meet up in Sevilla with my great friend Melissa, who’s currently studying abroad in Granada. It was so great catching up with her and her friend Sarah. They stayed in a hostel right by the Catedral de Sevilla and I got to see their hostel (which was clean, bright, not in a sketchy area, etc.). While I know that not all hostels are the same, this did give me hope that my (hopefully) future stays in hostels will also be positive experiences.

Melissa, Sarah and I had DELICIOUS tapas, and then strolled around Sevilla for a bit. We got some gelato and then headed to a free flamenco show! Then on Saturday I traveled with CIEE to Cadiz, an historic and beautiful seaside town about 90 minutes away from Sevilla. We toured the town for a bit, then headed to a castle/old fort/lighthouse at the edge of a peninsula and then ended the day at the beach!

Well, “ended the day” isn’t exactly right, because little did I know that when I came back home, the real fun would start. Alvaro, my host-mom’s son, is heading off to Poland on Monday to study abroad for the year. To celebrate/send him off, Antonia hosted a dinner party at our house/apartment for about 13 family members.

To be honest, I was pretty nervous about a Spanish dinner party – what if I didn’t understand what people were saying (or understood less than I normally do?) Would it be awkward being the only non-family member there? The list of my worries went on and on, but as soon as the family members arrived, I felt much more comfortable. We all sat outside on Antonia’s terrace, under the stars on a perfect September night (yes, night, not evening, since we didn’t eat dinner until around 10:30!)

And then I realized why I felt so comfortable – it’s because Antonia’s family is, at its heart, quasi-identical to mine! Take, for example, Antonia’s mom, who was almost identical to my grandmother, whom I lovingly call “Dundee.” Both grandmas have a bit of difficulty walking and hearing, care immensely about their family, clearly are full of love, want their children and grandchildren to keep eating even though you’re definitely still not hungry AND AT RANDOM TIMES ASK WHERE THE CAT IS.

Although I couldn’t catch all of the conversation that Antonia and her family members were having, I did realize that they were talking about Alvaro’s impending departure and how he’s a bit excited and nervous (much like how I felt 16 days ago!) and what papers/documentation he needs, what suitcases he’ll be bringing, etc. It was weird essentially re-living my days before study abroad, but this time all in Spanish!

Another interesting aspect was that people’s weight was brought up multiple times at the dinner table. In fact, Antonia’s sister went and weighed herself during dinner, and when she came back, proudly announced that she was the same weight as yesterday. Gaining weight does not seem to be frowned upon quite like it is in the US, but people here do “value” being skinny. It’s an interesting dynamic, to say the least.

Antonia was acting just like how my mom acts at a dinner party (complete with worrying if everyone is ok, making absolutely delicious food, sitting closest to the kitchen so she could continue running in and out to get things, etc.) The food itself could be a whole other blog post, but it was simply delicious – meats with rich sauces, potatoes with peppers and egg mixed in (which I know might sound weird, but trust me, it’s delicious!), and then to top it all off, dessert was this amazing cookie-cake made by Antonia’s sister. It was a remarkable evening, and I’m so glad I was able to be a part of this amazing family gathering.

TGT: 1) All the above 2) Touring the Catedrál de Sevilla and the Giralda (a beautiful tower where you can see 360-degrees of Sevilla below) 3) Going to mass in Spanish (which, for anyone who’s curious, is only 30 minutes long here and does not include any music, but is held in absolutely beautiful cathedrals!)

Hasta la pasta,
~JK

Spain, Week 1

Greetings from España! I’ve been here since last Monday, but recently realized that I haven’t provided any updates (besides Facebook pictures and Snapchat stories!)

So I shall start from the beginning. Monday night I stayed in a hotel, and then Tuesday morning I went to my homestay! My homestay is an apartment in an apartment complex (complete with a gorgeous, shared courtyard in the middle). I have my own (tiny) bedroom and bathroom. I realized that this is the first time since I’ve been “at” Harvard that I’ve never had a roommate (i.e. I’ve had roommates during both school years and both summers that I’ve been at school, but they’ve been some pretty great girls, so I’m not complaining!)

My host mom’s name is Antonia (and she has a boyfriend named Antonio!) She also has two sons. Alvaro is still living with her now since he’s still on summer vacation, and José Alberto is living and working a few hours away as a lifeguard. Alvaro is leaving to study abroad for a year in Poland on Sept. 22nd and Jose Alberto will return to the house right around then. Antonia also has a cat, Oliver, who unlike my cat Shamu, really actually seems to like me.

Most of this past week was spent doing orientation-y things (which mainly consisted of walking around Sevilla, getting a tour of the Universidad de Sevilla, seeing CIEE’s study center, attending health and safety meetings, getting a Spanish cell phone, etc.)

Spaniards speak incredibly quickly, and I’m learning that there is a steep learning curve for this! However, I’m so lucky that I have Antonia to talk to when I come home. To be honest, I was trying to speak 100% in Spanish from the moment I stepped off the plane in Sevilla. When my fellow American students started speaking in English, at first I was quite bummed. However, I now realize that I think that speaking (at times) in English really helped us bond as a group. We are now starting to speak more in Spanish, and it’s a lot easier now that we know each other so well.

One of the best parts about my homestay is that I get three home-cooked meals a day! The food here is (carb)-heavy, but delicious! The meal times, however, have taken some getting used to. I’m essentially on a 9-3-9 schedule (breakfast around 9 am, lunch around 3pm and dinner around 9pm). This is probably the hardest adjustment (besides the language, obliviously!) that I’ve had to make while I’ve been over here, but slowly but surely I’m making progress. Also, shout out to Luna Bars, which have become my saving grace here.

This past Monday, I started my intensive advanced grammar course (3 straight hours of Spanish grammar, 5 days a week – what fun!) It is actually incredibly useful (especially since my English spelling/grammar isn’t the best!)

Other than the orientation, the other really exciting thing that happened in the past week was going to a beach called Matalascañas on Saturday. As you may be aware, the beach is quite literally my favorite place in the world, and I had a blast swimming and just enjoying the sunshine. On Sunday I visited Alcazar, a breathtaking palace and garden in the heart of central Sevilla.

TGT (I guess I’ll do “three good things” from this past week!) 1) Going to the beach 2) tapas at the top of the Metropol building 3) making new friends in Sevilla

Hasta la pasta,
~JK

Intro to Spain/Summer Recap

¡Hola! It’s me again, hopping across the Atlantic for a third time in the past year and a half. I’m so excited to finally be going to Europe – even with all my previous travels, I have never actually set foot outside of a European airport before in my life!

But I guess I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let me explain the who/what/where/when/why of what I’m doing this semester. This semester I’m studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain. I’ll be receiving credit from Harvard (so long as I pass my courses, which is easier said than done in Spain, where it is very common to not pass courses on the first try!) I’m studying abroad via a company called CIEE, which facilitates study abroad programs quite literally all around the world. I’ll essentially be diving into Spanish language/culture headfirst – I’m staying at a homestay with a local family and direct-enrolling in La Universidad de Sevilla (both of which are terrifying prospects, since my Spanish is good, but by no means perfect!)

But I guess that brings me to one of the real reason why I’m doing this. I’ll admit that I’m usually kind of a perfectionist. And Spanish is definitely something that I’m not perfect at. Yes, that’s terrifying, but it’s also kind of cool, in a way, knowing that it’s something I can constantly improve on and don’t need to be 100% perfect at right from day one. Also, I love Harvard, but it is an incredibly intense place, and I feel as though I needed to get away for a bit. Especially growing up a 30-minute drive away from campus, I really want to get out and see more of the world!

Another random tidbit is that I’m not exactly sure the exact length of my stay here! This is less dramatic than it sounds, though – depending on the professors and/or classes I take, I might be able to come home in late December, but if some professors won’t move their exams for me, I might be coming back closer to late January! Thankfully, I was allowed onto my flights to Sevilla with just a one-way ticket and a student visa.

Since nothing too exciting has happened yet (I’m currently on flight 1 of 3 – Boston to Frankfurt, then to Lisbon and finally to Sevilla) I’d love to just give a quick recap of my summer since the last time I wrote here was when I was travelling to Dubai this past March. Here’s a quick 10-best-things-I-did-this-summer list, in no particular order.

1) Interning at the Urban Assembly (For ten weeks, and through Harvard’s Center for Public Interest Careers (CPIC), I worked at The Urban Assembly, an education non-profit with over 20 schools in the NYC boroughs. I helped run an internship program that some Urban Assembly students were selected to participate in. These students were interning at ecologically-based internship sites, such as ecology centers and urban farms, and one of the best parts of my job was getting to visit them at their internship sites!)
2) Going to see Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s On the Run tour (this one is pretty self-explanatory – you can imagine how in my element I was at this, especially since our seats were literally in the last row, but we were able to sneak up to much better seats!)
3) Attending a bunch of wonderful exercise and dance classes (central park circuit, Free NYC dance week, Zumba with Laci (aka my co-worker who works a fulltime 9-5 job and THEN teaches multiple Zumba classes each week!), SuferYoga with the one and only Jimmy Minardi).
4) Participating in the Montauk Sprint Triathlon (My first triathlon! Yes, it was crazy-hard, yes I’m hooked on triathlons, and yes Maggie, my little, did one too and hopefully we’ll do some together going forward!)
5) Biking up and down 4th avenue in NYC (for free and sans-cars) on a “summer Saturday” (which was SO cool – a) any new york city street without cars is just bizarre and cool in its own way, but b) being able to bike on one was just indescribable!)
6) Meeting up with friends (aka the silver lining to getting my wisdom teeth removed – I was back in Weston for one day and got to see some of my best friends and then went to see some Harvard friends a few nights ago!)
7) Seeing many a show in NYC (a ballet version of a Midsummer night’s dream, King Lear at Shakespeare in the park, Kinky Boots, Chicago with my friend Adrianna!)
8) Introduction to LUNA bars (OK, this one might sound weird, but after my mom’s college reunion, we went on this lovely family hike around Mount Tom and classic Julia, I was starving, so my mom gave me this mint-chocolate Luna bar, which is packed with all these vitamins, and it was DELICIOUS and now I can’t get enough of them and have even brought some to Spain! This also is significant because I have tried MANY different bars before, none of which I’ve really liked).
9) Swimming around my CEO’s private island (Richard Kahan, the CEO of the Urban Assembly, is one of the coolest people I’ve met – he’s a man who has worn a bunch of different hats throughout his life and now is CEO of an education nonprofit, with essentially zero education experience). Anywho, he owns this island and invited the WHOLE Urban Assembly staff to it for a summer fun day and, since I have the most amazing co-workers ever, eight of them and I took it upon ourselves to swim around this island together!
10) Getting to spend about three weeks with my family (mom, dad, sister, grandma, and cat, and joined by aunt and uncle for the last few days!) out on Long Island – the perfect way to end the summer pre-study abroad! Did I mention that I loved my summer?

I’ll be posting more soon. For now I am EXHAUSTED (I literally have slept one hour in the past 36 hours, thanks to my lovely inability to sleep on planes) and am going to sleep in my hotel room. G’night!

TGT: Right before bed, I like to list to myself three good things that have happened during the previous day. I guess you can call it my way of realizing that I’m #blessed. So, the TGT for today are 1) Not losing luggage! 2) Having empty seats next to me on multiple flights 3) Wonderful shower at Hotel Gran Lar.

Adios,
~Julia