First Solo Trip – Sevilla/Lagos/Lisbon

I have been very fortunate to have traveled a lot in the past four years, but I have never traveled somewhere completely by myself. With the cast of RENT singing in my head, I realized that there truly was no day but today.

For a bit of context, I had signed up for a company called Discover Excursion’s email listserv and they informed me that I had won a free trip to Portugal. Not one to say no to anything free (and definitely not one to say no to free travel), as soon as I was able to secure an apartment in Madrid, I decided to book this trip for the upcoming weekend.

The only “problem” was that the trip left from Sevilla. And by “problem”, I mean “amazing excuse to go spend time in Sevilla, my favorite city in the world”. I took the train down on Thursday morning and, after dropping my bags at the hostel (since my host mom was still away on her cruise, so I couldn’t stay with her!) I was able to explore the city on my own.

I’ve had many conversations with people in the past few months about what “home” means to them. The general consensus among my recent-alumni friends is that while Harvard was most definitely our home for the past four years (and particularly our home during our senior year – looking at you, 6th floor Quincy seniors) at the current moment it definitely is not our home anymore. I refer to Madrid as my “home” now, but emotionally it doesn’t feel like home…yet.

As soon as I stepped out of the Santa Justa train station in Sevilla, however, I truly felt like I was back home. This feeling became stronger and stronger as I navigated the busses to my hostel, rented a bike (which is what I used to do all the time when I was studying abroad) and wandered around the Universidad de Sevilla and the amazing Cathedral. I went to Tabernas Coloniales for dinner and finished the day eating ice cream from Rayas underneath the “mushroom” building – the only modern architecture building in the middle of this history-filled city.

The next day, I had two fortuitous events happen to me before I even left for Portugal. First, I was crossing the street while wearing my Delta Gamma fanny pack and ran into two DGs who are also studying abroad in Madrid, but had taken a train down yesterday to go on this trip to Portugal!

And then I just happened to strike up a conversation with a girl named Carol. Carol, like me, had won this trip to Lagos. Like me, she was a CIEE auxiliar in Madrid (but that’s not too remarkable since there are over 500 of us!) The most serendipitous part was that Carol will be working at the same bilingual high school as me! Carol and I really hit it off and ended up going to dinner both nights together and chatting till the early morning about our lives, our anticipation for this upcoming year, and our goals for our time in Spain.

The Lagos trip was wonderful – definitely a bit more geared towards college-aged students, but fun regardless. Highlights included learning how to surf, going kayaking and snorkeling in the beautiful grottos cut out from the rock formations along the coast, and watching the sunset from Sagres, the “end of the world” (the most southwestern point of continental Europe).

On Sunday, instead of heading back to Sevilla with the rest of the group, I caught a bus up to Lisbon. I spent two nights in a phenomenal hostel called Yes! Hostel. Not only was Yes! centrally located, but it also was clean, safe, and had wonderful, energetic staff members.

During my first day, I went on the free walking tour that the hostel offered throughout (what seemed like all of) Lisbon. After that, I decided to go to the aquarium. I love absolutely aquariums (case in point: I once got out of a job interview in Seattle early, and decided to spend the majority of the rest of my free day at the Seattle aquarium). The Lisbon aquarium did not disappoint – I wandered from room to room, looking at exhibits depicting all of the major oceans and their surrounding habitats. I completely lost track of time and was shocked when, three hours later, they announced that the aquarium was closing!

I then headed back to the hostel for an amazing dinner. Knowing literally no one, I timidly sat down next a group of Australians and ended up having such a blast talking to them about their travels, my time at Harvard, and what they had planned for the next few weeks. In the end, they even persuaded me to do the hostel-sponsored pub-crawl around Lisbon with them!

The next day, I went to the Jerónimos monastery. This beautiful building consisted of a museum, a cathedral and a gorgeous outdoor courtyard surrounded by stunning architecture. I then wandered down the river to the Torre de Belém – a tower that I would describe as a precursor to the modern lighthouse. It was an interesting climb up the 93 cramped, winding steps, but it was worth it for the beautiful views of the Tagus River and the rest of Lisbon.

I then took a night bus home to Madrid (which took about 8 hours, and during which I got no sleep, but that didn’t really matter since I was able to sleep from 6am-noon on the day that I returned to Madrid!)

TGT: 1) amazing day in Sevilla visiting all of my favorite sights and restaurants 2) delicious and entertaining dinner at Yes! Hostel 3) exploring around Lisbon

Until next time,
JK

First week in Madrid!

Wow, what a week it’s been! We arrived at the hotel that CIEE had arranged for us to stay at (and by us, I mean 150 English-teaching auxiliares from the US) on Monday. I was actually placed in a room with Melissa, one of my best friends from High School! Upon arrival, though, I promptly took a three-hour nap. The only thing scheduled for that day was a welcome dinner, where I was a bit loopy due to lack of sleep.

The next few days were scattered with orientation sessions and apartment searching, which is quite the process in Madrid. The highlight of my week, however, was meeting my host mom from Sevilla for a lovely lunch in the middle of Madrid! Many of you may already know (since I tend to talk about it incessantly) that I studied abroad in Sevilla during my junior fall semester. I chose to do a completely immersive program with CIEE, including living with a host family. When I told Antonia (my host mom) that I would be living and working in Madrid during this upcoming year, she was thrilled to hear this news, but even more excited because she would be in Madrid on Sept. 2nd.

We met up in Plaza Puerta del Sol and it was so good to see her again! She was with her sister and two friends, and they were stopping in Madrid for the day before flying out to go on a cruise in the Baltic (I joked that she had more travel plans than I did!) The lunch proved to be a great test of my Spanish as the women were talking very quickly. We all ended up ordering the same thing – a delicious Caesar salad and a “broken egg” and potato dish.

The time passed very quickly and we talked about a variety of topics – from my recent graduation, to how Antonia’s family was doing, to whether or not I should come to Sevilla for semana santa (holy week) and/or la Feria. Antonia then showed me pictures on her phone of her dressed up in traditional clothing for the Feria festival that happens in Sevilla every spring (which is such a big deal that Snapchat even does its own story for the occasion!) She then said I would be welcome to stay at her house for Christmas if I so desired.

After meeting with Antonia, it was back to the “real world” of apartment searching. After 25+ whatsapp messages to different potential landlords, 6 visits to apartments and lots of schlepping around Madrid in 90+ degree heat, I was exhausted, to say the least. By the time Saturday rolled around, I had 4 apartment viewings lined up. When I arrived at my first one, though, something about it felt different (in a good way).

First of all, the whole apartment was new and beautiful. Another positive was that the landlord was there with her whole family – her daughter was helping answer any questions we had in English and her husband was putting the finishing touches on the apartment. After about an hour of thinking and reflecting, I decided to go for it and sign my first official lease to rent a room in the apartment! It was a somewhat risky decision, but it has been turning out to be more than worth it.

Though I am paying a bit more than I had originally hoped to, I have a beautiful balcony looking onto the street below me. I also have a collection of wonderful roommates (none of whom I knew before!) – three others are CIEE auxiliaries like myself (Maggie, Sterling and Bianca); a German pre-med student studying in Madrid (Nina) and two working Spaniards (Luís and Paula). We each have our own room and share a kitchen and three bathrooms.

Even though I’ve only spent about four nights in my room, I’ve been able to have wonderful conversations with my roommates and have already made some delicious meals. Overall, it was an incredibly stressful, but also very rewarding, week.

TGT: 1) Finding a wonderful apartment with amazing roommates 2) having lunch with Antonia 3) having a great catch-up dinner with Melissa once we had each moved into our respective apartments (at the same gluten-free pasta restaurant where we had met up when we were both in Madrid two years ago, when I had come from Sevilla and she had come from Granada!)

Until next time,
JK

Intro to Life in Madrid (and a summary of life since Mumbai)

Hello again!

First of all, I must apologize (and simultaneously thank HCAP Mumbai). As you’ll see if you scroll down, I never got to finish blogging about my time in Mumbai, largely due to the fact that we had such action-packed days and nights (I’m sure you can only imagine how in my element I was dancing the night away to Bollywood music!) Suffice it to say, it was a phenomenal trip. Highlights from the rest of the trip include a beautiful waterfront yoga session while the sun was rising, visiting multiple temples, walking to a mosque at the end of its own manmade island, exploring the Elephanta caves and getting a tour of the Girnar tea company’s facilities.

And now for a quick summary of life since then: I graduated from Harvard this past May with a degree in Psychology and Global Health. I spent this past summer working as a clinical research assistant at McLean psychiatric hospital in Belmont, MA. I was a research assistant for a study involving cardiovascular medication adherence in patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (interestingly, heart disease is the number one killer of this population). I learned so much during my time as an RA and got a lot of patient interaction as well.

I was fortunate to be living rent-free this summer, but the unfortunate part of that was that I was living in “my” (my family’s) house while the rest of my family was with my grandma on the eastern end of Long Island, NY. I went down to see them most weekends, but during the week, things got pretty lonely. Thankfully, I had a bunch of friends still on campus and because I took an Indian dance class in Central Square every Monday, I was able to see quite a few friends over the summer!

And that pretty much brings me to right now. I’m currently on flight one to two – this one is from Boston to Lisbon and the second one will bring me to Madrid. In Madrid, I’ll be a Language and Culture Assistant at IES Villablanca – a bilingual high school on the outskirts of Madrid. I essentially will be at the beck and call of the school – I could be asked to teach the English language (which, if you know me, is an ironic request since English in general, and spelling in particular, is definitely not my forte) or I could be asked to teach a subject, such as science, history or social studies, in English.

I’ll start teaching on October 3rd. For the next four(ish) days, I’ll be going through an official orientation with CIEE. CIEE is the same program I used to study abroad in Sevilla during my junior fall semester and I’m really excited to be working with them again. CIEE is putting us up in a hotel for 8 nights, and during that time, we’re supposed to find an apartment into which we can move. This is by far what I am most nervous about, but CIEE warned us not to sign any leases before we actually viewed the apartments in person because there are a lot of scams out there.

That’s all for now, but of course I’ll end with today’s TGT (three good things): 1) drinking two homemade smoothies courtesy of Momma Krimsky before heading to the airport 2) getting so many “safe travel” calls/texts/Google Hangouts from friends 3) fitting in one last brunch – homemade challah French toast (yes, a lot of my good things are food related, shocking).

Hasta pronto,
JK