Spain

On my third day in Spain, I learned about the expert pickpockets of Madrid. It wasn’t simply through Ibon’s sound advice to get a money belt or to sling packs in front of our bodies where we could see them. No, I had to learn the hard way. I’m blaming it on the fact that I’m from a town where we don’t even lock our bikes. I implicitly trust everybody. However, belief rarely lines up with reality and in less than a week abroad I found myself wallet-free. Still, I’m optimistic that not every lesson that day was lost on me. Before I was so swiftly and silently robbed, I absorbed some stories about Spain’s long and complicated history, which, on more than one occasion, involved miracles.

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Study Abroad will host an information session on its popular summer Iowa Hispanic Institute program in Valladolid, Spain on Wednesday, February 18 from 4-5:00 p.m. in 1117 University Capitol Centre.

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I have been in Spain for roughly two weeks and have spent 25% of that time lost. Maybe this is an exaggeration since many of my meanderings, as Tolkien might say, were spent with intention. However, this was definitely not true of my first day. My first experience of feeling misplaced was immediately upon arriving in Madrid. The second (third, fourth and fifth ad infinitim) have been in Bilbao, a clean and beautiful city whose streets seem to snake like tributaries of the Mississippi river even though I’ve been told by everyone who lives here “it’s so small it is impossible to get lost.” In every Spanish city I have visited so far I’ve found it very easy to lose my way, and the only difference between my first day and today is that now I do it on purpose.

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After 28 hours in airports and airplanes – with little to no sleep – I made it not to home, but to a nice comfy hotel. Little did I know when I was buying my plane ticket home back in July that I would get caught in Iowa’s first big snowstorm of 2015. Had I gone back a day earlier or a day later, I would have gotten home just fine!

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My name is Hanley. I am currently studying the 2014-2015 academic year abroad in Madrid, Spain. I decided to study in Spain after having spent a year in Peru. I became fascinated with the Spanish language and the many cultures that surround it. My year in Spain has been one of the greatest experiences in my life, to say the least. Perhaps, one of the biggest revelations one could make while abroad is self-discovery. Regardless of people’s said intentions for going abroad, or even just travelling in general, they subconsciously are not only looking to see new parts of the world, but of themselves as well. People travel to find previously undiscovered parts of their identity.

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One factor that influenced my time abroad is my identity. Being from a Hispanic family, I had more experience than other students being in an environment in which most people were only speaking a foreign language in which I could not fully understand or communicate. Although this environment made many other students feel out of place, I was already accustomed to this feeling.

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Not only has she funded all of my travel expeditions we've gone on, but she's also one of the only people who knows me fully and knows how to deal with me at my best and worst times. That's the perfect travel companion, I think! She and I have been on a lot of expeditions, inside and outside the United States, with or without other family members or other friends, but I think no matter what we always have a fantastic time, and it's hard not to when you're sharing an experience with someone you love.

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It was a rainy and cold weekend for Thanksgiving this year, but that's probably nothing to the snow and cold poor Iowa got! Spending Thanksgiving here was definitely an experience, if only because there really wasn't an experience. Or we had to make our own experience, because while there is Black Friday here (completely commercialized), there is no Thanksgiving. Which makes complete sense, because Thanksgiving was all about the native Americans and pilgrims making friends (or so our kindergarten teachers tell us!).

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During my walk to class this morning I really took in the sights around me, looking back and remembering the time all of it was so strange and new. It was a huge accomplishment if I made it to class without getting lost. Now I try to get lost on purpose (not on my way to class though) so I can find the unfamiliar parts of town. When is the point in time where the strange and different becomes familiar, becomes home? Not only has my perspective changed, but I also feel different. In a very subtle way, like how your hair gets longer but you can't tell until you see pictures of you with short hair (my hair is in desperate need of a cut.)

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A study abroad experience during her undergraduate education at the University of Iowa led Cat Gaa back to Spain, where is now thriving post-graduation. Gaa received a B.A. in journalism and international studies from the UI in 2007 and now operates a small language school in Seville, Spain, writes and translates on a freelance basis, and is planning to launch a residency consultation firm.

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