Kelley Birch Blog: Abroad in Spain

May 6, 2008

Madrid, Spain - Stanford junior Kelley Birch is in Madrid, Spain for a quarter abroad. She checked in to talk about how her experience has been going:

I left San Diego on a warm sunny day in January headed for a quarter abroad in Madrid, Spain. I anticipated living in cold weather and had packed all of the clothes I had (not much) that would keep me warm. Imagine my consternation though when the flight attendant announced upon arrival in Madrid that the temperature was 10 degrees. My first adjustment - the temperature is measured in Celsius. After gathering up my bags, I took a taxi to the hotel to meet the 28 Stanford students in my program. My biggest challenge lay ahead. All of the students had signed contracts that we would only speak Spanish while abroad.

We arrived on an eventful day in Madrid. It was the celebration of the festival known as the Three Kings. Spaniards fill the streets around a plaza to watch a parade of floats and costumed characters. After the final floats proceeded through the plaza, fireworks lit up the sky and we were sardines in a crowd of Spaniards hoping to make it back to our dinner in time. It was an amazing beginning of our trip abroad and one of many celebrations and parades I saw in Spain. .

Early the next morning, we boarded a bus for an orientation trip. We traveled to Southern Spain and visited Granada, Cordoba, Toledo and Nerja. In Nerja our hotel was located right near the ocean and so the three of us who could brave the cold took a swim and enjoyed the coastline. We returned to Madrid to meet our host families. My host mom, Senior Juliana, lived within walking distance of the Institute where we studied, so my roommate and I were lucky to be able to walk to and from school daily. It was a 25-minute walk and a great opportunity to mingle with the people and become familiar with our new neighborhood.

I felt extremely lucky to be a Stanford athlete and still able to study abroad. The challenge though was to stay fit without being able to train with my team. I found an amazing park, Buen Retiro, which resembles Central Park in New York City. Whether out for a run in my neighborhood or off to the park, I saw so much more of Spain because I was out and running.

The Spanish lifestyle is very different and thus it took awhile to get adjusted to. Eating lunch at 3pm and dinner at 10pm was a huge change from the lunch at noon and dinner at 6pm lifestyle that I am accustomed to at Stanford. Spaniards also take a 'siesta' after lunch, which wasn't a hard tradition to get adjusted to, however being back at Stanford 'siesta' time now falls during practice time...this was a little hard to adjust back to.

My weekend travels took me to sunny Malaga and Marbella, Segovia (which is where the castle that Cinderella was written after is), Salamanca (a great college town with lots to see and do) and my favorite was a trip to Barcelona with eight other girls from the program. Barcelona is an amazing city and very different from Madrid. Although we barely got sleep the night before due to our flight schedule, we figured we were in Barcelona and could not spend our time sleeping. We walked almost everywhere in Barcelona, starting from our hotel down Las Ramblas to the beach. Along our walk, we passed Gaudi's houses, which is some of the most interesting architecture I've ever seen. We also saw the Sagrada Familia, the Gothic Quarters, the Olympic Village, Park Gueli (where we had a picnic overlooking the whole city and coastline), the Basilica, a street market, and so much more. We stumbled upon a Carnival parade and found a local pub to watch the FC Barcelona futbol game. Futbol is huge in Spain and watching games on television made me really miss playing. While in Madrid I went to a game at the Real Madrid stadium, which was an unforgettable experience. Futbol is life in Spain and being part of the atmosphere and watching some great soccer was so much fun. It was lucky that I went to the game late in my trip because it was addicting and I could have easily spent all my Euros on tickets to games after that experience.

Our program took a trip to Western Spain, known as Extremadua, and the highlight of the trip was spending the night in a monastery that had been converted to a hotel. By this time, the students in our program had become quite close (and relatively fluent in Spanish). Imagine how much fun it was to take a trip in Europe with 28 friends.

I ended my trip abroad with a week in Paris, traveling with Kirby from my soccer team. I arrived in Paris a day earlier than Kirby since my program ended a day earlier. This made it nice to catch up on a little sleep, however it also was a little difficult considering I was alone in a city where I didn't speak a word of the language. A couple times I automatically started to respond in Spanish. Although I was thinking like a Spaniard, it was obvious I still did not look like one. While on the train from the Paris airport to my hotel I overheard group of guys speaking in Spanish - talking about me. They were betting each other to approach me. Embarrassed - I wished that I did not understand Spanish and that I was just an American on vacation, something that I would have been without my experience living in Spain for a quarter. Leaving Spain for the first time, I really realized how much I had learned and also how much I had changed during my time abroad.

The next day met Kirby at the airport and we ventured off to our hotel in the Marais district, which both she and I now claim to be the coolest location in Paris due to its neighborhood filled with cafes, bars, bakeries, shops and proximity to the Seine River and Notre Dame. Although the weather in Paris was freezing (at least to two California girls), Kirby and I managed to walk everywhere and explore Paris thoroughly. After spending a week in Paris, it is now one of my favorite European cities. Whether we were running along the Seine River, walking past the Notre Dame daily, visiting the Louvre, the Orsay Museum, Arc de Triomphe, walking through our favorite districts, or climbing the Eiffel Tower at sunset, I felt as though I was in a fairytale world.

All in all, my travels (and studies) abroad were some of the best experiences of my life and something that I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to experience.

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