I went to the contra dance in Norman on December 1st. Contra dance is very similar to folk dance, and going to this dance was a little out of my comfort zone. The dances were a lot longer than anticipated and I was actually pretty tired by the end of it. I surprised by the technique and moves that were involved in it, and I think that was obvious because a couple of the regulars had to help me quite often. I am glad that I experienced a contra dance. I think it’s neat that they are becoming more popular in Oklahoma and it seems to make people happy. Participating a different tradition or norm from a different culture is always something you can learn a lot from. I don’t have any plans on going back to one of these dances, but I am glad I had the opportunity to partake in Contra dance.
I went to the fancy dance concert in Catlett and the Oklahoma fancy dancers performed during the first half and the Siberian Natives performed during the second. The performances were great and I learned many new things about their cultures. They had the opportunity to bring the Siberians here because of the program, Peer to Peer, which was funded by the embassy in Siberia. The goal of Peer to Peer is to bring people from two different sides of the world together and connect them by what they have in common, which is being indigenous people. This helps preserve their cultures. The whole concert lasted around two hours and there was singing, dancing, and playing instruments. They also got the audience involved and brought them on the stage to participate a dance.
The most interesting thing I saw was the Siberian throat singer. A week before actually I had learned about them in my Language Across Culture class and I was really surprised the sounds they can make with their throats. It is a super low sound that isn’t similar to anything I have heard before. Hopefully the clip I attached works and you can hear the sounds.
In the past couple of years, Canada has experienced some French-Only laws specifically in Quebec. The situation that caused such an uproar was when an Italian restaurant was fined for using Italian words on their menu… Little much don’t you think? This was later described as Pastagate. But this circumstance can be compared in many ways to the English-Only laws that have come about in the US recently.
Quebec’s government cares so much about things being in French because it is their heritage and culture. In the recent years, 50% of the new generation across Canada is taking English as their main language, which causes Quebec, a strong French speaking community, to make sure their heritage is preserved. This example involving Canada is different in comparison to The US because the culture and language Quebec is associated with the most is under threat. This is very different than the dominant use of English here. While that is an important difference, there are many similarities in attempting to make one language seem more important than others. As for Pastagate, I think they definitely took policing too far and I think the government knows they went too far as well looking at the reaction of the people. It is still policed more than it should be, specifically looking at the restaurant that is required to display French in a larger font than any of the other languages on his windows. It is always interesting to see how some regions want certain languages to dominate and the extremes they might go to in order to ensure that.
I feel like life has come full circle now because this semester I was assigned to tutor at my old elementary school here in Norman. I am even working with one of the teachers I was around all the time when I was at school there. This semester I was assigned to work with 2 boys once a week. I had actually worked with one of them before so that was kind of nice because we could just jump into things. I had found that his English had majorly improved since I had last worked with him, and he was doing better in school.
Since I have studied abroad, I have a new respect for these children who come to the schools not knowing any English. It was a struggle when I got to Spain even after years of studying the language and having others around me who couldn’t speak fluently either. I can’t imagine going into a new country as these boys have and probably their families as well. It makes me happy to help them out in anyway I can.
I kind of already did a kind of “what to bring post”, but I guess this is more of a “what to know” when traveling abroad. Besides the obvious things like copying your documents, have extra cash, etc. that Education Abroad covers really well, these are my super quick, probably super well-known, travel/study abroad tips:
My first is figure out a way to have a three-day weekend… or more when you are figuring out your schedule at the beginning of the year. It can be harder than you think, and I actually ended up not taking one of the classes I originally planned to just to get that three-day weekend. Honestly though, you are studying abroad and this is probably the biggest chance you’ll get to travel which I personally found more important than taking fluid mechanics on time. Because I ended up having way more time, I got to do a lot more traveling than I thought I would.
Going on with traveling, you probably all know about skyscanner, but if you don’t, you really need to! I booked almost all my flights through this website, and I honestly still use it for domestic flights now. It searches all of the typical search engines, and a couple of not so common ones. I actually booked my flight on a less known website that skyscanner showed me, and I think I saved a couple of hundred dollars that way! Long story short, this is a great travel tool.
Although flying is really cheap in Europe the absolute cheapest way is to travel by bus (if you aren’t doing the eurorail thing). I went on a trip from Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia and the total bus cost was just at 61 euros. I would always use GoEuro for bus purchasing, and it was always the best deal I could find.
In Spain, and probably other countries too, they have Erasmus groups that put on trips and activities every week. Their trips are usually well organized and you can get to know other people that way from all over the world. Pricewise they are pretty reasonable as well. They have big trips to Portugal, Morocco, and Ibiza so of course it would be cheaper if you plan a trip to go there yourself and do all of the work, but I think it is usually a pretty good deal, especially for the day trips. My favorite was paddle boarding in Javea.
More general tips are always start early, and don’t be afraid to ask people around you. These are definitely common sense things, but for me in some situations, I think I needed a reminder. For the starting early, I am mainly referring to flights and in cities you are not familiar with. In Paris, there was a point where my friend and I were actually running down a street to try and catch a flight because some of the transportation system that day wasn’t running (we ended up making it). And most of the time the people around you are more than willing to help if you just ask. I am still thankful for a girl named Flor who helped my friend and I through the subway system in Paris. There were plenty other Flors in my experience abroad because I learned to just ask.
During my time in Spain, I found my go to restaurants after a month or so. These places were all really close to my apartment and were all reasonably priced, especially with the menu of the days. I absolutely love that Spain does menu of the days. The menus always have amazing things for cheaper prices and it comes with a dessert, which is arguably the best part half of the time.
First there is the food on campus. There isn’t exactly a specific restaurant, but food on campus is so inexpensive and always pretty good. The cafés in the Agora, the main square, are where I always get my cortado and tostadas. For both of them, it costs around 1.75. It is great. There is also a place across campus that has huge bocadillos for only 3 euros and you can get a 3 course meal for 5 euros, bread and drink included. Not sure how they make any money, but gotta love the cheapness.
Pan de Azúcar is a good place to eat at because it is pretty cheap and is directly across from my apartment. I can see people going in and out from my window. This place has great crepes and appetizers and is always a fun and lively place. The prices are also student friendly, so this has always been a good choice.
Shish Mahal is another restaurant that is probably a 2 minute walk from my apartment. This place is a little nicer and therefore pricier, but if you go during a week day lunch time period it isn’t too bad because of their menu of the day. I have never really had Indian food until this place and I am constantly surprised with how good the food is.
100 Montaditos is actually a chain throughout Spain that you can find in any decently sized city. The thing about this restaurant is that it has deals of Sunday and Wednesday when their entire menu is €1. I think in the end it only saves you about €3 euros per meal, but the amount of times we have ended up going here I am sure we saved quite a bit.
Bastard’s Café. My one true love. Ok maybe I shouldn’t be that intense, but this is hands down my favorite restaurants in Valencia. This is again a 2 minute walk from my apartment, which is so good yet so bad because I go there so much and spend money. It’s now basically the end of the semester and I think at least half of the staff recognizes me. I always take my visiting friends here when they visit and they all love it. I will miss you Bastard’s.
While food is extremely important in the Spanish culture, I would say drinks are just as important. Now here is my short list of some of my favorite drinks in Spain. I know I have missed some for sure, but here they are:
Sangria is probably the most typical Spanish drink you hear about, and I must admit it is for good reason. You can find it on any menu and there are plenty of options in grocery stores to choose from. If you don’t know, Sangria is red wine mixed with fruit juice, and in summer often provides a great refreshing drink in the hot weather.
With my tostada I usually have a cortado. A cortado is an expresso shot with a little bit of hot milk poured on top. My taste in coffee changed over the months I was in Spain and this is what I landed upon. I cannot drink really sweet coffee or a lot of coffee now. Even a small caramel macchiato from Starbucks is usually too much for me to drink, so this caffeine packed small drink was perfect because it is not sweet or harsh due to the small milk and can be finished in probably 5 or 6 sips.
Gin and Tonic is strangely a very popular drink here. Or maybe it’s just more of an unexpected popular drink to me because in the plaza near my apartment, there are 2 bars that have half their menu dedicated to the drink. I am very thankful for that as that was one of my favorite drinks before coming here. In one of the bars, they have a list of all the different gins and all the different tonics they have and you choose which ones you want. It is great!
Tinto de Verano is not as well known around the world as sangria for a typical Spanish drink, but it is still extremely popular in Spain. This drink consists of red wine and sprite or a sprite like drink. In my book, tinto de verano beats sangria by a long shot. It is usually not as sweet as sangria but is still a great drink in the summer. This was sold at one of my favorite restaurants in Spain, and I would always get it when I was there.
Finally, something I have loved in Spain was there orange juice. Oranges are grown in Spain, so they are extremely fresh. In the Mercadonas, they have an orange juice machine that squeezes it for you right then and there. Normally orange juice is not my favorite thing, but it is impossible not to like it when it is that fresh.
In Spain, food plays an important part in the culture and daily life in the big cities as well as small. The typical custom is that stores and businesses close between 2pm-5pm to enjoy a rest that is mainly spent at various restaurants. Businesses have complete opposite schedules than the restaurants which open from 1:30pm-4:30pm, close, and then reopen from 8:30 – 11:30 every day. Spain has 4 normal eating times starting with desayuno, almuerzo, comida, and then cena.
There are many typical Spanish foods that are well known and many that aren’t as “main stream” that make up these important parts of the Spanish life.
To start with the most typical ones:
Paella is probably the most well-known food from Spain. Paella actually originated in the Valencia area from a small town called El Par Mar. This place is just a 30min bus ride from the city center of Valencia and offers some of the best paella you can find in Spain. Many restaurants offer paella valenciana that has a variety of fish or other things thrown in the pan, but true paella valenciana has chicken, rabbit, and special types of green bean and a white bean. This was definitely one of my favorite dishes while in Spain, especially because is originated in Valencia.
Also an extremely well known dish, tapas are an easy and fun way to try half the menu with a group of friends without breaking the bank or over stuffing yourself. Tapas came from the Andalucía region of Spain, so it is typical to get a tapa with your drink in some bars in that area which is always a plus.
Getting a little less typical are the bocadillos that are an easy find wherever you go in Spain. The most traditional is the española, which comes on a small baguette type of bread with Spanish tortilla, a mixture of potato and egg. This is kind of a combination of typical food, but they come together so much it was hard not to put them together. Bocadillos can have tons of different things on them and there are a few different types of tortillas as well, but my favorite and the most typical as I said is the bocadillo de tortilla española.
Patatas bravas are another one of my go to dishes. They are chunks of potatoes that have been fried and topped with a mayonnaise and salsa brava or with aioli sometimes. This is usually a starter at restaurants or at least a tapa that can be selected.
Becoming a little more obscure, tostada de tomate was something I didn’t discover until I was more than half way through my study abroad experience, which honestly kind of sucks. This turned into my go to snack on the university because it was so good and so cheap. This is basically a toasted baguette sort of bread with tomato sauce put over it. I would sometimes get it with fresh cheese as well. One of my absolute favorites.
This is my small list of favorite foods that I have enjoyed while being in Spain. I know I have missed some and there are other Spanish foods that I have had here not on this list, but they are not my favorite. Everyone should try all the typical Spanish foods, but these are my must tries for anyone going to Spain!
These past months, the friends I have hung out with are from other countries and they speak English extremely well. While their level of English is impressive, there are a couple of words and phrases that I always get asked about since I am the native English speaker in our group. It seems that I have turned into the human dictionary if they don’t know how to say something. I have always been excited to help, but after multiple questions I begin to get confused by my own language because I do not have to think about the basis of their questions. For example, trying to explain when to use good or well in a sentence. I don’t think I ever actually learned that in school but just from listening to my parents speak.
Also, I have found that foreigners make many of the same mistakes in English. One consistently being “Can you explain me this?”, which just needs a “to” and a little rearrangement. As I become more familiar with Spanish and have talked with my friends about this, most languages use similar orders that encourages the “explain me” mistake. There are many others, but I have found that is the main mistake I have noticed.
Coming to Europe I knew that English was the most learned language, but I did not realize how many people really knew it. In every country I have traveled, English was a requirement in school – or at least seemed like it because of the level of their language. While I could usually find someone who spoke English in the different countries, I started to notice the difference between those countries and Spain.
I feel as if the majority of Spanish people do not know much English at all. I guess I expected that coming over, but in my intensive language course I took at the beginning, everyone spoke fluent English. It might just be my region of Spain, but I can only count a few people who could have a simple conversation in English. While that has been my observation so far, I know my conclusion about this can be very wrong since I am sure everything is extremely subject to region. I just found the level of language in different areas an interesting topic especially in comparison to the US when barely anyone I know learns another language in school.