Monday, July 30, 2012

Settling in for a Summer in Spain

Mark Kavanaugh, Verrazano Class of 2013, received a Verrazano Study Abroad Scholarship to spend the summer studying in Spain.  Read below for his first post from overseas.

In the week since my arrival in Santander, Spain, I have experienced quite the whirlwind of emotions and experiences. After a long trek from the United States to sleepy Santander via Madrid, I was exhausted to say the least. However, the final match of the Euro 2012 soccer tournament was being played between Spain and Italy that very night!

It is really quite something to feel like you belong, even among complete strangers. Another person from the study abroad program and I went to a café near the Santander waterfront and watched the match among Spaniards and cheered along with them as they soared over Italy in a four-nil victory. For the first night in Spain, it was better than anything I could have hoped for.

Sign outside of Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo

The next day, the staff and faculty here at Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo set to work on acclimating all of us foreign students to Santander and the university environment. After meeting students from the Netherlands, Finland, Germany, and a rather raucous group from West Virginia, I took a placement test which ascertained my abilities in the Spanish language. I ended up being placed in the upper intermediate level of instruction. Once my professor, Jorge, walked into the room, I knew it was the perfect placement.

The Spanish people are extremely warm, expressive, patient, and generous. These qualities are embodied in my professor, Jorge, who seems to put everything into his teaching. He enjoys talking to us foreigners and is very interested in our home countries and cities. His only cardinal rule is that no language other than Spanish may be uttered in his class.

Iglesia de Santa Lucía in
Cañadio Square

Working around our class schedule, my classmates from the program and I have had time to explore Santander. Though a small city, it has much to see. We’ve walked down swanky waterfront avenues and working class barrios. Like any other, Santander is a city of contrast. Each area of the city has richness and life. Voices can always be heard, even late into the night. Restaurants and bars are like quaking centers of activity, even late after darkness has fallen.

Of course, a less cerebral yet obligatory visit to Santander’s wonderful beaches is a must. The Sardinero area of the city boasts a beautiful beach with stunning views of Santander Bay and the Cantabrian Sea. Also, just across the bay by ferry is a little seaside town called Somo, which, in my opinion, boasts an even more impressive beach which is popular with surfers (or surfistas, in Spanish).

The waterfront in Santander

One of the things which I was most excited for in Spain was the food, and it has not disappointed. Spanish food is nothing like Latin American cuisines. It is hearty, filling, authentic, and very rich, characterized by its European peasant history. It is characterized by hefty dishes such as tortilla española (an omelet pie with potatoes and onions), paella (a rice dish mixed with either seafood or chicken, beef, sausage, and sometimes rabbit), and cured meats like jamón and chorizo. All of this is topped off with rich desserts like churros con chocolate.

All in all, my experience in Spain so far has been very enjoyable. It’s been humbling, eye-opening, and often laugh out loud fun. There are still three weeks left! I intend to visit the cosmopolitan city of Bilbao in the Basque Country this weekend, and I have booked trips to Milan and Madrid for the next couple of weekends. I can’t wait to see what southern Europe still has in store for me.