Friday, April 27, 2012

An Introduction to Antoni Gaudí

I discovered the works of Antoni Gaudí when I was in 11th grade while preparing a speech for Spanish class. In an attempt to get on my teachers good side, I searched for famous people from Spain (which is where my teacher was from), and soon I found Antoni Gaudí. I was fascinated by his works and the unique beauty of the shapes and colors. Since then, I have drooled over pictures of his work, and just this past Christmas, I received my very own poster showcasing his mosaics from none other than my lovely cousin, Sibley. Since his work is definitely a “Must Visit!” attraction, I thought I would give a little introduction. In a future blog, I will feature some of his most famous works. 
Antoni Gaudí was born in Catalonia in 1852. He studied architecture in school, where he was inspired by the shapes and designs of India, Persia, and Japan, while also drawing influence from Gothic architecture. He is most known in style for Modernisme, but even within his style, he was considered to have a unique interpretation. Despite his fame now, at the time he was heavily criticized, and famous people such as George Orwell and Picasso were said to have expressed distaste in his work.

      Gaudí’s work pretty much defines Barcelona. Seven of his works there have been chosen as UNESCO World Heritage sites. His architecture included designs for both public and private spaces, including parks, churches, and private family homes. UNESCO describes his work as exhibiting the artistic and cultural values of the time and representing an exceptional creative contribution to architecture. 

Here is a sample of one of Gaudi's works, the Casa Batllo, also known as the "House of Bones" for it's skeletal shape. It is meant to look like a giant coral reef, incorporating the colors and flowing shapes found in the sea. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


It’s finals week!  I’ve been in a state of semi-constant crazy for the last two weeks, but just two more exams and it is done.  Today, I had the oral half of my Spanish final.  I drew the topic “estereotipos” to discuss one-on-one with my professor.  I had done all the readings, but was not really prepared for the questions he asked about some of the benefits of stereotypes, since our reading on the subject focused primarily on negative aspects of stereotyping.  I stumbled through that question. While I think the conversation turned out okay overall, it was a reminder that despite the fact that I can read Spanish well, overall, I am only fluent-ish at best.

I do feel like my Spanish has been improving.  Until my current professor, I had never had a professor who taught class at the pace of a native Spanish speaker speaking to other native speakers.  All my previous professors had taken the time to ensure that students were understanding.   Even if they never spoke English in class, I did not struggle because my professors’ Spanish was relatively slow and clear, and they repeated instructions often.
This professor does no such thing.  At first, I was overwhelmed.  He spoke fast, like heated-argument-in-a-telenovela fast.  I was lucky to catch every third word, and mainly figured out what to do based on what my classmates were doing.  In the last several weeks, though, it has gotten much easier.  On rare occasions, he still loses me, but I understand almost everything he says.  There is undeniable benefit from being forced to understand on the first try, since little, if anything, is repeated.  It’s been stressful, but I think the second half of this semester has improved my understanding more than any whole semester of Spanish I’ve had so far.

If I’m understanding so much better after listening to this professor for less than three hours a week, how quickly will Amanda and I improve when we get to Spain and we’re dunked into a place where everyone is speaking like this all the time?  Well, we better improve quickly, or there will be a lot going over our heads.  I’m expecting the understanding to come more easily than the speaking.  The first couple weeks might be difficult, but it will be so rewarding to finally be fluent after studying the language for five years.  If my current class is any indication, a little immersion is all we'll need to be bilingual.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Are you freaked out yet? Good."

        Today, Sibley and I finished our in-person orientations with the Office of International Studies. We were equipped with more forms, acceptance letters for the University of Alcalá, and t-shirts (because college kids love free t-shirts!). Anyway, it was a really great experience. I was in a group with around 10 other people going to places in France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, and Japan. It was pretty amazing! They all had unique goals and ideas for what they would accomplish and what life would be like in their respective host countries. We are even going to form a facebook group so that we can all keep track of each other and share stories of our adventures or even meet up with each other during our travels. However, not everything we talked about was friendship and camaraderie. We also delved into the topic of safety abroad (that’s where the freaking out part came in).

       We covered topics from pickpockets slashing your tires, acting like you stole their money, and stealing your ATM card to medical problems like epileptic fits, getting hit by a bus, or bitten by a spider. Yeah, serious stuff! Needless to say, it left me a little stunned.  

      They explained that we must be vigilant and aware because since we will be gone for a long time, there is a higher likelihood of something going wrong. While learning all these things was definitely freaky, it was a good eye-opener for what it can be like in a foreign place. The speaker explained, “It’s not that strange things will be happening there, rather, you will be the strange one.” He explained that we will all enter the situation with our own unique mindset and that will influence how we view situations and occurrences.  It was nice to take off the rose colored glasses for a little bit and talk about the nitty gritty facts of life. Even though Sibley and I frequently question, “Why are people bad?!” we still must face it. It is nice to have some tips and tricks for how to avoid those situations and what we can do if problems do arise. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mental Training: Phase 1

Sibley and I were just enrolled in a course online that is like mental boot-camp. It prepares you to be aware and vigilant, ready to tackle any obstacle in our study abroad adventure. And, no surprise, it included more paperwork. Though, instead of asking questions about our height, weight, and peculiarities, the paperwork is meant to guide and help us through the Study Abroad process. 

For example, we received a crash course on cultural acceptance. The example they used included the following situation: "Imagine you are in supermarket and you see someone stuffing frozen pizzas into their backpack. It would appear strange, wouldn't it? You would probably be uncomfortable and call security. However, in some countries, it is common for people to use their own bags while grocery shopping." I think this is a funny example and it makes me curious as to what we might find in Spain. I'm sure as we point excitedly at each food product with a Spanish label, we will see some “peculiarities” that we aren’t expecting. 

The next step is an in-person session, where we will discuss specifics like insurance, program particulars, and safety tips. I am not totally sure what to expect, but I am excited to meet others who are participating in a Study Abroad and learn more about what we do from here.

 With every paper we print out, every email that we send, I feel closer and closer to the trip. I can’t wait! 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Kingdom of Spain

Once, my dad asked me how many contemporary world leaders I could name, excluding the president of the United States.  I was a sophomore or a junior in high school at the time, and while I could tell you all about the founding fathers of this country or about world leaders during WWI & II, on this question I came up blank.  I was disturbed by my own ignorance and quickly looked up the presidents and prime ministers of a few countries, but it was the first time I realized how little I was learning about the rest of the world from school or from the small amount of news I watched.

I’m an International Studies major, so I would obviously do a lot better answering that question now than a few years ago, but until planning to study in Spain, I still knew very little about the country beyond that it is a constitutional monarchy and a member of the EU.  Luckily, the CIA World Factbook and, of course, Wikipedia were able to inform me.  So here are a few basic facts about Spain.

-The official name of the country is the Kingdom of Spain.

-King Juan Carlos I has been the monarch since 1975.  He is married to Sophia of Greece and Denmark.  She is the namesake of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, the museum in Madrid that houses Picasso’s Guernica.  This is definitely on our must-see list.

-This past November, Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party was elected “president of the government”, essentially prime minister.

-Spain is six hours ahead of the United States’ Eastern Time.  Combined with the fact that it is customary to stay up much later in Spain than in the U.S, we’re going to need a little time to adjust.

-Spain covers just over 500,000 square kilometers, or about the size of the states of Arizona and Utah combined.

-Castillian Spanish is the official language, but 17% of the population speaks Catalán and smaller percentages speak Galician and Basque.

As part of the orientation that Amanda and I need to do for the study abroad program, we’re going to be learning a lot more about Spain before we actually go there.  I’m glad UCF helps prepare us in this way, and of course I’m glad to have the internet making it so easy to learn this basic information.