Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The World of Dalí

       Sibley and I were lucky enough to visit the Dalí museum in St. Petersburg, Florida during this past spring semester. It was a really great trip! Sibley’s mom joined us in Orlando and then we all drove to St. Petersburg. The museum was really interesting and I learned so many things about Dalí and his work. The museum showed his progression from a student to a true artist, which was really neat. The entire museum was made like a giant piece of surrealist art, with a spiral staircase and huge glass windows. We were also lucky enough to catch a tour of the museum, in Spanish. It was really fun for us to listen in as the tour guide explained the painting, The Hallucinogenic Torreador,  giving us a glimpse of what it will be like to visit Spanish museums, where all the tours will be in Spanish. Yay!

       In Dali’s hometown of Figueres, Spain, sits the Dalí Theatre Museum, a huge collection of Dalí’s work. Like the Dalí museum in St. Petersburg, the Dalí Theatre Museum incorporates surrealist art into the very structure of the building. It features giant eggs sitting on the roof, glass domes, mechanical devices, and a room created to look like Mae West’s face. While visiting the museum in St. Petersburg, we were told that it was the largest collection of Dalí’s work outside of Spain. So, we are excited to get a glimpse of the world’s largest collection, in his birthplace of Figueres.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cervantes: Just enough sanity

A sketch by Pablo Picasso depicting Don Quixote
and Sancho Panza in front of a field of windmills,
which Don Quixote mistakes for evil giants.
Miguel de Cervantes was born in Alcalá de Henares in 1547.  For comparison, St. Augustine, the first permanent European settlement in the United States, was not founded until 1565.  In the present day, Cervantes Day is a holiday in Spain, and we will get a day off from class while we’re in Alcalá (As Amanda said, could you imagine if we had off for Mark Twain Day?).  Cervantes is famous for a novel he published more than four hundred years ago, and Don Quixote is still widely considered one of the greatest literary works of all time.
I read Don Quixote in high school on the recommendation of my Spanish teacher and I enjoyed it a lot.  It’s about an older Spanish gentleman who reads too many tales of chivalry.  As the story goes, “…with little sleeping and much reading his brains dried up to such a degree that he lost the use of his reason.”  He, his horse Rocinante, and his reluctant squire Sancho Panza have many ridiculous knightly adventures, generally causing more trouble than they’re worth.  It’s highly entertaining, but thought-provoking at the same time.  Don Quixote’s madness highlights the problems with both chivalry and a world that lacks it.

I am looking forward to learning more about Miguel de Cervantes while living in the city of his birth.  In addition to his famous novel, I also like a lot of quotations by Cervantes.  To close, here are a few examples:
“Never stand begging for that which you have the power to earn.”

“One man scorned and covered with scars still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach unreachable stars; and the world will be better for this.”

“There is no greater folly in the world than for a man to despair.”

Last but not least, my favorite:
“Too much sanity may be madness, and the maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.”

Friday, May 18, 2012

Muchas Gracias

     I want to take a moment to thank everyone who is helping us through this process. We have received support from our parents and family, UCF staff, and our friends. Everyone is very encouraging and helpful, and we truly appreciate that. Thank you! Muchas Gracias!

                To our fathers, thank you for navigating the many flight options and websites to find us the best option and for keeping us going down the right path. To our mothers, thank you for the wise words and constant encouragement. To Aunt Toby and Uncle Jim, thank you for all of your knowledge concerning the process of getting a visa and about traveling in general. To Grandma thank you for your great hugs and loving support. To Jess, thank you for being Batman! To Kelvin, thank you for making us laugh.  And to everyone, thank you for being interested in our journey and in making it something very special.

                During our Study Abroad Orientation, the Office of International Studies emphasized that we need to have a support group. At the time, I had only a basic understanding of what a “support group” really meant. Now, I know that having a support group, a team of people trying to help you succeed, is invaluable. Our friends and family help us keep the stress down as we navigate this somewhat confusing process, and let us vent our frustrations or concerns.

                So, thank you all for everything that you do.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Here’s a fun fact that should be emphasized a lot to students planning to go abroad:  it is recommended, and in many cases, required that your passport be valid until 6 months after your expected return date.

Amanda and I will be in Spain from early September until mid-December.  My passport, which I got before my family’s trip to Canada and Alaska when I was almost 15, was due to expire in March of 2013, about three and a half months after our return from Spain.  The UCF study abroad application asks if your passport is good for 6 months after your trip, but there is no context to that question.  I assumed that six months was the recommendation, but surely three and a half months was fine.  I mean, it’s not like I’m going to get stuck in Spain for three and a half months after my date of expected return, right?

Never assume anything!  It was foolish of me to do so, especially regarding something as important as a passport.  I should have looked into it the moment the question was asked.  Even better, the study abroad website should say right there on the application that the expiration date must be 6 months after your expected return date in order to get a student visa, and, in some cases, a plane ticket.  This is not a guideline; it is an actual rule.

I have now sent off my passport application and I’ll have a new passport in a few weeks, but I should have done this earlier.  Now we’re a bit pressed for time, since I need my passport number to make my appointment at the Spanish Consulate in Miami to apply for a student visa.  We need to make these appointments a month in advance, and then the approval process can take another month.  Amanda and I wanted to go to Miami in mid-June, but thanks to my assumption, we might be a bit delayed.  We will still have time to get everything done, but I wish I had been better informed earlier.

On a more exciting note, guess who booked plane tickets from Miami to Madrid today?  We did!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Las Chocolaterías

         When Sibley and I were first tossing around the idea of going to Spain, we began discussing the wonderful food we would try there such as tapas and paella. Then, our roommate Jess added something: drinking chocolate. Bright smiles lit all of our faces. Just the sound of the words “drinking chocolate” were enough to make us giddy with excitement. So now, I decided to look into this tantalizing idea a little further.
      Drinking chocolate is a thicker, richer form of hot chocolate and is typically served with churros. It originally came to Spain from Mexico in 1585 and became a huge hit (of course it was, it’s chocolate!”). They even created stores called Chocolaterías. When I searched online for this subject, I kept coming to one big suggestion, Chocolatería San Ginés.  

           San Ginés was mentioned as a “Must See” location, and a huge tourist spot. National Geographic even chose San Ginés as one of the top 10 places for chocolate in the world! I read that they serve over 40 varieties of hot chocolate, delicious churros, and maintain long hours to accommodate the late-night party goers of Madrid. In fact, it is only closed for two hours, between 7am and 9am, so that after a long night of revelry, one can rejuvenate with a warm cup of chocolate. From the reviews, late night seems to be the most popular time to go. While I doubt Sibley and I will be there very late, I do imagine we will fall in love with it just like everyone else. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Let's talk money.

Amanda and I are crazy excited to be going to Spain and I’m sure it’s going to be an awesome semester, but today I thought I’d write about one of the drawbacks of studying abroad.  It’s probably the single biggest reason more students don’t do it.  That reason?  ¡El dinero!  It’s going to be expensive. 

Amanda and I are both very fortunate to be at UCF on generous scholarships, but our time in Spain will work out to be roughly twice the cost of a normal semester here on campus in Orlando.  Our scholarships, understandably, aren’t quite that generous.  As Amanda has already written, our parents are so supportive of us, and it’s because of them that we have this opportunity.  Still, we’re researching our trip as well as we can so that we can make it as affordable for us (and for our parents) as possible.

Some of the expenses are obvious: airfare, room and board, tuition.  However, there are some that we hadn’t thought of…

Insurance: What happens if we get injured in Spain?  Until I came to college, the only reason I’d ever needed to go a hospital were to visit my mom at work, since she’s a nurse.  However, in the last two years, I’ve had two visits to the ER (hence the earlier reference to my being accident prone) and the resulting bills showed me just how much the insurance company covers when you’re injured.  Since our families’ health insurance here would not cover incidents in Spain, Amanda and I are going to purchase insurance offered by the University in Alcalá.  The policy is entirely in Spanish, and while we both read Spanish pretty well, we’re planning to have a Spanish-speaker go through it with us to make sure we understand all the details.

Visas: Since we’re staying longer than 60 days, we’ll need student visas.  To get these, we need to go through a complicated process which will involve a trip to the Spanish consulate in Miami and lots of paperwork.  The cost should be about $100.

Exchange rates: As of today, one Euro is worth $1.31 in U.S. dollars.  This is actually quite a bit less than a year ago, when 1€ was worth $1.49.  Beyond simple exchange rates, we’ve learned that there are fees that we will pay when we exchange our money.  These will either be added on as a “conversion fee” or we will pay them through a higher exchange rate.  These fees can be as high as 10% or more, so we will need to be aware of how and where we’re exchanging our money.  Certain credit cards offer lower exchange rates than you can find for cash, so that’s an option we’re considering.

Amanda and I had ambitious ideas for an adventure across Europe either at the beginning or the end of our semester, but that’s not very financially practical.  That said, we don’t have class on Fridays, so we will have lots of long weekends to travel around Spain and see as much as we can.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Antoni Gaudi: Part Two

As a follow-up to my previous post, I would like to showcase some of my favorite of Gaudi’s works. First and foremost, and probably the most famous, is the Sagrada Familia.

The Sagrada Familia is a giant church in Barcelona that has been under construction since 1882. In fact, the workers aren't entirely sure when it will be finished! It has faced a lot of criticism since it has been modified by present architects. Gaudi was known for improvising and changing his mind constantly, hardly ever following a design plan. This makes it very hard for architects to continue his vision, but they are attempting to do it justice.

 In this picture of the inside of the Sagrada Familia, you can see one of Gaudi’s most notable influences: nature. These columns were meant to look like trees, their branches stretching up into the canopy that created the ceiling.  It is extremely intricate and the church is considered one of his master works.

Another one of my favorites is Park Guell. It was originally part of a commercial housing project, commissioned by Eusebi Guell, with the park modeled off of a English style garden. The symbol of the park, the lizard guarding the staircase, has become one of Gaudi's most recognized mosaics.

The park was meant to be a tranquil retreat for the people of Barcelona similar to the El Retiro Park in Madrid. Except, instead of being placed on flat land, it was created on a hill which required an intricate road system, stairs, archways, and terraces.  It was meant to be both peaceful and social. It features a detailed mosaic bench meant to resemble a giant serpent.The curves were designed to encourage talk and chatter between those seated on it. 
These work are prime examples of Gaudi's use of color, structure, and mosaics. He always pushed the envelope to create unique works of art that could be used as public and private spaces. I can't wait to see some of his work in person. The pictures are just small glimpses of a giant space, so I am extremely excited that I could have a chance to take it all in at once.