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Lisboa, Portugal

March 10, 2012

ISA Spring 2012 in Lisboa, Portugal | Photo Credit: Julia

This past weekend, ISA took us to Lisboa, (Lisbon for you English-speakers) Portugal. Here’s my recap.

Highlights from the trip:

  • When we got to our hotel, we realized that a Portuguese fútbol team was also staying there. They had their team bus parked in the front and there were paparazzi, fans, and police all around. I didn’t end up seeing them walk by, but most of the others in my group stayed to watch.
  • On the first day we went to Castilla de San Jorge which is a castle that looks over the entire city and river. It was BEAUTIFUL! We didn’t go inside but we explored the gardens and I spent most of my time looking at the view and feeling the cool air against my face. It was a perfect relaxing moment where I could have contemplated life, but instead spent it thinking about absolutely nothing — something I think is equally as valuable.
The breathtaking view from Castilla de San Jorge
  • People giving us our tour kept reminding us that Lisboa had areas that were “new” because the earthquake destroyed most of the city — in 1755! Yeah, they forgot they were talking to Americans where our country wasn’t even founded before this date. We could hardly take them serious when they said it was “new.”
  • BREAKFAST! The hotel had a buffet style breakfast. Except the hotel called it “pequeno” (small in Portuguese). Yeah… mine was definitely not small.
  • We celebrated my friend Sofia’s 21st birthday on Saturday by giving her a list of 21 tasks to complete that day. The list had everything from getting a local to sing to her Ai Se Eu Te Pego, to planking 21 historical sites. All in all, it was quite hilarious and a lot of fun.
  • We tried to go to the beach, but it was much further and took longer than expected to get there. Instead a few of the girls and I hung out by the river — another relaxing moment spent in Lisboa.
Molly, Sierra, Kelsey, Kortney, Me, and Marissa next to the Taugus River | Photo Credit: Molly
  • For dinner we ate at another delicious vegetarian restaurant called Terra (after about a 30 minute search for the place). It was buffet style too, so best believe that I scarfed on some red peppers, salad with golden raisins, spinach lasagna, potatoes, among other things. And we cannot forget my favorite part of the meal — flour-less chocolate cake covered in berries and cream cheese. Delicious.
  • We visited some cool sites that day including the Monasterio de los Jerónimos, and the Bélem Tower. We also saw a bridge named the “25th of April” that was very similar to the Golden Gate in San Francisco. Here are some pictures from the day:
Monasterio de los Jéronimos
Courtyard inside the Monasterio
Bélem Tower
I kept feeling like I was back in California when I looked at this bridge
  • That night we went out to celebrate Sofia’s birthday — all 23 of us. We rolled out in a huge group, but we all had a good time hanging out, dancing, and of course completing the rest of Sofia’s tasks (meeting locals, photobombing, etc). We also met some players from a professional Portuguese basketball team. Who knew we would attract so many professional Portuguese athletes in Lisboa?
Happy Birthday Sofia! | Photo Credit: Julia
  • On our way home to Salamanca we stopped in two pueblos (little towns) names Óbidos (where they were having a chocolate festival!) &  Batalha (where there’s a monastery). Here are some pictures from those stops:

Cute little pueblo with a chocolate festival!

Monasterio de Batalha

Overall, we had a great time in Lisboa. I was hoping for drastically warmer weather, and didn’t get that but I can’t complain. Portugal was beautiful and I could see myself going back again someday.


Teaching Update

March 7, 2012

Since my last post, I’ve officially had 2 days of teaching classes. Here’s a recap:

Day 1

My first class was okay. I started the class off with an article and I had the students read it & discuss it. However, before long it turned into “what does this word mean” instead of a conversation… A lot of the kids are shy and didn’t activley participate (I shouldn’t be too surprised though, right, because I was never one to raise my hand either). But overall I was feeling a little overwhelmed and a tad disappointed with the outcome. Either way it was a learning experience, right?

My second class, however, went much better. The class was talking about heroes that week so I started class off by asking them who their hero is. After we talked about superheroes & then watched a clip from The Incredibles (o en español Los Increíbles) so that they could tell me what happened (they are working on the past tense so I thought it was fitting). After we talked about what superpowers we would have if given the chance. I think it went well :]

Day 2

This day I was less prepared because 1) The first class was talking about travel so I thought it would be interesting to have an organic conversation about places people have been, where they would like to go, etc. 2) the second class’ teacher never told me what they were learning about this week… so I came in with a back up plan but was ready for whatever she wanted me to do.

The first class was okay. I had some good conversations with some students and a few were willing to add to the conversation. I’m still trying to get a feel for the dynamics of the class though and will probably try something more structured next week.

As for the second class, the teacher thought it would be fun for the students to interview me. They asked me questions like “Where did you live when you were little?” (you should have seen their faces when I pronounced it), “When did you arrive to Salamanca?” “What countries have you traveled to?” and “What was the name of your high school” (they found it hilarious when I said “Los Osos”). Overall, it wasn’t too difficult and I think it was a good way for them to get to know me better and hopefully that’ll help them warm up to me.

Anyway, that’s basically all from my first two days of teaching. It’s been interesting, a tad challenging, but I think (read HOPE) that as time goes by I’ll figure out something that works for my classes. Now it’s time to focus on my classes where I’m the student and not the teacher…. ¡Hasta luego!

TA turned ESL Teacher

February 29, 2012

So the other day I started my volunteer program at a school in Salamanca called San Juan Bosco. I originally signed up to assist an English teacher. Well, when I got there, I spoke with the English teachers and they both thought it would be a good idea for me to do my own thing.

So in short, I am the new conversation teacher for TWO classes of students — one class which is equivalent to a senior class in US high schools, and one which is the equivalent to a 6th period junior high class. SCARY!

Cool fact: One of the girls who I met last summer when she was in LA is in my class. Kind of strange that my friend is now my student, but hopefully she can help me out.

Now that I’ve finished my lesson plans, I only feel 50% more confident than I did before. I don’t know if it’ll be too hard, too easy, too long, too short, if there’ll be technology issues — ahh!!

All I know is that I cannot believe I had SUCH a hard time designing a lesson plan about shopping. Maybe because shopping should only ever be about fun and never about schoolwork??… food for thought.

Anyway, first day of teaching is tomorrow (OMG FREAKING OUT). I’ll be updating you all on how it goes sometime after. Wish me luck!

Sevillan Sunshine

February 19, 2012

ISA Spring 2012 in Plaza de España – Sevilla, España

This past weekend, ISA (my study abroad group) took us to Sevilla. All I can say is that I fell in love. Here’s why:

    • I DIDN’T HAVE TO WEAR 5 LAYERS OF CLOTHES! After a week in freezing Italy and a month in frigid Salamanca I was back to wearing only one pair of pants and one jacket — my kind of winter wear. It was warm & sunny and I literally did not stop smiling and dancing around all day long. It was amazing.

This is my “I”m happy because it’s warm and sunny and I don’t have to wear a coat” pose
  • I ate the most delicious meal I’ve had in Spain at a vegetarian restaurant called Gaia for my friend’s birthday. For those of you ever in Sevilla, I HIGHLY recommend it. I had hummus!! for the first time in a month. I ate real Spanish olives with said hummus (for those of you who don’t know this is a staple of my diet at my apartment). For my main dish I had 3 arroces (3 rices) that had zucchini (not battered and fried!), dried fruit, nuts, bell peppers… I was in food heaven.
  • Churros Rellenos– Picture it: a giant, handmade churro filled with creamy vanilla custard, dipped in chocolate. Oh my gosh. Delicious. 4 € well spent (I went back for another)
  • Real Alcázar: I’ll let the pictures do the talking

Beautiful building at the end of the tour

The inside of the royal home. Beautiful and intricate decoration that combines Arabic, Judaic, and Christian themes.

The Courtyard

I think this picture captures the Sevillan vibe — Sun, relaxation, and beauty

  • Plaza de España: Probs one of the most magnificently, breathtakingly, beautiful places I’ve been.

You can rent a boat for 5 € and paddle around the little moat. So cute! Also loving the blue & gold fence

Overlooking the Plaza on a balcony

All around the Plaza there are separate sections dedicated to each region in Spain. We, of course, needed to take a picture with Salamanca’s

Italia: Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome

February 16, 2012

We had a two week break in between my intensive month classes and my immersion classes, so Alexa, Lily, Polly (for the weekend in Florence), and I decided to spend a week in beautiful Italy. Here’s a recap from my trip. Brace yourself, it’s a long one.


Playing in the snow (for the first time) in Milan

We first flew into Milan from Madrid (11€ aka $14.50 flight ftw). When we got there IT WAS SNOWING! And it literally did not stop snowing the entire time we were there. Theme of Italy — it was FREEZING! We would walk around the city and go into a store to shop to escape the cold. Walk around some more, go get gelato. Walk around some more, shop some more (p.s. this is really dangerous for someone like me who loves shopping).

Highlight of Milan though was meeting up with Lily’s friend who is from Milan who studied abroad at her school last year. We met him at the Duomo earlier in the day, got lunch, and then later that night we met up with him again and he took us over to his house where we met his family. They were seriously so nice (his mom cooked us pasta and then invited us to their vacation home in the south of Italy — hello!) After dinner we left the house and walked around the city as it was snowing. Even though I was freezing it was so beautiful that it didn’t even matter. We were in Milan, Italy, it was snowing, and I couldn’t believe it was real life.


My favorite canal picture 

After spending one day and night in Milan we were off to Venice. When we got to Venice, our hostel advised us that it is very easy to get lost in Venice — and boy were they right! Especially without a map. But it was seriously so beautiful. I loved all the old colorful buildings and narrow winding streets — I would not mind getting lost there and wandering around. Unfortunately we only had 24 hours here so we didn’t have time for that.

That night we (reluctantly) decided to check out St. Mark’s Basilica (reluctantly only because it was even more cold in Venice thanks to the nice windchill). After our faces were literally numb from the cold, we decided to get tiramasu near the Rialto Bridge — it was the most delicious tiramasu I’ve ever had, but also the most expensive… whoops.

On the next day, we woke up early (for us at least) to make the most of our day since we only had a few hours until our next train left. There is something so beautiful about the morning light which makes me wish I was a morning person – and the fact that we were in Venice made it incredible. After a quick cappuccino for breakfast, we decided to go back to St. Mark’s Basilica during the day and then went up the bell tower. The bell tower had beautiful views but it was so windy and so cold — probably the coldest I have ever been in my life. After our quick tour around Venice we headed to the train station for Florence.


Bundled up in Florence: Polly, Lily, Alexa, and me| Photo Credit: Alexa

We arrived in Florence Friday afternoon and stayed there until Monday morning and I am so happy we had the whole weekend to spend there because I love this city! Even though it’s a major city it has a small town feel and I absolutely loved it. The highlight of Florence was having some great recommendations thanks to knowing and meeting people who live/lived here before.

One of the girls who I went on this trip with, Alexa, has a friend whose aunt is a native Florentine. She was gracious enough to offer her time and show us around the city — bonus points: she’s an art historian! How lucky are we? When we met up with her, we decided to visit the Uffizi instead of taking a tour of the city thanks to it being the coldest day in Florence in the past 47 years (How did we get so lucky? -__-).

The Uffizi was amazing though especially since we had a private tour with someone who has studied art all of her life. Even though we only saw a small part of the museum, I was able to appreciate it thanks to all the wonderful information she was able to share with us. Quality over quantity definitely applied in this situation. I had such a great appreciation for art that I had never had before thanks to this tour.

After the tour she invited us over to her house to eat lunch with her family — a delicious meal of pasta, real salad (real meaning not just iceburg lettuce), and fruit. It was seriously such a nice gesture and we had a blast meeting the family and getting away from downtown Florence.

The best pizza of my life

Another highlight of Florence was the food. Because we had great recommendations from the family as well as some friends who had studied abroad there we ate like royalty. My top meals were our pizza from Gusta Pizza (see photo above), our gelatto from La Carraia (the best that I had in all of Italy- and I had a lot to compare it to), and this spaghetti that I tried called Drunkard Spaghetti (which was spaghetti soaked in red wine — sounds weird but it was something so unique and really delicious!).

On our last day in Florence we went to go see the David (a statue by Michelangelo) — and wow was it worth it! I have never been so impressed by any work of art ever in my life. When we walked into the room and turned the corner I was immediately in awe. I could not get over the talent and time that must have gone into something so magnificent and detailed. It was truly breathtaking and something that I definitely recommend people to see while in Florence.



Our last stop on our Italian vacation was to Rome. When we first got there our first plan was to visit the Colosseum. Right when you get off the metro, you turn the corner and the Colosseum is right in front of you — so unreal! After walking around it and taking pictures, we asked someone where we could enter. Sadly, he said we couldn’t because it was closed that day thanks to the snow (again, we made history by being in Rome after it had snowed for the first time in 20 years).

One of the tourist attractions that we visited in Rome was the Capitoline Museum which houses ancient artwork. It was a really interesting museum and I definitely enjoyed it – especially all the sculptures. We of course went to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps a few times and they were both gorgeous! We went both in the day and the night and I have to say I love visiting touristy places at night because they are far less crowded (but sadly my camera can’t capture the beauty of them at night).

St. Peter’s Basilica — kind of wish I would have waited for these people to get out of the shot. Oh well…

On our last day in Rome we visited the Vatican — specifically St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums (read Sistine Chapel). Even though we had seen plenty of churches throughout Italy, St. Peter’s was simply breathtaking. The grand scale of this church was impressive and so beautiful. After our walk through the church we went over to see the Sistine Chapel inside the Vatican Museums. The Sistine Chapel was a lot smaller than I had imagined and it was interesting because it was just another room in the museum rather than being a separate building. Even though it wasn’t what I expected it was still incredible to imagine the amount of work that must have gone into painting all of those people and images — conclusion from the trip: Michelangelo was gifted.

After our trip to the Vatican we headed over to pick up our favorite paninis and dessert ravioli from a little local bakery we found for our trip home. So delicious! As much as we enjoyed our trip, by the end of this day we were exhausted and excited to return back to good ol’ Salamanca.


I LOVE ITALY! Here’s why:

  • The people are so nice! Everywhere we went people were willing to help a lost tourist and they always said “ciao” and “grazie ciao”  with a smile as we entered and left.
  • The food is delicious! This was the first time I had been 100% full and satisfied with a meal since being in Europe. Yummmm….
  • Everything is so beautiful! There is so much history, the architecture is magnificent, the art is immaculate… I can go on & on.
  • The shopping is to die for! I picked up some great pieces while being here – namely some great Murona glass post earrings, a black blazer from Zara, a pair of denim shorts (yes, even though I was the coldest I had ever been in my life I still bought a pair of shorts — California girl through and through), some BEAUTIFUL Italian leather oxfords, a new coat (FINALLY), and a cute sundress that I can’t wait to wear once it warms up.
  • The people are beautiful! So nicely dressed, dark hair, light eyes– ughh I died.

In short — I’ll definitely be back!

Las Clases

February 16, 2012

La Universidad de Salamanca

Sorry I’ve been gone for so long. I didn’t have internet access for over a week thanks to a wonderful tour around Italy followed by a weekend trip to Sevilla (blog posts soon to come).

Now that vacaciones are over, this week started the first of my clases con españoles. I am currently signed up for five, but will be dropping one once I figure out which one I don’t want to take. As of now I am enrolled in Hispanic-American Poetry, Spanish Poetry, Spanish Literature in the 18th and 19th centuries, Art History, and Spanish History from 1939-Present day.

So far the classes all seem interesting and the professors all seem nice. I feel most comfortable with my poetry classes because I took an intro poetry class last quarter at UCLA. History doesn’t seem too bad either considering my love of the subject. That leaves me with Art History and Spanish Lit. I keep thinking I will drop Spanish Lit because I’m afraid of not being able to keep up with the work (so many novels in español!) but part of me likes the challenge and the material seems really interesting. I don’t know. I have until next week to decide so I will take that time to make that decision.

I will confess though that I do feel way over my head. Even though the topics for the classes and the classes themselves sound really interesting, I am still worried about keeping up. The professors lecture the whole hour or two and we take notes — without powerpoint (duh…duhh… duhhhhhhh!). Normally this isn’t a problem for my classes in English but in another language it makes it a little bit more difficult with unfamiliar words or even just being able to remember what I heard to write down and then having to keep listening to the next part. It reminds me of dictation in Spanish class minus our teacher talking slowly and being able to ask “repíte por favor.” Hopefully this will improve with more and more practice — it better or else I’m in trouble.

One of the things that I think will be the greatest change in the Spanish system of uni is self-study. Not that I don’t study on my own at home, but I always have readings assigned and a date to do them by. Here they give you a list of twenty-thirty or so readings that you can use for reference. I am realizing quickly that I will need to take notes in class, get the main points, and then research them more on my own (mostly because of the language barrier, but also because of the teaching style.) It will take discipline, but I think I’m ready for the challenge.

Anyway, this is just a quick post to update you all on the less exciting but equally important part of the study abroad experience (note the bold? yeah… it sucks but it’s unfortunately reality.) Well, I’m off to start some of that self-studying and trying to figure out characteristics of poetry postvanguardian age… wish me luck!

Una Torpe en Bilbao

January 30, 2012

Bilbao skyline

Last weekend I got to visit my friends Laura and Pedro in Bilbao. Both had stayed with my family for 3 weeks the two summers before and now I had the opportunity to visit them in their hometown and meet their family.

Let me just start off by saying how nice of a trip it was. Their family was so generous and made me feel right at home. It was so nice to be in a family environment (although it did make me miss my own). I feel so blessed to know people who are (relatively) close by who will be there for me if I need anything.

One of the greatest things that I enjoyed about this weekend in Bilbao was getting to practice my Spanish. Since I was living with their family, I was forced to speak it and listen to it at all times. I had to do a lot of “¿Cómo?, Lo siento no entiendo, ¿Otra vez?,” and “¿Qué signifca…?”‘s, but in the end I could already feel my Spanish improving even though I was only there for 2 & a half days.

My word of the weekend that I learned was torpe. ¿Qué significa torpe? you might ask. I’ll give you some scenarios… let’s see if you can figure it out: “Oh look, Jessica just tripped.” — “Torpe.” “Oh no, I just dropped my fork.” — “Torpe.” “Owwwww!!” — “Torpe.”

Think you got the answer? Yeah, torpe = clumsy. So I’ll admit it —  Soy una torpe. What can you do?

Besides tripping, bumping into things, and dropping stuff (what’s new?), the weekend was extremely relaxing while at the same time being super jam-packed with fun and exciting adventures. Here are some pictures of what we did and what we saw.

Me, Laura, & Pedro at the Guggenheim Museum. The exhibits were going through a shift so sadly a whole floor was closed. It was still cool to see though.

Gonzalo, Pedro, Laura, & me on La Puente Vizcaya. We took a glass elevator 50 metros (165 ft.) up. For those of you who know me well, I have a fear of heights and elevators (and a few other things :p). But once we got to the top the views were definitely worth it. 

La Puente Vizcaya from the ground 

Laura & her dad took me on a tour around Bilbao & Las Arenas. This is a picture of the playa (beach) that they like to go to during summer. Isn’t it gorgeous?! This is the Mar Cantábrico that borders the northern coast of Spain. It was pretty cool to get to see it since I had just labeled it on a map a few days before in my culture class.  

On the last stop of our tour we went up this mountain to see Bilbao from above. It was cool pointing out the places I had been the previous days. In this picture you can see Bilbao’s skyscraper (Torre Iberdrola) as well as the Guggenheim Museum. 

Other Notable Memories

  • The bus ride from Salamanca to Bilbao was about 5 & half hours. Good thing I brought my iPod! — oh wait… iPods don’t work unless you have earphones -__- Luckily for me our bus played some classics aka Genie in a Bottle, and Baby One More Time 
  • We watched two movies (in Spanish of course): Marley & Me (en Español Una Pareja de Tres) and Who Want’s to Be a Millionaire. I cried while watching both.
  • I ate calamari and it was so good! I’ve tried it before and have never liked it. But because it was so fresh it was delicious.
  • Bilbao’s metro was so nice. It was so smooth compared to NYC’s (but that’s because Bilbao’s is new and NYC’s is ancient). LA def. needs to jump on this train (haha get it?? …. yeah, I know that was lame. Sorry. I couldn’t help it)
  • We went to eat at this restaurant called Deluxe. After seeing the giant hamburgers, hotdogs, and pizzas this place served, the name makes perfect sense. Let’s just say this hotdog puts the size of a Dodger dog to shame.
  • After eating at Deluxe we were stuffed and exhausted. I thought it was appropriate to explain to them an expression I use quite often in English — food coma
  • It was so much warmer here than in Salamanca. Even though it sprinkled a little, I was so thankful for warm(er) weather.
  • We went to an awesome outdoor tent lounge/café/bar thing. It was lit up in colored lights, and they had outdoor couches and tables for people to hang out and have a drink at — I of course had my fav. café con leche (and, yes, I’ll admit it. I’m addicted to coffee). Another thing LA needs to get on.

Once again, shout out to Laura, Pedro, Gonzalo, their parents, and all their family for welcoming me with open arms. I had such an amazing time & cannot express my gratitude enough.