Black & White Photography

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Cafe con Leche

There is something to be said about the mass of caffeinated people of the world. Ordering a coffee or a cafe con leche abroad may appear as a simple act, as ritualistic or even monotonous but at least for me, holds greater significance. If you were to scroll through the pictures on my phones, you would inevitably see pictures of coffee: I acknowledge this pattern. However, what you can’t see and what I know are the moments behind those pictures. I can tell you where I was, whom I was with, and what exactly I was feeling. This behavioral practice of mine exists because I truly believe that moments as simple as those speak to people psychologically: what they need to get done, what kind of coffee they like, how they take it, why and how they started drinking coffee (always interesting stories), what they associate it with, the palate for it, etc. This seems silly. It might be. But, relive moments in which coffee or food has served as a medium to connect with people through that experience, that opens up a line of communication and authentic interaction; one that goes beyond being full, satisfied, caffeinated or whatever else.

There are multiple cafes that I frequent. One goal in mind is always to connect to that coffee culture, the owners, the barista. Another of course, is that I love the act of drinking coffee and taking time to regroup, de-stress, people watch, and open myself to possibilities. Furthermore, there are connections to be made that rupture the day to day, that shock you out of the personal bubble we inhabit most of the time.

For example, I distinctly the remember the times in Madrid when I was having issues using my credit card at local cafes near mi piso [apartment]. One afternoon, I was trying to get work done for linguistics I believe when I went to a cafe around the block. Usually I escape the confines of my room and apartment to work in an environment more unfamiliar and less comfortable to do my work. Some people can only work in silence. I abhor true silence when I work, being anywhere near my bedroom [mostly my bed] because I get tired and/or unproductive, distracted. Well, there was a communication gap during my order of un capuccino; there was a minimum for credit card spending. Additionally, the machine would not take my American piece of plastic bullshit. Therefore, I was left in the situation awkwardly apologizing for the coffee she had already made, about to run back to my apartment for more change. Of course, it was a rookie mistake not to bring more cash with me. Nevertheless, a kind soul and an apparent regular was sitting at the bar and as I walked away, paid it forward and took care of my drink. It surprised me, shocked me at how compassionate it was just to contribute to someone’s day or routine in that capacity. The kindness of others touches you, even with the simplest of actions. I feverishly said thank you in Spanish, while trying to articulate how much it meant to me. It wasn’t perfect, but it allowed the moment to interact with this other person I would not regularly talk to. Those are the moments I find are wonderful, transcendent of routine.

Those cafes I frequent, I always end up making friends that regularly go as well, network with people that surprisingly correspond with what you were searching but not immediately looking for. There’s small talk about one’s tasks or life, but a simple smile, a small hello, or ‘have a good day’ have the capacity to turn one’s mindset around for the entire day. Smallest moments have the capacity in that sense to be the most powerful.

The reason I am posting some pictures of coffee is not for some hastag, attention, obsession with myself and sharing my routine with others, but to analyze further what simple pictures like these mean and what they commemorate. Pictures while taken instantaneously, sometimes spontaneously and almost aggravatingly accessible do have a story behind them. And they truly say something about the photographer in question.

Next time you take your coffee, look around and you’ll be surprised at how many like-minded, diverse people are surrounding you; constantly filling the room with noise of laughter, conversation, professional meetings, music, etc. The cacophony of life. Reflect on that and then take another satisfying sip of whatever you ordered.

Why I taught myself 20 languages — and what I learned about myself in the process

ideas.ted.com

During the past few years, I’ve been referred to in the media as “The World’s Youngest Hyperpolyglot” — a word that sounds like a rare illness. In a way it is: it describes someone who speaks a particularly large number of foreign languages, someone whose all-consuming passion for words and systems can lead them to spend many long hours alone with a grammar book.

But while it’s true that I can speak in 20 different languages, including English, it took me a while to understand that there’s more to language than bartering over kebabs in Arabic or ordering from a menu in Hindi. Fluency is another craft altogether.

I began my language education at age thirteen. I became interested in the Middle East and started studying Hebrew on my own. For reasons I still don’t quite understand, I was soon hooked on the Israeli funk group Hadag Nachash, and would…

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Studying Abroad: Packing

My fellow study abroad students about to embark, you arguably face the most annoying part of preparing for your trip, packing. The following will show a list of things that I did pack, what proved to be absolute necessities, and what you most definitely can leave at home. Also, let me start by saying, if you wear it at home, bring it abroad. You already know you love it and you will want to wear it. Don’t be afraid: anything that has gotten too much wear, maybe shoes that you have tread too much on, there is a solution; Donate! And voila, more room in your suitcase. My packing consisted of several components:

  1. One large 50 lbs suitcase
  2. One collapsable duffel in my suitcase
  3. Carry ons:
    1. My specialized camera bag that doubles as a purse, as you are allowed one purse or personal handbag with a carry on, this is often my conspicuous room saver. I stuff a lot of things in there!
    2. A bookbag. You need a bookbag. Hell, you could live out of your bookbag when you take trips. It should be big enough to stuff all of your necessities, double as a school bag (mostly for your laptop. not many books you need to carry at all). And of course, your smaller bag (duffel, suitcase, bookbag they NEED to be under the maximum dimensions for plane flights (ryanair,easyjet) or the train! Otherwise, look out for ridiculous fees.

The one suitcase; probably a mistake on my part, because don’t forget that you need to haul these around the metro and upstairs, unless you want to take a cab (more expensive, but easier process). I would recommend two medium-sized suitcases if you need it! What I Brought with Me Outerwear

  • 2 Coats
  • 1-2 Jackets
  • 2 Cardigans
  • 1 Hoodie
  • 1 Workout Jacket
  • 2-3 Scarfs
  • 2 Hats
  • 1 pair of gloves
  • 1 stockings

Shoes

  • Riding Boots
  • Tennis Shoes
  • 1 Converses
  • 1 Pair of Flats

*Remember, you need to be able to walk in these shoes, a lot. They should be basic and versatile so that you could go from school to jump on a train or flight or explore the city. Anything you forget, you can buy there. But, you can’t easily replace good walking shoes or boots! Shirts

  • 1 Thermal Shirt
  • 5+ Long sleeved shirts
  • 3+ Basic T Shirts
  • 2 Undershirts/Camisoles
  • 5 Blouses (Can double as layering/ going out/weather getting warmer)
  • My favorite short sleeved/quarter sleeved shirts (Whatever I wear often, and works with anything!)

Don’t be afraid to re-wear clothes. You don’t want to bring your whole closet, only the essentials for the weather and the amount of time you will be there. Layering is essential. If you wear the same shirt, so what? Throw a chambray shirt, a scarf, or a cardigan on top of it, and you have a different outfit. Also, you’ll be in Spain; great fashion and style, add things there! I highly recommend H&M, Zara and Mango (pricier options), Pimkie, Pull&Bear, etc. There is of course El Rastro, which I absolutely loved! And don’t forget your shopping streets, like Calle Fuencarral & Princesa. Pants

  • 2 Skinny Jeans
  • 1 Bootcut Jeans
  • 1 sweatpants
  • 1 shorts (just your favorite pair, you won’t need to break these out often!)
  • 1 skirt (black, tight- can wear stockings underneath with boots and can serve as a good transition piece)

Workout Clothes This really depends on what you want. There is a gym at UC3M Getafe that you can pay membership for. It was a little pricy for my budget, or join one for a much cheaper price in your neighborhood. Or could stick to at home and outside workouts like I did. El Parque del Retiro is beautiful and a great place to run/walk/workout. I also had a cute little park by my apartment, which was lucky. I usually workout out of the gym; when I moved into my apartment, I bought a yoga mat from the Chino store for around 5 Euros. Surprisingly, it held up!

  • 2 leggings
  • 2 sport bras
  • 4 shirts
  • 1 workout jacket
  • 1 pair of tennis shoes
  • 4-5 pair of workout socks ( I always lose socks! Bring more if you need to, they are so easier to stuff in your suitcase, and you’ll need socks for boots during cold weather, converses, etc.)

Undergarments Bras: Let’s face it, there are many different kinds depending on what kind of outfit you plan to wear. Come prepared!

  • 2-3 most comfortable and versatile T Shirt Bras
  • 1 Bralette
  • 1 Strapless Bra
  • 2 Sport Bras

Remember, you need enough during laundry time- bring extra if necessary. Plus, buying lingerie abroad becomes a tad difficult, but definitely isn’t impossible. Just remember, Spain doesn’t have Victoria Secret if that’s your go-to. Underwear: I will not disclose unwanted information, don’t worry. Just bring enough for the week + laundry day. I probably brought more than that with me. Travel & Misc.

  • Ziploc bags (flights, incoming, outgoing Europe, and within Europe).
  • 1-2 reading books, depending on your preference & habits.
  • 1 small over the shoulder bag. Make sure your purses have distinct closures (i.e. zippers, covers, etc.) Often, pick pocketing and theft can be a threat. Just make sure you are aware of your surroundings, and when on public transportation and walking, you use the strap crossed over your shoulder and have the opening face you. You will notice that many people that wear back packs or purses will put them right in front and hold them when on the metro.
  • 1 collapsable bag. I used it for grocery shopping and beach trips!
  • 1 travel pouch w/ travel bottles (a must, you will need soap, shampoo, conditioner with you when you travel. Maybe even moisturizer or lotion if you’re into it.)
  • 1 extra padlock (2 in total. One for your bag, one for your locker when you stay in hostels)
  • Travel bag (I stuck with the bag pack and duffel).
  • Camera (small is good, but if you have a DSLR like me, bring it! Just use your phone for efficiency! Keep in mind, it takes up more room, but balance the advantages and disadvantages. If you have a small camera, it could have more megapixels/zoom/takes up less space, etc.)
  • Brush & Comb. Obvious, but duh. I had a mini one to bring with me for travel days.
  • Ponytails & Bobbi pins. You know that you’ll need them!
  • Make-up bag (Great for storage as well when traveling. I only brought the essentials for me, which is very very basic. For me, I need chap stick, some concealer, and mascara for daily use. Foundation, blush/bronzer duo, eye shadow, eyeliner- that is all for going out/occasions. A small palette will be the most useful for space and efficiency!).
  • 1 travel toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Shampoo/Conditioner: Up to you. I brought mine because I knew it would last and it’s not very large. You will absolutely not want to buy shower products on your first day in Spain, after jet lag, and a 14 hr flight. Just a heads-up.
  • 1 Packet of Makeup/Cleansing wipes. Easy for travel instead of bringing extra products!
  • 1 mini hand-sanitizer if you want to!
  • 1 travel blowdryer (While this is usually in debate, if you have a collapsible travel dryer, it is great for your apartment, travel if you need it).
  • 1-2 towels (apartment, hostels, travel, beach, etc.) You will need them even when it sounds a little excessive. Of course, you could be like me and opt out and buy abroad, but that can be annoying when you’re buying towels the first night at your hostel.
  • 2 deodorants (1 regular sized, 1 travel sized).
  • 1 small perfume (I brought a small one and it was helpful! Perfume in Spain is a bit expensive).
  • Of course, converters/adaptors. I got two-in-one. It was huge. Bring two or so small converters. They are handy everywhere, you will need them! And the smaller ones are better for travel or perhaps when you are studying for finals at La Bicicleta (awesome place, you should go!).

Female-specific: ‘Hygiene’ products. Depends on your preferences. Bring them if you are not comfortable trying other brands/types abroad. You can find all of these personal products abroad, but remember that the prices for familiar brands are more expensive. To be honest, an easy way to avoid bringing this was bringing birth control with me. Yeah, five months worth from the Student Health Center. Yes, you have to pay for the other packs, as only the first pack is free with insurance. I just kept them in my makeup/travel bag and it was worth it. Remember to pick a new time in Spain, because of the time difference. If you can’t get this in time, don’t worry, it won’t be a big deal. It’s up to you and your preferences! What I Should Have Brought Probably more versatile clothes, the ones that I wore a lot at home and missed. I did only pack one suitcase, but I made it work.

  • Leggings! Great for boots, winter, etc. but Spaniards also wear these jegging like skinny jeans, so it won’t be a big deal.
  • 1 pair of Nikes; just something to lounge around in your apartment or for hostels. I opted for the comfiest pair of sweatpants!
  • Flip-flops: Hostel showers. That is all.
  • Towels
  • Travel dryer (I had a wonderful roommate that gave me her extra. Shout out to Alicia!)
  • Extra converter (especially for travel, a smaller one is needed)
  • Extra pair of walking shoes, but was easily bought abroad.

What was absolutely necessary PassportExtra passport photos. You will need these for traveling, identification, etc. The extra passport photos are for your Abono Transporte, as well if you lose anything. Absolutely, bring around 4 or so. You can do this abroad if necessary as well. Copies of all of your passport, identification, important papers. Please, bring them! I had a copy of my drivers id, birth certificate, passport, etc. IF by any circumstance, you need to get a new passport, you’ll need it. The extra passport pictures can also be used for a ESN card/ bank account at Santander/etc. Laptop. It is basically the only thing that you need for school. Notebooks, pens, all of those are things that you can buy abroad easily, either on campus or off. You will not need to buy textbooks. Everything is accessible using their school site, very similar to Moodle once you get used to it. Journal. Use it however you want to. Write a couple of sentences daily. Use it during culture shock. It usually helps to write it down. I saved a lot of ticket stubs, postcards, etc. in my journal. But absolutely, write new Spanish words down too. You’ll learn so many, from school to the metro to going out with new friends! A travel guide. I used Rick Steves. It was comprehensive and helpful when preparing to pack and travel. I always marked places I wanted to go, barrios to explore next on the map, and checked off things I had done. But absolutely, use this as a rough guideline. Don’t do every tourist thing because you think you need to. Get lost in the city that you are in, and explore and live like a local. Those are often the best moments of being abroad. ESN card. At UC3M, the ESN group is for the Erasmus Student Networks. These trips are with all the international students, and are so much fun, cheap, and absolutely recommended! Meet friends on these trips and meet up people to travel with. Also, don’t be afraid to branch out and meet locals as well; I met a majority of my Spaniard friends with my roommates and going out and just talking to people. Don’t be shy! Everything travel: duffel bag with perfect dimensions, padlocks, makeup bag for necessities, converters, towel, etc. Medicine: Sounds silly, but as someone that is often sick, the medicine and vitamins I brought were essential. Advil, Mucinex, Vitamins, EmergenC (Great for jet lag!), Allerga for allergies. Waterbottle: Water can be more expensive than alcohol, so yeah, bring one! Especially for travel, you can put in your backbag and use it and refill it during the day so you aren’t constantly buying bottled water. Cash. I exchanged at the airport in Madrid once I arrived. The exchange rate was good, and I needed it for the hostel I was staying at. Also, you will need cash for your deposit. Most places only accept cash for your future knowledge. It is rare that you will use your credit card. Debit/credit cards: Debit cards are great for ATM withdrawals. Make sure that your bank has a low international fee. 1-2% is perfect! For the UC3M students, I recommend a Santander account. It is free to set up with the school as a student. That way you can transfer money into that account, and use it without international ATM fees. It will save you a lot of money in the long run. Use your credit cards for large purchases, like booking flights, transportation, or hostels. A Budget. Immaterial, yes. Essential, of course. Know how much money you are leaving with, especially what is yours, what your parents are helping you with if you are lucky enough, savings, etc. Use that knowledge to adapt to Madrid, and how much you will spend monthly on average, (rent, groceries, going out, ATM withdrawals). Set an amount for your monthly withdrawals for the ATM. A roommate of mine was especially fiscally responsible and planned a very prescriptive budget, where she took out 2-3 months out in advance in order to acquire less ATM fees. Once you arrive: Abono Transporte Apply at an Estanco/tobacco shop; depends which campus you are traveling to! I used the Cercanias everyday to school at UC3M Getafe, from the Nuevos Ministerios station (above Atocha), to Getafe (Las Magaritas stop). Of course, get the metro app on your phone when you need help traveling on the metro. Getafe: B1,  Leganes: B1, Leganés Central  Colmenarejo: B3,Torrelodones How to get to your campus: http://www.uc3m.es/ss/Satellite/UC3MInstitucional/en/ListadoHijas/1371206554301/How_to_get_here If you need help with this process, look here: http://en.roostergnn.com/2013/12/17/a-guide-to-madrids-abono-transporte-2/129328/ Hope this helps! The best way to learn how to pack accordingly is research…and trial and error. Comment if you need more advice about packing, traveling, or more. My expertise is Spain-specific but can adapt accordingly to country.

Marrakesh, Morocco

Marrakesh, Morocco

Sorry for the spanglish!
I am on my way….packing my bags at 12am. Seems reasonable. I should be at the airport a 8am tomorrow, and I couldn’t be more excited for my trip and long awaited adventures. Just an update, I will not have my computer with my for both luggage & experience reasons, but I will have my phone, in a hopes of wifi. We shall see what happens there…
Either way, I am taking my camera and going to take as many pictures and videos as possible and socially acceptable.

Here is a quick look at some of the activities we will be doing during our 4 day/3 night stay…
Marrakech – Alto Atlas – Ait Ben Haddou
Ait ben Haddou – Gargantas Del Todra – Dunas de Merzouga
Merzouga – Valle delDraa – Anti Atlas – Ouarzazate – Marrakech

Must sleep now! Goodnight everyone…hasta luego.

Finalmente! Yo tengo fluencia en espanol…

April Fools! [Haha…hilarious]

I thought that since I haven’t written in a while, that I use April Fool’s as a segway for an update. Obviously, I am not fluent yet. I have learned a lot about the language, culture, and people. I believe, however, that there is a grand misconception about truly obtaining a foreign language. Even though I can say with confidence that I have somewhat of a high capacity for the language, I believe my experience here has given me a new perspective on fluency, as well as many other life-lessons. Regarding fluency, I don’t think I will be able to truly call myself fluent until I can interact with the language on a daily basis, in all forms with confidence and skills to negotiate my way through conversation, readings, etc. Unless I have a frequent interaction with the language, it won’t happen. The misconception that fluency means knowing everything is daunting. Once I came here, I realized what I knew and what I didn’t. As anything else with regards to learning, it is a process. I don’t think I will ever come to the day where I will say, “Okay, that’s it. I know everything I need to know about the spanish language…” and I hope I never do. I love spanish more than ever, and I hope someday to add more languages into my arsenal. Every day, I learn something new, even when it seems as minuscule as vocabulary, my capacity for the language is growing, and I believe, that the learning will never really stop.

When encountering a language, it is an interaction beyond semantics, grammar, vocabulary, it’s a summation of a culture, of a lifestyle, of a community and how they are able to communicate. Leaning a foreign language does not only give you numerous cognitive benefits, but the opportunity to interact with a group of people that wasn’t before possible. Being here has been difficult, an experience that I don’t think I could have ever started to prepare for. Some people you encounter will tell you that it is nearly impossible to communicate and on the other hand of the spectrum, that after one month, you should be fluent. Let’s discard the extremes, shall we? Because I know from experience that neither is accurate. Everyday is a new struggle, both at the same time, an opportunity to improve. Some days are better than others. Some people are exposed to it more because of their living environment, maybe because of a host family. Either way, the weight of it comes down to you, whether you want it or not. If so, you’ll push harder. When people hear you struggling and talk to you in English, you’ll be assertive and keep talking in Spanish. When you don’t know a word, you will ask or figure another way to say it. When you are done 3 hours of class all in Spanish, at the end of the day, you won’t stop listening, reading, writing, or speaking (if all, quite impressive). I can’t say that I have done this consistently, but it gets easier. And I am proud of my struggle, of at least, my efforts if I fail. 

Most of the people I encounter here are quite encouraging. You might hear that people will refuse to speak to you, that Spaniards are rude. I full-heartedly disagree. Sometimes, it is true that people will hear you Spanish and switch automatically to English, but with efforts to keep speaking even if struggling, you’ll find that people are helpful, encouraging, and happy that you are taking the time to learn their language, immerse yourself in their culture. I think the hardest part is keeping yourself accountable. Small goals help, but the biggest one is just try each day. Just keep trying [cue ‘Just keep swimming…’ in my head]. 

Some updates now. I have not traveled as much as I would have expected by now, but reality hits you when you realize you’re studying abroad. Studying. Abroad. I feel like for some reason, everyone forgot to prepare me for the actual academic part. How strange. While I have traveled within Madrid, Salamanca, Avila, and almost Granada (funny story….), I plan to take Semana Santa to my advantage. Also, I have some adventures coming up this week! I am heading to Morocco (Marrakesh), Africa! The weather should be beautiful…and by the end of the trip, other than our other explorations and activities, I will have rode camels, camped in the desert underneath the stars. Just the idea of the two things blows my mind every time. Not to mention, adding a different country and continent on my list! For Semana Santa, Italy and Barcelona are in my sights (let’s see what actually happens…), and Lisbon, Portugal the next weekend. Unfortunately, no ESN Ibiza trip for me…I guess that means other trips, much cheaper for me. Other than that, still dying to go to Granada, Prague, France. I should also be going to Holland to visit my lovely roommates (shout out to Anna and Chiara!). 

When I come home, I am looking for opportunities in New Orleans to keep learning and interacting with Spanish as often as possible. If anyone has any suggestions, let me know (whether it is a paid-position, tutoring, Spanish book club. seriously, anything.)

Ah. Ahora, es una de la manana [translation: way too late for my 9 am class tomorrow]. Hasta luego mis lectores!