Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Adeu Barcelona!

By Josh Zipin

Hello Davidson family. My semester in Barcelona is coming to a close and this will be my final blog entry as I will be flying out back to the US of A this Thursday. The semester has flown by and I can’t believe my time is up here.

The last month has been very full with visits from Wildcat star athletes and friends from home. Showing friends the city has really allowed me to get to know the city much better. At the beginning of the semester I felt a little bit lost, not knowing how to get to places, especially with any kind of punctuality. But I’ve evolved into a real tour guide here, with walking and metro routes of the city that I’m comfortable with. It’s different than Davidson or my hometown of Silver Spring, Maryland, because I go so many places by foot so often. I feel almost as if I know my way around this city better than either American ones.

The weather has been incredible here for the last month, and one of my favorite activities during that time has been playing ping pong outside in the Ciutadella park. It’s a huge park, but in the corner of one of its many entrances there are 6 outdoor tables lined up. It has actually been a great way to meet local Catalans, just by goofing around and playing small, very informal tournaments. Small things like ping pong helped me feel much more connected to the city and its people.

It is a bit bittersweet because I feel so comfortable here now, but I am so excited to get home and get back to Davidson. I’ve developed a genuine affection for everything Barcelona, and it is almost like I am a real citizen now. I couldn’t be happier with my decision to study abroad, and especially choosing to study here. My Spanish has reached a level of fluency I did not anticipate reaching and I have become much more independent here. I’ve also experienced some completely new cultures, and of course, been privileged to be inundated in a soccer-crazy environment, home to the best team in the world, FC Barcelona.

I just finished my last exam of the semester, and am now officially a Davidson senior. That is really weird to think about. My flight is scheduled for Thursday morning but knowing this city, there are probably a few twists and turns left for me before I leave. It’s been great connecting with people at home through this blog and I hope everyone has enjoyed it as much as I have. Make sure to catch the Barca Champions League game today! Visc a Barca y Visc a Catalunya!



Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nicaraguan Adventure

By Yannick Pilgrim

Hola Amigos,

Life is good over here in Costa Rica. In fact it rained yesterday for only the third time since I’ve been here. The temperature is still easily 95 degrees and higher on a daily basis, and I’ve gotten used to waking up in my own sweat. If the ocean was not so close, I probably would be going crazy right now. Well enough with the weather update; I have much to tell since my last blog entry.

Studying abroad is an experience, and anyone who has done it can tell you that some days are harder than others. With the travel and exploration of a foreign country comes certain risks, and for me, I learned a painful lesson crossing the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Let me first say that I have nothing against Nicaragua as a country. In fact it is a beautiful place with remarkable geography and an interesting culture. The problems I experienced in Nicaragua were limited to the border crossing.

The people that know me well can tell you that I am the kind of person who loves to do stuff on their own. Despite the warnings from my host parents, I decided to head to Nicaragua by myself for four days. I did sufficient research and planned my trip accordingly. I also spoke to some students on my program that had gone to Nicaragua in February in order to have an idea of what to expect at the border. From Puntarenas it took me 5 hours by bus to get to the border at Penas Blancas. The Costa Rican officials handled my paper work quickly and things were moving along faster than I expected.

After being done with customs in Costa Rica, I had to walk about 100 meters to a gate that was the crossover point for both countries. When I entered Nicaragua I felt a difference in the atmosphere. People were shoving customs papers in my face, asking if I needed a guide or a taxi, and telling me that if I didn’t have either, I would find myself in some trouble. I guess it was a moment in my time abroad where I really felt like an outsider. I had grown so accustomed to the “tranquila” life in Costa Rica. After breaking through the barrage of hustlers, I had to deal with a different problem. I have always heard of corruption on the border, but now I can say that I was a victim of it. The corruption practiced by police officers and custom officials at the border has become so common place that they can now do it in plain sight. I had a minor physical encounter with the border authorities who requested that I pay extra money to get into Nicaragua. They also told me I was not allowed to speak to anyone besides them. My Spanish deteriorated as my anger increased, making the situation even worse. I was outnumbered and with the law on their side I had no choice but to pay the price.

It was a tough lesson to learn and I really did not plan on using a blog entry to talk about the problems I had crossing the border. But I figure that while studying abroad a person is going to experience good and bad. Hopefully if you were planning on crossing the border to Nicaragua soon, this testimony can be of some assistance. I am doing fine now and have long since moved on from the incident. In fact, while in Nicaragua I spent time in San Juan del Sur, a beautiful beach town about 1 hour from the Penas Blancas border. While there I visited Playa Madera, a secluded beach great for surfing. It was a bit hard to find, but after hitchhiking a ride on the back of a tractor I finally found it.

I spent two days in San Juan del Sur and then I went on to Isla de Ometepe. Nicaragua has one of the biggest freshwater lakes in the world. Isla de Ometepe is also a world phenomenon, being one of the largest fresh water islands on the planet. But what makes this place so impressive are the two volcanoes located on either side of the island. I have grown very fascinated with volcanoes during my time here in Central America. They truly are magical to say the least. Beautiful yet dangerous. On the island I rented a dirt bike and went on one of the most fun adventures of my life. I stopped to see waterfalls, crystal clear streams, and to let cows cross the road. Everyone there was really friendly and was always interested in where I was from. A guy there was also kind enough to tell me that my name was a woman’s name in Nicaragua and I should change my name to Geoffrey for the duration of my stay. What a nice guy…

My Nicaraguan adventure. I must say my time at San Juan del Sur and Isla de Ometepe sure did make up for the trouble I had on the border. The thing is I had to cross it to go back. I’ll save you the details and just say that my exit was no greater than my entrance.

I am enjoying my time here in Costa Rica but I would be lying if I said that I was not missing my team and playing for Davidson. I get to play soccer here almost every day but it’s not the same. For the most part I miss the organization and scoring countless goals on Chip during practice. Too easy…

Until the next time…

PuRa vIdA

Monday, April 5, 2010

Touring and Tour Guiding

By Josh Zipin

It’s been too long since I checked in last, and I’d like to say I’m sorry, but it’s not like I’ve been sitting at home doing nothing. Since the last time I wrote I’ve been real busy, including taking trips to Paris, Spain’s Costa Brava, and the South of Spain with my parents for my spring break. I’ve also been lucky enough to play host to some Davidson friends in Barcelona.

Paris was an exciting trip that I made with two of my best friends from home who also study here in Barcelona. Other than getting food poisoning in transit (not pretty), the trip went smoothly and we experienced what Paris is all about: the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum and the Mona Lisa, the Orsay Museum, the Notre Dame Cathedral, Arc de Triomph, and of course, crepes.

We spent roughly the first ten minutes of our time at the Eiffel Tower looking for the perfect Heisman trophy pose on the Tower, but after a few puzzling looks, and of course, the perfect picture, we went to the top and got a view of the whole city. I felt like I was in a Google Maps screenshot with the view we had. We could see all of the other major destinations we were visiting from the top. We even picked out our hostel from the top. A few incredible art museum visits (I saw Van Gogh’s self-portrait and the Mona Lisa in two days!), an Arc de Triomph, Notre Dame Cathedral trip (to see the Hunchback of course), and roughly 3 banana and Nutella crepes later, we headed home to Catalunya.

For my spring break, I was lucky enough to spend about a week and a half with my parents. We spent the first couple days in Barcelona as I led them around and saw some things I’d been waiting to see and experience, including the Picasso museum, Montjuic, and Barcelona’s best restaurants. We were even able to go to a Catalan seder for Passover here, which was quite an experience. I was also lucky enough to have my parents over to my host family’s house for lunch. My host mom cooked for my real mom and asked her quite seriously how she was able to feed me at home. I had to do a good deal of translating as I was the person at the table with the best knowledge of both English and Spanish. It was great to introduce my family for the last few months to my blood family and vice versa.

After our time in Barca, we headed to the South for sunny beaches and the freshest paella. We spent time in Malaga, Granada, Nerja, and Cordoba. While some people might think that spending a week and a half alone with their parents would be nothing short of the most boring time ever, I realized that I actually really enjoy spending time and travelling with my parents. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen them since January, but it was great fun teasing my Mom and catching an FC Barcelona basketball game with my dad, among other fun excursions. The weather in the South was perfect and actually reminded me of what it is probably like in Davidson right now.

I have less than a month left here in Barcelona but it still feels like I just got here. I feel like I really know the city well and it’s almost like I’m a real Barcelona citizen now (minus the mastery of the Catalan language). I realized how comfortable I am with the city and getting places when I’ve had people visiting. About three weeks ago I had my first long visit from friends. Wildcat field hockey stars Courtney Tobe and Ellie Syzkowny came and stayed the weekend here. Besides seeing the local sights including the famed Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell by renowned architect Antoni Gaudi, I showed them some of my favorite food and night spots. I also showed off some of my much improved Spanish and cultural knowledge by steering them clear of the petty thieves and teaching them the tricks of living in Barcelona (watch your purses closely ladies!). It was an epic visit and it felt surreal to spend time with people I’ve known so well for three years, albeit pretty much exclusively at Davidson, in Barcelona.

With my time left here I really want to get to the Barcelona aquarium as I hear it’s one of the best in the world, and of course I need to see another FC Barcelona game. Barca plays Arsenal in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, the competition that crowns the best club soccer team in Europe. The whole city is on pins and needles in anticipation and I’m still holding out a sliver of hope that I’ll be able to score a ticket somehow. I’m not done with travelling as I still have one free weekend, as well as a trip to Amsterdam planned. In addition, this weekend I’ll be welcoming volleyball stud, Anna Bradbury, another Wildcat superstar, to Barcelona. It should be another great time. I miss Davidson a lot, including my team, my friends, the weather, lake campus, and of course girls in sundresses. That’s all I got for now. Hope everyone is well and healthy in Davidson. Hasta luego!


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