Study Abroad, Uncategorized

Chatting in Spanish

chat, chatting (v): to talk in a friendly and informal way.

I love to chat. I really do. Chatting over drinks, chatting at dinner, chatting in between classes—it’s a great way to pass time and get to know people.

Now, I’m going to stop right there. At least half of you are already thinking about how much you hate chatting. You’re remembering that awkward dinner party you dragged your girlfriend/boyfriend to last week, because your co-worker from your new job invited you and how bad could it be to hang out with some cubicle buddies outside of the office? But it was awful; all anyone chatted about was the weather and 50 Shades of Grey and your date got too drunk and threw up in the trash can and now no one in the office wants to chat with you at all. Or something. And if that is indeed what you’re thinking, I’m sorry you had such a rough Wednesday night, but stick with me here.

I love chatting not for the mundane weather talk and generic questions, but for the a-ha! moments of things found in common. The guy with the weird mustache from your Psych 101 class quotes a line from your favorite comedian. The girl who works in the cubicle next to yours mentions a friend you’ve known since kindergarten. You and some kid across the room make a pun at the same time. The a-ha moment usually ends in a high-five, a shout of joy, and/or a shared look like holy crap, we are AWESOME. (If you’re looking for an a-ha moment, stand next to me at a party and mention any of the following things: second-string Harry Potter characters, mogul skiing, Christopher Nolan movies, dystopian fiction, feminism, Louis CK’s stand-up career, English as a legitimate college degree, this blog.)

The thing is that up until about a month ago, all of my chatting happened in English. I have to say I never realized how convenient that was.

Being a naturally chatty person in a country that doesn’t speak your native language feels a little bit like being trapped in a glass box. The box could not be in a better location—you’re in the middle of this amazing Spanish city filled with gorgeous statues and apartment buildings and mountainous views—and you can see everything around you perfectly. You can hear everything. The food’s great, too. But every time you have a thought that’s more complicated than my name is Hannah or I would like some more bread please, it’s difficult to share with the people outside of the box. You have to think about what you want to say ahead of time, pull out a dictionary, and make a little conversation plan before you speak. Even then, sometimes the glass is too thick. The people outside furrow their brows and look at you like you’ve just asked them to dance with their pants on backwards.

This is my first time living in the glass box. Words have taken on a new weight. I’ve realized that my opinions aren’t nearly as important as I once thought they were. I can say zero coherent things for an entire day, and the world will just keep on spinning. Who knew, right?

In spite of my mediocre grasp on the Spanish language, my inner chatty self still loves to try to whip up conversation. So I make a lot of toddler-like observations.

“Que frío!” – How cold it is today! This one slips out a lot, even though the “frío” here doesn’t hold a candle to the “frío” back home in New Hampshire. (Stay strong, guys!)

“Muchos perros, no?” – Lots of dogs, huh? We were walking to our car from Tia Estela’s house in a neighborhood outside the city and a tiny dog started barking at us from behind a gate. Then a lot of other dogs started barking. I felt the need to comment.

“Es muy… malo.” – It’s very…bad. This one comes up a lot when discussing the intricacies of Spanish politics.

“Que rico!” – Very rich, or very delicious. Uttered every day around 3PM when Beatriz conjures 2-3 plates full of bread/meat/fish/tomatoes slathered in olive oil, and even in English I’m not sure I could come up with the words to tell her how grateful I am.

Sometimes I’m not even sure what my host family could say in response to my riveting commentary. Sí Hannah, there are a lot of dogs here! They usually just nod and smile, because they’re wonderful and understanding. They’ve definitely gotten comfortable correcting my Spanish. And the other night, I gave my host dad a little English lesson myself.

“Fart?” Javier asked at the dinner table, trying the word on for size.

“Sí, fart,” I answered, with extra emphasis on the hard English “r.”

“Fart,” Javier said again. He pointed to the bowl full of sautéed cauliflower in front of me. “This food has mucho farts,” he nodded. “Mucho farts.”

It was a relief to learn that even the glass box couldn’t keep out the farts.

So yeah, sometimes I have to deal with the fact that I can’t be chatty for a few hours. But I am so lucky to be here, in this place, with these people. And every day the walls of the glass box get a little bit thinner. Words come faster. I only have to ask Beatriz to repeat herself twice, instead of the usual three times or four. Poco a poco.

The Spanish a-ha moments are coming guys, I can feel it. I’ll let you know when they get here. #hannahandjulieabroad

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On Fainting And Becoming An Immigrant

Most of the time, Ireland is a magical wonderland. You can sit on the top floor of double-decker buses and watch as they almost run over old ladies. You can buy a champagne-sized bottle of cider for 4 euro. They put milk and sugar in their tea. So I thought that maybe, just maybe, going to the Immigration Office would defy the American stereotype of public offices. Maybe there wouldn’t be a huge line that moved at glacial speed. Maybe everyone in line wouldn’t look like they wanted to kill the people behind the desk and/or themselves. Maybe the slow hands of justice wouldn’t be so agonizingly slow here!


Public offices are as beige and monotonous in Ireland as they are in the States. But when I walked into the Garda office in Cork at 9 on a Friday morning, I was excited. I was also sleep-deprived and hungry, maybe more so than I was excited.

Before Hannah went to Spain she had to get a Spanish student visa. She woke up one weekday morning before 7 am, drove to Boston, and waited at the Spanish Embassy for her name to be called so she could present her paperwork. When she told me where she was going, I cringed at the words “Spanish Embassy” and wished her luck like she was walking into battle.

So when I found out that I didn’t need a visa to study in Ireland, I almost high-fived myself. Yes! One less thing I have to worry about. Eventually I found out that there is another entire set of hoops that you have to jump through in order to be legal to live in Ireland for five months. The procedure includes trudging down to the Immigration Office and presenting your passport and an array of other documents to someone behind a desk, taking a mugshot-style picture, and forking over 300 euro.

Before that day, I believed I was pretty invincible. I have a pretty good immune system and managed to come away from a mono scare unscathed. Much like Hannah, I assumed that fainting only happened to other weaklings and not me, obviously. But after an hour and a half of waiting, just before it was my turn to present my documents, I started to feel dizzy. My hands tingled. Then all my limbs tingled. I felt warm, and the edges of my vision blurred and turned black. My roommates maintain that my face was a beautiful combination of pale/green. They immediately sat me down, fed me water and gum (which was sugar free and probably didn’t do anything to help me, but hey, it’ the thought that counts), and even asked a man behind the “general queries” counter if he had a granola bar I could eat to get my blood sugar up. He laughed at them, but technically it was a general query. I felt pretty lucky that morning that I had found such good people here.

So I didn’t end up actually fainting, but I had fun for the rest of the day wondering what would have happened if I did. Would they have turned me away? Maybe Ireland would have deemed me unworthy; clearly I couldn’t handle it. But I fooled them and walked away with my brand new ID card and a feeling of accomplishment. So, as of this week I am an official student immigrant, legal to live here until the end of May. I was issued an Irish Immigration Card with a photo that makes me look like a very serious ghost.

I feel more legitimate already. Maybe soon people will stop pointing out that I’m American as I walk down the street.

Probably not, though.


We stole our friend Tobin’s idea, (shout out to Tobin,) and are now collecting badly-placed leaning/pinching pictures. We’re determined to have no actual decent pictures of us by the time we leave Ireland.


We also have Photoshop-gifted friends who are planning an album of us walking away from buildings that poorly-photoshopped-exploding.

And for old time’s sake, here’s a Julie-Doing-Yoga-In-Weird-Places. Wish you had been there to photograph it, Hann. #hannahandjulieabroad

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Poco a Poco

To say I went skiing yesterday would be an understatement.

“Skiing” is a thing I do a lot at home in New Hampshire. It usually involves frigid temperatures and scratchy turns and familiar trails and old friends. I know where the lodge is and my helmet plays my music through the earflaps and all signs on the mountain are in English, which is a convenience I’d never really noticed before now. Skiing is home.

Yesterday my friend Hunter and I took a bus to another bus to the Sierra Nevada—a ski resort tucked into the mountain range of the same name. You can see the peaks of the Sierra Nevada from almost everywhere in the city. They’re one of Granada’s most striking features, and the skyline makes for a pretty magical walk home from class.

Skiing those peaks sounded like something out of a Warren Miller movie, so Hunter and I (mostly Hunter) researched bus prices, ticket prices, and rental prices. They were totally reasonable, so we did a little jig, packed our bags, and headed into the snowy unknown.


We had no idea what the mountain was going to look like. We didn’t even know how to say “ski lodge” or “helmet” in Spanish, which we didn’t realize until we got to the mountain and tried to rent helmets/find a place to put our bags. The ski lodge was nowhere to be found, which was a problem I’d never before encountered at a ski resort. There were restaurants, there were tourist centers, and there were rental shops, but the small town at the base of the Sierra Nevada seemed completely devoid of plain-old ski lodges. I started to wonder if lodges were exclusively an American thing. (But where do people pee here? Do they all just carry their sandwiches in their coats?) Every sign we followed that claimed to lead to a “cafetería” actually led to a parking garage, and everyone we asked just kept saying “arriba! Arriba!” while pointing upwards. Did they want us to lug all of our stuff up the gondola? Did they want us to jump off the roof and stop asking them dumb questions? It was tough to tell.

Finally we decided to leave our bags with the friendly dudes who worked at the rental shop. They laughed at our confused American-ness, but in a nice way.

And then we were off! To the Telecabina Al-Andalus!

The Telecabina Al-Andalus is what we in New Hampshire would call a gondola. In New Hampshire, the gondola line is a pretty tame, boring ordeal. You wait in an organized fashion. Your hands get cold. You turn a corner realize you probably should’ve just taken the regular chairlift because the line is so damn long. In the end a dude scans your pass, gives you a nod, and directs you into a gondola with a number of people that has been deemed safe by the mountain powers that be.

Boarding the Telecabina Al-Andalus was absolutely nothing like that.

There were no lines. I don’t mean the place was empty—the boarding area was packed, there just weren’t any lines. We were all one crowd of bundled people funneling towards the gondolas as they passed. People pushed and cut in front of other people. As we got closer to the gondolas themselves, we realized that there was no dude with a scanner to load us calmly into the vehicle. The number of people per gondola depended solely on how many could squish in before the doors closed. This was an every-man-for-himself kind of situation. The locals didn’t seem bothered.

Hunter and I pushed and perdón’d our way onto our first Spanish gondola ride without losing each other or our limbs. When the doors closed, all we could do was beam at each other from across the crowded cabin. We made it! We’re here! This is happening! I would’ve taken a picture, but there wasn’t enough room to reach into my pocket.

And then, we were here.

Skiing is squarely in my comfort zone. To be doing something so familiar in such an unfamiliar place was jarring at first. Hunter and I were blindly adventuring through an enormous foreign mountain on equipment we’d never used before, surrounded by people who spoke only Spanish. It was a little scary at the beginning. But around midday, the wind on the upper mountain let up, the sun came out, and the skies cleared.

And we figured it out.

We rode this pommel lift up to an ungroomed trail that still had a few inches of powder left over from the last snowstorm.

We found burgers and beers for lunch. (The burgers had guacamole on them. As if the day wasn’t incredible enough already.)

We skied until 5pm, because the sun actually shines on the Sierra Nevada until then. The snow was soft.

And then we après’d.

Neither of us could stop smiling. Holy crap, this is still happening! And there’s hot chocolate! And more beer!

When our bus left at 6:30, we were tired and euphoric. The bus route from Granada to the Sierra Nevada is a lot like the train route from the regular world to the North Pole in The Polar Express—you’re on this narrow road built into a mountain pretty much the whole time, and every turn feels like it could be your last. On the way home, we got to watch the sunset.

I looked out over the city and thought of something my host mom had said on the first day I arrived in Granada. Poco a poco. Little by little you’ll learn the city, she told me, little by little you’ll understand the language. The brown-eyed old man who worked the desk at the Centro de Actividades Deportivas had told me the same thing a few weeks later, when I tried to register for a yoga discount that didn’t exist. Poco a poco, he’d laughed.

Before, we’d only seen the mountains from the city. Now we’ve seen the city from the mountains. And it’s a pretty damn nice view. #hannahandjulieabroad

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The Parabola of Homesickness

Just in case I decide to write a memoir about my semester abroad that launches my career as a critically-acclaimed travel writer, I’ve been brainstorming possible titles. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

How the Hell Do I Flush This Toilet? – a memoir of my study abroad experience

These Hand-Dryers Are Garbage – a memoir of my study abroad experience.

Weird Places I’ve Fallen Asleep in Europe.

You Haven’t Truly Lived in Ireland Until You Get Caught in a SLEET MONSOON in the Middle of Your Run.

Somehow it’s been almost a month since my arrival in Cork. This reality slaps me in the face almost every day. How did this happen? Everything feels quick in hindsight, but it’s a weird sensation to notice the days disappearing as they pass.

On our first day of orientation, our study abroad coordinator showed us a slide about culture shock. It looked like a parabola from eleventh-grade math class. (Bad memories. I cringed when I saw it.) The gist was that, upon getting to a new country, you’re on a high. Everything is the best. Then that wears off, and it’s a little tough for a while, but it won’t be long before you’re on the rise again. I was no exception; my spirits definitely parabola’d in the first two weeks here.

The first three days were nuts. I landed, everyone was incredibly kind and welcoming, and I barely slept or ate. I said no to nothing, collapsed into my bed every night, and fell asleep with my phone on my face. I was in IRELAND. About halfway through my second week though, I hit a wall. The realization that I wouldn’t see my family for five months sat heavy in my chest. Perched on my uncomfortable mattress one afternoon, I thought, I’m not sure if I can do this. (Mom, I’m sorry for not realizing I’d miss you this much before I left.) I told myself that it would pass, and lo and behold it did.

A few weeks ago I was in the window seat of a bus going from Cork to Galway. People told us that Galway’s countryside was what you pictured when you thought of Ireland, and it was. Impossibly green fields, stone walls that are basically piles of rocks with little rocks shoved between them that are somehow still standing, and SHEEP. If I hadn’t been in a moving vehicle, I would have tried to get a picture.

I was on the bus, and I was tired. I’d gone to a ball organized by my school the night before, which was like prom only a lot more fun because there was an open bar. I could have slept, but I didn’t want to miss the view. For a second I remembered being a sophomore in high school, around the time when my classmates started going on school trips to Europe that I couldn’t afford. It was the first time that I realized I hadn’t seen most of the world.

I started reading articles about travel and saving change in a meager travel fund. I had this image in my mind, that one day I’d be in the window seat of a train, somewhere in Europe, dead tired but refusing to sleep, unwilling to miss the view. That was six years ago, and nine days ago I lived that fantasy. Sorry to get all cheesy on you, but that’s what I think about now when I miss my little sister or my roommates or American Netflix. This whole semester is nuts, and I’m one lucky college student.

Now I’m one month in and I’d dare say I’m comfortable. I can make it from one end of the city to the other without getting lost. I’ve tried all three locally brewed stouts. (They’re Guinness, Murphy’s, and Beamish, and you’re supposed to pick a favorite, but they all taste the same to me. Oops.) I’m still useless at the accent, but I can understand it approximately 30% more of the time. I’ve learned a few phrases in Gaelic and I’m no doubt butchering the pronunciation. Baby steps.

I’ve decided that the new format for my posts will be words followed by an avalanche of pictures. These are from weekend trips to Galway, Blarney, and Cashel. Happy Monday!


We almost rented tandem bikes in Galway, then realized that would have been the worst mistake of our lives. Hilarious, but torturous.


I’m going to start an album of “Pictures I Meant To Take/Pictures I Meant To Take Featuring Tobin”





And one #badlycroppedselfiesinfamousplaces


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