Posted by: stephbihr | February 12, 2010

Yay first blog!

Ok sooo this first blog is going to be a little difficult to write because there is so much to cover, as I have already been living here for over a month! I guess I should start by writing about where I am living/studying, etc.: 
I am studying in the province called the País Vasco, in the city of Bilbao, which is in northern Spain. Most people have never really heard of this place and probably have no idea of where I am talking about exactly, but it’s very close to France… I guess I could post a map———————–:
Yay! This is a super great map =] Anyways, I live in a little area just outside of downtown Bilbao– an area referred to as Getxo (where the TX is pronounced like the CH sound), which, lucky for me, is closer to the sea! So, I have a five minute walk to the beach. Extremely spectacular! In Getxo, I live with a host-family, which is such a great experience– if you are considering studying abroad ever, I highly recommend living with a host family! I promise it is so much better! I love my host family, they are such wonderful people. Anyways, I live with a woman, named Carmen, and her two daughters, Esti and Nekane, who are a few years older than me (28 and 22), and their dog, Txistu. They are possibly the nicest people ever; I’ve met quite a few of their extended family already and they include me in pretty much everything. =] 

Alright- school. This semester I am studying at the University of Deusto– a very prestigious school, well-known throughout all of Spain (it is a private Jesuit university). Naturally, there is a special program for international students- the CIDE program, which ranges through classes from language to culture to business courses. Very cool program and incredible teachers. It’s nice because you get to meet other international students, mostly Americans, but I’ve also met some German and Australian kids, too. At first, I was kind of disappointed with the program because I felt like it completely isolated the international students from the Spanish ones, which made it so that the only other people you knew were pretty much other Americans; however, as a couple weeks went by, I found that there are lots of University of Deusto programs that are interchanges with Spanish students– for example, they pair you with a Spanish student and you spend like one hour a week talking– a half hour in English (as the are usually trying to learn English) and the other half hour in Spanish. Very cool. =] Also, there are lots of organizations that you can join– from groups that do activities like mountain climbing to volunteer services. A super cool university =] —————————->                                                                  
Ok. So– a lot of people study abroad in Spain, but very rarely do people choose to study abroad in Bilbao, and I want to briefly mention why I chose to come here and why I’m glad I did. 
First of all, the main reason I chose to study abroad in Bilbao was because it was different from Madrid and Granada and Sevilla, and all the other cities American students typically go to study in. That was something really important to me– particularly because I didn’t want to be sheltered by surrounding myself with other Americans all the time where I would only speak English except for at class… this was really important to me, particularly as a Spanish major. Bilbao is perfect for this– particularly because the majority of people in this city do not know English!!! Very important! When I go to a restaurant, I have to order in Spanish because they don’t know English! It’s a beautiful thing =] Also, I’ve had so many other opportunities to meet and interact with Spanish (well in this case Basque– as there are two cultures in Bilbao…) people (particularly at restaurants and the metro)! Also– some of my Spanish teachers were curious as to why I would choose to study in Bilbao because they speak another language there (they speak Euskera), but I just want to say that not that many people actually speak Euskera! In fact, Spanish is spoken everywhere… so no worries. However, that is another reason I chose to come to Bilbao– there’s two cultures that exist in the area… the Basque culture and the Spanish one. There’s a long history about this, but it is very interesting if you ever care to look it up– just Wikipedia Basque Country. 
Ok- so I’m also glad that I chose to come to Bilbao because there is so much to do and see! It’s such a beautiful city with a lot of history and culture– there are so many festivals and interesting places to see. In fact, there’s a festival this weekend: Carnaval. Very excited– everyone dresses up and goes out to celebrate on the streets. I am sure I will make a post about this, as I am attending the celebration tomorrow evening. =]. 
*After spending a month here, I have learned many interesting things, which will be difficult to sum up in this post… but I will try:
First, Deusto is a great little section of Bilbao– first of all, it is perfect as far as location: it has a little old, and a little new. It’s in between the towns of Moyua and Casco Viejo (meaning old village). Both centers are incredible places to get food/drinks and shop! Between the three areas, you can see movies, shop, watch live performances at the arriaga teatro, see the modern art museum at the Guggenheim– which is incredible (and at the right)! Anddd right across from the university =]. Overall- Spain is fantastic as far as it’s public transportation– I’m
from Chicago, and believe me… Spain is fantastic!
Another important thing I’ve learned: people in Spain are very much… a modern people. I mean, obviously, I knew that before I came, but you always hear stories about how in Europe they dress so much better than we do in the states and blah, blah– and while that is true– they merely don’t dress better… they dress up more often; however, it is not uncommon to see them in jeans! In fact, almost every one in Spain wears jeans! I’m writing about this only because as a girl, I had no idea as to what to bring as far as clothes. Also, another important note about dress: girls love to wear tall boots (not UGGS!!!) with leggings and scarves… oh and jewelry– rings, earrings, etc.! Also– many of the basque people (the youth and quite a few adults) have several facial piercings! Particularly the lips and the nose– very interesting!
Another thing I’ve learned…: It is not uncommon for people to make direct eye contact with you!!! It is strange at first, but usually they are harmless… people just tend to stare at other people (especially on the metro) and sometimes they don’t look away. It’s ok to stare back… just don’t smile as that is suggestive (generally to men). Also, people will stand very close to you! Especially if it’s crowded… don’t be afraid- it’s ok ; ] Also, this big deal about theft in Spain… yeah, not a problem in Bilbao. I feel incredibly safe all the time, but then again… if you’re smart about your stuff– this will never be a problem. However, I have heard this is still a major problem in Madrid and Barcelona (people I know have gone there on various weekends and everyone has lovely stories about how they got robbed).

***Overall– Spain is a very amazing place to be, and very diverse as far as geography and culture goes. There are many differences between the south, central, and north of Spain– a very cool place to be!!!
I think I have a long enough first post =]

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