Thursday, May 30, 2013


I know it's a lackluster title for this post but I'm beyond excited, can you tell? 

 Earlier this morning I received my official school placement in Madrid.  I've been so terrified of getting a high school but lucky me, I was placed in a bilingual colegio, which is grades 1st-6th.  Absolutely perfect because that's what I have my teaching certificate for, and all my experience in!

I was placed in Getafe, Madrid; a city just south of the metropolitan area of Madrid.  I've found, and talked to, some auxiliares that are currently at the school and they seem to have really enjoyed the experience so now I'm even more excited!

Like a 30 min. commute from el Centro!
Getafe is a large industrialized city (with a population of around 170,000) that is home to one of the oldest Spanish military air bases and the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.  The most popular site to visit here is Cerro de los Ángeles, a famous hill in Getafe that is considered the geographic center of the Iberian Peninsula.  This hill also is home a 14th century monastery, Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, and Monumento al Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart of Jesus) which now houses the patron virgin of Getafe.  Apparently many battles during the Civil War were fought on this hill and you can still see bullet marks on the Sagrado Corazón monument and monastery walls.  While there are few more things to see, this seems the most notable in the city.
I also did a quick check on wikipedia for the weather averages and noticed that it mentions Getafe averaging 3-4 snowfalls a year and sometimes dropping below freezing at night...YES!  No more new England winters and being freezing almost every day!  However, while it may be large I do still plan on living somewhere in the capital city of Madrid and commuting.  If I'm living in Madrid I want to live in the middle of everything!  And while I don't plan on living in Getafe, I would love to learn more about this city if anyone has any experience there?

Now I just have to contact my school to introduce myself and the hard part, finding where I want to live for the next year!  Right now I'm looking between the three districts of el Centro, Atocha, and Nuevos Ministerious.  I've been asking some of my friends that live in Madrid too, but I'm open for all suggestions! :)


If you've lived in Madrid, or Getafe, do you have any suggestions or tips?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Why Teaching?

I've been having a serious case of writer's block this past week and couldn't think of a single thing I felt like writing about, so finally I thought I'd write about something that's very important to me: teaching.

In the state of the current economy, the lack of teaching positions in Rhode Island, and the often negative views people have on the profession, I am constantly asked: "why teaching?"
From a student whose class I was substitute teaching in.
It is not because I want to make a lot of money.  The average teacher doesn't make a lot: the average starting salary for Rhode Island is around $39,000 while the average for all teachers in the state is around $60,000, which isn't too comfortable for a state that was ranked as one of the most expensive to live in the United States.  If I wanted to make a lot of money I quite honestly would not be in this career; I wouldn't bother with substitute teaching, or moving abroad to teach.

It is not because I would summer break off or other vacations.  I come from a family of teachers and each one has had to work throughout the summer to make ends meet, because teachers simply do not get paid a lot.  And some schools, unless you opt into extending your paychecks, may not even send you a check during the summer.

It is not because I want a shorter work day.  I know even as a student teacher last year I came an hour early to set-up for lessons and stayed an hour later to plan for the next day's lessons.  Not to mention the hours I spent throughout the week researching lessons, planning lessons, writing lessons, and grading papers.

I want to be a teacher because I truly love this profession.
From a first grade class I used to work in.
I know I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl.  I was that little girl; always playing school, visiting my grandma's classes, wanting to help grade paper's for my mom's students.  To be quite honest I've never considered any other career, but many are confused why I still want to take this road.

I love working with children.  I love when a student who hates a subject tells me: "Miss T. thanks for making social studies fun!  I really like how you teach math!"  I live for that moment when a struggling student has that "Ah-ha!" moment, when the light bulb goes off in their head, and their eyes widen and you know that it finally clicked for them.  But it also doesn't hurt the little cards they make, the pictures they draw, and the bear hugs they give.

Yes there are great days in the classroom and then there are bad days that make you want to pull out your hair.  There have been days substitute teaching where children are out of control, outright disrespectful, there are no plans, or you get pulled from class to class.  In the after-school program I run, sometimes it seems like an uphill battle.  But these are children and that's the reality, each day is different, just as each child is different.  Each student has great potential to learn and succeed, you just have to get them to know that they can.
Bookmarks I made for my student teaching class last year.

I personally love learning and I love spreading my love of education and learning to future generations.  As human beings, learning is second nature as we are constantly learning and adapting through different situations in our lives.  I want to show students that learning can be fun and engaging; I want to be a positive influence on the lives of those I have taught.  Honestly I can't think of a more fulfilling career than education.  Every day you influence and affect those around you by what and how you teach.  And there's nothing better than knowing that after a hard day's work, you have made a difference: no matter how small.

And that's why I decided to apply to these programs to be a English teaching assistant abroad.  I love teaching but finding a elementary level teaching job in Rhode Island is very difficult right now.  And then if you do get a job, you have a good chance of getting cut after your first year because you don't have seniority.  These teaching programs in Spain, like the ministry program, will allow me to work in a classroom and experience an entirely different teaching system.  It may not be the ideal job, but it is a job in my field and will definitely be good experience to add to what I already have.

It's not outright rewarding career choice.  You won't make a lot of money and you may hear that you're greedy, lazy, and incompetent as you watch people bash your profession over the news.  I couldn't tell you the amount of times I was told to pick a "real major" because mine was 'so easy.'  Try not to listen to the generalizations and negativity you may get bombarded with.

Yes, not all teachers are good and yes, teaching may not be for everyone.  But if you love teaching it will be worth it for one simple thing, your students.  They make going through all the negativity worth the trouble.  So hold onto the memories of the students who have made you smile, of the ones who have thanked you for what you've done.  Think of smiles you've made, the hugs you've received, and the lives you've changed.  Because that's what teaching is all about, and that is why I know teaching is right for me.

When did you know your career was right for you?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Graduation: My Thoughts One Year Later

Wow.  I can't believe that it's been one full year since I walked across the stage at my graduation.

Just a year ago I saw this banner across Upper College Road and realized, oh.  I'm a college graduate!

This past weekend has been one full of graduations, as I watch my friends and family take this giant step for themselves.  As I watched them with pride I've asked myself, how has this year changed me?  Do I feel any different?  Where has the time gone?

I've accomplished much in this past year; I've grown as a person, met my goals, made life changing decisions...yet I feel little difference.  I guest that's not entirely true, I'm much happier post-college, but as a whole I feel quite unchanged; I feel no wiser nor more grown-up.

I thought I would feel 'it' when I picked up my cap and gown last spring.  But I felt nothing.  I thought, I must have to wait until I moved out of my dorm for the last time.  But that just felt no different then going on summer break.

So it had to be the day of graduation as I officially donned the cap and gown with my 2012 tassels.  Nope.  When I walked across the stage?  When I threw my cap in the air?  When I got home after the ceremony!?

And now, a year later it still doesn't really feel like much.  I'm merely surprised that instead of "Congratulations to the Class of 2012," I see "Congratulations to the Class of 2013."

(Granted the whole of graduation day was miserable.  All (but one) of my best friends, including my boyfriend, were unable to attend; my finishing his own senior year back in Spain, one was in England, another in China, one stuck in New Jersey, another in Spain, and one at her own graduation in Maine.  To make matters worse I couldn't afford the honor cord for my honor society and was too proud to have my loved ones pay for it.  And then the icing on the cake was when they pronounced my name wrong as I walked across the stage.  Oh well.

So the day itself was a bust...but I should have felt something after right?  Some sense of accomplishment?  I mean I had won multiple awards for my student teaching, paid my way through most of the four years myself, and graduated with honors in a double major while working multiple jobs every year.  While you should feel a sense of pride and accomplishment at graduation, because through your hard-work you have done something amazing, you most likely won't have an epiphany after walking across that stage.  In fact to me, it almost felt anti-climatic.  That it's?  I've graduated?  Now what?

Graduation day will come and go, and the whole summer will pass after you walked across that stage and you won't feel much different.  Then September rolls around and all your friends that didn't graduate are heading back to school.  You'll see those statuses of them hanging out together late at night, going for impromptu drinks, going out to parties, weekend getaways, complaints about classes or professors, and the latest campus gossip.  You'll watch as they post pictures doing the things you used to do, attending the events you used to attend, and participating in the organizations you used to be a part of.

You should feel relieved; no more college drama, no more coursework, no more gen. eds., no more dorm rooms, no more exams, or all nighters.  But you don't think like that.

It hits you, not that you've taken this huge step forward in your life, but that you are stuck in limbo.  You don't belong to the life you had before, but you're still on the cusp of the adult world and don't really fit in there either.  As you watch you friends live their college lives from this glass divide you'll miss the freedom and sense of community you once had back in college.  You'll miss feeling included and knowing there was always a place for you.  Many of those college 'friends' won't last long as you move on from your studies.  They'll be living their life on their college schedule and for many it just won't work with your post-college life.

You'll feel totally unprepared for the real world and its expectations.  All of my teaching experiences, teaching courses, and practicums did not prepare me for my first day of substitute teaching.  For walking into a classroom in a school you don't know, full of students you don't know, to teach lessons from a teacher that you just. do. not. know.  I was terrified.  I was unprepared.  Did I really want to be a teacher?  It was then as I walked into that strange classroom, months after graduation, that I realized I was unsure of what I wanted to do with my life.

No one told me that I still would be unsure; you're supposed to know these things after you graduate right?  Now some of you may have jobs lined up, some may be going off to graduate school, but the rest of us.  What do we do now?

Let me tell you a secret all you new graduates, one that would have saved me a lot of tears and anxiety.  The truth is that it's perfectly okay and absolutely normal to walk off that stage and not know what to do next.  Nobody, other than yourself, expects you to have the entirety of your future planned out so soon.

The reality is that you may (most likely will) not get your dream job for a very long time.  The job market is still not at its best and it really is hard to find to find a steady, well-paying job for new graduates.  I applied for multiple teaching jobs only to find out that over 300 people applied for each of them too.  And why would they hire people with such little real-life experience?  This can be a hard pill to swallow, after all that's why you got that degree; to get that big kid job you've dreamed of.  Just know you are not the only one struggling with this.  Try your best not to feel bitter or unaccomplished, especially if you know some young friend who scores their dream job right away.  Here you are, working multiple part-time jobs trying to make ends meet while you budget your heart out and try to make sense of all your student loans.  At this point you're probably well into those post-grad blues; wondering why was graduation good in the first place?


Did you really enjoy college that much?  How quickly you've forgtten how much you hated most of your classes and couldn't stand all those exams and homework that seemed so pointless.  And those friends who lose contact with you because you have different schedules, they weren't the important ones anyway.  Your true friends will always try to make your schedules work and even if it takes months to find the time, you'll realize that once you're reunited nothing has changed between you.  I don't miss college.  Sure I miss the freedom, having my friends so near, and the memories I've made.  Yeah I get nostalgic when I visit certain parts of campus now, but do I miss the actual college part?  You know studying, interning, classes, homework, pleasing professors? No, just the comfort and security college offered; as a baby blanket is to the child afraid of the dark unknown.

And of course you will feel unprepared!  Only real experience can truly prepare you.  You have to throw yourself out there, fall down, and pick yourself back up again to truly be prepared for the real world.  Turns out that first substitute job that I was so terrified over reaffirmed my life decision.  But would I have known that if I hadn't graduated?  I've learned far more about teaching in this past year of substitute teaching than I have learned in any practicum experience I had in college.  Throwing myself out there made me realize I didn't need that baby blanket, I didn't need the protection of being in college.  I could do this on my own and I have so much more to learn with the years of experience to come.

And those first jobs you so eagerly applied to but didn't what?  You're young and you have years upon years to work that big kid job.  If you can find a job that relates in any way, shape, or form to what you want to do with your life, snatch it up.  If you can't, then find any job that pays the bills, work your butt off, and apply like crazy to jobs you want.  And if neither apply, well than save up some money and live your dreams; travel the world, do what you've always wanted, live your life.  It probably wasn't your dream job anyway.

So yes.  Graduating college is scary.  You'll feel uncertain and unprepared, and maybe like me you won't feel anything for the longest time.  The change to yourself comes slowly; over time, over experiencing the new exciting (yet often scary) things of the adult world.  You won't know you're changing, you won't feel a bit different.  But you'll get out there and start to realize post-college life is not so bad.  You'll make mistakes and learn from them.  You'll have jobs you'll love and jobs you hate.  But always remember, don't settle for anything if it makes you unhappy.  You will survive this.  You're young and (most of us) have so few real responsibilities holdings us back.  So take advantage of that, take a leap of faith, and live so that when you look years back from now you won't regret how you spent that youth.

So back to me a year after graduation.  I knew after sacrificing so much to be able to afford college I had to take advantage of my youth and my desire to travel, so I applied to teach abroad.  I will officially be moving to Spain this fall to teach English as an English assistant in Madrid with the government program Auxiliares de Conversación.  BEDA contacted me recently on the wait-list to see if I was still interested in available positions, but I said no thank you.  While it seems like an amazing program, I'm a firm believer in that things happen if they're supposed to happen and everything is a learning experience.  I accepted Auxiliares and my decision just feels right.  And for the first time after graduation I am perfectly content not knowing exactly what my future holds.

So congratulations graduating class of 2013.  Don't let those post-grad blues get you down or make you doubt your passions.  Post-college life a heck of a ride, but I truly believe that as long as you follow your heart and do what makes you happy, you can make your ever-changing dreams a reality.  We can get through this together.  I leave you all with one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies:
"Carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary."-Robin Williams, Dead Poet's Society

What has your experience been like post-graduation?  How are you new graduates feeling?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Making Sense of Student Loans

Student loans are quite possibly the bane of every college graduate's existence (at least the unlucky majority who has to take out student loans).  Yes I know, we borrowed the money and now we have to pay it back; that doesn't make it a more pleasant experience!  Around this time of year college seniors all over the country are graduating, and for those not continuing onto graduate school, the reality of student loan repayment has probably become a bit too real, and most likely overwhelming.

Where do you start?  What does it all mean?  What do you do now?

Other than the pain you'll feel in your wallet every month for the next couple (or more) years, the real problem most new graduates seem to have is understanding these loans and what happens now.  I am no financial expert, but over the past year of repayment I have conquered the student loan confusion (or at least fought through it and am still alive).  I apologize in advance that this post may not be too interesting, but I hope at the very least it is helpful and informative.

The first step to understanding student loans, is to understand some of the most important terms.

Key Loan Terms:

Entrance/Exit Counseling-Required sessions for the borrower before they receive their first loan and once they leave school; counseling on loan knowledge and repayment.
Interest Rate-Fee that is charged by wherever/whoever you borrowed the money from.  Can be fixed (percent doesn't change) or variable (rate can change periodically).
Grace Period-The period between when you leave school and have to start making loan payments.
Principal-The amount you actually borrowed, once you start repaying means what you have left of this original amount still owed.
Subsidized-Loan where the government pays the interest rate while you are in school and during the grace period or any deferments.
Unsubsidized-Loan where the student is responsible for paying the interest at all times, even in school or deferment.
Federal Loans-Loans offered and regulated by the government (Stafford loans are federal loans)
Private Loans-A loan that is made by a private lender (banks, etc.) based on credit score
Consolidation-When the borrower can combine multiple loans into one loan with a fixed, but often higher, interest rate (often available for federal loans).
Forbearance-When you temporarily suspend or reduce repayment of student loans, regardless of your loan type your interest will accrue (add up).
Deferment-When you temporarily suspend repayment of student loans (interest doesn't accrue if you have Subsidized federal loans), you must meet certain qualifications.
Capitalization-When the interest you have accrued adds to the principal balance and increases what you owe.

Now wasn't that fun?!

Seriously though, get used to many of those terms because you'll be looking at some of them for, most likely, the next few years.

The first thing that happens when you will be leaving school is you'll complete exit counseling on your loans (you may have recently had to do this).  Usually it's online and you have to read a lot of information and answer the questions correctly to complete it successfully.  Once your exit counseling is done, I highly suggest you look over your loans and lender websites.  Familiarize yourself with these sites and where and how you can access your loan information.  Find out important information like:
  • When your grace period ends (when you'll have to start making payments)
  • What types of loans (private, federal, subsidized, unsubsidized) you have  
  • Your interest rates for your loans
  • What payment options/programs are offered by your lender
  • The total amount you borrowed

Once you know this, you can estimate the monthly payment amount you would have to pay.  The website for my loans had some helpful information and your lender may even have sent paperwork estimating how much your payments could be.  Lenders, at least the ones for my federal loans, usually estimate these payments based on paying them off within ten years and how much you have borrowed.

For me, I knew I had all Federal Subsidized loans and that their grace period ended in November.  I was able to estimate pretty accurately what my monthly payment amount would be and was able to plan my budget accordingly.

With this estimated payment amount you can start to figure out whether you you can afford the expected payments.  If you looked at your savings/income and can, then that's great and you should start preparing for how you want to make those payments.  If you cannot or think you will not be able to, look at what payment plan options are offered by your loan provider.
  • Most lenders offer payment plans where you can reduce your monthly payments by extending your period of repayment, this option is often based on your income.  
    • My lender has a graduated payment plan where the monthly payments start lower and over time they increase (assuming over the years you will have a higher income and can pay more).  
  • For some there are also the options of forbearance and deferment.  As explained above, both are ways to postpone payments.  If you think they are an option for you, make sure to get in touch with your lender to see how you can qualify/apply.  
    • Depending on if you use one of these options you may have to deal with the capitalization on your loan (the interest that has added up while you haven't been paying).


If you can make the monthly payments, then think about how would you like to make your payments.  Generally you either can pay via paper (you get mailed the bill), pay online, or you get the money drafted directly from your bank account.  I chose to have the money drafted so I wouldn't forget to make a payment and also my lender offers .25% off the interest rate of any loans I have drafted directly from my bank account.  The convenience and incentive of a lower interest rate made drafting the best decision for me.

In addition, you don't have to wait until your grace period is over to make payments, you can make payments whenever you can afford to.  For a subsidized loan if you make payment before your grace period ends then you are paying down your principal which means you will have less money for interest to build on.  I paid what I could afford to help lower my principal, especially for my loans with higher interest rates.

Extra Advice Tidbits

If you have multiple loans with multiple interest rates you may also want to look at consolidation.  This will combine all of your loans (you cannot combine federal and private though, you can consolidate only the same type of loan) so you pay one amount monthly.  Often this may make your interest rate higher, but it will be fixed and the rate will depend on the amount you owe.

Loan Forgiveness is another option that is offered by many federal or need-based loans.  My different federal /need-based loans offer loan forgiveness for teaching, public service, disability, nursing, etc.  You have to meet certain criteria to be considered eligible and depending on the criteria you meet you can have up to a certain amount of your debt 'forgiven' (paid off).  Look into what programs your lenders offer to see if you can qualify for loan forgiveness.

Final Thoughts

It's important to look over all of this throughout the next couple of months because your grace period will be up before you know it!  The best thing you can do is to educate yourself and be prepared for the inevitable.  It can seem daunting when the payments actually start being due, and sometimes it feels like you'll be paying them off forever.

But remember to relax, take a deep breath, and know that there are plenty of options out there if you ever need help making payments.  Know these options, and know that it's okay to ask your lender for any help or clarification.  Student loans are part of the lives for most college graduates and if you take the time to understand them first then the whole process will be a bit less stressful.  You can do this, you can survive life after college, and you will pay all your loans off one day!

Do you have student loan debt too?  What advice do you have for anyone dealing with student loans?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Roman Fever: Making the Best of it When in Italy

I was going to love Rome.

I knew it, I just felt it in my bones before I even made the plans to visit.  After all, why wouldn't I?  A beautiful city founded on ancient ruins and an ancient culture.  I was majoring in history, wasn't it obvious that this was the perfect city for me?  I had such a romanticized vision of Rome built up in my head; it would be beautiful, I would see Roman ruins, it would be perfect.  I should have known better, I should I have known I was in love with the idea of Rome.

Now before you think I'm bashing this city, that is indeed beautiful, it really wasn't all Rome's fault.  Yes it didn't manage to hold up to my unrealistic vision of what Rome should be after studying it and its influence for years (but they were quite unfair expectations).  I think instead my imperfect trip to Rome had much to do with the timing and my state upon arrival.

It wasn't just you Rome, it was me too.  I blame it on Roman Fever.

Relaxing in Spain
At the time of this trip I was in my senior year of college and between student teaching full-time and working a part-time job I was averaging about 55 hours per week.   I thought "wouldn't it be great to explore Rome while I visit my boyfriend over February break?" when I should have really been thinking "wouldn't it be great to have a nice, relaxing vacation visiting my boyfriend over February break?"  Silly me, why would I want a relaxing vacation.

The real nail in the coffin wasn't the work or the pre-graduation stress, but the fact that just over a week before leaving I had caught a viral sinus infection from one of my students.  Of. Course. I. Would.  But Rome waits for no one so I nursed myself back to normal, or so I thought, and continued on to my European plans.  The first few days in Spain were wonderful and relaxing so obviously I was healed, clearly our Roman adventures would be perfect.

Until we landed in Rome and oh...weird that my throat hurts a little...nothing to worry about.

So we wandered on and I really did fall in love with Rome; the food, the culture, the art, the streets, the buildings.  Our hostel was only a ten-fifteen minute walk from the Trevi Fountain and there was nothing I enjoyed more than walking around the area, sitting near the fountain, and browsing the local shops.  I was blown away by the Vatican and and the breathtaking view from atop Saint Peter's Basilica.   It may have been touristic, but eating dinner in the Piazza della Rotonda across from the Pantheon was a dream come true.  The Italian food was more delicious than I had imagine and I made it through the first two days only a little sore from all the walking.

But despite Rome's beauty I was taken aback by the amount of street vendors quite literally bombarding you to buy their goods or trying to have you let them photograph you for a charge.  It made me uncomfortable to have waiters call out to me from the restaurant and try and sit me at their tables when I was just trying to look at the menu.  That hadn't been part of my perfect vision of Rome; I had not expected that my musings of Rome while meandering through its narrow streets would be interrupted like that.  And then my throat started to hurt more as the medicine my boyfriend's mom had packed for me started to run out.  All of this combined started to chip away at my ideal Rome and my perfect plans.

It was the day trip to Florence that really finished me off.  To save money we took one of the cheaper trains with a travel time of around three hours.  I knew far less about Florence than I did Rome; that it was the capital city of Tuscany, birthplace of the Renaissance, had the beautiful Florence Cathedral (the Duomo), and was home to some of the most famous pieces of art in the world.  What's not love about that?!  Then it just so happened on this day that I ran out of medicine and my throat became so painful and swollen that I couldn't eat anything without feeling like I was swallowing razor blades.  Ouch.  And thus began our trip to Florence and made me start to think that maybe it just wasn't my week.

I pledged to try and stop my complaining to enjoy the city.  The architecture was stunning and was one of my favorite aspects of the day; never before had I been so stunned by the facade of a building than while staring up at the Duomo.  We saw much of the main sites like the Fontana del Porcellino, Ponte Vecchio, and Palazzo Vecchio and I managed to make it through to visit the Uffizi Museum and Academia di Bella Arti di Firenze to see some of the major art contributions displayed in Florence, the works of Botticelli being my particular favorite.  But I was still altogther in pain and miserable.  By the time we ate dinner at the Piazza della Repubblica I had to buy throat lozenges and pain relievers for the dreaded three hour train back to Rome and just wanted to go to bed forever.  Scrumptious gelato had a pleasant, albeit temporary, soothing effect on my throat but was not enough to make my sick and tired self any less miserable and unhappy at being so far from a bed.

Little Caesar was impressed
After Florence I thought to give up on my trip to Italy.  Roman Fever had grabbed hold of me and it seemed to want me gone for good.  Feeling so miserably sick had mixed with my unexpected findings of how touristic the city could be and unfortunately overpowered how beautiful Rome really was.  But my boyfriend had saved the best for last.  Maybe he somehow knew I would need the pick-me-up or maybe it was fate, or sheer coincidence... but he had planned our last day to be spent in the Roman ruins.  At long last I laid my eyes on the Colosseum and and Roman Forum I knew that for my love of history I could make the best of it for this special day.  After all, nothing cheers a history major up like some good old fashioned ruins.  I did my best to wander as much as possible; basking in the sun as we strolled through Palatine Hill and the remains of the once magnificent Forum.

When I officially left Rome to return home, I left exhausted and pained, feeling a little disappointed (and somewhat bitter), thinking the trip had been less than ideal, and that my expectations had not been met.  It took a while to separate these emotions from the city itself.  It wasn't Rome's fault I was sick or had built up wild and unattainable expectations.  It was then that I realized that deep down I had fallen in love with Rome despite everything.

So let's make amends Rome.  Maybe we can start over and try again next time?  I'll try to be less demanding of you.
Roman Forum

Have you ever had unrealistic expectations overshadow a trip?  Or been sick while traveling?

*No, I did not really have Roman Fever (a type of Malaria)

Friday, May 10, 2013

My Favorite Places in the USA...So Far

Now that I have officially been placed in Madrid with the Auxiliares program for this coming fall (yayy) I thought I would take a break from Spain posts and appreciate what I have right under my nose, my home country.   I love Spain, but I also love the United States too.  The United States is a great country, and from coast to coast shows the diverse range of cultures, heritages, and beliefs of its citizens.  The United States is the fourth largest country in the world, yet I feel it is often unexplored by many who call it home.  As a child I was lucky enough that my parents would travel around the states frequently (I've been to over half) but still hope to visit the others sometime in my life.  To show my appreciation of my home coming here are some of my favorite places I've visited in the United States so far:


I say Maine because I just cannot limit this beautiful state to once city or region.  Maine has been a part of my life since I was born, in fact even before my parents were born!  My grandparents met at Colby College in Waterville and fell in love with the surrounding area, eventually building a summer cabin in South China.  I was lucky enough that up until my Junior year of college I was able to call beautiful South China my home for the summer.  This little village right off of China Lake, lies between the capital of Augusta and Waterville and still remains one of my favorite places to visit.

Maine is such a versatile state that there's something to do for everyone, every season.  Fall is when everyone treks up north to see the beautiful autumn foliage change colors; being from New England myself I find it particularly beautiful in Maine.  During the winter months Maine is the place to be for snow sports with its 18+ ski areas and resorts.   Spring and particularly summer for me are my favorite times to be in Maine (I am not a cold-weather person).  Bicycling, fishing, hiking, white water rafting, beaches, camping, and blueberry picking; the options are endless in the warm months of Maine.  Not to mention enjoying Maine's famous seafood!
What's not to love about this?


Public Gardens
Old State House
Living in New England puts Boston practically in my backyard.  Of all of the cities I've visited, it is probably the one I have frequented (and love) the most.  It is a city known for its history, academics, and innovation.  Since I have never lived in Boston I only know it on the level as a visitor, but with that being said there is more than enough to do and see on a visit to this beautiful city.

Harpoon Brewery
If history is your 'thing' you're in luck.  As one of the oldest cities in the United States, historical sites are plentiful throughout the Boston area.  If you want to hit the most important of these take the freedom trail, marked by a red line or bricks on the ground, to sites like: the Paul Revere House, Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market, Old North Church, Boston Common and more.  For museum-lovers some of the most famous Boston museums are: the Boston Children's Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, The Boston Science Museum, the New England Aquarium.  Not to mention the various breweries in the area that are open to tours and tastings like Sam Adams and Harpoon (yum).  So give Boston a try if you have yet to visit, it's definitely a city with a lot to offer.
Fenway Park, home to my beloved Red Sox

New Orleans

French Quarter
I was lucky enough to visit New Orleans a few years ago as an alumni on a trip with my old high school chorus.  After Hurricane Katrina my high school chorus had built a relationship with a New Orleans elementary school by holding multiple benefit concerts to raise money to support repairs and their music department.  They invited us down to visit and participate in a benefit concert on behalf of another local school in need.  When my old choral teacher reached out to me to participate as an alumni I jumped at the chance to meet some of the kids I had helped raise money for over the years.  Everyone we met there was so friendly and passionate about their city, it was truly a great experience and while we didn't get a chance to tour much of New Orleans, I loved what I saw and would love to return again in the future.

While there, the main things we saw/did were: tour the French Quarter (even had a 'ghost tour'), took a steamboat ride aboard the Natchez, and enjoy the delicious cajun cuisine.   And with my love of food I definitely appreciateed the great cajun food.  When we visited the school they served us a typical lunch with crawfish and sausage.  I'm not usually a fan of any kind of seafood, but it was delicious.  The cajun cooking was superb everywhere we went!  Sadly I did not get to try beignets :( but had my fair share of delectable pralines during our stay.


Clearwater Beach
While Florida may be most well-known for its many theme parks, there is much more to this gorgeous state than just Disney World (though the princess in me does love some Disney).  One of my favorite places in Florida is around the Tampa Bay area, like Clearwater--one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever been to!  My family has friends living in the Bay area so we visited quite frequently growing up.  For the beach lover, and the biker (motorcycles, like my dad), it's a great community to visit.  Not to mention that Florida has gorgeous weather late-fall to early-spring while the northern half of the U.S. are absolutely freezing their buns off!

For the amusement park fiend Florida is heaven.  In Tampa there is Busch Gardens, it was my dad's personal favorite because there used to be a free beer tasting/tour (unfortunately that closed a few years ago, :( sadness).  There many more parks throughout Florida but the largest are in Orlando area: Disney World, Universal Studies, and Sea World.  While they may be overly expensive, I think that they're worth visiting at least once; you're never too old for fairy tales and roller coasters!

New York City

Oh New York City. I have a love/hate relationship with this city. Mainly because I hate the Yankees (Mets fans, you're ok) and love the city.  I can't help I'm just a Boston girl at heart.  But despite it's unfortunate sports team, the Big Apple is still a pretty amazing city to visit. New York has a long, rich history and subsequently has tons of fascinating museums to visit. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Intrepid Sea Air & Space Museum, Ellis Island, and American Museum of Natural History are a few of my favorites, but the list of all the museums in NYC is far too extensive to list.

For those who have not visited NYC before you may want to go up the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Tower, and the Statue of Liberty. It's something you should see and do once, but if your experience is like mine (three hour wait for Empire State Building) then you may not want to visit again. 
 While visiting NYC other places I enjoy visiting are Times Square and Central Park.  The Brooklyn Bridge is also a typical place to visit and it gives you a nice walk.  My absolute favorite thing to do in NYC though is to go to a Broadway Show, I'm a huge theatre fan (particularly of musicals)!  Some of my favorite shows I've seen on Broadway have been: Spamalot, Hairspray, and Young Frankenstein.  Either way, if you visit NYC you won't be bored.

Puerto Rico

Gate to the City
Beautiful Puerto Rico may be an unincorporated U.S. territory and not a state, but that does not diminishes my love for this beautiful island!  I got to visit Puerto Rico on a Spanish trip my senior year of high school.  As a group we visited both San Juan and Ponce and while I adored Old San Juan, I did prefer Ponce.

Garden in Casa Blanca
While in San Juan we walked through the old part of the city, saw the gate to the city, the fort Castillo de San Cristóbal with its infamous sentry box known for its many rumors of disappearances, Casa Blanca that was once home to the Ponce family, the San Juan Cathedral that houses the remains of the explorer Ponce de Leon and Saint Pius, as well as some gorgeous beaches.  We also took a few day trips, mainly to El Yunque National Forest, the only rain forest in the U.S. national forest system, and Arecibo Observatory to see the radio telescope and museum.

After our visit to San Juan we traveled south to the city of Ponce, the second largest city on the island after San Juan's metropolitan area.  We were only in Ponce for around a day and a half, but it was such a beautiful city that I fell in love with instantly!  Easily the most recognizable site in this city is the famous Parque de Bombas, or fire station, know for its black and red stripes.  Parque de Bombas is located right in the central Plaza las Delicias just as the  Ponce City Hall and Ponce Cathedral both are.  It was a wonderful trip, even if I left with the horrible souvenir of sun poisoning. Ouch.
"La Garita del Diablo"

Honorable Mentions

(Or places I loved and you should visit but I visited too long ago, or too infrequently, to make an educated selection)
*Washington DC
*Virginia Beach

What's your favorite travel destination in the United States?