Monday, February 24, 2014

Nochevieja, Celebrating Like a Spaniard

A little late in the year for talks of New Year celebrations, but never too late to learn some new traditions!

New Year's Eve throughout the world is quite the spectacle, but never have I seen a spectacle as large as in Spain.  This year was my first New Year's Eve away from home, and I got to spend it with my boyfriend's family and friends in Santander learning how to ring in the new year like a Spaniard.
I was first most surprised by how family oriented this holiday was compared to the United States.  Unlike in the USA where I either celebrate at my house with my mom and a few friends or at a friend's party, my boyfriend's whole family got together for a huge family dinner (very similar to their Christmas Eve here).

We arrived at their grandfather's house for around 9:00 pm, perfect timing for a Spanish dinner, and spent the time playing games and planning on how my hair would be done for later that night.  Yes, you heard that, how my hair was going to be done...but more on that later.
Bringing two cultures together with pie!
As the clock struck 10:00 we all gathered around the table for a huge dinner of langostinos, pâté, anchovies, cured lomo, salad,  piles of bread, cochinillo (suckling pig/piglet), and cordero (lamb).  Finished off with dessert of torrijas (like a very sweet french toast) and apple pie I made to share some of traditional USA culture.  As usual everything was delicious and I rolled away from the table with a stomach too full for my own good, my typical state after big Spanish family dinners.

Now with an hour to spare before the twelve chimes from Puerta del Sol, the hour of the peinados (hairstyles) began.  In Spain once midnight strikes it's very common for teenagers/young adults, who are of drinking age or atleast pretend to be, meet with their friends to go out.  One of the ways to do this on New Year's Eve is to have a cotillón, a party where a group of people rent out a bar for one pre-paid entrance fee (normally anywhere from 35-70€) and stay and drink there until the bar closes around 6:00 am.  In Santander everyone is dressed to the nines for these cotillones, the men in suits and the women in nice dresses, some even with their hair styled.
My fabulous hair-do
As it was my first, and maybe last cotillón as many of our friends aren't feeling cotillones anymore, we wanted to go all out.  The BF's aunt used to be a hairdresser and she fabulously styled my hair and his sister's.  While we were being "beautified" he was on grape duty.  Counting out grapes for all the family members and making sure everyone had the twelve grapes in time for the twelve chimes, probably the most well known Spanish New Year's tradition.

Unlike watching a giant crystal ball drop in Time's Square, well they have a small ball drop, everyone gathers around the TV, with grapes in hand, to watch the center of Madrid and wait for the clock to strike.  Once the clock strikes numbers appear on the screen with each chime, telling when each grape should be eaten.  I'm proud to say I ate all twelve grapes in time, good luck and prosperity for the new year!, though it did help that we had seedless grapes...  Regardless, we toasted the new year with cava, gave besos to the whole family, and enjoyed all the fireworks being set off near the house.

Now that it was after midnight we were in a time crunch to finish getting ready to meet our friends in the center for 1:00 am.  We were dropped off by their father who agreed to pick us all up the next morning in the center around 7:00 am, a reasonable party end in Spain.

Altogether the cotillón was fun, not the greatest music unfortunately, but after being in Madrid it was great going out with all our friends from Santander.  And like any great Spanish party, we ended the night (began the day?) with chocolate con churros.

When we woke up later that day we went back to their grandfather's house for a New Year's Day family lunch of delicious home-made Paella.  A few games later, more like the same game of Risk for a few hours, we all went to the cinema to catch a movie (Keanu Reeves's 47 Ronin) together.  The perfect way to relax after a long night, and to remember how much I love the Spanish importance of family.  There's nothing better than family time!

How was your New Year's Eve?  Have you ever celebrated it as part of another culture?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Post-College Expectations Vs. Reality

Where have I been for the past few weeks?  Drilling Spanish children on what it means to be healthy or unhealthy? Yes. Over indulging in Spanish culture?  Maybe.  Ignoring blog world? Never.

The truth is that my computer suddenly decided it didn't love me anymore and now processes at a speed roughly slower than a snail/tortoise hybrid baby would.  While it "claims" there is no virus, I'm currently only able to add anything to my blog when the BF isn't using his computer (and with his Master's presentation this week, that time has been few and far between).

With that being said, it's also been a while since I've had a post more about dealing with life after college, instead of my current life abroad in Spain.  While this does happen to be my life after college, I understand that there are many who may come to this blog who aren't very interested in what I'm doing but are looking for advice in the process of leaving their college years behind.
Well this one's for you guys.

Last year before I came to Spain I wrote a post called: Common Life After College Myths Debunked talking about some common myths I had heard, and some I felt, before graduating.  Now almost two years post-graduation (Seriously? One year after college was hard enough to process...) I'm realizing that all my own expectations and plans have changed, and not necessarily in a negative way.

I thought I would have a real job by now...

Yeah I know it wasn't a good market, and very few people were being hired...but I thought somehow I would be different.  Those statistics didn't apply to me, I had done well in all my student teaching practicums and even won awards, it may take a few tries I would be hired.  Wrong.  I still remember the first teaching jobs I applied to where over 400 people applied to the same position and I wasn't even called in for an interview.  I was heartbroken, like I wasn't a good enough teacher because I wasn't hired straight out of college.  
But after I started substitute teaching  I began to realize that those statistics were there for a reason, and that I wasn't the only one trying to break into the education field.  There were so many subsitutes I met who had been struggling like this for nearly a decade!  And I finally realized that not having my dream job right away didn't mean I wasn't good enough, I had to define my own worth because no job would do that for me.  So I made up my mind that, that was the year I made the move to Spain.  I wanted to do something different with my life, and while it's still not my dream job being an auxiliar, I feel much more fulfilled working long term with a group of students then subbing in their classroom a few times a year.

I didn't think I could stay healthy

For anyone that has ever known me I'm a food-iac.  I love food, love eating, and worse have a killer sweet tooth.  On the other hand though, I also love to workout and stay physically active, but have the vice that I easily get overwhelmed by pressure and nap when I should be sweating.  While in school I was able to keep up the tentative balance, but was never quite happy with my health regime.  Regardless, I was worried that I would be able to break old unhealthy patterns, hmm dessert you say?, and that I wouldn't be able to afford to have healthy meals.
May not look like much, but stuffed eggplants!
So I started to learn how to cook and the beauty that is moderation.  In the U.S. the food was a little more difficult because fresh fruit and vegetables can be so expensive, but here in Spain fresh produce is my cheapest purchase.  I've taken my health into my own hands by constantly searching for new healthy ways to cook the food I love.  I've also started to tap into Spanish foods with my Christmas gift of a Spanish cook-book which is full of vegtables and fruits.  Overall the most important thing I've learned is that while we eat to fuel our bodies, we also eat to enjoy.  Between using fresh ingredients, cooking from scratch, and moderation I have stayed healthy and happy post-college.  Not to mention staying active is now as easy as searching fitness on pinterest!

I thought my university would always be home

I was not the stereotypical college student, I spent more time with my friends off campus than on, but it still felt like home to me.  And with friends still left behind, I thought that feeling would never change for me.  Especially since my campus was fifteen minutes away from and I practically grew up on the campus.  Instead, I found that from the moment I stepped back on campus that it wasn't home anymore.  

I was working six days a week and while I was worried about bills and going to bed on time, my friends were talking about parties and their classes.  I found that except for a few close friends, I couldn't relate to the people I had once hung out with anymore, or the goals that had for their lives at that moment.  Everytime I returned to campus I just felt more and more like an outsider looking in and one night when I walked past my old dorm, and saw a light on in my old room, it became clear that I no longer belonged there.  And wouldn't again.  At first I was sad, but it gave me the push I needed to move out of my comfort levels.  My old college may no longer be my home, but that didn't mean I had to lose my friends or the memories I would take with me.

I didn't think I could afford my loans

Oh student loans, why must you be so expensive?  They're were one of the most daunting things about graduating.  I just remember thinking helpless, how would I ever be able to pay them back?  But then again, I'm a proactive person and spent my senior year working two jobs on top of my studies to save money.  When my grace period was over I had already saved enough money to make the payments of my first year of loans.  And last year I saved up enough money to make the payments for two more years.
Mini-Plaza Mayor at Parque Europa
Don't get me wrong, it was a lot more work then you may think, I had to sacrifice a lot of time and things that I wanted. But thanks to that work I have been able to travel and make it to Spain this year (and afford my loans).  Yes, student loans are expensive, and a nuisance, get the picture.  But they don't have to be impossible.  With planning and hard work, you can beat your loan payments and enjoy your life.  If you need some help making sense of your loans, read my post about dealing with student loan debt.

I thought I would be near my friends

This has been one of the hardest pills to swallow about going to a college near my house, and moving abroad to Spain (both with my friends from high school and college).  My friends are some of the most important people in my life and I thought I would be able to keep up our girl's nights and general adventures.  Post-college and having moved away I feel like I have to start all over again.  I feel like I'm back in high school, or a freshman in college trying to find new people I can connect with (particularly hard if you're introvert that does a poor awkward job at pretending to be an extrovert).
But the hards thing has been that being so far away means I have missed a lot, of both the good and the bad.  I can't be there to congratulate my friends on the new job or comfort them when a loved one has passed away.  Even with skype, facebook, email, and whatsapp I'm not a part of their lives like we used to be.  I feel like I'm in a long distance relationship all over again, but this time with my friends.  While it's not easy, I've learned that the friendships (like all types of relationships) will remain strong if all parties want it to work and the effort is made to stay in touch.  Thanks technology!

I didn't think I could travel

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that post-college I would be able to travel, let alone live abroad.  Believe me when I say it hasn't always been an easy path, but for me it has been worth all that I've had to given up.  And when I say give up, I mean all those little things that we have been told we need to be able survive: the newest clothes, the latest technology, a big house, new car, etc.  And if those things make you happy, there's nothing wrong with that.  I know plently of people who look at what I'm doing with my life and wouldn't feel happy or fulfilled.
But if you're like me, and traveling is your dream, then anything is possible.  Maybe I don't have the nicest phone or laptop, maybe I don't have designer clothes or expensive accessories, I have a great experience and great memories.  I can say "Remember that time we rented an apartment in the center of Paris and could see the eiffel tower from our balcony?" or "Remember that time I celebrated my birthday in Pamplona at the Running of the Bulls?" or even "Remember that time I fell up a crowded metro escalator with all my luggage trying to make a plane to Sevilla on time?" (true story, complete wipe out).  And those memories, even the embarrassing, are for me worth giving up all those little things.

How has the post-college life met your expectations?