Study, travel, repeat

April 25, 2016

in Academic Year 2015-2016, Caroline Stevens, Europe, Spain

Spring is descending upon Madrid and lifting me out of an academic-induced stupor. The sun sets around nine, taking its time in its daily arc, and the reality of my impending final exams and essays is becoming quite clear to me. This semester has been more rewarding academically than the past semester, but it’s still hard (impossible, even) to find Madison-level motivation to plow through readings and assignments here, especially when Madrid and the rest of Europe is still begging to be explored.

I visited Mackenzie in Brussels a week ago, and it woke my excitement for all the travels I have planned, but also slammed me with the reality of my remaining time here. I have just about two months left, and one of those is full of weekend trips and exams, and the second is going to be a continuous solo trip all over Europe. As far as the weekend in Brussels went, it was fantastic. I saw about as much of Belgium as anybody could in 48 hours: Brussels, Bruges, and a bike ride through the countryside that ended in Dammel. We went to a modern art museum opening, saw the classic touristy stuff of Brussels, walked all over the center of the city, and ate what surely was the best tiramisu I’ve ever had in my life. So much good food and conversation, and even though I didn’t sleep much, I was less tired upon returning than I have been in the past few weeks.

 

Though it threatened to rain, we ended up with good weather for our three hour long bike tour of the Belgian countryside.

Though it threatened to rain, we ended up with good weather for our three hour long bike tour of the Belgian countryside.

Mackenzie looking cute at one of our many delicious meals. This one was at a brunch place right before I left to catch my plane.

Mackenzie looking cute at one of our many delicious meals. This one was at a brunch place right before I left to catch my plane.

 The Atomium, an impressive installation a metro ride outside of the center of the city.

The Atomium, an impressive installation a metro ride outside of the center of the city.

Yesterday, I returned from another quick weekend trip, this one to Extremadura. I had a lot of misconceptions about Extremadura, mostly that it was going to be a huge desert, when in reality it was beautiful green mountainous landscape, Roman ruins, and (yes, more) excellent food. I’m going to be dreaming about the dinner our program provided for years to come: endless plates of croquetas with ham and cheese, grilled vegetables, different cheeses from the region, sausages, steaks, chicken, potatoes, and a dessert dish of various flans and cakes and ice creams. I was food drunk well before the entree. The weekend overall was a bit too fast-paced for my liking, since we squeezed in three cities in two days (a repeat of my amount of time in Brussels, but with less freedom to choose what to do). We saw Mérida, Cáceres, and Trujillo, all full of stunning ruins and old cathedrals. Lunch on Sunday was beautifully simple and delicious: I sat at a table outside with Mariel in the shade, eating cheese and cod and watching little lizards scurry into holes in the flower-covered wall next to us.

The ruins of the Roman theater in Mérida, the capital of Extremadura.

The ruins of the Roman theater in Mérida, the capital of Extremadura.

Bought this baseball cap after the sun roasted my face on Saturday. Taken in Trujillo, a beautiful pueblo and our last stop before returning to Madrid.

Bought this baseball cap after the sun roasted my face on Saturday. Taken in Trujillo, a beautiful pueblo and our last stop before returning to Madrid.

In terms of my remaining time here, I have about a month before I’m hit with the finals storm and a lot to read before then. I have a class on the Spanish short story that I really enjoy, but the sheer level of required reading has been weighing on me. I’m also quite enjoying my aesthetics philosophy class, though that final exam is a bit of a mystery to be right now. Within Reunidas (the classes with other American students) I’ve been taking a class about Islam in Spain, Spanish film, and phonetics. The classes here are all 1.5 or 2 hours per class, twice a week, which is significantly more time than I spend in class in Madison. I sure do miss those 50 minute classes, perfect for my wandering attention span.

My typical week here, which I’ve never covered in detail, goes like this: Monday, phonetics class and teaching English to Javier, a delightful 14 year old boy who doesn’t get the best grades because he is, as he says, “A little bit lazy.” Tuesday, I leave my bed as late as I possibly can to make it on time for my 9 am philosophy class, which is really interesting and often goes over my head. Then I have phonetics again a few hours afterward and try to do something productive in between. Wednesday is philosophy in the morning and a big day of nothing else planned since quitting my volunteer job at the retirement home. Spending time with Jesús María at the retirement home taught me a thing or two, like how I’m not cut out to work with elderly people. While he gave me a perspective from a different era of España (i.e. the pro-Franco era), the stress that volunteering was putting on my schedule no longer was worth it. Wednesday nights I teach English to 10 year old Sofía, which can occasionally be a battle. Thursday is my hellish 7 hour class marathon: the Spanish short story for two hours, Islam in Spain for 1.5 hours, and Spanish film for a little more than 3 hours. No breaks. I wolf down my lunch at a culturally unacceptable speed in between two classes. On Fridays I have the Spanish short story and Islam again, and then the weekend: hosting or traveling or tomando el sol in Madrid.

Another pretty shot of campus, this one near the Geography & History building. How am I supposed to study when Madrid offers me sunsets like these?

Another pretty shot of campus, this one near the Geography & History building. How am I supposed to study when Madrid offers me sunsets like these?

Basically, life is good but exhausting. The idea of leaving Madrid physically pains me, so I’ve decided to pretend that’s not a reality until I absolutely have to acknowledge it. I’m full of academic anxiety and am torn between the desire to travel as much as I can and the desire to spend as much time enjoying Madrid as I can, pushing myself to get to new neighborhoods and find more concerts, gallery openings, parks I haven’t gone to yet. But nothing about these conflicting feelings is bad, just exciting and weird. It’s impossible to do everything I still want to do, and I wonder what’ll be sacrificed: time studying, time traveling, or time enjoying Madrid? Place your bets now.

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