Beginning of Week 4: Local Living

Although most Tarragonians are very friendly, we haven’t really had an opportunity to get to know anyone. The people I see over and over are the people who work or live at the university dorm, plus the cashiers at the grocery store (lame, I know. I get dinner there a lot). Otherwise, I see a ton of different people on a daily basis. The most interesting conversations I’ve had with the locals have been while on public transportation, to be honest. They see a ton of students speaking English, and they ask questions. We try to maximize this conversation by asking what the best restaurants or things to do in the area are, or just ask why people decide to live in this region of Spain. I think that I’ve become very accustomed to living in Tarragona, and I can definitely say that I’ll miss it. Living in Spain has had its ups and downs, but learning about the local people and customs has made this trip one to remember.

I haven’t purchased anything too exciting, but I plan on buying some souvenirs for friends and family when I visit Barcelona and Madrid. I would by default say that the best thing that I have spent my money on has been food, but I’ve already written plenty on that topic! As far as keeping within a budget, I really haven’t made any large purchases. We went to a few clothing stores at the mall, and I only bought one shirt (which is saying something for me). Their styles are very different here, even at the “American” stores like H&M. Actually, the hardest thing to keep a budget for has definitely been food and drinks – it’s easy to spend 15-20€ on a meal and glass of wine (the wine is delicious here!). Usually worth the money, but still hard to merit doing so more than once or twice a weekend. Overall, I’m happy with the ways that I’ve been spending my money here, but I definitely have had to budget in order to make this trip both enjoyable and affordable.

End of Week 3: Language

Heather Davis, Spain DOC Summer 2, at the top of the cathedral in tarragona

Here in Tarragona, Spain, the co-official and more commonly spoken language besides Spanish is Catalan, which is a language that sounds sort of like a mixture of Spanish and French. Everyone here also knows Spanish, though, and a lot of Catalonians know English as well. When we need to communicate with the locals, which most often occurs at restaurants, we get by with a mixture of Spanish and English. There are a few of us here who speak Spanish well enough to have a relatively simple conversation, and others know only the necessities, like “hola,” “gracias”, and “agua.” Either way, the language barrier hasn’t really been too much of an issue.

I think my most exposed moment when it comes to speaking the local tongue happened when I took the train to a nearby town with my professor and a few classmates to explore, and my professor left his wallet at the other train station. When we returned to Tarragona, and he figured out he was missing it, a classmate and I talked to the woman at the ticket desk, who directed us to her associate who dealt with these types of situations. She did not speak any English, so we explained what had occurred in Spanish, she called the train station, and told us what our next steps should be. Between me and my classmate, we understood everything she said and ended up retrieving the wallet the next day.

On the other hand, one of our most confusing moments was more humbling. Two of my friends and I were at a restaurant, and the waiter was telling us our dessert options. One of them was helado de avellana, or hazelnut ice cream. Unfortunately, the waiter didn’t know the English word for hazelnut, and we didn’t recognize the Spanish. After a few confusing minutes of the waiter attempting to explain what a hazelnut was without using the word (there were hand gestures involved), we gave up and decided to just order it and see what we got. As soon as we tasted the ice cream, we had an “ooooooh, that’s what he was trying to say” moment. We were very happy to have ordered it – it was one of the most delicious desserts I have had here. We took a risk, and it definitely paid off!

My favorite word in the Spanish language is definitely “vale” (pronounced vah-lay). I already knew this word before arriving in Spain, but I did not realize how often it was used. I swear Spaniards say it at least once per sentence in conversation. It means a variety of things, which is why it’s such a valuable word – it can be used to say “ok,” “sure,” or “well,” or to express agreement. Conversations often end with “vale, gracias!” or “vale, adios!” No matter how you use the word, “vale” makes you sound like you are an authentic Spaniard, which is why I’m trying to integrate it into my vocabulary more often!

End of Week 3: Lingua

Samantha Crespi, John Cabot, Summer 2015

Although you can get by in Rome without knowing Italian, I do encounter situations often where language is a barrier and gesturing is usually the best way to communicate. For instance, often servers at small cafes will not speak English as you are placing a food order. However, menus are often distinguishable (sometimes they have an English version, but you will also adjust to common dishes in Italy and find they are similar, if not the same, to what they are called in English) and you can point to what you would like to order. Even though pointing will communicate the dish of choice, I think it is good to put effort into attempting to pronounce the food at the same time in the native tongue out. From my experience, Italians appreciate this effort. I also learned a gesture in Italian where you put your pointer finger on your cheek and twist it back and forth to show that a meal was satisfying. I’ve used that before in restaurants when waiters ask how the food is.

The language, although beautiful and one of my favorite aspects of Italy, can lead to miscommunication gone awry. One morning I went to a café on the way to school and ordered a cappuccino to take away. He poured the coffee in a cup, laid a lid on top, and put the entire thing in box before handing it to me. The gentleman then gestured to the lid of the coffee with his hand and said something in Italian. I saw that the lid was not pressed down all the way, so by his gesture I assumed he had told me to be careful and that the lid wasn’t sealed properly. I said thank you and then quickly smooshed the lid down close, which caused the foam of my cappuccino to bubble up and out, all over the tray below. He shook his head in frustration and yelled, “Mama Mia!” Clearly he was trying to tell me not to push the cap down, but the miscommunication led me to shoving it on regardless. I laughed, he was less amused by it all.

In terms of go-to phrases, I’ve learned to memorize, “un biglietto per favore” for ordering a bus ticket from a magazine stand (translation: one ticket please). The workers at the stands almost never speak English, so it’s been helpful to memorize the phrase. You can also replace ‘biglietto’, meaning ticket, with caffe or latte as necessary throughout the day!

Beginning of Week 3: Temples & Travels

Samantha Crespi, John Cabot, Summer 2015 (2)

One of the classes I am taking at John Cabot, and which I highly recommend, is titled Ancient Rome and Its Monuments.  The class period is four hours long, twice a week. We walk about the city and discuss landmarks, attractions, and ancient ruins in an attempt to put together the pieces of what once stood there and its significance to both the ancient world and modern times. The class is interesting as it applies context to landmarks, and helps you to understand the city of Rome and antiquity’s influence on today. One of my favorite monuments is the Temple of Portunus, the port god.

The Temple of Portunus we learned about in class when we studied the differences between Greek architecture and Roman. Greek architecture was very precise and had strict requirements. Greek temples were usually placed high on hills to be closer to the heavens, had columns all the way around the base evenly spread, had steps of access on all sides, and were low to the ground. These temples were built carefully and served as an honorable way to thank and respect the gods. In Roman architecture, they often used these temples to display the wealth of the man building the temple rather than to strictly honor the gods. They wanted their temples to show dominance from the front view (to convey dominance of the man), and anything else was really just an afterthought. This is evident in the Temple of Portunus which, from the front, appears to have columns all the way around (in reality full columns only exist on the front porch, the others are engaged half columns stuck to the side just to give the allusion of full columns without having to build these), is raised high and dominantly off the ground, and can only be accessed by a front small set of steps. The reason I like this temple is it sits very close to a Greek temple which is perfect in structure, and you can see the clear differences in designs. It also was a victory temple, which means that it was commissioned to be built by a general after a successful war and was along the triumphal parade route, or a path which parades would take place on to honor the war hero. This temple was dedicated to the port god and behind it, on the Tiber, used to be the first Roman port. Overall, this temple was very significant in Roman times and now sits just off a major roadway and is passed everyday by tourists that mistake the building for a government building, church, or large burial ground.

Exploring Rome in class is a great way to save weekends for travelling and seeing different areas of Italy. So far I’ve travelled to Florence, Pisa, the Amalfi Coast, and Tuscany. I am going to Venice this coming weekend. The Amalfi Coast trip was booked through a tour trip company called Bus 2 Alps, and is used by a lot of American students studying in Italy for excursions. It is priced reasonably and is an easy way to book a weekend in a new city without having to plan what to see and still knowing you will visit the popular destinations. However, I also encouraging booking weekend trips on your own. It is often a rewarding experience to piece meal together a trip and enjoy a new and beautiful city on your own whim.

End of Week 2: Pizza & Pasta Please

Meals in Europe are enjoyed at a slower pace than in the United States. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are mostly sit-down occasions with multiple courses and time after the meal, before the check is handed, to sit and talk. The American mentality tends to be quicker and more time conscious. Speedy service is valued and desired, whereas in Europe this is interpreted as rude and hasty. It is often hard to find coffee to take away as well, so a busy coffee addict like myself has to find time to slow down and enjoy a cappuccino in a mug instead of sipping from a plastic lid.

Portion sizes also differ in Europe and tend to be much smaller. However, because take away is often not an option, I’ve found that I like this change in size. Additionally, keep in mind if you travel abroad that tipping in Europe is not expected nor required. If we have a pleasant service experience we sometimes leave something, but you don’t need to abide by typical tip percentages as you do in the United States. Servers in Europe are paid higher wages and therefore not reliant on these extra earning.

I eat about half of my meals in Rome out, and the other half I make myself. I took a cooking class earlier in the summer and I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen more than I usually do. However, I do also feel that food is such an important part of Italian culture and I like to try places in the area. We often go out to recommended restaurants for a plate of pasta, dish of pizza, or platter of cheese and wines. I had vegetable lasagna at one restaurant layered in white cream sauce, zucchini, and eggplant, and dripping with four different types of cheeses. It was the most amazing meal I’ve had in Rome. Two weekends ago we went wine tasting in Tuscany and, along with the wine, were served local foods from the area. Here I tried cheese dipped in fresh honey, a variety of meats, and chicken liver on a toasted baguette. Although I very much enjoyed the cheese and meats, I wasn’t too keen on the chicken liver, mainly due to the texture. However, I think it is always good to try and experiment—you never quite know!

Art Minor in Ireland: “What’s the craic?”

Emily Mui, Ireland DOC Summer 2 2015

The main language in Ireland is English. Even though students still learn Irish Gaelic (or as the locals just call it “Irish”) in school and there are still people whose first language is Irish, we’ve never encountered anyone here who does not speak English. I mean, the Irish accent can be pretty thick, especially in Western Ireland, but it’s not as hard to understand as, say, a different language.

Nevertheless, they definitely have a few phrases here that I’ve never heard of in the United States. There are words like “class,” “grand,” and “sound” that they use interchangeably to mean “good”. Those are pretty easy to understand and catch onto in context.

“Hey, how are you doing?”

“Grand, yourself?”

“I’ll meet you at the pub at half nine.”


“You see that view? Like, that’s class.”

But there seems to be this one phrase that trips up many Americans:

“What’s the craic?”

The word “craic” is pronounced “crack,” so it’s understandable when Americans get confused the first time they hear an Irish person say something like, “Oh yeah, great craic in that town!” or “I spend the afternoon today with Tom; the craic was grand!”

“Craic” doesn’t really have a specific “translation”. It’s just a casual term that people use to describe hanging out with people or simply having a good time. For example, “What’s the craic?” means “What’s up?” or “What’s going on?” When people say that some place has “great craic,” it means that the place has a good vibe; there are usually interesting people to talk to there, and it’s a good time. It’s my favorite phrase that I’ve heard in Ireland so far because it’s so common and so practical and easy to use.

So if you’re ever traveling around Ireland and you hear that some place has “great craic,” don’t be concerned–just go and see what the craic’s all about! I’m sure it’ll be grand.

China – Language

Considering that I am on this dialogue to learn Mandarin, I actually have quite a bit to say about the language. However, not very many of these moments are “lost-in-translation” moments because I can speak enough Mandarin to get by. Probably the funniest story involving language I have involves ordering a drink at a restaurant. A few of my friends and I went to get Hot Pot and decided to order some watermelon juice to accompany the meal. When we were asked how many pitchers we wanted, we thought they asked how many people would be drinking it so we said “four” and then they brought four pitchers of watermelon juice. As good and fresh as it is, it’s not something you particularly need four pitchers of for four people. Needless to say, it was a very funny moment and we definitely had a good laugh.

As far as my favorite phrase that I have learned recently in Mandarin, I would have to say it’s probably “我不知道“ (Wo bu zhidao) which means “I don’t know.” As funny as that sounds it’s actually quite a commonly used phrase as I often don’t know what people are saying to me or how to answer them so I can reply with this phrase. Then, they either switch to English or say it another way. So, all in all it’s a pretty useful phrase and fairly easy to say.

Besides those two points there isn’t much to say about the language. Yes, it’s a very difficult language to learn but anyone who wants to learn a language badly enough will put in the effort to learn it. That’s at least what I’ve found in regards to Mandarin. I have another 2 weeks of Mandarin classes and then I should be much more comfortable in the language. Hopefully all of the immersion and practice will make my Mandarin that much better and I can come back home having learned a lot!

Turkey and Germany – Language

On my first day in Germany, I got the best Vietnamese food of my entire life. I hadn’t eaten anything but grilled cheese, plain pasta, and fries my entire time in Istanbul, I’d just gotten off a flight, and I was starving. I went to the restaurant recommended by my local TA and it was so delicious that I almost started crying. The awkward moment came before that when that when I ordered very slowly and with a lot of miming, used to the waitstaff in Istanbul who rarely spoke English. Turns out that waiter spoke perfectly fine English, as have pretty much everyone I have spoken to here in Germany. The lack of a language barrier has made things a lot easier. Even if the language does cause me trouble, people are happy to step in and help. On the first day I was here, a German woman helped me with the subway ticket machine that was half in English and half in German. The next day, someone helped me differentiate the body wash from the shampoo in the grocery store. Just yesterday, I had someone give me subway directions. Overall, it hasn’t been a challenge here at all. The hardest part has been the pronunciation of German words. Who would ever guess that ß is a double s? Luckily my roommate Clara knows a little bit of German so I mostly rely on her for telling me these things.

This is a huge change from Istanbul where it was impossible to communicate with most local workers. Mostly it involved a lot of pointing and people writing down prices for me. I was really proud of myself for actually getting where I needed to go alone in a taxi (or taksi in Turkish) with a driver who only spoke Turkish.

Turkey and Germany – Field Trips, Museums, and Landmarks

Since my last post, I’ve made my way to Berlin, a city which I am absolutely in love with. I’ve been able to find delicious vegetarian food wherever I go, the food is still very cheap, and the city is much more LGBT friendly than Istanbul. Yesterday, I went on six hour walking tour of Berlin. I was able to see the remains of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and the memorials for the Jewish and Homosexual victims of the holocaust.

Seeing the Berlin Wall was truly amazing. I have a lot of trouble wrapping my mind around how a city could be divided in the way Berlin was during the Cold War, but our tour guide actually grew up in the divided city and was able to give us several anecdotes that explained how this actually played out for the citizens for Berlin. It was also very interesting to hear her explain the positives sides of socialism, and why it failed in the case of East Berlin. In my American education, socialism is always viewed in a very negative light and I always imagined East Berlin as an extremely impoverished place, but that actually wasn’t the case. East Berlin was not an impoverished place, it just wasn’t a rich place, instead, people were all on the general same income level. Obviously there were a lot of problems with East Berlin, but it was really great to learn about the situation without the obvious American bias.

Seeing the holocaust memorials was also extremely powerful. As a member of the LGBT community, the memorial to the homosexuals was really intense to see. Although lesbians were not persecuted for their lesbianism during the holocaust (instead they could be persecuted as antisocials), the creators of the memorial chose to include lesbian couples as well as gay male couples in order to symbolize how homophobia plays out today. The memorial for the Jewish victims of the holocaust was extremely abstract, which I think is for the better because it is so difficult to visually portray such a horrific event. Interestingly enough, there is no museum or exhibition at the site of the bunker where Hitler committed suicide for the fear of the site attracting neo-nazis. It was very shocking to me to learn that this was a serious concern.

I’m looking forward to checking out more Berlin museums in the couple weeks and hopefully I’ll post about those as well!

Field Trips, Museums, and Landmarks in Greece

We spent the second week on the island of Crete. We stayed first in Heraklion, then in Reythemno. In Heraklion, we were able to tour Knossos’ Palace, which was an incredible experience. I love history and we had a great tour guide who was very knowledgable about the site and history of Greece in general. One thing in particular that I love about Greek history is that it incorporates ancient mythology. The fact that these old stories are still talked about and remembered today shows jut how valuable the history of Greece is to its people. The palace was set on a beautiful landscape covered with olive trees. We could hear crickets in the trees and the overall setting was just beautiful. It is amazing to me how well ancient ruins can be preserved centuries later.
This past week we went on an excursion to the Samaria Gorges. We hiked six miles in the mountains of a beautiful small island off of Crete. We crossed handmade wooden bridges over fresh, clear rivers of water. The scenery was incredible. It was a little bit scary at times when the gorge would become narrow and we had to be quiet to listen for falling stones, but overall it was a great experience. We also visited Matala Beach this week and learned about the old caves and “hippie” culture of the town. A large mural overlooking the beach and town read “Today is life, tomorrow never comes”, which I though reflected the Greek culture well in the way they take life day by day and appreciate all that they have in the moment. Another cool thing that we did in Matala was cliff jumping. It was about a 30 foot drop and pretty rocky, so naturally I was afraid. We all supported each other and it was a great bonding experience for the group. Looking back, I definitely would have regretted it if I hadn’t jumped! Crete has been a great experience full of new challenges and knowledge.