Happiest Country in the World

 

Could you guess where I went?

 

It’s Copenhagen, Denmark!

On the weekend of March 5th to the 7th my roommates Maggie and Emma and our friend Andy packed up and left for “the happiest place in the world.”

Copenhagen is famous for its Nyhavn Canal, lucky for us our hostel was right on it! In the pictures above the canal is the one with all the close colorful buildings. This weekend was our first out of the country experiences, and it was a great one. We wondered around the whole city from the canal, to the mermaid statue, to the Stroget. It was very difficult though to spend money because of the different currency. From my own experience, it would be best to use your credit card or debit card as much as possible, I tried to take out as little money because I did not know how much I was going to spend.

The second day in Denmark was on of my favorites! We took a bus for 20 euro to Malmo, Sweden where again we walked around and explored. We then took a bus right back to Denmark it was about 30 minutes each way. We then got fish pedicures (highly recommend) and got dinner. Saturday night we were lucky enough to see one of my favorite singers perform. We heard that Ellie Goulding was coming to town, so we ran and got tickets. It was the best concert of my life.

Denmark was a nice change from Spain, they are definitely polar opposites. Everyone spoke English and everyone was tall, blonde, and blue eyes. I would highly recommend a weekend trip here, the locals are so nice and there are so many things to do.

 

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Alhambra Selfies- GoPro Addict

Not Your Average “Field Trip”

Saving money abroad is probably the hardest thing to do, so when an opportunity comes up about a free trip HOP ON IT. Luckily CEA offers many excursion trips on the weekends, February’s were Valencia and Granada.

Valencia:

This was our first “field trip” my friends and I were so excited bout it because we have heard so many great things about the city. We took a private coach bus from our university at 8am. Valencia is actually very close to Alicante, it was probably at maximum a two hour bus ride. This excursion included 4 other programs so it was a great time to meet new friends, and by meet I mean I just made everyone be my friend they had no choice. Once we arrived to Valencia our tour guide took us all around the city. It is beautiful, just like most cities on the southeast coast it was very tropical with colorful buildings. We then visited a cathedral and the market. Our tour guide was fantastic she talked in Spanish, so 85% of the time I had no idea what was going on, but she did give us 2 hours of free time to explore and eat. A group of friends and I just traveled around the little streets and stumbled upon a little Mexican restaurant. This is were I had my very first “Valencia Water” it was delicious I would highly recommend it to those planning on visiting Valencia.

After eating we were told to meet at the fountain because it was time for the aquarium. Valencia’s aquarium is called L’Oceanografic and it is known to be the largest aquarium in Europe! It was on the outside of town, a quick bus ride did the trick. We arrived and my jaw dropped, it was huge. It reminded me of a theme park because of all the different buildings. Each building consisted of different animals and different environments, of course I had to go to every single building.

This was the opening weekend of the season for the aquairum, so not every exhibit was open. We did get to see the dolphin show though!!!! wooo I felt like a 6 year old because I was so excited. After hitting every exhibit and taking pictures of probably everything in the tanks, we arrived in the dolphin part. We wanted a front row seat, so we showed up an hour early. We got burgers and watched the dolphins warm up with the trainers.

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The next weekend we had a trip to Granada. I was very exciting about this trip because my friend from home is studying in Granada AND my other friend from home was visiting Granada that weekend also. I was so excited to get a little taste of home!

We took off on a coach bus Friday at 8am and arrived in Granada at 5pm. We then checked into our hotel where I was lucky enough to be paired up with my roommate Emma. The hotel was gorgeous, we were not used to having these nice amenities. Our favorite parts were the huge bed and a huge shower.

Friday night we got to explore the neighborhood of Saint Nicholas and attend an authentic Flamenco show. It was awesome! It was held in this building with picures of the past Flamenco shows with chairs lined against the wall. The show was an hour long with many different dancers. There was a live singer and guitar player throughout the whole thing. I really enjoyed this because it gave me a taste of Spanish culture. The dancers were great, they changed outfits and never stops stomping their feet. It reminded me a little bit like tap dancing here in the USA

The next morning was our big day, we were up bright and early to visit La Alhambra. We had a tour guide who spoke English and showed us around everywhere. It was crazy to see that much history in one day. We visited castles and gardens, by the end my feet were swollen from the 30,000 steps we took (thanks Fitbit). Granada is heavily influenced by the Muslims because of the fact that it started off as a refugee for them. All over the streets you will find Muslim food, clothes, and artwork.

This trip was very nice because it is in a different part of Spain, the south. It does not look like Alicante, Valencia, or Barcelona. I really enjoyed learning the history here and learning more about Spain. I especially liked this trip because other programs were invited to come to so we got to meet some great people who are now our best friends!

 

Barcelona

Well, I took my first official trip for the weekend! First place on our list was the one and only Barcelona. Let me tell you, if I could drop everything and move there, I would in a heart beat. Alicante has a bus route that runs from the airport to the center of our city for only 6 dollars, what a steal, so of course we use that for all of our travels. We left Friday around 1:00pm and arrived in Barcelona on 2:15pm. My roommate Emma and our friend Andy stayed with me in my first ever BnB experience.

For those of you who don’t know what  BnB is, it’s basically people who own apartments, but rent out unused bedrooms in it. We found one for two nights in the heart of Barcelona! The owner was a sweet old lady named Maria who did not speak english, and her niece who was also named Maria lived with her. The niece was around our age and greeted us at the door, she was absolutely wonderful. The place was clean and they were very accommodating, she provided all toiletries and food. We checked in and got a map and just went. Our goal was to get lost in the city and just learn all about the Catalonia culture.

Barcelona has it all, from the beach, to mountains, to a big beautiful city, we had three full days to complete it all, I was ready for the challenge. The Ramblas is very popular in Barcelona. It is a huge street with shops and restaurants, definitely very touristy, but a must see. We ate lunch at Brunch & Cake, I got the Super Sandwich, best meal of my entire life. I saw pictures of friends from the past who have gone there so I knew it was a must visit. We then walked all around the city and of course took a siesta.

The next day we woke up bright and earlier because we wanted to cover the Gothic center and take tours. The Gothic center is breath taking, the buildings and the architecture is like no other. There were plazas and monuments everywhere. We also saw the Barcelona Cathedral and the Gaudi museum. We sat and got pizza at a local restaurant, tasted just like good ole New Jersey pizza. I finally got wifi and my friend who was also visiting mentioned a tour of the FCB Camp Nou stadium.

I had my first experience of the Barcelona Metro and all I can say is WOW. There are so many lines and even more people. This was the only time I was actually afraid of pick pocketing, I have been warned by many people that Barcelona was bad, but only on the metro when we were packed like sardines I thought I was going to lose something. In Alicante we call it the Tram and it consists of 4 lines, in Barcelona it seemed like there was 20 and it could take you where ever you wanted to go.

We took the blue L5 to the Camp Nou tour. Like most places they gave a student discount so it wasn’t bad for the experience. This was my favorite part of the trip, we went through this huge museum and got to take pictures with trophies and uniforms. We then got to go into the stands in the upper levels, I can not believe how big the stadium is, puts the Eagles stadium to shame. The best part was getting to go onto the field, looking up at all the stands was breath taking. We also saw locker rooms, press conference rooms, and a small church they have for the players to pray. We spent probably 3 hours because how amazing it was. Of course the tour ended in the gift shop, were I decided to buy everyone I know gifts (sorry mom).

We then took the metro right back to the city. My good friend studied abroad in Barcelona last semester so before I went she texted me things to do and places to eat. She said a must was Rosa Negra and Zenzoo, so I did as I was told. Rosa Negra is the cutest Mexican restaurant. I ordered a shrimp cocktail, a chicken burrito, and a strawberry mojito. Everything was absolutely delicious, I learned that in Barcelona where ever you eat it is going to be phenomenal.

At night we went to the beach area, the main bar and club spot. I honestly felt like I was in downtown Disney, it was like a mini resort. There were so many people out and dressed up. There were cool buildings, with bars and clubs directly on the beach. We did the very popular Ice Bar.  We had to dress up in coats and gloves because the room was -10. The room was completely ice; the bar, the sculptures, the chairs, the cups. It was amazing definitely a must when visiting Barcelona. We made it 30 minutes the max is 1 hour in the room.

The next day we went to the famous Sagrada Familia. Even though it isn’t finished, it was stunning. I have visited many cathedrals in Italy, and this by far blew it out of the water. We then walked around the city some more and unfortunately had to catch our flight at 8pm.

I fell asleep on the plane before we even took off. We used our Fitbit to find out we walked 11 miles each day. Barcelona is absolutely beautiful and a must see in Spain. The love they have for FCB is captivating and just from being there one weekend I am a fan. We did not do Park Guel or go to a FCB game just so we had an excuse to go back to the city.

I guess you could say, I left a piece of my heart in Barcelona.

 

Why Alicante?

Finding a study abroad program thats fits all of your criteria can be very challenging. Trust me, I started looking in the Spring of 2015 and decided in the November of 2015 on Alicante. Lucky for Stockton students, the study abroad office is amazing, and is willing to help you with anything. Stockton is also affiliated with so many providers, who have so many programs to offer so it can be overwhelming. I knew I wanted to study abroad from the minute I went to college. The thought of learning a new culture and trying something new every day sounded so exciting to me.

My first thoughts were to study in London or Ireland. After looking at the programs my mind quickly changed, I wanted to branch out and go some where out of my comfort zone. Do not get me wrong London and Ireland are great places, I plan to visit each of them in March, but I knew that it was a safety option. In these countries, English is the main language and it is much like our culture here in American. I then focused my attention on Spain, I took Spanish all throughout grade school and high school so I knew they language barrier wouldn’t be too hard.

****Do not let people tell you that you can not study abroad because of your major. I am a Biology major and most people told me it would be too hard and I would have to take all general education classes, they are wrong. I found great options for courses, right now I am taking Genetics, Immunology, Sociology, and Spanish all which help towards my degree****

At this point of my search I knew I wanted Spain and I knew I wanted to take classes that I would have taken at Stockton, two core classes and two general classes. I immediately looked at Barcelona, since it is a very popular study abroad location. I also looked at Granada and Madrid. All of these locations are equally as beautiful and all offer so much history and culture, but they are major tourist spots that have been influenced by America.

I found my self leaning towards CEA as my provider and one day I found the Alicante program. I had no idea where Alicante was or anything about it, but seriously one look on Google and I was sold. Alicante is a port city, located on the Costa Blanca. I grew up at the beach (OCNJ) so when I saw that this city was on the Mediterranean Sea, my eyes lit up. From the pictures I could see Alicante had the best of both worlds. It has a city filled with shops and restaurants, but then has a beach filled with old school charm.

As I looked into the program details I knew that this was for me. CEA’s Alicante program allows you to study at the actual university. Every morning from class I have to take the train to school, sounds bad, but it’s only a 20-30 minute ride. The campus is the complete opposite of Stockton which is a very nice change of pace. It has about 30,000 students enrolled and has a campus with over 40 buildings each with unique architecture. There are palm trees everywhere, along with fountains, and many places to sit and enjoy the weather. The school sounds huge, do not think it is equivalent with Penn State, because it isn’t. It actually feels small, I knew my way around after the first day.

One awesome thing about studying at an actual university is the opportunity to work along side students from not only Spain, but all over the world. In my Spanish class alone there are people from 8 different countries.

My program also includes excursions to places like Valencia, Granada, and Islands of the coast. Each week they offer different activities such as hikes or wine tasting. CEA is very active in our experience too. Our program director always offers us advice and help. This week we learned about the internships that are offered and also volunteering options we can take part in. As of right now I am not involved in the internships, but I was offered a spot to practice on the field hockey team so I can stay in shape for Stockton.

 

 

Week 1

Well it is true what they say, once you study abroad you never want to come home. My first couple days were rough. I didn’t get my luggage and my sleeping pattern was all sorts of messed up, but now it has been about a week and I can say that Spain has stolen my heart.

The first couple of days abroad I experienced this rush of energy, I was just so excited I wanted to do everything possible. Unfortunately they were filled with hours and hours of orientations. We had to meet with Alvaro at our study abroad office to go over important things. We learned our policy about health insurance, the difference between local and private hospitals, the TAM, and traveling out of Spain. He then took us around the city and lunch. He said the more you explore and get lost, the more you will learn about the city. So we then took his advice and we just walked around for hours turning every corner to find something new. My roommates make fun of me because the whole time I take pictures, even if I pass it every day. Getting acquainted with the city your staying in is one of the most important things you have to do. It helped my nerves because I learned how safe the city is which in the end helped my parents too.

At some point we realized we had to get our lives some what together. By this I mean food shopping, school shopping, and apartment shopping. We decided that we want to save as much money as we can during the week so we can splurge on the weekends. Emma, Maggie, and I have so many places we want to visit, we also love going out to eat so our plan was to buy food and cook for ourselves Monday-Thursday. We are no chefs, let me tell you, but our cooking skills are definitely improving as the days go on. We also had to buy towels. blankets, and linens which were all conveniently located two stores down at “Corte Ingles” which is basically a huge Macy’s. It is about six floors and a block long, on each floor there are different items ranging from American name brands to random Spanish ones. My roommate Emma, I think is obsessed with it because she finds a new reason to go in there every day.

Once we got all of our shopping down, we decided we needed to make the apartment more comfortable and homey. We hung pictures from home and also rearranged the furniture, adding things to our bedrooms and living room. I absolutely love it so far, I commute to Stockton so being on my own with roommates is so refreshing and fun. I am adapting really well to the culture and the people. I have found a new love for “cafe con leche” and pastries. Thanks to Spain I also have eaten enough carbs for the whole month, so now I make it a goal to run everyday. I am excited to see what is in store for this journey, Maggie, Emma, and I made a promise that through out this whole trip we are keeping an open mind and trying new things every day. We want to learn about the city and the people living in it.