Erin Quinlevan '15

A year always seems like such a long time until it has passed. When I was looking into the programs Holy Cross had to offer in Spain, I was surprised to find that 75 % of them were year-long programs. Although I was hesitant about a program that long, I decided to take a leap of faith and sign up.  It was the best decision I have made so far in my life. My year abroad has changed me from a confused, hopeful college student into a mature, independent adult.

When people share their study abroad experiences, they tend to focus on the end product: how much they’ve changed, etc. I agree that almost everyone undergoes a change when they study abroad for a year, but I don’t believe that is the most important part. Yes, we are all more independent, mature, and better understand ourselves, but every year we grow in these areas, whether we’re in a foreign country or not. I believe that the journey we have taken to make these changes is the most important.

Living in a foreign country when you’ve lived in the United States  your whole life is not a simple, quick change. It takes a slow adaption process to fully immerse and become a member of the community. You can’t just drink sangria, go out for tapas, and take a nap, then call yourself a Spaniard. Much more has to happen.

This year, I have learned and developed my own personal strategies to adapt to new situations. Because of these strategies and the frequency of new situations thrown my way, I have grown to form a comfortability when confronted with the unknown. I know how to perceive, think, and act in situations I haven’t encountered before while still being myself and acknowledging others present. During the  process of acquiring these strategies in the multitude of new situations, I tried and failed several times. Those times I failed were crucial, because that’s where I learned the most. Learning what not to do through experience is usually a better guide than being told what to do. Furthermore, I was lucky to have the excuse of being a foreigner and forgiven more easily. This opportunity to grow and develop as a person in a forgiving environment was an essential part of my abroad experience.

More than just learning to live differently, I learned about people, lots of different people. Although Holy Cross has diversity, it does not compare to that I found in Spain. At Holy Cross, the student body is around the same age, so your options of people to socialize with falls in the zone of age 18 through 23. Also, at Holy Cross, it is common to form a group of friends who have similar interests as you, including classmates who have the same major, members of the same sports team or club, or neighbors in your residence hall. I have loved every minute of my time at Holy Cross, but there I would not have been able to find and interact with the different types of people I have met in Palma.

In Palma, I have met very interesting people, whose lives and stories differ greatly from those in the United States. I have learned how people lived during Franco’s reign, how some people want to continue living this way, how poverty is a constant threat, and how different family dynamics function. Learning about how fragile life is because of sudden deaths, about how a life can be ruined through flaws in the justice system, or about how a political regime can drastically change a generation of people has opened my mind to the issues still present in the world. Listening to the ways people’s live have unfolded in Mallorca has made me incredibly grateful for mine.

Although I could go on forever about how amazing my experience in Palma de Mallorca was, I will not bore you with every detail. I will say that if anyone is reading this who is thinking about going abroad, do it! You know what you will be missing at your school if you go, but if you don’t go, you will never know what you missed out on. Going abroad is more than just traveling around and saying I’ve been here and I’ve done that, it’s about experiencing new things and growing as a person. I can guarantee that if you go abroad with an open mind, you will come back with no regrets. In fact, the only thing I regret, right now being home, is leaving.

Mallorca will forever be a home to me and the people there will forever be my family.

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Moving from Wisconsin to an island in the Mediterranean was definitely a big change, but this entire year I’ve been the most fascinated by one thing I’ve found on this island: the wildlife.  The animals in Wisconsin and the Northeast are pretty similar, so my transition to Holy Cross was not shocking in that aspect.  However, here in Mallorca, the animals vastly differ from what I’m used to back home.  Instead of deer, foxes, crows, and the occasional skunk, there are a multitude of fish, sheep, large insects, and even a few ostriches.

For me, animals are so beautiful, interesting, and captivating.  Each one you encounter is different from the last and interacts with you and the environment differently as well.  I could watch them for hours, understanding their movements, deducing their goals, and contemplating the simplicity of their lives.  Here in Mallorca, I’ve been lucky enough to interact with animals that I could only find in zoos in Wisconsin.

 

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The University here is home to over 20 ducks and numerous cats.  Oftentimes I find other students feeding the animals and playing with them.  Sometimes walking around feels similar to a petting zoo.

 

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These chicken live at a farmhouse owned by a Holy Cross host mom here in Mallorca.  I took home some of their eggs and tried them the next morning; they were the best I’ve ever had.

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This jellyfish washed up on the beach at Porto Cristo.  My friends and I had a lot of fun once we figured out that only the tentacles sting and we could pick it up by it’s head.

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This donkey and several more live near the cliff jumping spot I talked about in an earlier post.

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These snails live on my block.  They only come out when it rains and slither along the sidewalk. I find the baby snails to be absolutely adorable.

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Across from the University is a large grazing area.  It holds chicken, rams, peacocks, and these ostriches.  Everyday on my bus ride to class I see ostriches, it never gets old.

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Geckos and small lizards are pretty much everywhere and very fun to watch when they’re fighting.

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When I went to the Caves de Drach, while I was waiting to enter a peacock ran straight at me! He was hungry and used to tourists giving him food.  I still find it amazing how wild animals can condition themselves to human presence.

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This owl and vulture are part of a fair in Bunyola.  They belong to a company that travels around and shows animals at each fair in Mallorca.  Seeing them close up was a blessing, they really are beautiful.

Although this doesn’t cover half the animals in Mallorca and the sea surrounding it, I’ve found the wildlife here to be charming, intriguing, and very entertaining.

Although it may look like Spain is only that peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean between France and Portugal, it lays claims to two groups of islands, the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands off the west coast of Morocco.  As some of you may  already know, Mallorca is one of 5 main islands in the Balearic Islands, where I have been living this past year and loving every minute of it.  I decided however, to explore further than Mallorca to the island next door called Menorca (Minorca, in English).

As the Spanish have many festivals days, my boyfriend and I decided to take advantage of one that fell on a Thursday to make a trip over the long weekend.  We took a ferry to Menorca and stayed in the port city of Ciutadella, which is one of two main cities on the island.  Menorca and Mallorca are very similar; the main differences are that Mallorca is bigger and has more tourism.  Ciutadella, although the second biggest city on the island, when compared to Mallorca, felt more like a village than Palma, the main city.  This, however, was just what I was looking for.

In Menorca, we got a feel for the lifestyle of Mallorca before tourism hit.  The buildings were low to the ground, white washed, and had history.  Instead of a constant buzz of city life, there was a quiet hum of the native Menorquins going about their way. Everything was within walking distance and getting lost was never a problem due to the smallness of the area.  Upon exploration along the coast, we found two small coves, which we enjoyed, having to share them with very few others.  Overall, there was a certain quaintness, romanticism, and tranquility about Menorca and I would love to return someday.  As much as I love Mallorca, I can’t help but admit the virginity of Menorca is extremely appealing for a relaxing, romantic weekend.

 

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The island of Mallorca is undeniably beautiful.  That’s a main reason why it’s a center of European tourism, yet the tourism hasn’t yet destroyed the beauty of it.  When I go exploring around the island, I am continually surprised by even more new, amazing views and sights.  There are over 200 beaches to choose from when you’re craving a beach day; mountains inland, along the coast, and jutting into the water when you’re in the mood for a hike, and thousands of other cool places to explore. In this blog post I’m going to show you just a few of my favorite spots in Mallorca.

 

 

 

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This is Sollér, a port/beach town on the northern coast of the island.  The beach is in a U shape with surrounding mountains, making for a perfection combination of nature’s two beauties, mountains and beaches.

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These two photos were taken on my birthday on a trip to Formentor.  One of my favorite places on the island, Formentor is a group of mountains that jut out from the northern tip of the island into the Mediterranean, giving it the most spectacular 360 degree views.

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Cala Deià is a rocky cove hidden between the mountains along the Northern coast of the island.  Because of its astonishing beauty, Deià is a popular spot for painters.

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Not only does Mallorca have beautiful beaches and mountains, it has a gorgeous interior as well.  The Caves of Drach lie on the Eastern side of the island, near Manacor (the town where Rafa Nadal is from).  These caves are vast and exquisite, with a small body of water inside as well.

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This photo is a panoramic view of the Port de Pollença.  This port is just southeast of Formentor, making the bay even more stunning with mountains in the distance.

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La Playa de Illetas is always a favorite of Holy Cross students studying in Palma.  This charming beach is just a short bus ride away, a little Northwest of the city.  There are three small beaches to choose from, each just as dazzling.  In addition to the straw umbrellas that give it a tropical feel, these beaches have tiny islands close enough to swim to and explore.

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These two photos are taken at Dique del Oeste, a rocky area along the coast, near the Port of Palma.  Unknown to most tourists, this spot is perfect for cliff diving.  There are four different heights to choose from, varying anywhere from 20 feet to 50 feet or more.

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Although you can’t tell from these photos, Es Trenc is a 6 km long white sand beach along the Western coast of Mallorca.  Behind this beach is a nature preserve, so hotels, restaurants and other buildings have been kept away from its beauty, making it that much more stunning.

 

As I am writing this post, I feel a mixture of emotions.  In just 3 days it will be April, meaning only two short months are left for me in Palma.  Before leaving for Spain, the thought of being away from home in a foreign country for at least 10 months seemed daunting.  That’s practically one year of my life spent away from the comfort and convenience of America.  Anyone would be nervous, scared, excited.  Now looking back on those weeks before I made my journey across the Atlantic, I find that I have completed reversed my thoughts and emotions about living abroad for a year.

I love Palma, Mallorca, Spain and everything that comes with it.  The homesickness I felt first semester has long since passed. Now I realize why: this is my home. Not only do I know my way around the city and the island, pronouncing street names and villages like a native in the Mallorquin dialect, but also I feel emotionally connected to the place I am living. When I recently made a trip to Dublin, I felt homesick, not for Wisconsin or Holy Cross, but for Palma.

Here lays not just a beautiful island with great weather, but optimistic, welcoming people.  The relationships I have developed with a few special Mallorquins have helped me tremendously grow as a person, and I know they will last.  The thought of not having them in my everyday life this upcoming year, or years to come grieves me.

With this in mind, I intend on taking full advantage of my last two months here.  This year, although intimidating at first, now doesn’t feel long enough. There will always be a piece of my heart here in my new home.

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I was fortunate enough this semester to take a trip to Florence, Italy to visit a friend from home who is studying there.  I visited her for a weekend and experienced “La Dolce Vita,” which I know I will be returning to someday!  Florence is a beautiful city filled with amazing food, ample history, and friendly people.

 

One thing I found interesting was the quantity of American study abroad students living there, the city was flooded with them!  With this many Americans, most store and restaurant owners spoke English.  Because of this, most study abroad students knew very little Italian.  Without being forced to speak only Italian, the students there did not reach their full potential for learning the Italian language, which made me appreciate this aspect of the Holy Cross program.  Although frustrating in the beginning months, I feel that because I have been forced to speak only Spanish I have improved by leaps and bounds.

 

Another difference of my friend Lindsey’s study abroad life in comparison to mine would be the food.  She lives in an apartment with three other American girls, meaning they cook their own food, whereas with my host mom, I eat whatever she makes for me.  When I visited, we went out to eat for almost every meal, which was probably bad for the bikini diet, but so delicious that it was worth every calorie!  I am a huge fan of Italian food from what I’ve tried in the States, but authentic Italian food knocked me out of my socks.  The ingredients were so fresh and simple, and the taste was something I will never forget.  We had enough pizza, pasta, paninis, wine, and gelato in one weekend to keep us full for a whole week.  As I am writing this, my mouth is watering, remembering every savory bite.

 

The best food of the trip may have been at a famous butcher shop in the Chianti region of Tuscany, which we stopped at during a day trip.  This butcher shop does so well that at while they are open they give out free bread and salami for anyone to try.  Many celebrities have visited this shop and I found out why when we went.  Also on that day trip to Tuscany, we went on a hike and saw some amazing views despite the rain and we were invited into a man’s house for a wine tasting and lunch.  My expectations of the Tuscan countryside were derived from the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun,” and although I did not meet an Italian man or buy a cute little house, I found all my expectations to be met.  Tuscany is so beautiful, romantic, and relaxing that I highly recommend you visit someday.

 

Overall, the trip was amazing for many reasons.  I caught up with my friend Lindsey, who I’ve been friends with since the second grade, and experienced part of Europe with her.  I lived like an Italian for a few days and understood why it has the great reputation that it does.  And finally, I appreciated aspects of my program through Holy Cross and felt grateful for my experience in Mallorca.

 

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Lindsey at a pizzeria!                                    Lindsey and I in Tuscany

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View of Florence and the Duomo from above                 Famous butcher shop in Chianti

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Tuscan countryside                                                                 The Duomo

Going abroad through Holy Cross has proved to be a great experience for many reasons.  One of them is that I’ve learned so much about the Spanish language and culture: through my host family, our Holy Cross Spanish class, and now a trip to the capital of Spain: Madrid.  Completely paid for by our program, this trip allowed us to explore the city without the omnipresent study abroad student budget holding us back.  Free of stress and eager to explore, we set out for Madrid.

In just three days, we saw a large amount of the city. We went two museums, the Prado and the Reina Sofia, in which we saw two of the most famous paintings in history, Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez and Guernica by Pablo Picasso. Even though I had already seen Guernica the last time I was in Madrid, this time I was more awestruck by the painting than before. Now, I understand the significance of the painting: it is a piece of political art, an anti-war symbol, portraying the pain of the Spanish civilians during the Spanish Civil War. Aside from the museums, we visited the Real Madrid soccer stadium but didn’t have any luck finding tickets for the game day-of. We also went to el Mercado San Miguel, which is a giant food market with small plates of any kind of Spanish food imaginable. We went on a Saturday at 2pm, lunchtime on a weekend, which meant it was packed, adding to the atmosphere. Finally, we visited the Parque de Retiro, a giant park in the center of Madrid, twice because it was so beautiful and relaxing. The second time, we rented boats and navigated around the pond in the center of the park. In addition to all the attractions we visited, we also ate very well and shopped like true Spaniards in Zara. Overall, the trip allowed us to expand our knowledge of Spain and the Spanish culture and have fun while doing it.

 

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Parque de Retiro

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Nicole rowing our cute little boat in the pond

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Plaza Mayor

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Mercado de San Miguel

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Matt in front of Zara

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Some of the group in front of the Prado

Erasmus? What a strange word. When I first heard it, I thought it sounded like some kind of distinct dinosaur.

Turns out Erasmus is actually a program that allows European college students to study at Universities in other countries throughout Europe.  Basically it’s study abroad, but minus the whole “abroad” part because Europe is so compact.  At my university in Mallorca, the University of the Balearic Islands, lots of erasmus students come to study, probably because of great weather and party scene.  This past semester over 200 students from all over the world were here, and this upcoming semester some of them will leave but 110 more will come.

The Erasmus culture is a ton of fun.  It involves lot of drinking, socializing, and partying rather than the actual studying they were sent here to do.  They all rent apartments in the city, so every weekend someone throws a huge house party then after heads to the club.  I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few and they are crazy.  An insane mixture of language and culture, these parties have allowed me to get to know so many different and interesting people.  I’ve met people from Germany, Italy, Taiwan, England, Ireland, France, Poland, The Netherlands, and other provinces of Spain.  We talk mostly in Spanish or English, but you’re bound to find any European language there.  What I think is the coolest part, is that many of these people speak 3, 4, 5 languages.  Here I am thinking I’m so great trying to become fluent in just two, while many others are working on their 4th or 5th.

Although the Erasmus culture is more about the party scene than hitting the books, I think they are learning just as much through being around each other.  It’s a global culture, introductory language, and psychology course all rolled into one.  In general, interactions through Erasmus teach you just how big the world is and how it is filled with such a diverse cultures and people.  Sometimes I think we all get caught up in our own lives, forgetting that each of us is just one person in six billion on this Earth.  Erasmus has freed me from my personal bubble and reminded of how great it is to meet new people, learn from them, and enjoy each other’s company.

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Here in Mallorca, it feels like there is a festivo, or festival, every other week.  The people here celebrate anything and everything, because work can always wait for them.  This weekend, the biggest festival of the year took place in Palma, and my friends and I were lucky enough to take part in it.

 

During the Festival of San Sebastian, each plaza in the city has its own free concert.  Also, they bring out tons of grills for the people at the concert to throw there own meat on.  Basically, this festival is like a really fun tailgate with a concert at the same time. Even though it rained one night, thousands of people filled the streets, grilling, laughing, chatting, and dancing.  The entire city was a fiesta(party)! I’ve never seen the Palma so happy and alive before, I loved it.

 

 

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Now the festival is over, and it’s time for finals… yay.

I’m not usually a person to get homesick.  I like new experiences, exploring, and meeting new people.  But this semester, I missed home more than I ever thought imaginable.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Palma, Mallorca, but sometimes you just need your house, your family, your bed, and your dog.  Nothing in life can amount to the simple joy you get from being home, especially for the holidays.

Although it was an expensive trip to go home for the holidays, I begged and eventually my parents caved.  They wanted me home just as much as I wanted to be there.  It’s only been two days away from them, and I already miss them again.  It’s crazy the cycle we go through growing up.  When you’re little, I’m talking ages two through six, all you want is your mommy.  You’re afraid to leave your parents and start school.  You run to them when something’s wrong.  Then, once you hit the teenage years, you want absolutely nothing to do with them.  Going to the movies with your mom?  Social suicide.  You want as little to do with them as possible.  By the time college rolls around, you want them again.  Becoming an adult is not easy, and you begin to realize how much your parents did for you growing up and how much you appreciate that.  Right now, I’ve hit the last phase and I want as much time with my family as I can get.  Two weeks home for Christmas was not enough, and I’m already sad to be without them again.

As much as I missed my family, I think I missed the American culture almost the same.  Growing up in the US, we don’t realize how lucky we are.  Stores are open for our convenience with long hours.  Waiters are extremely accommodating to get a good tip.  A variety of foods is available.  One language is used, English.  People do not invade personal space.  We drive cars instead of riding buses.  We walk fast.  Credit cards are commonplace.  And smoking is not.  I could go on forever like this.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate the differences in our cultures, it’s that I am accustomed to my own.  Change is often a good thing, but living with so much change for an extended period of time it can be difficult.  Being away from America for so long helped me realize how much I love it.

Now that I’m back in Spain, although I’m jet lagged and exhausted from my travels, I feel mentally rejuvenated for the second half of my abroad adventure.  The first half was adjusting to life here, now I’m ready to aprovecharme, or take advantage of the time I have left on this beautiful island!

Me and my dog Ginger My sister and I at a German restaurant in Milwaukee My sister, cousin, and I in a food coma on Christmas Eve My family on Christmas My back yard My cousin's dog Penny My adorable dog Ginger My driveway/yard

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Erin Quinlevan '15

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