Michael Gambardella | Santiago de Campostela, Spain | Post 1
My flight out of JFK to Madrid set the tone for the semester to come – my partner in crime, snuggle-buddy, and best friend, Prentiss, and I ended up getting a whole row of four seats to ourselves. Needless to say, we sprawled out and went right to sleep. Since then, things have only continued to get better. We left on August 18th and arrived in Santiago de Campostela the following day, where we are spending two weeks until we head west for Madrid.
There was one thing that really stuck me when we got to Spain. It wasn’t the 2 Euro bottles of wine (Spain’s economy is not particularly strong, with an unemployment rate surpassing 20%, so things tend to be very cheap here), or the delicious bread and olive oil that has become a staple, or even the chicos guapisimos, but how incredibly long each days seems! It’s hard to explain why each day seems to pass so drawn out, so it might just be easier to show you a typical day-in-the-life here in Santiago.
8:00 – 9:00: Breakfast
Every morning there’s a pretty simple breakfast buffet in the cafeteria on the first floor of our dorm. People usually start trickling in around 8:30 and then pouring in by 8:50 in hopes of grabbing a last-minute croissant before running off to 4 hours of class.
9:00 – 1:00: Literature and Spanish History Class
Everyone in the Vassar-Wesleyan program here in Spain has to take two classes during orientation: Spanish Literature, and Spanish History. The homework isn’t bad at all and the profesores are super nice—although not as open to student insight or different interpretations as you might expect in some situations (ie: The Spanish Inquisition), especially after being graced with open-minded Vassar profs, but overall, no one really had any complaints. At first it was a little intimidating to be flying through 600 years of Spanish history with the teacher talking a mile a minute in Spanish, but we adjusted to the change pretty quickly. We just had our final exams today; they were each an hour long, open response essay about literally any topic of our choosing, so it was pretty doable—even for the one student who stayed out last night until 3 hours before the exam.
1:30 – 2:15: Lunch
After class we have a short break and then lunch downstairs. Here’s the thing about Spanish food: it’s not that it’s bad, but it’s just exactly haut-cuisine. Food can be very fried and I have yet to see a vegetable that isn’t either a potato or a piece of undressed lettuce. Nevertheless, the staff was super accommodating about any dietary preferences or food allergies we had. Most meals usually start with either soup or bread, which was always delicious, followed by some type of fried meat, often veal or pork, with an endless supply of french fries, and topped of with some kind of funky and hard fruits, or puddings.
2:15 – 4:30: SIESTA
Daily naps took a little getting used to, but quickly became a staple in our daily lives. To put it simply, siesta is the perfect cultural norm for American college students studying abroad in a country that parties until the wee hours of the morning. I always felt like it was a really nice way to segment the morning classes and night-time activity because you wake up with a second wind, ready to go until dawn (if you’re ambitious).
4:30 – 6: Cultural Activities
After Siesta, we usually have some kind of cultural activity or orientation meeting planned with the program director from Vassar, Professor Mihai Grunfeld. We took a tour of the city’s historical sites and buildings, went out to tapas bars with our monitores—local students who kind of lend a hand in showing us the ropes—, and even went to an open market with food so fresh that some of it was still moving.
6 – 7:30: Homework
This little hour and half block was great for squeezing in some last minute homework before going out for the night and/or popping that 2 Euro bottle of wine you picked up at Gadis, the local supermarket.
8: Early Tapas if you’re feeling ambitious
Around 8 or 8:30 groups of 4 to 7 students would start leaving for either a round of tapas bar hopping or an early dinner.
The hardest thing I’ve had to adjust to has been how late we eat here. In Spain, it’s very common for restaurants to be practically empty until 9 or 10 o’clock and then suddenly burst into life. At first, I thought this was probably because Santiago is kind of a young, touristy town with a lot of hippie-esque looking pilgrims making the long trek on the Camino de Santiago, but it seems to be the norm here, so I guess it’s just gonna take some getting used to!
11:45: Bar/Night Cap
After an extremely inexpensive dinner, at least compared to what you’d pay for a meal half the size in the U.S., most of the students go out for a Night Cap, which varies anywhere between chupitos (shots), a pitcher of Sangria, or the local brew that has grown near and dear to all our hearts, Strella Galacia. Drinks, just like the food, are extremely inexpensive here in Santiago (usually 2 to 2.50 Euro each, unless you’re planning on getting a mixed drink, which is closer to 5).
Now, if you really wanna go clubbing in Spain, don’t leave the bar until pretty late. Most clubs on the old site of town open around 2 and close at 4, then the clubs on the new side of town open and go until morning. I personally have never been able to make it out ’til the sun comes up because my spirit animal is an 80 year-old, but who knows, tonight may be the night!
Head back to the dorms for a well deserved, yet never long enough rest and get ready to do it all again the next day!