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4 posts from February 2011


"No hay nada más grande que la familia unida"/"There is nothing bigger than a united family"

        Only one thing matters in Spain more than soccer and food, family.


        Family it seems is the driving force behind the Spanish culture. In Spain the family system is equal to life itself. Every holiday, meal and festival are centered around the family. Coming to this country I wanted to share in the family lifestyle to truly experience the culture. I couldn’t have been more satisfied. I have been truly accepted into a family and have experienced some of the most incredible moments possible with them.


            The Spanish mom: the Spanish mom is the type of mom that is over zealous but not overbearing. You have to be strong enough to handle their bantering yet sensitive enough to understand them. If you don’t want something don’t be afraid to say no… it is expected of you.


            Celebration: The Spanish take their celebrations rather seriously… whether it is celebrating a weekend or something more serious, they always have a way of doing too much. Christmas in Spain was one of the best moments for me. My brother came to visit and of course my host family wanted to make sure he understood something about Spain before leaving… this of course meant he had to eat about five kilos of shrimp and 2 kilos of ham—all in good celebration merit of course. From there he got to see some crazy Spaniards sing and dance their way to the new year, and just to top it off ate the twelve grapes. Talk about an initiation. He was clearly overwhelmed but it was by far the best time I have had. 049

            Host siblings? The only conflicting difference I have found here in Spain is the odd level of dependence from the children. It is not uncommon for the children of Spanish families to be somewhat dependent on their parents until 30 (or maybe even later). The important thing is to not judge them and think they are immature or weak… that is simply not the case. In Spain the family is everything in terms of support system and with the youth going after education and having such a hard time finding suitable work (I’m sure every college student can relate) it is nice to think that you could have a family to care for you when you need the help.


            I must say I would never change my host family for any reason… I love waking up to the sounds of their voices the smell of coffee and the colors of the flowers in the window. This is truly paradise.



Carta 2 desde CIEE Alcalá (febrero 2011)

January 14th we went to the movies to see the Mexican film “Biutiful”. The students enjoyed an hour and a half of good cinema.


We also had our first gathering with Spaniards in Café Continental in January to help the students meet a conversation partner. It was difficult because the Spanish university students have their final exams during this time and don’t have much time for anything, but our students couldn’t wait any longer…and 15 Spaniards were able to come! Even though our students don’t waste time and in their free time they mingle with Spaniards in the bars (see photo on the top left below) without needing someone to organize it for them.


 Also, on January 26 Th we began our Book Club with the informational session and a decent number of students came, although not everyone, of course. We encourage them to read because it is a good way to improve their Spanish quickly and they receive extra credit in the CIEE Grammar class and some of Literature.


Our first CIEE meeting in January, to talk about adapting to Alcalá and Culture Shock, was very interesting because we were able to see how the students feel and their differences that they have had when facing new experiences. They talked mostly about their new homes and families in Spain.  

  February started off in the Instituto Benjamin Franklin with the Friday visits and excursions: Segovia, El Escorial y El Pardo in Madrid, Toledo and their individual trips.

    Granada 5

And Valentine’s Day made it to Spain, too. Hearts and chocolates are international and Spain can’t escape this tradition!




Una Noche en Alcalá/ A Night in Alcalá


Alcalá de Henares has a wonderful city center that meets around the Plaza Cervantes.  Here you can see the beautiful architecture of the city or take a walk down Mayor, the main street.  It is a walking street, so cars cannot drive on it.  On a typical night Mayor starts to collect people alter the siesta, around 5:30.  People of all ages come to meet with friends, get coffee, go shopping in one of the many stores, or, my favorite, start the night off right with some tapas.  In Alcalá the tapas follow the tradition of being a small plate of food free with your drink.  In Alcalá my favorite tapas bars are Índalo and La EspañolaÍndalo is by far the most popular in Alcalá with a wide variety of foods and drinks.  La Española is popular as well and has a bit bigger portion sizes.  A drink and food at both Orly costs 2.50 euros.  There are also many other tapas bars on or just off Mayor.  I remember my first weekend in Alcalá we went to one and stayed until it closed at midnight.  We did not know where to go after, so we asked the waiter Ismael for advice.  That is another thing I love about Alcalá.  The people are always willing to help and are very enthusiastic when asked for their opinion.  Not many do speak English in Alcalá, so you have plenty of opportunity to practice.  However, when they know a little English, it is exciting for them to practice with you, so be friendly and patient because that is what you will receive in return. 


So at Ismael’s advice we headed off to some Irish pubs to start our night out.  An amazing thing about Spain is the nightlife.  At this point, I still saw families with young children and senior citizens enjoying their evening around the Plaza and Mayor.  The young crowd goes to the Irish pubs before going dancing.  I can hardly call them Irish as these pubs consist of a mix of Irish, British, and American paraphernalia and play anything Latin music to American hip hop to hard rock or the soundtrack of Glee.  I always have fun at these bars and some of my favorites are Wheylans’ or Media PintaMedia Pinta is an international favorite, especially known for its wild Tuesday nights.  There I have met Spanish, American, Romanian, British, French, Irish, Italian, and Moroccan people.  Around 3 at night the bars will close and the crowd will empty into the street, making their way to a nearby discotech.  In Alcalá the three favorites are Casco Antiguo, Can Can, and Gabana.  Earlier in the night Casco is known for its Salsa dancing, but changes to pop around 3.  From there we usually end the night around 5:30 or 6 and head off to bed before the sun comes up.  Of course no one is obligated to do this every night, but long nights are a strong part of Spanish culture.  I have even come home around 5:30 before and met my host mother on her way home as well.  The Spaniards love their parties.



primera carta con noticias del grupo de primavera 2011 (ciee-alcalá)

Just like the start of every year, here’s our letter, from the CIEE staff, for the Directors and Advisors at different North American universities, letting you all know that we have students here in CIEE Alcalá (below, Danielle Stanko –student assistant intern-, Cristina Blanco –resident director- y Fausto Zamora – Culture professor at orientation, on CIEE trips and tutor for the students two days a week).



The arrival of the students at the Madrid-Barajas airport was a bit staggered due to weather problems in the US airports, but at midnight our last student finally arrived. And fortunately, no suitcases were lost!  

 In spite of everything, we had to build up energy and begin to get to know each other, which is why we were eating typical Spanish dishes for lunch and dinner for the first three days of orientation, and we invite you to look at those picture on my Facebook profile under the name “Cristina Blanco-CIEE Alcalá”.





Since everyone is normally very tired the first day, we changed the activities on the first day of orientation and on the first day we didn’t do anything, in order to let the students rest and adapt to the Spanish schedule.             

And we had several sessions to talk about safety in Alcalá, health insurance and doctor visits, CIEE trips, classes, cell phones, transportation, norms with home-stays and in the Residence Hall, etc.


The arrival of the families was the most nerve-racking moment at the Spring 2011 orientation, but also the most touching time. 



Classes began on January 13 in the Instituto Benjamin Franklin at the University of Alcalá, and that day and the rest of the following week the students had the chance to visit all of the classes they wanted to. On the 19th, Fausto Zamora began his tutoring sessions, exclusively for CIEE students.   

 Friday the 14th we went to Madrid to learn how to use the suburban train and the metro, as well as taking a long walk around the city to see important sites in Spain’s capital. Thanks to the new “No Smoking” law in Spain, we’ve been able to choose any restaurant without having to first verify to be seated in a “no smoking section”.