San Sebastián, The North Shore of Spain

The first two days of my solo travel I spent in San Sebastián, in the Basque region of Northern Spain. The city is a breathtaking sight to see; with obvious French influence in much of the architecture, chateau-like buildings surrounding a crescent shaped waterfront. In the distance, colorful houses with the distinct red roofs line the mountains, like colorful jewels sticking out from the lush green background. The sand was soft and a pale yellow, the sea sparkled aquamarine. The Basque region of Spain is very small and historic; the Basque language is the only language spoken in the Iberian peninsula that is not derived from Latin; it is an ancient language and has been preserved for centuries. The culture is Spanish but with its own unique twist; utilizing the siesta and other Spanish traditions with French influences as well.

When planning my trip, I opted for lodging through Airbnb, a travel company that allows property owners to rent out their spare space to travelers, whether it be an extra bed, extra room or a whole house. It is an amazing concept, giving travelers a diverse range of options when selecting their lodging needs and giving owners of extra space an additional resource to find temporary renters. Needing to be financially savvy, I opted for a cheap bed in a shared space owned by a guy named Fernando, in his apartment right in the heart of San Sebastián. At first I was a little sketched out, but after arriving at his apartment, all my anxieties quickly subsided.

La Concha
La Concha is the main beach in San Sebastián and it is obvious why it is a big attraction. It is a well run public beach, with a whole huge locker room with showers, snack bars, towel and chair rentals, essentially anything anyone could possibly need for a successful day at the beach. For €1.50 I rented a locker to put my valuables in and the key is a bracelet/wristband to prevent loss. It was perfect to have piece of mind so I could go swimming without fearing theft from leaving my valuables on my towel unattended.
The beach is extremely picturesque and well located, with refreshing but warm water to swim in. This however, obviously results in the beach being extremely crowded, it was absolutely crawling with people! Everyone was very respectful of space, however, and no one kicked sand on me at any point.

Monte Urgüll

The hilly surroundings of the beach and the city of San Sebastián makes for a great day of easy hiking and reveals a gorgeous, panoramic view of the city and the beach. It takes about 2 hours at a moderate pace to get to the top, view the free museum and then get back down to the center of town again. I found the hike to be very peaceful and beautiful, not teeming with tourists.

Gastronomy

The San Sebastián/Donostia region of Spain is world-renowned for its food and it has a large concentration of Michelin star restaurants in the city. Being a poor college student, I couldn’t exactly afford to spend $200 on a dining experience, but I did manage to go out for pinchos and dinner at cheaper but still very good restaurants. Pinchos are like tapas and they range in price, from €1 to €10. I enjoyed a mushroom risotto, patatas bravas, wine and a creme brulée that was unreal. Everything was so delicious I forgot to take pictures of my food, but I can recommend the restaurants bidebide and restaurant atari and both were phenomenal and reasonably priced.

Overall, San Sebastián is a very relaxed city, it isn’t teeming with tourist attractions aside from the beach and Monte, most people come here to kick back, get a tan and enjoy great food and beautiful scenery. This was the perfect weekend getaway after finals and finishing up a study abroad program.

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Cultural Adaptation to Lifestyle Change: Returning from Studying Abroad

Despite the fact that my study abroad experience this summer has been a mere 6 weeks, there are many components of it that have had an impact on my lifestyle that I had in the United States. While there are certain things that I don’t think I will really miss upon my return to ‘MURICA, there are definitely a fair few aspects that I want to incorporate into my lifestyle back home.

1. Dress to impress
This has been a significant change for me. People here just simply dress a lot better than we do back in the US. No yoga pants or basketball shorts to class everyday, no grimy T-shirts and ratty flip flops. I don’t think it should be too difficult, although rolling out of bed and running to the bus stop is a crime I have committed many times, but with previous night outfit planning and taking the time to lay everything out, I think I can make this happen at least most of the time!
I also hope to take time to actually style my hair and do my makeup more often, I’ve found that taking the time to do this makes me feel more “ready” for the day and more involved in my own life, instead of sleepwalking through it, looking like garbage and just trying to survive tbe toils of the day.
2. Enjoy actual meals
This has been one of the most dramatic changes for me since being here. In the US, we snack, we eat on the go, we grab whatever is available and then run out the door to our jobs or classes or whatever involvements. Here, I eat a small breakfast, starve until lunch at 1:30, which is usually huge with salad, soup, a big entre and various side dish options, and then a small dinner at 10pm. I almost never snack in between meals unless I’m absolutely starving, then I grab Doritos from the vending machine (guilty) but that’s about it and it has only happened once… Or twice…
 When I get back to the US I really want to make a point of preparing myself meals and sitting down, at the kitchen table, with no homework or other distractions, and taking the time to eat and enjoy my food. It’s something that will be challenging considering I work in the service industry and thus dinner hours, but here I’ve been eating dinner at 10:30pm anyway so maybe it won’t be so hard to continue. Lunch may also be a challenge since I have classes during the day fall semester, but I think I will find a way to make it work. Hopefully my roommates will even want to join me once in awhile! This also means I need to get more into meal planning, taking time on Sundays to figure out meals for the week, which will be really beneficial health wise. 
3. Stay out late into the night
Since being in Spain I have (almost) gotten used to getting ready to go out at 11 or 11:30 and then heading to the bars or clubs no earlier than 12:30. It’s not so much that I want to stay out until 5am every weekend back at school, but instead I just want to try to actually go out with friends more, even if I’m coming from work or otherwise. I used to skip going out if I waitressed that night, justifying it that 11pm was “too late” to get ready to go out. Not anymore.
4. Siesta
 
I’ve always liked naps, but living here has made me a pro at the afternoon siesta. Many times in the past when I’ve tried to take a nap after class before starting homework or before heading to work, I get distracted by my phone or I lay in bed thinking of all the things I need to do and I end up stressing out and not sleeping at all. Now I have no problem throwing my phone aside and falling into a solid sleep for an hour or so every single day. It really does wonders to refresh and energize me to study for tests and write papers, and it also makes it more bearable to have later nights with early mornings.
 

5. Speaking in Spanish whenever possible, of course
I really really really do not want to lose the skills I have learned and the vocabulary I have aquired since being here in Spain, and I want to continue to build my speaking ability throughout this year and my life in general. I hope to join a conversations group at school and meet up with friends from study abroad to practice our Spanish skills (probably at the bar) so I don’t forget or lose any of it.
This past summer has truly been an incredible experience, I’ve learned so much about myself, made great friends and became a part of another place so far from where I call home. I hope that my experience here will continue impact me once I return to the US in more ways than just this list of things I hope to keep up in my lifestyle.
Xoxo Valerie

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