Friday, February 27, 2009


Monday, 2/16/09

Well I've got an hour to kill at Dulles before my plane takes off, so I figured I would start my online journal here. Just a little foreword, this journal is dedicated to my family and extended family, as they pressured me to set it up and update it regularly. I'm starting out my 5 month Spanish adventure at about 80% or so... I've been sick for the past week straight, so it's been hard to prepare thoroughly. After two visits to the doctor, we finally got them to administer me a shot of the good stuff to help cure me. And after consulting with the family doctor, (Doctor KK), it was deemed safe that I may travel even though not fully recovered. The best option would have been a 24 hour flight delay but Expedia and British Airways weren't having it. So here I am, with a bunch of pills in my bag and a bunch of Euros in my pocket (thanks to the Ma and Pa on that one), getting ready to board my flight to London. I was told it's a pretty empty flight (it's monday afterall) and I may get my own row so that's a plus. From there it's on to Madrid, and then Oviedo (with layovers of course). Total travel time is about 15 hours, including the 45 minute taxi ride to Oviedo from the local airport.

Tuesday, 2/17/09

I made it to Oviedo and met my host family today. I took the bus from the airport and then a taxi to the actual street. It's an apartment on a street right next to the science and law buildings of the oviedo campus. The apartment is very nicely furnished. I am not actually living with Merce as I had originally thought, but instead with her parents. She lives across the street and down some. But it seems like she spends a good amount of her time here anyways. Her parents are pretty nice-- the father has a thicker accent but otherwise they are easy to understand when they slow down to talk to me. I can always tell when they're talking to me because it's slow-mo spanish (for them I guess). Seeing as how they're parents, they don't have much on the technology side. I haven't seen a computer, and when i mentioned my iPhone they blanked on me. So they don't have internet however there is a internet cafe right next to the apartments. Looks like I'll be going there (until I figure out how to hack someone's wireless WEP)Tomorrow I'm going into town to talk with Monica at the international student affairs office. Get all my school stuff straightened out. I'll probably hit up the internet cafe first to get this online and email home. Then I'm going to look into purchasing a student bus ticket.

Thursday, 2/19/09

Yesterday I registered with the University here while doing some exploring of the city. Today is the official first day of classes. I went to the Chemistry department to register for my classes, however the person in charge of registering international students was not in today nor will she be in until Monday. So it seems I cannot get my classes straightened out yet, but I still have things to take care of in the meantime. The university offers a couple of programs for international students to help them with their stay here. The first is called Tandem, where you can be paired up with a Spanish student interested in learning your language. You meet with this student regularly to talk for about an hour or so, half in english, half in spanish. So I think I'll probably sign up for the program (at the very least it's a free friend :-) ). They also have a program called a-Duo, where you can be paired with a student in your department as pretty much a shadow to help you with any questions related to the class or university. This seems obviously beneficial, and is also free so I'll probably sign up for this as well. Finally you can take the month-long spanish translation course which helps a lot of students fine-tune their spanish skills from language courses by upping their vocabulary and teaching them common phrases, figures of speech and that kind of thing. It's 3 times a week for a month and it costs I think around 135 euros. Not bad either.I think the Spanish have something in their air because it's now about 3 and I have just finished lunch and am again ready to take a siesta. But I am trying to resist because yesterday I did not and I woke up around 8:30pm.... that's a waste of an afternoon. I don't have an alarm clock, and I am going to buy one specifically for siestas. I have no problem getting up at 7:30 in the morning but these siestas can run really long if you don't watch it (no pun intended).

Friday 2/20/09

I didn't have much to do today (and I don't have much to do tomorrow or sunday either). This morning I went to a "welcome to Oviedo" meeting where they talked mostly about how to sign up for spanish classes, and about this other program that takes you all over the country on weekends. I'm learning how to use the bus system but for some reason my family thinks I should walk everywhere. For example the meeting this morning was at the campus across town--about a 25-30 minute walk and they asked me why I took the bus. Now I am used to long walks just from being a student at Tech but it's a bit different here. At Tech I don't have to cross streets dodge people and watch for cars jumping the curb looking to park. It's a much more demanding walk.I have realized that Oviedo is a town of short people. Their doorframes are much shorter and skinnier than in the US--maybe 6'2" by 2'4", and the light switch for my room may as well be on the floor seeing as how I have to reach for it every time. And I also have to look out for the hanging lights in the rooms--especially the hallways and in the common room (they are especially low). In the hallways I have to maneuver carefully because they are skinny hallways with furniture in them. They also asked me if I played basketball (because of the height) and I said yes and they told me I was probably really good (because of the height). So I explained to them that at my school I am pretty much average height and although I do enjoy basketball that my height doesn't afford me much advantage. They told me that Oviedo is a town of short people too, and that the people of Gijon (big town on the northern coast) has taller people. I don't know how they measure this, it must be just a commonly accepted fact.They also asked me if I was German(due to the blond hair, blue eyes combo), and I said partially yes. So they wanted to know if my parents were from Germany, and I said no, so they asked about my Grandparents, again no. I told them that for many generations back my family was born and raised in America. This surprised them for some reason I guess they really wanted me to be German. They wanted to know what my parents do for a living, and they were quite impressed by my dad's job. I think they were mainly impressed by the fact that it was top secret work for the government--I didn't tell them much because I don't know too much about the work except it's satellite building for the department of defense (or as my family called it, el ministerio de defensa, the ministry of defense, how British). They weren't too impressed by my mom's job (sorry mom) although Merce's mom asked a lot of questions about whether or not you eat lunch at home, how much it pays, etc. I also told them about my family's military involvement in the past and they seemed quite impressed by that. I think to them the military is very honorable whether you are serving in it or making satellites for it. They tell me I have a very interesting family.They are quite impressed by the fact that I like pretty much anything they serve me to eat. The only exceptions so far were boiled eggs and flan. I gave flan another try since my last go around when we were here in 2002 but I just can't do it--tastes too much like eggs and not enough like dessert. Apparently when they have had American students in the past it has been chicken, french fries, and that's about it. Meals here seem to run the same course daily: In the morning it's green tea, toasted bread with butter and strawberry jelly, a piece of fruit and sometimes yogurt. Lunch starts with a soup, either vegetable or fish or something, followed by a carne (meat), french fries, more bread with jelly, some type of vegetable and another piece of fruit. Dinner varies but usually goes something like meat of some kind (today it was carne roja, red meat although it wasn't red), rice with some topping, french fries, bread, and fruit or yogurt. Needless to say I'm always full so snacking hasn't been an issue.They also know a lot about American politics. It was very surprising but they tell me that their news pretty much everyday starts out with: This is what the US is doing today. I told them that sounds pretty boring but they assured me it was much more interesting than Spanish politics. I asked how the TV programming was over here and Merce's mom tells me it's horrible. Then she asked about how it is in the States and I told her it was awesome. I agree with her that the programming here is pretty sad but I didn't want to add insult to injury by telling her that we have a channel for literally everything you can think of. And then sometimes we have 2 for each thing you can think of. They don't even have a computer here I don't think they could comprehend a cable box with 1,000 channels on it.Tomorrow I'm getting a cell phone because apparently I need one for this program I am signing up for. It won't do much good for someone here to call me though because it's hard enough to understand Spanish in a face-to-face conversation let alone over the phone. We'll see how that works out.

Monday, 2/23/09

I made some more progress on my classes today. Basically in Oviedo there are two "major" campuses: La Campus de 'el Milan' (which has the Humanities courses and is sometimes called La Campus de Humanidades), and La Campus de 'el Cristo'. El Cristo is about a 5 minute walk from my apartment here whereas el Milan is more like 40 minutes. My science classes are at el Cristo and my history and geography classes are at el Milan. This morning I had to visit my international coordinator at el Cristo, but she had been out of the office both Thursday and Friday, and this morning proved no different. So once again I walked into town to the office of international relations and asked if somebody could help me. Turns out that the coordinator I needed to see wasn't going to come in today until around 11am because of something concerning exams from the last semester--not too sure what that was all about. So I walked back, found her at her office for once and finally got my schedule. Because I am taking the second semester of both organic chem and physics I needed the department head for sciences to sign off that it is ok for me to do so. So I went to the chemistry building to look for the department head, and he was not in the office today. So that is where I am currently at with my classes: semi-registered. Tomorrow is another holiday and once again there are no classes, so I have to wait until wednesday to get my classes all sorted out. The temperature here has been the same pretty much all week--varying between 10-15 degrees Celsius I have no idea what that is F but I would guess about 50-65. Not too bad with the sun. I have been told that it rains a lot but have not seen any rain as of yet although I'm sure that'll change now that I brought it up.I think I already talked a little about the month-long spanish program I am taking but I had the facts wrong.Turns out the class is 5 times a week, 2 hours each time (10 hours/week, 40 hours total) and it's called the Intensive Spanish course. It's practically free (25 euros for sign up and the documentation saying you completed the course), funded by the University to help out foreign students. For being only a month long I feel like I can handle the 2 hours at a time. However my geography and history classes are also 2 hours at a time so that may be a bit challenging. I think that the classes are actually 100 minutes and you can either have a 20 minute break or leave 20 minutes early depending on what the classes want to do. We'll see on that.I also got my access ID for the wifi here which means I can use my computer to upload this part of the blog. I didn't feel like retyping everything at the internet cafe which is why it hasn't been updated since last Thursday or so. It'll be good to finally use my computer again. I am heavily internet dependent and it's been a rough week without constant internet access! But I should know better: on our tour to France this summer we were told Spain is a rough place. So can't say I didn't know that in advance ;-).I am trying to keep a list of new words for my mom and also a list of authentic spanish dishes and maybe get some recipes at some time or another (for my mom as well). Today I had a pretty sweet desert that was basically fried bread with sugar, wine and milk? I think. It was called something like Terraje.. I'll have to ask again. All I know is when I tried to pronounce it I got blasted on my mispronunciation of the double r (rr) sound. They then told me that none of their American students can make the sound and I told them it's the sign of a non-native speaker :). Basically I think the desert is similar to the French crepe but I think it tastes better.

Wednesday, 2/25/09

Well I was right about that Spanish placement exam--totally dominated it. So I've been placed in the advanced spanish class (Espanol de Nivel Avanzado) and I had the first session of 20 today. Today was pretty much back to Spanish one basics. We did characteristics of the face (pretty in depth though that was nice) and, of course, ser vs. estar. How traditional. Just goes to show you can't go a single level of Spanish without reviewing those verbs and their proper uses. Can't say I learned anything new about ser and estar this go around. Usually I do so I don't mind the review, but this time it was purely review. So two hours of Spanish, 5 days a week for 1 month is my future. Along with the rest of my classes. I have pretty much everything worked out with those--I have to get some paperwork signed allowing me to take the second semesters of Physics and Organic Chem (I took the first half at Tech so they have to sign an agreement that basically says they'll allow me to enter halfway in their program). But today I went to my Geography of the population class. Doesn't sound too interesting, and so far it isn't but looking at the syllabus I think it's going to get better. I spent a good part of that class listening to the professor and making a pretty extended list of unknown words to define later on. That class is at el Milan and requires that I walk 40 minutes to get there. Or I can take a 20 minute bus ride. Apparently I'm supposed to walk there everyday as my family told me that's the norm for the students they've had in the past. I think I'll work up to walking that everyday. I prefer the bus right now though. And we wonder why Europeans are skinny. I'm glad that I am registered and able to attend my classes. I have been making friends in my classes and tomorrow I am attending a meeting for the Tandem program. It's the program that matches someone who wants to learn spanish with someone who wants to learn english, and it's a free friend and conversation partner. I am still having problems getting my computer connected to the internet. I was reading the university's WiFi set up here and it seems that it's only compatible with Windows XP/Vista. I don't know how they managed to exclude Mac users like myself but I cannot access their internet. They require you download some .exe program and oh hey! Macs aren't compatible with .exe. But hey I am the director of technology after all so I will find a way. I kind of have to... I run 3 web pages for VT off my laptop and if they want me to update their site, well, I need the internet! :). I have some tricks up my sleeve still so we'll see who comes out on top at the end of this week.


  1. Heeeeey!!! im glad you finally have a comment section

    I would like to hear more about your host family and what they do!

  2. Comment section - cool. Sounds like a lot of new things to learn and process. Have you met with your person who wants to learn English yet? I wonder if they will think your accent is weird since I think they learn British English there. What do you do on weekends? Do you have a lot of work for your classes? Mom

  3. Enjoying the blog! Are there any other American exchange students there? Are there other nationalities in your Spanish class?

    Enjoy all that WALKING!! No buses allowed!

    Marcy (just like my picture)

  4. Oh, Matt, how interesting--we look forward to reading your "travelogue". Thanks! A. Norma

  5. Hi Matt,
    We're back from Morocco--great trip--and still adjusting to the time change. Your blog is certainly interesting reading. Glad it's you instead of me trying to figure out the language, work out your classes, etc.
    One helpful thing for you: to convert Celsius/Centigrade to Fahrenheit--multiply C times 2, subtract 10%, then add 32. Gets you within a degree. More later.

  6. Matt,
    Just home from Morocco and couldn't wait to read your blog. Have been wondering how things were going for you. Sounds like you are getting things all worked out. Hear you have another "bug"! Our Moroccan guide told us American medicine doesn't work on Moroccan germs so if that's the case hopefully you've found some Spanish medicine that will help you this time! We had a wonderful trip with great experiences but 2 weeks in a 3rd world country was enough. Sounds like you've gotten lots of days off for holidays! Know you'll find things easier once it all becomes a bit more routine. We'll be checking often to hear from you.