09 May 2010

Last DN column: Week of May 3

Last. Column. Ever. I’m graduating, so y’all don’t have to read what I write anymore!

I don’t want to write one of those sappy last columns where I tell you all of the stuff I’ve learned in college and give you advice on your life. Because I literally have none of the answers.

Actually, I’ve figured out in the last four years of my life that none of us have the answers. If you had asked me four years ago today where I would be right now, I would have told you I would be graduating from the University of Minnesota, getting ready to go to law school. I could never have guessed that I would’ve ended up at the University of Nebraska spending my final semester in Spain.

But it’s better that way. John Lennon said that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. He couldn’t have been more correct.

I spent college obsessing about what law schools to go to. Now I don’t even want to go to law school. I had my life so planned out that I didn’t think I had time to study abroad. I’ve done it twice. I figured I’d still be with the same guy I was when I graduated high school. I don’t even talk to him anymore.

I have no idea where I’m going to be living in three months, and four years ago that would have scared the shit out of me. Now, I just look at it as a world of opportunities. I realize that everyone has a different college experience. Some people get the most out of their classes. Some get the most out of the people they meet. As for me, I’ve gotten the most out of the places I’ve been.

I probably owe that to all of the bad times I went through. I came to Spain hoping to learn Spanish, travel Europe, and make some new friends. But I also came to get over my past, the things in my life that I couldn’t run away from on campus. I accomplished everything I wanted to, and learned something very important along the way. Sometimes life sucks, and you just have to move on. You can’t forget what has happened in life, because it teaches you something and helps shape you into a more complete person. But you have to let it go.

Spain is good for that. Europe is good for that. But you probably don’t have to travel halfway across the world to figure that out. You could do it in your apartment in Lincoln if you wanted. Some of you figured it out years ago. For me, it took a more dramatic experience.

And I’m not done learning about myself, or life, yet. In fact, don’t think of this as my last column ever. It’s more like the beginning of something new. Of course, I have no idea what that something is.

I may have lied at the beginning of this column. I did want to tell you about what I’ve learned in college. I did want to give you advice for your life.

Not advice like the best places on campus to park and not get tickets (although I thought about it – then I figured parking services would just start checking those places more often). Not advice about what courses to take (but if you’re looking for a good one, I suggest anything with Dr. Combs in the political science department). Nothing on where to rent an apartment (Lionsgate at 48th and Vine) or the best chill-out bar in town (Barrymore’s).

I actually want to give you advice on how not to take other people’s advice. Live your own life. Yeah, take some suggestions and even try a few of them out. But don’t live your life according to someone else’s rules.

If you want to take a siesta everyday, figure out how to. If that means moving to Spain, do it! If you feel detached from your family, spend the summer living with your grandparents. If you have a hard time coping with your fears, go skydiving and just get it out all at once.

If you don’t know what you want to do with the rest of your life, good for you. Keep your options open. Figure out where you should be right now and that’ll help you figure out where you should be later on.

Most of all, respect yourself and the people around you. Because that’s what life is about. People. The people you love, hate, and could not care less about. And there is only one way to learn about them – live your life. Experience. Stop worrying and start doing.

It took me about 22 years too long to learn that lesson. It took traveling to five continents, attempting suicide, raising a puppy. Missing my grandmother’s funeral for some stupid class. Writing a column about my racist ancestors because I’m so ashamed of them. Loving and having my heart broken. Eating cereal for dinner every night because I’m such a bad cook. And a lot of people.

If I ever hurt you, I’m sorry. If I made you laugh, I’m happy. If my politics angered you, good. Dialogues are important. If you ever learned anything from me, I am honored. I can tell you one thing about the rest of my life right now, and that is this: I will be a better person for every one of you who has touched my life. I don’t have all of the answers, but you have helped me to realize that that is okay.

And that is the best lesson I ever could have learned.

08 April 2010

April 8, 2010

I have a lot of updates to work on right now! I'll start with March 12-14, when I went to Extremadura (a region of Spain) with my study abroad program. Extremadura is in southwestern Spain, and borders Portugal. Our program divided the trip into two weekends because there are so many of us and there wasn't enough room for all of us at one of the places we stayed, so there were only about 25 students on my trip. It was nice to be in a smaller group.

We drove from Seville to Merida, a town that was very important in Roman times and has a lot of Roman ruins. There was kind of a cool museum for some of the ruins that was actually built around parts of Roman houses that had been excavated and part of the Roman road (their interstate system that they're so famous for - all roads literally led to Rome!) We also walked on a Roman bridge that was used for cars up until just a few years ago and is still used for foot traffic, and visited a Roman ampitheater and theater. Late Friday afternoon, we drove about another hour and a half to the town of Guadalupe, which is famous for its monastery and church. In the cathedral there, there is a small doll/statue of the Virgen Guadalupe (also known as the Virgin Mary) that people walk to on their knees to pray to. People will walk literally from countries away on their knees to pray to this thing, and we saw a couple people doing that which was pretty cool. We got to stay the night in the monastery connected to the Virgen de Guadalupe cathedral, which was very cool! We got there after dark, and until we saw it the next morning in the light the whole thing looked really haunted and kind of Harry Potter-ish. The monastery served a pretty good five course dinner, and after dinner some of us went to the bar in the monastery because we thought it was so funny to drink alcohol in a monastery!

Saturday morning, we took a tour of the monastery and cathedral. Then, we set out on a ten-mile hike through the mountains, which was pretty intense. The entire way up the mountain, I hated it! But then we got to the top of the mountain and the view was beautiful, as it was on the way down (which was half of the hike) so it was pretty worth it. I'm pretty sure we actually made our own path sometimes, though, which was both funny and a little bit painful when we got caught in tree branches. Once we got to another town, we had just enough time to stop and get a drink (I also had to change because I fell directly into a puddle of mud - actually kind of humorous.) Then we drove about an hour to the town of Trujillo, which is a beautiful little "white" town with white-washed buildings, mazes of small roads, and an alcazaba (fortified castle overlooking a city - I learned that in History of Spanish Art!) We stayed in a very nice hotel in Trujillo, and I'm pretty sure that my roommate for the trip, Kelli, and I got a suite of some sort because we had a really nice sitting area, two showers, and terrycloth robes! It was very nice after the hike to have some luxary like that! We got to sleep in a little bit on Sunday before touring some of the town. My favorite part was going into the alcazaba, because we could look down on the town and surrounding countryside which were beautiful. We then went back to Seville.

The week in between traveling to Extremadura and Berlin was very busy for me because I had mid-terms that I had to study for, so I really didn't do anything but study. But then on Thursday, I took a train from Seville to Madrid and caught a plan in Madrid to Berlin! It was really great to get to Berlin, because I have a friend who studied abroad in Lincoln in high school from Berlin and I stayed with her and got to see her for the first time in five years. I didn't get to Berlin until about 11 pm Thursday night, but Nathalie greeted me at the airport with flowers and then we went back to her apartment where she cooked me a really great midnight snack (she is in culinary school!) Friday, Nathalie had to go to classes for most of the day so I slept in a little bit before exploring some on my own. I took a bus that goes past a lot of the famous landmarks in Berlin (bus route 100, if you're ever there) which was a good, inexpensive way to see the city. I stopped at the Reichstag (the German parliament building) and took a tour of it. It is pretty cool! It also has a really great history, having been built in the 19th century, then almost destroyed when Hitler was in power, only to be restored to the seed of German government in the 1990s when Germany was reunited after the Soviets left. After Nathalie got done with classes, we went to see Brandenburg gate and then walked down Unter den Linden Straße, which is a beautiful street in the old East-Berlin section with many museums and embassies on it. We saw the hotel that Michael Jackson famously held his baby over the balcony railing of, and also went to Checkpoint Charlie. I was surprised with how small and un-intimidating Checkpoint Charlie was. We went into the Checkpoint Charlie museum, which was cool but not well organized. Then we went over to the Sony Center to get dinner. The Sony Center is a big, new center with a lot of shops, restaurants, and offices in it. We were tired, so just went back to Nathalie's apartment and watched a few movies before falling asleep.

Saturday morning I awoke to cheese, cold cuts, honey, jelly, breakfast sandwich bread, chocolate croissants, and yogurt for breakfast! I think Nathalie is the best hostess ever! We went to the Memorial for European Jews who died during WWII after breakfast, which was very cool. I can't really begin to even describe it, so instead I'll just say look at the picture I posted on Picasa. Right next to the memorial was the Jewish Museum, which goes through the history of Jews in Germany (not just the Holocaust, although that is included) and is in a really sweet building. I think we spent about three hours there because it was so cool! We ate lunch and then went to the Berliner Dom, a cool cathedral in Berlin. Nathalie's friend, Micah, met up with us soon after that. She studied in the United States also, in Florida, and spoke English very well which was lucky for me because my German is not nearly as good as it should be, since I took it for two years in college. We were going to take a river cruise, but they had all finished for the day, so instead we took the metro to an area of East Berlin that is known for its diverse cultures and good nightlife. We went bar hopping a little bit, just getting a beer or coke at a couple of bars, and there were really cool bars in the area! We also just walked around the area and people watched, and got Doner Kebab for dinner! Nathalie and I were gong to go out dancing, but I was too tired, so we just went back to her apartment and ate ice cream and watched movies again. Before getting to her apartment, though, we went by a really cool old church that was bombed during WWII. They didn't repair the church but simply left it as a memorial to the war, and it was very moving.

Sunday, after another amazing breakfast, Nathalie and I went to one of the train stations to see an art display of painted bears. It sounds a little weird put that way, but it's actually really cool. The bears are similar to the cows in Chicago that were painted by various local artists and then auctioned off. This is the Berlin version of that, and there were literally bears all over the city. In this train station, though, they had one representing every country in the world, and they were absolutely beautiful. We spent a long time looking at them and taking pictures. After the train station, we went to Schloß Charlottenburg, or the Charlottenburg Palace, which was a Prussian Palace used in the late 17th and 18th centuries. It was gorgeous, and we took a cool tour of the "new wing", though I'm not really sure why it was called new because it was still pretty old! I had to catch my flight back to Madrid and then the train from Madrid to Seville so that I could be in class on Monday morning.

That Monday, the weather was really beautiful so some of my roommates and I went to the river and just sat by it for a while. Eventually we rented a paddle boat and that was really fun - especially because I didn't have to paddle! Susie, Megan, and I sat in back while Matt and Chris (who is not my roommate but lives in the apartment across the hall) paddled. We just drank cokes/beers and ate gummy bears! Very relaxing. We now have plans to rent mopeds at some point before we leave to become a "moped gang" haha!

On Thursday of that week (March 25) my friends Lauren and Hanne (from my program) went with me to the airport and we caught a plane from Seville to Barcelona. We had a break the week of March 29 for Holy Week - called Semana Santa in Spain. Can you tell Spain has a lot of Catholic influence?! In Barcelona, we met up with some other girls from our program, Carolyn, Jacklyn, Carly, Jenni, and Brittany. Not all of them stayed in the same hostel as us, but we did a lot with all of them. I had never stayed in a hostel before going to Barcelona, and from what I can tell it wasn't the worst first hostel experience I could have had, but it also wasn't the best. I thought it was kind of dirty and was definitely very crowded. We were in an 8-person mixed room. The guy who was sleeping on the bunk under me was really weird - we called him Grumpy McGrumps because he always came in at like 5 in the morning and slept until about noon, and got mad when other people were trying to get ready to go out in the mornings even though we all tried to be quiet! He told some other girls staying in our room that he had been living there for a year and a half! I don't understand how he could live at a hostel - I wouldn't have wanted to do that for so long! Anyway, our hostel was in a prime location, so we were able to walk outside and onto Calle Los Ramblas, which is a very famous street in Barcelona, known for its street performers, artists, vendors, and great markets and shops. I really liked that area, although there were times I felt sort of clausterphobic because there were so many people around. On Friday the 26th we walked to the piers, which was a very cool area, ate lunch by the ocean, and then went to the grocery store to buy stuff to make ourselves dinner at the hostel. One of the girls staying with us happens to be a pretty good cook, and since I'm pretty much hopeless I just bought a bottle of wine for everyone and they were happy to let me just step aside instead of cooking. Before we ate, though, we went to this place called the Magic Fountain which is a giant fountain that is choreographed to music with lights and everything on it for a night-time show. I really liked that! It was similar to the one at the Venetian in Vegas, and also to one I saw in Beijing last summer, but I thought it was cooler than either of those.

On Saturday, we went to Sagrada Familia, which is a cathedral that is still under construction, designed by Gaudi. It was very cool! It is by far the most modern cathedral I have been to yet and looks like it is very inspired by nature. It was probably my favorite cathedral so far. After seeing that, we went to one of the Gaudi museums in an apartment building designed by Gaudi. Way cool! All I can say is look at the photos I am uploading to Picasa, because there aren't really words to describe how cool it is. Saturday evening, I met my third cousin (my dad's cousin's daughter, haha!) Her name is Devon and she lives in Barcelona - she has lived there for the last three years. She was really cool. We just went to get a drink at a place near the main square in Barcelona and talk for a little bit. I hope I get to see her again sometime soon! I went back to the hostel and crashed - not only was I tired but also dehydrated and needed to rest and get some water in me! Sunday morning, we got up and went to Park Guell, which is a park designed by Gaudi. It was also beautiful! We walked up to a really cool lookout point where we could see the entire city. We also just walked around the entire park and saw some houses designed by Gaudi as well as some landscaping designed by Gaudi. Once again, look at the photos on Picasa, you will love it! Then, Lauren and I had to get to the airport and catch a flight to Dublin. We got into our hostel around one in the morning so we just fell asleep right away. This hostel was much nicer than the one we stayed in in Barcelona! It was clean and quiet, and we stayed in a 10 person mixed room but it was never full. In fact, one night we had it to ourselves.

Monday morning, we got up early so that we could spend the day exploring Dublin! It was cold and rainy, but I didn't care. I can't put my finger on exactly what is was about Dublin that I loved so much, but it is absolutely, without a doubt, my favorite city that I've visited thus far. The first thing we found was Trinity College, which is a beautiful old campus. We didn't go to see the book in the old library there, which I think is famous for being the oldest book in Ireland or something like that. But, we got hot chocolate and just hung out. It was very cool. Next, we found the shopping district because Lauren wanted to buy a new pair of boots. I never realized quite how stylish the Irish are (but I'm Irish, so I'm proud of my people, haha!) We went to Christ Church Cathedral after that, which was beautiful. The crypt there was especially cool - very old and also big! Next to the cathedral there was a wax museum that covered the history of the Celts in Ireland. It was actually kind of cool, even though wax museums always creep me out. It was interactive and I had fun there but I think I could have had even more fun if I had been about 10 years old. Before eating lunch, we also checked out Dublin Castle (at least the outside of it, we never really found an entrance to it) and the Dublin City Hall, which is very cool. We ate in a pub - where else would we eat in Ireland? Then we went to the Guinness Beer factory, which was very cool! We spent a lot of the afternoon there. I don't even like beer, but it was really cool. I learned how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness and how to taste test a Guinness to tell if it's good or not. Somehow they made the process of making beer cool, also. We used an internet cafe for a short time before eating at another pub for dinner (yet another good choice) and then meeting up with our friends Matt and Andrew (my roommates) and their friend Max, who were staying in a different hostel. The five of us went over to the Temple Bar area, which is an area with a lot of pubs and bars, including the famous Temple Bar, where there was a really cool live band playing when we went. We went to three or four different pubs and had a really good time!

Tuesday morning we were going to wake up early to see if we could get spots on the "P.S. I Love You" tour, which is a tour to the film set of the movie that came out a couple of years ago starring Gerard Butler and Hillary Swank. It was filmed in some really beautiful parts of Ireland, but we weren't able to wake up in time to see about the tour, so we just hung out in Dublin again. I was okay with that, though. I loved Dublin! We met up with Matt, Andrew, and Max again and just walked around exploring the city. We went into one pub and ended up staying there just talking, eating, drinking, and listening to music for more than four hours because it was cold and rainy and we didn't really feel like walking around in that! Surprisingly, I had the best fajitas I think I've ever eaten in my life in a pub called Murray's in Dublin. They were amazing! We had to be out of our hostel by 4:30 am on Wednesday morning in order to catch our ride to the airport, so we didn't stay out too late.

Wednesday, we spent the morning traveling and arrived in our hotel in Paris around 1 pm. Before doing anything else, we ate and showered because we were so hungry and dirty from the planes and buses! Overall, I was pretty unimpressed with Paris. I think I would have much preferred to go to a smaller town or someplace else in France, but at least I can say I've been. Some parts of it were cool. We went to a famous Basilica, the Montmarte area, the Moulin Rouge, the Arc de Triumph, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower (at night!) and I'm glad I saw everything. I especially liked the Eiffel Tower and Louvre. However, over the two days we spent in Paris, I felt like the city was too big, too crowded, and full of creepy Parisian men. Literally one night we were eating dinner in a restaurant at a table next to a window, and we looked up and there were some men just standing there watching us eat and winking and waving at us. We were very creeped out and got back to our hotel as soon as possible! I also thought that a lot of Parisians didn't really like Americans, although I was expecting that. I know that a lot of Americans don't like the French and that there is some tension between the two nations, although I don't really understand why. But, nonetheless, I felt that the demeanor of a lot of Parisians toward us was pretty rude. I've heard better things about other parts of France, though. Hopefully I'll get to go to those places at some point! Also, now that I've been to Paris I've checked off one of the things on the list Aunt Susie made for us to do during our lives.

I actually went back to Barcelona for the second weekend of break, straight from Paris. I went mainly because I got tickets to the futbol (soccer) match between Barcelona and Bilbao, which is a really big deal in Spain! But the match wasn't until Saturday night, and I got there on Friday afternoon. My friend Renee, who I was meeting for the match, was already there and doing things by the time I got to the hostel (a different hostel than the first one I stayed in in Barcelona, and much nicer!) Thus, I went to Calle Los Ramblas for a little bit on my own. There were some parades going on for Good Friday with massive floats that between 50 and 100 men stood under to carry. The parade was pretty cool! Then I went and met up with a friend of mine from Lincoln who happened to be traveling in Barcelona at the same time as me. It was fun to see him, and I also got to meet another one of his friends who he was traveling with!

Saturday, Renee and I did our own thing because most of the things she wanted to do I had already done. Thus, I went to the Picasso Museum and the neighborhood around the museum, both very cool! I spent about 2 hours in the museum, which covered Picasso's entire life and had all kinds of his art in it. I had no idea that he started out as a portrait artist before I went there! The area around the museum was also very cool - it had a lot of street vendors and good little restaurants, similar to Calle Los Ramblas, except that it wasn't nearly as crowded, which I really liked! Saturday evening, Renee and I went to the futbol match which was a lot of fun! I sat in the 19th row in a really really good seat! The game was different than sporting events in the United States because the fans are so much more into it - they don't get up for ANYTHING and pretty much only talk to do the chants and cheers, which they get really into! Barcelona won 4-1, so everyone was very happy in the end!

I decided to go back to Barcelona on Sunday even though I wasn't scheduled to go back until Monday, because I was just so tired and dehydrated. I got some tapas for dinner Sunday night with some of my roommates and then just went to sleep. Monday, I had to go to the emergency clinic to get help with my dehydration because my ankles and feet were swollen and in pain due to it. They gave me some medicine and advice, which made me very tired but seems to have worked wonders because I can actually see my ankles again! Also, my feet are no longer in pain. I have just been spending this week going to classes and recuperating, because tomorrow bright and early I am going to Morocco with my program! Africa will make the fifth continent I've been on, and I have a goal to get to all seven, so I'm doing well! I'm very very excited!

DN Column April 7, 2010: Spain provides example for U.S. health care

Here’s the thing about living in another country: You don’t realize quite how much you love the United States until you leave it. Then again, you also come to realize just how much you hate it while you’re away.

It was big news over here in Spain when the health care bill was signed. People weren’t exactly excited, though. Instead, they seemed to be thinking the same thing I have been ever since I was old enough to understand how to take care of my fellow citizens: Why hasn’t this been around forever? Why is the United States just getting around to instilling this vital right to its people?

When they ask me about the health care bill, all I can say is, “We might be a little behind the rest of the world, but we’re moving in the right direction.” And all Spaniards can do is nod in agreement, because the system is going to take its time restructuring, and the citizens are going to take their time warming up to the idea of universal health care.

In all honesty, what Congress passed isn’t what I had hoped it would be. But here’s the thing about Congress: They move slowly. And they’re meant to move slowly. There is a reason it takes so long to get anything done, and it has less to do with the fact that Congress is full of a bunch of idiots than the system is smarter than those idiots, and it has to sort out all of the good ideas from the bad.

And when the bad ideas get through — for example, not giving health care to all of our citizens — the system has to go back and fix that, too. But in Spain I’ve seen universal health care in action, and I’m happy to report that we’re in for something great.

Having seen the doctor in Spain twice now, I can tell you universal health care is only going to make us stronger. The doctor actually had to come to my hotel room in January while I was staying in Madrid, and not only did he speak fluent English, but he also made a quick and painless visit that treated my illness right away.

Just this Monday, I ended up in the emergency room (a product of traveling on airplanes between countries much too often in the past two weeks) and had no problem whatsoever. I’ve been to the emergency room in the United States before, and thus have something with which to compare my visit. I saw very little difference between the two countries.

It took me about the same amount of time to see the doctor in both countries. The main difference between the two nations is that in the United States, my bill had always been more than $100 after insurance took care of a significant portion of it. In Spain, my bill was 35 euro, the equivalent of about $47, and I was never even asked to produce an insurance card.

Getting prescriptions has also been easy. I simply take my written prescription from the doctor to any pharmacy (and there are literally two on every block) and ask to have it filled. I pay so little per prescription, also! Today, for example, I had to get two prescriptions and paid 24 euro for both, the equivalent of just more than $32. That is not a co-pay: That is the actual cost of the prescription. I’ve never once been asked to produce an insurance card, and I’m not even a citizen!

So, I know exactly what the Republicans in the room are thinking — Yeah, but their taxes are so high! First of all, the income tax rate is progressive, so those who don’t make as much don’t pay as much. Ingenious! Who would have ever thought of a thing like that? I mean, people who don’t have as much money paying less than people who have a lot of money? It’s like someone reinvented the wheel!

Once you get past the initial shock of realizing that people who, for whatever reason, don’t make as much money don’t pay as much into the system, then you can look at how much you actually have to pay. For someone who makes more than 53,000 euro, (about $71,400) the total tax rate is 43 percent. High? Yes.

But what exactly are you getting out of these taxes? This is what no one in the United States ever stops to think about. Do you think there are potholes in the roads here? I haven’t found them.

Are people going bankrupt because they get unlucky, happen to get cancer and can’t afford the bills? Unheard of. People in Spain, and the rest of Europe for that matter, take care of one another. A person’s 43 percent of income tax goes to making sure you live a healthy, comfortable, productive life and your friends and neighbors do as well.

Of course, if you make less than 17,000 euro a year, (the equivalent of about $23,000) you pay only a 24 percent tax. And here’s another difference between the U.S. and Spain. Why do you make less than 17,000 euro a year? In the U.S., the automatic assumption is that you are lazy, fat and no good.

Not so in Spain. The assumption is you started out from less than others and you weren’t lucky enough to be able to make it to the top right away, or you have had a difficult life because of family issues, illness, whatever. The assumption isn’t that you screwed up, but you simply need a little help.

And honestly, who doesn’t need a little help every once in a while? Hopefully this new health care bill will make the United States a bit more like the best parts of Spain, with the right to pursue a life of happiness for all of us.

Sarah Melecki is a senior Political Science major. Reach her at sarahmelecki@dailynebraskan.com.

08 March 2010

March 8, 2010


I will do my best to update you again on what's been happening over here. Also, I have now added to my photo album on Picasa (a web-based photo storage made by Google), so here is a link to it so that you can see what all I've been up to. I am not finished with the London album, so please be patient with that one. I should have done that while in China also, but didn't, so perhaps if I'm bored one day I'll try to upload some China pictures to it as well.


I think I sent the last update just before we went to Granada. I really enjoyed Granada! It's a little bit smaller than Seville, but still large enough to have plenty to do. We left for Granada on Friday morning and it only took about 2-4 hours by bus to get there. We stayed at a nice hotel very close to the Alhambra (the palace used by the late Muslim rulers). On Friday, we did a little looking around our hotel and then went on a guided tour of the Cathedral there, which is smaller than the Cathedrals in Toledo and Seville. It is where Isabela and Ferdinand are buried, and we were able to see inside of their tomb. My roommate, Anjali, and I went looking around the various shops and things Friday afternoon and found that most of the shops have quite a bit of Moorish influence, probably because the Arab Muslims were able to maintain their presence in Granada much longer than they were the rest of Spain. They weren't kicked out by the Romans quite as quickly as people in other parts of Spain were.

Friday evening, we got to see a Flamenco show at a little place where we were all packed in very tightly. It was great, though, because it meant that we were all able to see the Flamenco very close up. I loved seeing the dancing and hearing the music! I think that everyone in our group was very impressed by the Flamenco show. We explored a few of Granada's bars but didn't stay out very late on Friday, because we had to be up early Saturday to go tour the Alhambra, which was amazing! It was added onto a little bit by the Romans, so there were a couple of parts with Roman influence, but mostly it was Moorish architecture and it was beautiful! I doubt we were even able to see half of it because it is such a large palace. Apparently it used to be painted with very bright colors, but most of the paint has come off over the years. The walls and ceilings are still carved very intricately, though, because (I learned this in my History of Spanish Art class!) the materials used in its making weren't considered very strong, so in order to take away from that aspect they were decorated as much as possible. This is true of all Moorish architecture from that time period. We saw many of the rooms inside of the Alhambra as well as the gardens next to it and the outside of the Summer Palace (which is located in the gardens). We then went to eat lunch before we had to go back to Seville. The following Monday was the birthday of one of my roommates (Megan), so she chose where we ate out on Sunday night and chose a sushi restaurant not far from us. I don't really like sushi, but I do like other Japanese foods and got some really great chicken at the restaurant, as well as very good egg roll type things. Our host mom cooks every meal for us except for Sunday night dinners (because she takes Sundays off) so I feel pretty lucky about that! Also, on Sunday nights its nice to be able to eat out so that we are able to explore some of Seville's restaurants.

Monday, we ate a dish of Megan's choosing that Mama Rosa made for dinner, and got to have birthday cake afterwards for desert. It was wonderful! I went out with the group Monday night to help celebrate Megan's birthday for a little bit, but I have a 9 am class every Monday-Thursday so I came back before everyone else to get some sleep. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday preparing for my trip to London! Wednesday evening, I met my friend Tracy about 8:15 pm at the bus stop to go to the Seville airport. We got to London about midnight their time (only 6 hours ahead of central time zone in the U.S.) and took a taxi from the airport to our hotel because the buses and trains had stopped for the night (we didn't fly into Heathrowe, we flew into Stansted which is about an hour outside of the city center). Our hotel was very nice, and only about a two minute walk from Paddington Station. We got it pretty inexpensively because it is not peak tourist season. It was by no means a 5 star hotel, but we weren't looking for that!

Thursday morning we ate breakfast at the hotel's complimentary breakfast (mostly bread, croissants, fruit, yogurt, and cereal) before venturing out. We walked first through Kensington Gardens, which was beautiful, and saw Kensington Palace there (most famously the home of Queen Victoria, and I think where Princess Diana moved after she and Charles got divorced). It was beautiful, but we didn't go inside. I'm not really sure how you get inside, actually. We wandered around London a little bit after that, getting lost (I think everyone should get lost in foreign countries, because you see more interesting stuff that way!), before finding a bus to take us towards the British Museum. We ate at a cute little pub that had quotes written all over the ceiling and then went to the museum, which was free by the way! I loved the British Museum - we could have spent days in there. We mostly went to see the Egyptian sections because that's what I've always heard of when I hear about the British Museum, and they were really great. Most notably, we got to see a large bust of Ramses II and the Rosetta Stone!

We went to Chinatown after the British Museum, which was very cool. It is about 4-6 blocks big and has a lot of vendors with traditional Chinese things as well as Chinese restaurants. There were a lot of Chinese medicine stores with things like acupuncture offered, as well. One of the best Chinatowns I've ever seen! We ate dinner at a restaurant there, which was good but not the best either of us had had. Tracy's family is from China and her parents always always cook Chinese food, so she knows good Chinese food when she has it, and she said this restaurant was alright, but not like her mom's cooking. We also wandered around some of the shops. At 7:30 pm, we had tickets to a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Twelfth Night at the Duke of York's theatre in the West End. The show was absolutely amazing! I also love Shakespeare, so I was just really excited to see anything by the Royal Shakespeare Company (supposedly the best Shakesperian actors in the world). It was tied for the best Shakespeare performance I've ever seen with a production of Hamlet my dad and I saw in Minneapolis a few years ago, that was done excellently. I can't wait to go back and see more by the RSC!

Friday morning we ate breakfast at the hotel and then caught the Number 15 bus from Marble Arch to the Tower of London. Meredith sent me a guidebook to use that was really good, and one of the things it recommended was to take the Number 15 bus because you can see so many sites on it and it is much cheaper than going on a bus tour around the city. It is one of the big red double decker busses, and we were able to sit in the very front of the 2nd floor, so we could see really well. I also really liked the Tower of London! I wasn't expecting it to be laid out the way it is - I was actually expecting one large tower. Instead, it is basically a fortress that was used at the king's palace as well as a defensive fort way back in the 1200's. It is like a large square with a big courtyard. They had some actors showing what used to be the king's living quarters, and also showed where the soldiers used to "man their battlestations" if under attack. We saw the crown jewels there, as well, because they have been stored there for hundreds of years. They were insane! The largest piece of the largest diamond ever found is in the royal scepter, and I bet it's as big as my hand.

We went from there to St. Paul's Cathedral, but it was just closing, so instead of going there for the afternoon we decided to go over to Convent Garden, which used to be a fruit and vegetable market and has since been converted into shops of all kinds. I really liked Convent Garden! It was just a nice little area in general. We found a good pub to eat dinner at and shopped a little bit, including going to a really great tea shop called the Tea House where I picked up some freshly made Apple Cinnamon tea for my residencia and some tea for my mom. On the way home, we went to King's Cross Station and found Platform nine and three quarters (from the Harry Potter books!) That was pretty fun!

Saturday morning we ate breakfast at the hotel and then went to check out St. Paul's Cathedral. It's only about 300 years old, which isn't nearly as old as the other Cathedrals I've been able to see in Europe, but the tour information said that there were three previous Cathedrals built on that site that had been destroyed. It was beautiful! I got to climb to both an indoor and outdoor observation deck, where I could see a top view of the Cathedral and a nice view of all of London. We took a ride on the London Eye next, which was just across the river and sort of resembles a very large ferris wheel. The compartments you go in are like glass rooms that slowly spin on the Eye and they put in 25-30 people in each compartment. It takes about half an hour to go all the way around. We were able to see a lot of the city that way. It is right on the River Thames.

We walked over to look at Big Ben and Parliament House after the London Eye, which is beautiful. The entire Parliament House is not only massive, but also all done in a gothic style of architecture. Westminster Abbey is right next to Parliament House, so we looked at that next. We weren't able to go inside of any of these places because they were already closed, but the outsides were amazing. After eating a very late lunch, we decided to go back to the hotel and nap a little bit because we were both so tired. We ended up taking pretty long naps and then going to dinner in Paddington, just a place near our hotel.

Sunday morning after breakfast, we checked out of our room and left our luggage with the front desk staff to go see Shakespeare's Globe theater. It is not the original Globe, because that burnt down quite some time ago, but it is an historically accurate model that was completed in 1997 and has an adjacent museum. They only do shows beginning in April because of the weather, so we didn't see a show, but we did go through the museum and take a tour of the actual Globe, which was very cool! Our tour guide was also really funny (I think he might actually be an actor, based on his performance). I spent just a little too much money at the shop there, but I was so excited that I just had to buy a lot of different (and cool) things!

We walked on the outside of Buckingham Palace before we had to go back to our hotel, but didn't go in. It was beautiful. Our taxi driver the first night told us that when the flag is up it means the Queen is home, and the flag was up so the Queen must have been there. I wasn't able to get close enough to any guards to try and make them smile, which was a little disappointing to me, but I will have to try next time I get to London. After Buckingham Palace, we began our adventure home.

Going home turned out to be the absolute worst travel experience I have ever had. Because we were flying a budget airline (RyanAir) we had to fly out of London Stansted, which you either have to take a bus or taxi to. We elected to take the bus because it was about 30 Pounds cheaper per person than a taxi would have been. Unfortunately, the bus was almost an hour late. We were planning on being at the airport between 2 hours and 1 hour 45 minutes before our flight, but with the bus being late, and after having to find our luggage on the bottom of the bus, etc., we only got there just under 40 minutes before our flight was supposed to leave. RyanAir has a strict policy that you cannot check bags onto a flight any less than 40 minutes before the flight leaves, and also that each passenger is limited to one carry-on only (I even had to put my purse into my backpack). Tracy had two bags, and my bag was too heavy on the way home to count as a carry-on, so they wouldn't let us board our plane. They told us our only option was to book a later flight, but they had no more flights that evening going to Seville, and they had one the next day but there was only one ticket left. So, we elected to fly to Madrid where we could try to catch the train or bus home. We got to Madrid and found that there were no more trains to Seville that night, and that the only bus left to Seville was full. By this point, I was very frustrated! We ended up having to take a bus from Madrid to Cordoba (about a 5 hour ride) and then a train from Cordoba to Seville (about a 45 minute ride, with a 2 hour layover beforehand). We finally got home at 8:30 am. It's a very good thing we didn't have classes that Monday!

Last Monday, I stayed home and slept most of the day, as well as doing homework. I had a mid-term on Wednesday and a mid-term on Thursday that I needed to study for. I haven't gotten the results back from either yet. I felt that my Spanish mid-term went alright, and that my politics mid-term went really well, so I suppose I'll find out this week. I have one mid-term left, in History of Spanish Art, and it is this Thursday. This past weekend a lot of my roommates went to Barcelona. I stayed home because I was scheduled to go on a hiking trip to Mulva, Spain for Saturday with our program, but it was cancelled due to rain. It has rained quite a bit here this spring, though I'm told that is quite odd. Usually it only rains a couple of days out of every year, apparently. It was nice to relax all weekend, even if I didn't do a whole lot. I did go to some free salsa lessons on Thursday night, which was fun, and to a tea house/hookah bar on Friday night. I really liked the tea house/hookah bar, and will probably go back.

I think I'm updated now on everything I've done the past couple of weeks. This coming week, I'm going to go to Extremadura, Spain with my program Friday-Sunday. I'm not really sure what is there, so I will let you know after I've been! Then the following weekend I'm going to Berlin, Germany, to visit my friend Nathalie - she was a foreign exchange student I got close to during high school (not the one who lived with us, but a different one). I'm excited for both of those trips, as well as exploring more of Seville during the week!

Love you!


DN Column March 3, 2010: U.S. Citizens Should Become Bilingual

Coming to Spain to learn Spanish was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’m learning quickly, though it’s still frustrating. But I can communicate pretty much everything I need to. I’ve even gotten my hair dyed, cut and styled here without help from anyone bilingual — and it doesn’t look half bad.

The key is just to jump in and try. I say the wrong thing all the time, but people don’t care because I’m trying to learn, and I’m usually fairly close to whatever it is I’m trying to say. At any rate, you don’t learn unless you practice. So I’m practicing as much as possible.

I figured I’d better start learning Spanish now or I’d never do it. Becoming fluent in Spanish is one of my life goals. I have a lot of life goals, of which some seem more attainable than others. Speaking Spanish is one goal that shouldn’t be overly difficult to work toward, even if it takes me forever.

Being able to speak Spanish is also a matter of practicality. In a country such as the United States where there is no national language, it is important that we learn how to communicate with a variety of people.

I’m referring, of course, to the vast immigrant community from Latin America that grows larger every year. The reasons for immigrating are numerous, which include everything from escaping poverty to getting a higher education. But the reasons are unimportant. The fact is, the United States is quickly becoming a bilingual nation, and we need to adapt with it.

I have probably heard every excuse possible about why Spanish speakers should learn English when they move to the United States, and why English speakers in the United States have no reason to learn Spanish. But when it really gets down to it, it’s not about which language was “here first” or which language is used by the government. It’s about which languages will help us to productively lead our everyday lives.

Spanish is, of course, not the only language used widely throughout the United States. But it is the most widely used outside of English, as well as the fastest growing. In 2007 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that more than 34.5 million spoke Spanish at home. That’s about 12 percent of the population, and the number is expected to rise at a dramatic rate as more immigrants of Hispanic and Latino ancestry move to the United States.

Spanish is spoken by approximately 500 million people worldwide and is the fourth most spoken language in the world, according to a language-learning software company, Rosetta Stone. It’s statistics like these that make me realize that learning Spanish isn’t just a life goal for me, it’s a necessity.

If Americans want to maintain any level of competitiveness in the world, we need to study languages other than English. Spanish happens to be widely used in the United States and around the world right now, but it isn’t the only language worth learning. In fact, the most widely used language in the world is Chinese — a language most Americans cannot speak.

But the point is not that we need to learn every language. Rather, the point is that English is no longer the language of choice around the world, and the world is smaller than ever. While speaking English is important and has many advantages, choosing a second, and even a third, language is more valuable than being fluent in only one.

The rest of the world gets it. In industrialized countries, and even some nations that are still developing, learning a second language is mandatory from a very young age. Last summer I visited China, for example, and spoke to 6-year-olds who were fluent in English. They might come along on the global job market about 15 years after me, but they are going to be some major competition.

So if Americans are at all interested in staying competitive within the job market, we need to become bilingual. It isn’t about immigration, and it doesn’t matter how you feel about immigration. It’s about the future of our economy, our political alliances and our lives.

Not learning a second language is just another form of laziness. If you don’t want to be able to communicate with countless other people, go ahead and forget about becoming bilingual. If you don’t want to get a good job in a variety of fields, don’t take language classes.

If we continue to expect others to conform to our needs, we are going to get left behind. The rest of the world is moving ahead, and it’s time for us to, also. ¡Vaminos!

Sarah Melecki is a senior Political Science major. Reach her at sarahmelecki@

February 18, 2010

I'm going to try to write a quick update. Things are moving very quickly now, because from now on I don't think I'm going to be home for an entire weekend until mid-May when I have final exams. I wrote out my entire itinerary for while I'm here, and right now it looks like this:

Jan. 18-20: Madrid, Spain (study abroad orientation and sight seeing)
Jan. 21: Toledo, Spain (arrival in Seville, Spain to semester residence in the evening)
Feb. 12-13: Cadiz, Spain (beach with study abroad group and Carnaval with friends)
Feb. 19-20: Granada, Spain (sight seeing with study abroad group)
Feb. 25-Mar. 1: London, England (sight seeing with a friend)
Mar. 6: Mulva, Spain (hiking with study abroad group)
Mar. 12-14: Extremadura, Spain (sight seeing with study abroad group)
Mar. 19-21: Berlin, Germany (to visit Nathalie, my friend from high school who studied in Lincoln!)
Mar. 26-28: Barcelona, Spain (sight seeing with a friend!)
Mar. 29-30: Dublin, Ireland (sight seeing with a friend!)
Mar. 31-Apr. 1: Paris, France (sight seeing with friends!)
Apr. 2-4: Barcelona, Spain (sight seeing and Barcelona futbol game with friends!)
Apr. 9-12: Fez, Morocco (sight seeing with study abroad group)
Apr. 17-18: Venice, Italy (sight seeing with friends!)
Apr. 19-20: Rome, Italy (sight seeing with friends!)
Apr. 21-22: Florence, Italy (sight seeing with friends!)
Apr. 30-May 2: Lisbon, Portugal (sight seeing with Mama, Meredith, and a friend!)
May 7: Donana, Spain (sight seeing with study abroad group)

Obviously the trip I was hoping to go on to Egypt didn't work out, but that's alright. I would love to get to Poland, Austria, Amsterdam, Prague, and Greece as well but I will have to wait until later on in life to get to all of those places. That's alright, because by the time I'm through with this trip I will have been to 5 of 7 continents which means that I only have to get to South America and Antarctica to meet one of my life goals (traveling to all 7 continents). I have the entire rest of my life to travel around the world!

In the past couple of weeks I have been mostly working on school, but have also spent some time getting to know Seville better. I also got a chance to go to Cadiz, Spain this past weekend twice. One time was on Friday and it was with my study abroad program. First we went to a winery, had a tour, and did a wine tasting of various Sherrys (I don't know how to spell that, so I'll spell it like my mom's name). Then we went into the city of Cadiz, which seemed nice except that it was very cold and rainy that particular day (apparently it's very unseasonal for it to be so cold and rainy here, but it's almost all I've experienced thus far). We were supposed to go to the beach and have a nice day on the shore, but it was so cold and rainy that we only spent a few minutes there. Then we didn't really know where to go but had a few hours left in the city so we explored various candy shops (for some reason there were quite a few candy shops) and got some coffee/hot chocolate. All in all, it was alright but I think I would've enjoyed it a lot more if the weather had cooperated. On Saturday, we left for Cadiz around 8 pm to go to Carnaval, which I can only describe as something like Halloween on steroids. There were about 350,000 people in the streets of Cadiz, all dressed in costumes of every variety and all having a great time. People were everywhere! It was a lot of fun to see all of the different costumes (some groups of people dressed as fun things, like Catholic priests and nuns with a pope, families of chickens, three guys dressed as pop singer Beyonce and her back-up singers - they even did the song and dance to her single "All the Single Ladies", it was very funny!) There was a stage with different music going on, which was cool as well. We got back to Seville around 5 am and slept for most of Sunday.

Because Sunday was Valentine's Day, all of the girls in my residencia put together a "Secret Cupid" event in which we each picked one name out of a hat and got them a Valentine's gift for 7 Euro or less. Before we did the gift exchange, we all went out to dinner and included the guys we live with and two other people who come over to our residencia quite often. We ate at a really good Italian restaurant, and I had pizza for the first time here. Everyone wrote a little funny poem for the person they were Secret Cupid to, which we each read out loud before we opened our gifts. The gifts were great. I got three chocolate bars and a little scarf! It was a good time.

I don't remember too many exciting things happening week before last, so there must not have been too much going on besides school and exploring Seville with friends. But this weekend our group is going to Granada, which will apparently be really nice but also very cold. I'm excited to see it, though, as well as to get to spend some more time with the people in my program. I am beginning to feel much more comfortable with the people in the program and am making a lot of friends.

I will try to write more when I get back from London in a couple of weeks, because I think that will be the next time I'll have exciting updates. I am excited to go to London for many reasons, but most recently because I was able to book tickets to see the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Twelfth Night in London's west end. I am very excited about that! I am trying to decide if I would like to see a musical while I'm there, as well. I am also looking at the best/most cost effective way to get to the sites that I want to see. I will be going with my friend, Tracy, and she told me that she doesn't care what we do so I should plan everything. I always ask her if she is interested in doing something before I book it, but it will be a great trip partially because I get to plan out exactly where I want to go with pretty much no exceptions!

Everyone have a good next few weeks!


DN Column February 3, 2010: Columnist Faces, Conquers Initial Shock in Spain

Editor’s note: Daily Nebraskan columnist Sarah Melecki is studying abroad in Seville, Spain for the semester. This semester she’ll be publishing a monthly travelogue for the Daily Nebraskan. This is her first column and an introduction to the travelogue. Enjoy!

I took a leap and moved to Spain for four months. I don’t know Spanish. So far, I can say “hola” and a few other simple phrases, but don’t ask me to read a sign to you. I’ll give you the same look of confusion that I give Spaniards who try to speak to me. I usually just end up saying, “Lo siento, no hable Español” or something to that effect.

Apparently it’s pretty easy to pick out americanos over here. One of my friends’ professors told her that we all wear North Face or Columbia fleece jackets, and none of us wear socks with our flats even though its winter. As she told me this, I was bundled in my red Columbia fleece wearing black flats with no socks. I might as well tattoo my nationality to my forehead.

I came prepared for cultural differences. I was ready for different foods, but I’m a picky eater so I was nervous. My host mother is an amazing cook, so it hasn’t been too much of an issue. She is from Peru, and cooks more Peruvian dishes than Spanish dishes, but so far there really hasn’t been anything I didn’t enjoy. It took a few days to get used to eating lunch at 2 pm and dinner at 8 pm (sometimes later). It’s also considered rude to leave food on your plate in Spain, which has been difficult for me because I’m used to eating many smaller meals throughout the day. Luckily, I live with 11 other students, two of whom function fairly well as garbage disposals. I usually just give them my leftovers and they take care of it.

People bike a lot more over here than they do in the United States. It’s much easier to bike here, because Spaniards actually know how to create and use bike lanes. Instead of making them in the middle of major streets like the city of Lincoln decided to do, the city of Seville has made numerous bike lanes on their extra wide sidewalks. Does this make more sense? Of course.

It’s no secret that Europeans are, in general, healthier than Americans. However, this doesn’t deter the Spanish from making the best pastries I’ve ever eaten. The people here walk quite a bit more than those in the U.S. and seem to enjoy physical activity more in general, making it more of a social activity. Kids play soccer on the street and no one minds. The tennis courts are almost always full. Most people don’t just crowd into a gym, grab an elliptical machine, and turn their iPod on. At this rate, I’m going to be able to eat more desserts and come back to the States weighing less than when I left.

I’m in love with Spain. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss some things about the U.S., or that there are some things about Spain I would change if I could. I miss the heat in the U.S. The apartment I live in is constantly cold, because it’s January and even though it’s in the mid to high 50’s Fahrenheit outside, the building isn’t insulated too well and I’m pretty sure there’s no heating system. Instead, we crowd around our space heaters.

I also miss the dollar. The Euro is expensive! Every time I go to buy something, I multiply its price by one and a half to get a general idea of how much it costs in American dollars. The exchange rate fluctuates constantly, but it seems to usually be somewhere around one and a half American dollars to every one Euro. Even this past month, when all of the traditional January sales were going on in Spain, I was paying the equivalent of full price in the United States for clothes and things. And don’t even get me started on how expensive ice cream is! I still buy it, because I’m addicted, but it’s quickly depleting my bank account.

Spaniards are very nice people for the most part. But it took me a couple of days to get used to how close they get to strangers – I was a little uncomfortable at first. Also, at restaurants you have to be aggressive in order to get the waiter or waitress to serve you. They don’t constantly check up on you. Apparently in Spain, it is seen as offensive to interrupt like that, and so they allow you to take your time and motion them when you are ready for them.

A lot of Spanish men seem extremely interested in American women. Most Spanish women aren’t as interested in American men. On one hand, I find this humorous. On the other hand, it is a little creepy when you are in a bar or café and a man literally stares at you for 10 to 15 minutes straight. Luckily for me, I’ve only had this experience twice thus far. Because I was with friends both times, they saved me after only a few minutes of awkwardly close conversation.

I’ve only been here for two weeks. I have at least 16 to go. Don’t be surprised if my impressions of this country and its people change with time – I won’t be. All I can say for sure right now is that this is a beautiful country with a beautiful culture, and I’m excited to experience it.

Sarah Melecki is a senior political science major. Reach her at sarahmelecki@dailynebraskan.com