Tues. 5 Feb.
Note: I wrote this Tuesday night, but due to technical difficulties (limited Internet connection), have not been able to post until today. Hope you enjoy!
It is midnight in Pamplona as I write this (5 p.m. Central time), and I am trying to recover from a nerve-wracking two days. If anyone thought that the stress would not begin until we made it to the university, they definitely have not tried to make connecting flights in a foreign country. Leaving Memphis was a sad affair, but the excitement after clearing security was intoxicating. I only hesitated once before I left Memphis International Airport, but it was not until boarding the plane in Miami that I froze. I froze because all of the longing for home hit me at once. When I stepped over the threshold onto that airplane, there was no going back.
By boarding the plane I was agreeing to the condition that I would not return until July. I would not be able to go back to Oxford whenever I wanted to enjoy the company of my friends. I could not drive home for dinner with my family and sleep in my own bed. There will only be two people who I knew before that I will have consistent contact with. Being that none of us had ever been to Spain, once we touched down in Madrid and stepped off that plane, we would basically be lost. Fear, panic, and the general feeling of being helpless overwhelmed me. I began to doubt in my ability to even speak Spanish. I thought if I just turned around and ran out, I could catch a plane back to Memphis and not go through all this. Of course that could not happen, and after a quick prayer and a deep breath, I finally took the step on to the plane. Of course, that was only the beginning to our adventure.
After arriving in Madrid, one of my fears was realized. We really were at a loss of where to go. Luckily, there was the large flow of people from our flight headed toward the Customs check. The Aeropuerto Madrid-Barajas is very large, and pretty much houses a mall with everything a traveler may want, and then some. From watch and jewelry stores and a European version of a BCBG, to duty free shops selling many foreign items a person may not be able to easily obtain or for a decent price, we had as much trouble navigating the shops as finding our gate. There was even a European McDonalds, but the only familiar food selection on the menu seemed to be a McRib. It was through this part of the airport- and the first time since being in the Memphis airport- that I realized another problem: I had plenty of U.S. dollars, but no Euros.
Any savvy flier and/or student heading abroad should know that before traveling to a foreign country, they should exchange some of their currency in advance in case of the need to purchase food and other items before they have an opportunity to reach a bank. The exchange in the Memphis International Airport had been closed, and I had no time in Miami to look for one. Once in Madrid, I realized that I had crossed from having a comfortable sum of money to being basically broke. There may be some places that would accept U.S. dollars within the airport, but I had no idea where they would be. I searched for an exchange kiosk in vain, and information assistants were not of much use.
Once we were able to locate our gate for the flight into Pamplona, things got much simpler. While boarding, we met another American student from the Baltimore area headed to study at UPNA. She was a bit more prepared, and being alone, was happy to share her information with us. After flying for eight hours on a cramped 767 (Have fun trying to sleep on those), it was a great relief to board the new Iberia twin-prop jet for the quick hop to our final destination.
After a bit of confusion as to how we would get from the airport to our housing, we grabbed a couple taxis and were checking in in no time. The rooms are very compact, but have everything a person would need. In the amount of space equivalent to my kitchen in the apartment in Oxford, they were able to fit a kitchen, a desk, a day bed, and a full bath with enough walking space between them. As small as it is, it is comfortable. Internet is spotty, but that will be remedied as soon as I find a land line to use. Shortly after arriving at our temporary accommodations, a Brazilian student befriended us. His native language being Portuguese, he was having trouble speaking both Spanish and English. Depending on our situations, he and I may try to find an apartment or flat with a couple other exchange students. My only hope is that we can find some other native-English speakers, so the language we would have in common would not only be Spanish within our housing.
We did have enough time to go out tonight, even after a much needed nap time and shower. After hearing that the food and bar scene begins and ends much later here, we decided to see what we could find around the city center. Some of the people in our group were not 21 yet, and were very much excited to be legal to drink in a bar setting. The city center did not disappoint either. There were many tapas bars and what looked to be a couple clubs. We decided to duck into one of the bars for a bite to eat and something to drink. Much to our surprise and enjoyment, the food and drinks only cost one euro each. Of course, the only beer they had on tap was Heineken, but they did have three of such taps. The food, though different, was good as well. The trip into the social scene was much needed after the past 24 hours we had endured, but we just did not have the energy to stay out any longer.
So here I am, exhausted and in bed. I have been switching between English and Spanish since Miami, and am all but spent. Tomorrow will prove to be just as exciting, as I need to get up bright and early to make it to the banks and exchange my currency and open a banking account. They will be hosting a party for us after our orientation with an open bar (score), so I may have another update this weekend. Either way, keep posted as I will continue to regale you with stories of our trip and advice from the situations my fellow students and I encounter. Good night, and Hotty Toddy (top 5 recruiting class!!)
Update: Have gotten a bank account and an apartment. More details after closing and signing the contract.