Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jet Lag Thoughts


It’s 5am and I’m in my hometown. In the same bed I used to sleep every night for so many years. There are two reasons why I might be awake: one is the jet lag and second it’s my body complaining to me about eating so much (but body, you have to understand how much I missed my parents’ food!). I just realized this one feels like the fastest year I’ve ever lived. A lot of things happened in 2010, and it’s almost over. Those who know me well also know that this year I’ve had many dreams come true. It sounds like a Disney movie script, but it’s the truth. I can’t explain how blessed I feel and how thankful I am for all the opportunities I’ve had.

I started the year 2010 in Barcelona, my homeland. I had a blast during the Christmas holidays, but soon I went back to Tallinn, Estonia, where I was living at that moment. I stayed in Estonia until summer. I had already been there for half a year and I had half more to go. This experience was just perfect. I will never forget the bittersweet feeling I had when I came back to Spain in the middle of June and looked at all the pictures of my Estonian adventure. It was my first time living abroad for more than a summer and it was a very different country from my own. It’s difficult to describe why it was so remarkable, but I’m sure people who have done it already understand what I mean.

After all that, I spent the summer here in Spain. Honestly, I felt like a tourist somehow. I saw it from a different point of view, because I had been away for so long and I was just about to leave again. However, I was so happy that I enjoyed the summer just as I did when I was a child. Those two months went extremely fast because I was very active. I worked a lot, I had great visitors from other sides of the world who I wanted to show around as much as I could, I got my driving license, and the most important, my head was already in NYC. I had so many things to organize: visa, luggage, housing, documents, etc.

Late August brought me to New York City. That was a big thing for me. That was maybe the BIGGEST thing ever happened to me. I had been dreaming about New York since I was very, very young. It took me years to organize everything and I couldn’t even be sure if I could eventually make it. Landing in JFK was just an adrenaline injection. “Here you are!” From that point on, everything has been just perfect. I’m very happy to say that it has been even better than what I expected. I’m not only having a great academic experience, but also a life one.

Many of my friends say I look happier than ever. This is just true. It might be tough some times, but I don’t really care because I just can’t complain about anything. In fact, I am incredibly thankful for everything. First of all, I thank my family for their great support on every single step I’ve done. I’m also very thankful to my girlfriend and to all my friends, old and new, because I always have someone I can count on anywhere I am. I mean it when I say I feel blessed because I have the opportunity to do what I want, where I want and having so much support. I’m very happy.

I wish you all a merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Secret Santa and Friends

First of all, I wish happy holidays to everyone. There are many interesting traditions around this time of the year. A lot of them involve giving and receiving gifts, which is always fun. I find it quite curious how every culture has different rituals for that. Since I am living in such a melting pot, I’ve heard many things about that.

Recently I had a Secret Santa party with my friends in the city, and it was so much fun. I guess you all have heard about the Secret Santa thing. You write all the names in small pieces of paper, put them inside a hat and then everyone picks one. The name you have, is the person you have to give a gift too. We got together and did the gift giving in quite a funny way. We played a game where everyone has to give a clue about the person he or she is giving a gift to. For example “mine is wearing jeans”. Once you think you know who is your Secret Santa, you have to say it and if you are right you get your present. If you are wrong, you can discuss what the punishment will be. In our case it was a bunch of pushups (which no one finally did, by the way!).

We actually do the same thing in Spain with friends, except that we call it “amigo invisible” which literally means “invisible friend”. I’m actually quite excited about that because since I went to live abroad, this has become the meeting of the year. We all get together for one night to celebrate our Christmas and our version of the Secret Santa. It has been a long time since I haven’t seen my old friends and even though I got to meet incredible people in New York, it hurts to be so far away from them. I guess we could call it nostalgia, but that’s really the dark side of this kind of experiences.

Back to the gifts thing, I wanted to share our tradition in Catalonia, the region where I come from. I was very surprised that one of my friends had heard about it, because it’s quite a weird thing for strangers. We have a Christmas log called “Caga Tió” (yes, a log!). We paint a face on it and put a Catalan traditional hat so that it looks nice and Christmassy. We usually get it about a week before Christmas’ eve. Children “feed” it and take care of it, because he will be in charge of giving them Christmas gifts. After the Christmas’ eve dinner, families gather around “Caga Tió”, put a blanket on him just in case he is cold and children beat it with sticks while singing the proper song. After that, children must leave the room. While children are away, “Caga Tió” magically poops the gifts for everyone. When they come back, they lift the blanket and there we go, all of them are happy! Here goes a video so that you can picture it better:


Happy holidays!

Friday, December 17, 2010

OMG!

I love my degree and everything I do, but I must admit that what I like the most about studying at Berkeley is that I get to live in New York. NY is this crazy place where there is always something going on. I just finished my finals a couple of days ago (I can't believe the quarter went so fast!), so I'm now ready to have some fun over the city! OMG is the title of the current Usher's world tour which landed in the Madison Square Garden this week. I got tickets for it long weeks ago, so there I was! The amazing thing is that not only did we see Usher, but we also got to see Miguel, Trey Songz, fireworks, Justin Bieber, more fireworks, awesome dancers and the largest crowd I've ever seen at a concert. Therefore, I must say I really enjoyed it!

When we arrived to the Madison Square Garden, I saw crazy amounts of people walking everywhere. The arena was breathtaking. I had been in other arenas before, but not as huge. People started arriving slowly and in the meantime, Miguel gave a small concert. I didn't know about this artist, but he was actually very cool! And he was also the only one who didn't strip off his shirt, which I find a gross thing to do in front of such a crowd, so I'll give him extra credit for that. After Miguel, it was time for Usher's opening artist, Trey Songz. He is becoming very famous, but still not so popular. You might have heard his hit songs "Bottoms Up" and "Say Aah". The crowd went crazy with him! I guess the female sector was more than happy to see him shirtless (I still think it's gross and unnecessary since it took him like 5 whole minutes to strip it off). The show was good, even though I don't like him that much. Good opening anyways. 

Around 9:15pm, finally the lights went off and the crowd started screaming. Seriously screaming. It was time to receive Usher. He appeared from the middle of the crowd on a platform and went flying above our heads. It was amazing to see him flying in the middle of so much people. Crazy people, really crazy. Then he landed on the huge stage and kept going on with the show. Honestly, I think the beginning of the concert was a bit too slow. It was a little bit monotonous for the first half hour. However, it got better and better and the last part was just incredible. 


He performed at the Madison Square Garden for two days, the 13th and the 14th of December. There is a song where he lets a lady from the crowd go on stage with him and they have a little "romance" (that's an euphemism but I don't want to be so explicit here). In the first day, the 13th, that lady and Usher were laying on a couch while he was singing "Trading Places". She wanted to turn around on him, but she was so nervous she kicked Usher's face with her high heel shoes. I've seen it on Youtube and I can feel his pain. He had to stop the song and I assume the girl felt terribly embarrassed considering she kicked Usher in front of thousands and thousands of people. The second day of the show, which is the one I went, when he was about to perform "Trading Places", he asked for a girl to go on the stage with him, but this time he said something like "you have to promise not to kick my face". Here you have the video, just watch: 



Then he stepped on the platform again and started flying over the crowd to sing "Burn". From that song on, the show was amazing. It felt like the crowd suddenly woke up. It's worth mention that the dancers did a great job. I actually think Usher himself is a better dancer than singer (even though he can do both...) and that's why the show was so visual. He sang his old hits, it was like a mash up thing or a medley, he sang a few lines from many of his old songs and it was really cool. It was cool because I used to hear these songs when I was a teenager and I would have never thought I would see him perform at the Madison Square Garden! In the middle of this medley, Justin Bieber appeared on the stage. He didn't even performed, but I have to say that everyone in the crowd went even crazier than with Usher. I guess this kid really provokes fever. 




My favorite performance was "DJ's Got Us Falling in Love Again". Fatman Scoop did the introduction and it was really exciting, it felt like being in a massive night club. And then he said good bye with OMG, another great performance! I leave a video underneath this lines where you can see the ending. He sings the song and then he gives credit to all the musicians and dancers. After that, it goes really crazy. You can see from the minute 5:30 how spectacular it was and they are not even dancing nor singing, just the lights, the people, the confetti, the fireworks... this is what I consider a true American show, really different from what Spanish singers do (or are able to do).



It was a great show and a great way to start my holidays season! I have one more class tomorrow, but other than that I'm pretty much done! Good luck with your finals if you are still handling with them!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Moving Downtown

We are already in the final exams week. I can't believe the quarter went so fast! The Christmas holidays are approaching and to get in the mood, the streets are getting white. It was quite a busy and crazy weekend for me. Not only I had to study and write final projects for school but I also moved from the room I used to live (at the New Yorker Hotel with EHS) to a nice apartment downtown. Moreover, there were a couple of celebrations going on and, of course, I wouldn't miss any!

Moving wasn't a big deal. I decided to take it easy and do it slowly, so I just took to the apartment what I needed and left the rest in my old room, which I have to check out by next week. I might go back and sleep there a few more days after the exams depending on the plans! Even though I'm very happy with the new place, it feels sad somehow to leave the hotel. It was my first quarter living in the city and I made really good friends that were easy to reach all the time. This is the reason why I would recommend international students to first live in a students dorm or anything like that. Since the first day I arrived to the New Yorker Hotel I met a lot of people. Students from NY colleges, transfer students, international students and people doing internships. 

This particular case, the New Yorker with EHS (Educational Housing Services), is like a melting pot. There are people from everywhere doing everything. I made really good friends and most of them aren't in the same field I am. They are doing cool internships as designers, computer programming... others study fashion, acting, sciences, etc. and in different schools and companies. That's very interesting. I consider myself to be very social and I get depressed when I spend too much time by myself. This is why the dorm was so nice for me. I'm pretty sure that if I had directly rented an apartment, it would have been more difficult to meet people like me and it wouldn't have been as fun as it was. 

However, there are also some negative sides about living in a dorm in NYC. The main one is that it is definitely more expensive than renting out a room in an apartment. Moreover, it is quite controlled and you don't get as much freedom as you would get in your own apartment (or rented), guests are not allowed at all times and you have to sign them up in advance. In my case I had my own room and bathroom, which was nice, but I also know some people that had trouble with roommates. On top of that, you don't get a living room or proper kitchen. There is a student lounge with stoves, TV, sofas...  but it will never feel as cosy as a living room and it is not as quite (the building itself is a hotel in midtown Manhattan, so you can imagine how crazy it gets!). For all these reasons, I decided to move out and start a new phase in the city.

The new place is really nice. I share it with another roommate and two lovely cats.  The area is actually one of my favorites in the city, I'm right between SoHo, NoHo and the Village, this is Bleecker St. THe atmosphere is really cool and there are a lot of young people. It's not as packed up with tourists as midtown. Actually some of my best friends are moving down here too, which is awesome. In the weekend we had a celebration for the birthday of the president of the UN Club from Berkeley College in Cafe Wha, which is the coolest music bar ever and it is right in my street! It deserves a whole post because it's a very interesting place and I've been there several times already, so let's leave it for future blogs. 


This is my second night here and it feels totally different. I'm sure it will take a little while until I totally adapt and feel home. Anyways, I'm quite used to change places by now and I don't think it will take long. If you happen to be an international student and find yourself a bit lost with the housing issue, don't hesitate to contact me for help!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Trip to Istanbul

Last week I arrived from my trip to Istanbul. Even though my arrival wasn't pleasant at all, the trip was great and I love that city. It was my third time in Turkey. There are many things I like about it, not only the great food but also the culture, the warm people and the beautiful landscapes. If I'm honest, before last year I never wondered about this country. However, when I did my exchange program in Estonia, I met many Turkish people and as proud as they are of their country and culture, I got to learn a lot from it.



Istanbul is this crazy city combining a little bit of everything. Even the geographical situation is curious: a part of it belongs to Europe and the other part to Asia, how cool is that! You can walk from one street to another and feel like you are in a completely different place. This time the weather wasn't that nice. Unfortunately it rained and was cloudy most of the days. But it was definitely warmer than New York and that was nice. I can't talk now about everything I like in the city because I could write a novel, but I'll give you a couple highlights from two great spots that I really recommend you to see at some point in your life! 



One of the most beautiful things I saw is Topkapi Palace. It's just amazing. It was the residence of the Ottoman Sultans for abour 400 years. The construction began on 1459 and the Sultans lived there between 1465 and 1856. The whole place is really big and there are many gardens. It is a museum now and it's full of interesting stuff about the Sultans life. Plus it's located on the top of a hill and the views to the city are wonderful.  I'm afraid you can't get how beautiful it is from the pictures, but I promise you would not get disappointed if you go visit it! 



My favorite spot this time was a palace called Dolmabahçe Sarayi. It's located by the sea and it claims to be one of the most beautiful palaces in the whole world, which I really think is true. It was the last residence of Ataturk. We were really lucky there! We got a student discount and it was hilarious, I paid less than a dollar and I got a great guided tour! I'm afraid they thought I was a Turkish student, which was lovely confusion since I saved a bunch of bucks. Then my girlfriend and I got a tour in English around the whole building and let me tell you it's just breathtaking... Unfortunately pictures were not allowed inside, but I found some in Google so that you can have an idea:




Finally it's worth to mention the Blue Mosque. The outside is spectacular, but the inside is even better. I love how different Mosques are from the religious buildings I'm used to see where I come from. That one is amazing. Moreover, the are is really nice! There are parks around where we got to see a live traditional music show, there is a huge Turkish bazar very near and there are these tiny streets full of cosy restaurants with awesome food. 



I'm sure I will have more to say about Istanbul and Turkey in the future, so that's about it for now. Enjoy the weekend before the finals and good luck with these! It's going to be a crazy weekend for me... Not only I have to study but I'm also moving to an apartment, which I guess it's going to be quite an adventure. I will talk about it soon! 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Getting to Know Botswana's Committees

Today we had a meeting with the Model UN team. It was the last one we will have before the Christmas break, because the finals are approaching! It was a great meeting not only because of the pizza but also because we got to know in detail how we are going to be organized. We are very lucky that we will have Dr. Weinstein guiding our work during the whole process, because he is an expert on the Model UN. The most important thing we learnt today is that we have to be divided into different committees. Each of them will deal with different topics (if I'm not wrong, there are about three topics on each category), so now we have some weeks to do some individual research and see what committee fits each one the most. As I already mentioned in a previous post, we are representing Botswana, which has six different committees.  Let's see what are these:

  • General Assembly First Committee
  • General Assembly Second Committee
  • General Assembly Third Committee
  • World Intellectual Property Organization
  • African Development Bank
  • Treaty on Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons 

Since the country is pretty small, we don't really participate in small committees. The four first ones are actually very big. A general assembly might have over 90 countries participating at the same time. Which means that the countries that want to talk will have around 45 seconds to do so! This is when you realize how concise you have to be. We will definitely need to learn how to say everything we need to say in such short time. The big assemblies are also harder to follow. According to Dr. Weinstein, we might even spend a couple of hours only deciding what topic should we debate first! He also warned us that we will have some frustration during the 5 days of the Model UN in April, which I can actually imagine. As a contrast, in the smaller committees (like the last two I wrote) the delegates have more chances to speak and debate. One thing that we need to learn is how to avoid "I believe". In the debates there is no "I" anymore. We are talking on behalf of a country, so no one cares what we actually think (even if it sounds hard). I can imagine this is going to be a bit difficult to handle when you are nervous, but we have to change "I think" into "my country..." if we want to do a good job. 



One of the things I'm more excited about is the fact that in the Model UN of New York, there are schools participating that come from all over the world. There is even a university from Barcelona! We will spend there 5 full days, which means we will have the chance to meet people from all over the place. It feels like if I'm going to be able to travel without moving from NYC. Dr. Weinstein, who has participated in the program for many years with other universities, told us how lucky we are to live in New York. If you think about it, schools coming from other countries have to pay a huge amount of money (flights, hotel rooms, etc.) and we don't need that. Moreover, the opening and closing ceremonies will be held in the actual United Nations, which sounds awesome! We are going to be treated somehow as if we were real diplomats, or at least that's why it feels by having those meetings there. 



Now that we know how we have to organize ourselves, what's next? We have to practice just as if we were soccer players! But in this case we will have to learn about the rules of the Model UN. In addition, we will have to get a lot of vocabulary (I thing I might have to work a lot on it!). We will also need to develop skills in resolution writing and public speaking... We actually have to present our position on March, which is a paper stating our delegation's opinion on each topic. I guess there are many other aspects we need to work on. But we have time to do and I am very confident that we have the right people guiding us. As I said before, now it's time to do some research and see what topics I would be more comfortable with. Well, actually let's wait until the finals are over! 



Monday, December 6, 2010

Let it snow, Lufthansa!

It is snowing in New York. It's actually not that much snow, but enough to make me happy. You need to understand that where I come from, snow is something you only see in the movies! And it brings me back to last week, when I was stuck in Germany because of a snow storm. I think it is a worth telling story. It happened because I went to the fascinating city of Istanbul for Thanksgiving. It was a great trip and I will write about it soon. It was only for 4 days and I was supposed to be back on Monday the 29th so that I wouldn't miss any class. But thanks to a snow storm and the great emergency plan of Lufthansa (this is ironic, just in case), I arrived home with one day of delay, exhausted, missing classes and without my luggage.

I left the hotel at 10am to be in the airport 2-3 hours before my flight took off. For some reason I am really paranoid with being punctual to the airport. I am afraid one day I'll go and they tell me the flight is gone! It actually happened once... but not anymore! Well, so I was there on time, checked in and struggled to say goodbye to who I was leaving behind. I go to the gate and they tell me my flight was delayed 40 minutes. I started freaking out. I had to fly to Frankfurt to catch a flight to New York there and my transfer was only 1 hour, which means I would only have 20 minutes left for the transfer. If you have already been in Frankfurt, you know it's a huge airport and there is no way you can make it with only 20 minutes. I asked everyone to make sure I would make it and they all told me not to worry... fine. Then the same lady who told me not to worry, announced that the flight was delayed 3 hours! Great, now there was no chance I would catch the other flight. 

When I finally got on the plane at 4pm, knowing that I had already missed the flight to NYC, they announced we would have to wait 3 more hours inside the plane. By that time, I had no idea what would happen with me and with getting back home. They kept announcing that the weather in Frankfurt was too bad to fly, it could be dangerous, there was too much snow... Finally, around 7:30pm they said we would fly to Munich instead. Great... what would I do in Munich? I was very worried and asked one of the attendants, who told me not to worry because the customer service would arrange everything once in Munich. So that's what I thought: I would land in Munich, a nice Lufthansa operator would tell me to get ready for my immediate flight to New York and I would be back home on time. But I'm just a dreamer. 

We landed in Munich around 10pm and there were hundreds of people there. There were huuuuuge lines of people and guess what, the lines wouldn't move forward. It was terrible. I understand that this was no ones fault, no one can't stop the snow (I guess). But what I'm complaining about is that Lufthansa had hundreds of people waiting, there were 18 windows in the Costumer Service Office and there were only 4 operators! I can't believe they couldn't get anymore staff to control the situation. They were giving vouchers for a hotel night and told us we should be there at 5am because that was the time they would start rebooking. Basically, I knew for sure that I would not fly that night... but I wasn't even sure I would be able to fly the following day. 

When I finally got to be attended, it turned out that all the hotels in Munich were full. No more vouchers. But again, they told me not to worry because they would set up tents in the airport so that we could sleep and they would give us 20 Euros (more or less $26) to spend in McDonald's, the only restaurant that was open at that time. On top of that, they said they wouldn't deliver our luggages. Again, they told us not to worry, the luggage would arrive directly to our final destination once we are rebooked. People started freaking out, everyone was so angry. I didn't even care. I was really tired, I was sad to leave Istanbul, I was sad that I couldn't go back home and I wanted to sleep so bad. Anyway, I spent my 20 Euros in McDonald's. It was snowing a lot, and the queue was so big that I had to wait outside of the restaurant for a while... freezing! But finally I got my burger, my fries, my drink, my wrap and my pie... (you can actually get a lot of stuff with a $26 McDonald's voucher!). I didn't even eat half of it, which made me feel a bit guilty, but enough to satisfy my hunger. 

Finally I did a smart move. One of the smartest I have lately done! Instead of getting one of the super fancy tents they set up, I decided to "sleep" right in front of the desk where they would do the rebooking thing. When I arrived there, there were already 9 or 10 people waiting who had had the same idea. A lot of people started coming in the following hours. At 5.30am the Lufthansa ladies appeared. By that time, there were crazy hundreds of people in the line... but I was the 10th! Again, there were 18 windows and only ¡¡3!! operators. I can't understand it neither... But ok, at 6am it was my turn to rebook. The lady told me all flights from Munich were full, Frankfurt was still suffering from bad weather and she wasn't sure I could make it that day. Thanks God, that made me feel so much better... However, finally she told me she could get me on a flight from Hamburg, which totally changed my face! The only thing is that I had to reach the gate in just a few minutes and the transfer was only 30 minutes. I didn't care... it could not get worse than that! 

I flew to Hamburg, and reached the gate for the other flight as fast as I could. I couldn't believe I was about to board on a flight to NYC! It wasn't with Lufthansa, though. It was with Continental Airlines... which I don't like as much. The food is bad, the seats are terrible, the entertaining system could be so much better... but I don't think any of this would bother me at that time. It turns out that they had booked me a seat in one of those rows that are supposed to be empty. That was nice of them, because I finally used the three seats to lay down and sleep for hours... it was the first time of my life I got to fall asleep in a plane! I arrived to Newark airport on Tuesday afternoon, I couldn't believe that! But there was one more surprise waiting for me there. They had lost my luggage and had no idea where it was. Great. Most of my clothes were there and all my shower stuff as well. They gave me a phone number and a bag with shampoo and a small teeth brush. However, I could finally go home! 

The funny thing is that I missed my English class that day. In that class I was supposed to hand in an essay on THE OVERUSE OF AIRPLANES FOR LEISURE. How ironic is that! I had to write about the consequences of using planes. I basically complain about it not only because of the environmental issues, but also because of the economical reasons and the physical stress it causes. I guess I could have added a few more arguments after all this experience. Anyway, I was back home and safe, which felt good enough. Finally, my bag arrived a couple of days ago. It seems it got lost in hamburg when I had to change from Lufthansa to Continental. They told me they would send me a rebate for the things I had to buy this week like shower gel, a pair of jeans... let's see what happens, I am already tired of dealing with them! After this kind of incidents, I always say I won't take airplanes any time soon. But I'm flying back to Barcelona for Christmas in a couple of weeks. Honestly, now that I think about it, I don't think it was that big deal. I guess if I hadn't been alone I would have even been laughing about it. Nevertheless, I know for sure this is not the last time it will happen and actually all these experiences give me something else to tell my grandsons in the future.