Sonrisas de Stephanie

Stephanie's Story

Ch. 1: Fulbright

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Welcome to my journal! Here, I will share some highlights of my time in Spain on my Fulbright grant. Be sure the check back often as the story continues!

 
 

March

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MAR' 19

7

Dear anyone stuck in a routine,

I am now in the beginning of my 6th month in Spain and I have been reflecting on how much there is to discover in Madrid…

Now, I know what you’re thinking, OF COURSE there is so much to discover in Madrid! It is a major European city with a TON of tourism.

I know, I know, but hear me out. Everyone can relate to getting into a habit. Anyone who has ever moved to a city knows there is the period where everything is new, exciting, and, at times, a little nerve-wracking. You are trying to figure out how to build your life in this foreign space, and you have to navigate waters that, in a familiar town/city/place, you could have gone to on “auto-pilot”.

Things like finding the best route to work (which can be especially frustrating when you find out that Google Maps lied to you and there is a much faster/simpler way that you did not discover for the first few weeks), the grocery store that has the American hot sauce brand you’ve been searching high and low for (shout out to Corte Ingles for stocking [unfortunately overpriced] Frank’s Red Hot), or just a coffee shop that serves good café con leche with WiFi that is unlimited AND connects automatically <3.

Okay, so maybe those examples were a bit specific, but I’m sure you can find some relatable points.

Where was I? Ah yes, finding new things in a city where you created a routine.

The photo above was taken in Plaza de España, a plaza that I have been to countless times. It wasn’t until I was hosting guests and showing them the city that I stopped to look at the lights of the fountains at dusk.

It was beautiful.

How could I have not noticed how the fountains lit up and reflected on the water? How couples of Spaniards, young and old, sat close together in animated conversation on the benches and the edge of fountains? The group of awed tourists that stopped to look over, not through, their expensive camera lenses at the sky or each other’s smiling faces?

It took me a few months, but I’m finally beginning to fully appreciate the incredible city I live in.

Don’t get me wrong, I still will do whatever I can to avoid the crowded Puerta del Sol with its flocks of tourists. And will get grumpy when the Line 5 metro is stuffy on Sunday mornings due to the masses visiting El Rastro. BUT, now that I have been gently reminded that there is so much culture and sights to be explored in my barrio and beyond, I will be sure to break my routine to get out there and enjoy it.

With this post, I encourage you to also look around your own neighborhood, town, and/or city with a fresh pair of eyes.

Signed with a smile towards the future,

Stephanie

 

 

December

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DEC' 18

31

Photo of the Monument to Alfonso XII at sunset in Retiro Park.

Photo of the Monument to Alfonso XII at sunset in Retiro Park.

Queridxs familia y amigxs,

I want to begin by wishing YOU a feliz navidad y próspero año nuevo! The holiday season feels a little bit different over here, which had its pros and cons. Pro: it made missing my first Christmas a little easier. Con: I would forget to blast my Christmas playlist all day!

I did host a lovely Christmas dinner with other Fulbrighters who were also away for the holidays for the first time. We ate well (I managed not to burn down my apartment building) and survived a very competitive game of spoons! The day after Christmas, my family flew across the ocean to join me in Madrid! I am so excited to celebrate with them <3

As I approach the New Year (with less than 4 hours remaining), it is an extra sentimental time to reflect on months 3 and 4 of this adventure. I’ve celebrated many different holidays and I’ve traveled to different countries! I attended my first fútbol game (and am now an Atlético Madrid fan by association [sorry Real]). I learned how to make Christmas pastries from France and Switzerland and was invited to an event hosted by the Swiss embassy. I spent hours sending a surprise Christmas gift to friends and family and then celebrated the holidays with my piso-mates. Of course, I’ve improved in my language skills and had time to progress in my Fulbright project!

My project did change a bit since September. I am now surveying University students, as opposed to young students, all over Spain, rather than only in Madrid. With the new changes in mind, I spent the past few months tweaking the survey that I will distribute to the University students! Once I complete the questions, I will film myself interpreting each question in LSE to maximize clarity and accessibility!

Despite all the excitement these past two months, I remain to strive to live intentionally and “enjoy the ride”. The days here can become busy and feel long, but somehow the weeks fly by! I am so very grateful for this opportunity and cannot wait for what 2019 will bring for my Fulbright and my bright future!! (heh, hopefully a better mind for puns)

Happy New Year to all, and to all a Good Night!

Signed with a Smile,

Stephanie

 
 
 

November

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NOV' 18

5

 

Dear Amigos,

My first 2 months in Spain have been a blur. Though I may look exactly the same as when I left the States, I have grown immensely during my time here. I’ve been challenged and have learned so much in my daily life. For example, I can now go to the grocery store with confidence!

In all seriousness, I am incredibly thankful for every day of this experience. My goals have grown far beyond what I originally hoped to accomplish. For example, not only am I learning LSE, improving my Spanish, and learning about the Spanish culture, I am learning basic French (as it is the 2nd language of my apartment, behind Spanish)!

My research is developing slower than I anticipated, but this is due to the fact that I am learning more about the reality of the Spanish educational system. My exposure to Spanish culture and education is leading me to even more questions, forcing me to truly flesh-out my project before commencing with my research. My previous expectations of my project have been challenged and I am thankful for the opportunities that have presented themselves through my inquiry.

I have also made a few friends in the Spanish Deaf community. They are very patient and support me in my LSE learning (It’s challenging, but poco a poco)!

There is only one thing I regret: not recording myself speaking Spanish in the beginning of my grant, so I could look back to see how much my Spanish has improved. With 8 months remaining in this beautiful country, I am excited to continue increasing my language skills!

Finally, in my very short time here, I’ve had the opportunity to travel south to Málaga and north to San Sebastián and Jaca! My wanderlust is definitely being satisfied!

Here’s to another month of learning, experience, and culture!

Signed with a Smile,

Stephanie

 

September

 
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SEPT' 18

05

Entrance of the Spanish Fulbright Commission

 

Hello world!

I made it safe and sound to Madrid! Although I am posting this 1.5 weeks into my move, I still have drafts that share my thoughts and feelings during my first few days. My time here in Spain has been VERY... exciting (to say the least). This was my first time apartment hunting and preparing for a life outside of a residence hall (as I was an RA for 3 years) or my childhood home. To add to the confusion, I had to complete all these tasks in a foreign language while speaking a second language.

Some may ask, "But you live in Madrid doesn't EVERYONE speak English??"

No.

No, many do not. 

This being said, when a situation would surpass my Spanish ability, my Spanglish skills did come in handy!

Now, without further ado, Here are a few brief entries of my first few days in Spain:

Day 1 (9/5): I woke up at 7:30 on Tuesday (9/4) unable to sleep any longer. I ate my breakfast at home with my family and ran the last few errands before my afternoon flight. My parents took me to the airport and gave me a parting gift: a stack of letters from loved ones, enough for me to open at least one a week. (If you wrote me a letter, THANK YOU! My heart is so full seeing the stack and I cannot wait to read them throughout my adventure.) My parents then stood behind the security line and waited as I made my way through the line, turning around every so often to smile, wave, motion to my phone to get them to read a text, make a funny face (which I learned not to do because every time I tried, without fail, a stranger in the line would lock eyes with me and give me a confused look), or sign "I love you" ((yes, this was an incredibly long TSA line)). Finally, I made it through the checkpoint and signed my last "I love you".

After a flight that felt only twice as long as my security wait, I arrived in Toronto. I had a nice layover and made it through security checkpoints with minimal stress. Thankfully, I had decided to check my rolling carry on and only had a huge backpack to carry around! 

At the gate in Toronto, I met another Fulbrighter from the west coast. It was comforting to have another student to cross the Spanish border with. After a 7 hour flight, we arrived in Madrid at 0800. 

I zipped through the customs line and proudly displayed my hard-earned visa (see previous story on that adventure). After obtaining both of my checked bags. I said "Hasta luego" to my new Fulbright friend and jumped into a cab to the AirBnb.

The rest of the day was taxing, as I was set on not sleeping until a "normal" Spanish time. I ended up sleeping after about 35 hours of no-sleep. In my original draft I typed "I don't think it has fully registered that I have just moved to Spain." but I think that was because I was very sleep deprived!

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Day 2 (9/6) - Day 5 (9/9): I spent most of this time working to set up my Spanish bank account and cell phone, apartment hunting, and meeting with new Fulbrighters as they trickled into Madrid.

Last Saturday (9/8), was the most notable. In the morning, I went to visit yet ANOTHER apartment. I was feeling increasingly panicked with every unsuccessful apartment visit. However, this one was different. Mario, the landlord who I was in contact with, was very excited to have me visit. Despite, showing up in front of the incorrect building, awkwardly shaking his hand instead of giving besos, or the double kiss-kiss, and staring at him blankly after listening to a particularly lengthy statement in quick Spanish, him and his partner called me back expressing how excited they would be to have me as a tenant. They were able to get me a room with a balcony. My room is cozy and I absolutely love it! 

Later that same day, we had an informal gathering with Fulbright mentors at a La Pasa Gin Bar in the upbeat neighborhood of Malasaña. The owner of the bar LOVES Fulbrighters. This being said, if you ever find yourself in Malasaña, go ahead and name drop me. 

Signed with a :) ,

Stephanie

 
 

SEPT' 18

13

Fulbright Research Cohort 2018-19

 

This week was my Fulbright Orientation. It was incredible to meet and mingle with scholars from across the United States. I heard so many unique stories and perspectives, all with the common denominator of having the honor to serve as cultural ambassadors of the U.S.!

 

June

 
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JUN' 18

22

 

Dear Anyone Who Has Waited in Line at the DMV,

We all know that waiting at the DMV is boring, sometimes stressful, but thankfully, most of our DMVs are within an hour drive from us. So if, for example, we forgot an important document, it would be a mild inconvenience to travel back home to return at a later time. 

Unfortunately, my "DMV" was the Spanish Consulate in NYC-- a solid 8 hour Megabus ride away.

It makes my palms sweaty just remembering how I set the appointment time and scrambled to make sure I had all of my documents. Finally, the day before my appointment I check my manila envelope... Medical letter? Check. Background form with fancy Apostille of the Hague (which I still am not sure how to pronounce)? Check. Passport photos? Double Check. Passport? Passport?!

Whew, it's in a separate manila envelope... I then quickly combined the two to prevent any additional heart attacks.

I arrived at the Consulate 15 minutes prior to my 11:00 appointment. The bushy-mustached security guard asked for my name and scanned down a document with his pen. "Are you here for a visa?" he said looking over his glasses. "Yep!"

"You speak Spanish?" he questioned.

"Si.. estoy aprendiendo" I replied in my practiced telenovela accent.

His eyes widened and he smiled beneath his bushy mustache "AY VALE! *incomprehensible Spanish* bueno... *more incomprehensible Spanish* Honduras?"

Flustered, I mumbled "Uh.. Si... Si" and he nodded enthusiastically.  He called after me "¡Suerte!" as I retreated into the waiting room, realizing about 40 seconds later that I may have just told him that I'm Honduran. Oh well. 

I was staring at the Rachel Ray show playing silently on the wall and fidgeting with my manila envelope when I started suddenly, afraid I missed hearing my name. I looked around and it seemed everything was exactly the same as before I zoned out. Everyone in the area had their passports out either burgundy or blue and seemed just as checked out as I was.  Definitely DMV vibes.

I glanced at my phone -- 11:30. My appointment was supposed to be 30 minutes ago. I stood up and tiptoed over to a window near to my bushy mustachioed friend. "Hi, uh, yes. Excuse me?" the man behind the window looked up, "Is there anything I have to do before my appointment? Like, check in?"

"No worries, senorita, we will call you." the security guard answered for the man. 'Tranquila' his voice seemed to say. Not wanting to be THAT American. I sat back down and, lo and behold, about 10 minutes later I finally heard "eh-Stephanie Woshingtón?" I jumped up to the familiar Spaniard pronunciation of my name. I greeted the woman behind the window and handed her all my neatly paper clipped documents, eyeing the 3 backup copies and the they-might-need-to-know-everything-about-me-so-I-brought-my-entire-life documents (just in case). She quickly flipped through everything, handed me back my passport and said "Okay! We will call you when it is ready and you can pick it up."

Cómo? I gave a confused chuckle. "I have to come back? I thought maybe it could be mailed to me? I'm from Pittsburgh."

"No, it must be picked up here." She said, completely unfazed. A few seconds later she added, "But you can have someone pick it up for you with your authorization."

*HUGE sigh of relief* Thankfully, my lovely friend, Cat, saved the day by volunteering to pick up my visa, sparing me another 16 hours in a Megabus.

Now I have my visa, my clearances and all that is left is saving money and trying to stay calm. The summer is ticking away!

Signed with a Smile,

Stephanie

 

April

 
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APR' 18

06

 
 

Dear Friends,

After weeks of stressing, speculating, praying, and second-guessing, I received the long-awaited email. "Congratulations on Your Fulbright Award" boasted the subject line.

So much for fan fare.

My reaction was far from poised. "What?" I said, feeling a mixture of awe and shock. I turned the screen towards my best friend and, in a near yell, asked, "WHAT DOES THIS SAY?" Without waiting for a response, I returned the screen to my gaze. I stared at the unopened email for a few seconds before I closed my eyes, let out the breath I'd been holding and burst into tears.

The catharsis of emotion had been building for almost 11 months; I started my Fulbright application in late May 2017. In that moment, I remembered all the doubt, frustration, and the many times that I had considered giving up since the chance of me being awarded the scholarship was so slight (statistically speaking).

Based on the plethora of Fulbright forums found in the depths of Reddit, I knew that if you were not a Fulbright "winner", the subject would read "Update on Your Fulbright Status..." followed by an A, for alternate, or NS, for non-select. For weeks, I'd be afraid to look at my phone screen every time a single loud buzz signified a new email.

I called my mom first, she had been the one spending almost as much time reviewing my drafts as I had been stressing out over them. She offered me comfort while remaining very honest with me. So, when she told me how strong my final proposal was, I knew it was true. Through my tears, I shared the news and as soon as she hung up she must have notified all my family on the eastern sea board. When I called my dad I cried a wave of fresh tears as he shared how proud he has always been and I made him PROMISE to not speak at my graduation dinner. My news shared with my brother was met with dead-pan "I'm not surprised".

Here I am, writing this post almost 3 months later, still in awe that I have been awarded such a prestigious academic honor. I'm sure the time will come when I realize that, yes, I am indeed moving to Spain. But for now, I am excited to inform you that I will be sharing my journey with you all. We are in for a wild ride. We're going to Madrid!

Signed with a smile,

Stephanie

 
 
 
 

APR' 18

30

 
 

Dear Friends,

Today, I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. I now have a Bachelor's of Science in Biological Sciences, minors in Spanish and Chemistry, and Certificates in American Sign Language and West European Studies. I am blessed to have graduated magna cum laude with my family supporting me through every failure and every success.

Most importantly, I didn't trip.

I have so many plans for my future -- plans that will hopefully take me to many different places, both domestically and abroad. I'll be honest, I don't have a timeline and most of my plans, as one of my professors once said, are 'set in jello'. Following graduation I just felt a wave of enthusiasm that, in the midst of finals weeks and final deadlines and ensuring that I could actually obtain my diploma, I couldn't seem to find.

But now I'm here, I'm ready, and I'm motivated! Here's hoping it lasts!

Here's to the future!

Signed with a Smile,

Stephanie